REVIEW: The Magicians S2E9 – Lesser Evils

Last we checked in on The Magicians, Julia (Stella Maeve) lost her shade and began her now-soulless war against Reynard the Fox (Mackenzie Astin) and wound up in Fillory jail. Meanwhile, Margo (Summer Bishil) commenced her war against Loria despite the drought, lack of magic in Fillory, and Julia’s betrayal. Finally, Quentin (Jason Ralph) learned that the niffin of Alice (Olivia Taylor Dudley) needs to be freed from his body or they will both die.

This week, Quentin finds himself in a cage, with Dean Fogg (Rick Worthy), Penny (Arjun Gupta), and Kady (Jade Tailor) poking and prodding him in the hopes of boxing the niffin up. His refusal to give up on her, even at the cost of his own life, is rather endearing. It’s ironic that their romance has become more believable since she “died,” but that’s all the more reason for The Magicians to bring her back to life.

Musicals are in!

Margo and Eliot (Hale Appleman) must fight a war without any money or the trust of their people, and light up at the thought of one-on-one combat with Loria’s monarch instead. True to form, Eliot chooses popularity over his own safety, jumping at the chance to make history as the first monarch to volunteer. Once again, Fen (Brittany Curran) comes to her husband’s aid with a magical sword passed down from her family. Their scenes are very sweet and sincere, both to Eliot’s surprise and my own.

No scenes are as heartfelt as those between Eliot and Margot, though. Their chemistry ignites the screen, even though it’s purely platonic. Before Margo goes to get help from the fairies to repair the wellspring, she inspires Eliot to sing “One Day More” from Les Miserables, and the three royals (if you include Fen) launch into a gorgeous rendition of the climactic song. A completely unexpected musical number, but far from an unwelcome one. It’s even more hilarious when Margot skips some verses because “they don’t really apply to our situation.” The shift into the life-threatening duel with King Idri (guest star Leonard Roberts) is stark and immediate, but that’s par for the course for The Magicians and it’s brilliantly handled.

Penny and Kady break Julia out to find Reynard’s son, and so the unlikely trio is back together again… Except Julia is still a very different woman. This version of her without a shade is still disconcerting to watch – such as when she laughs about killing trees that can talk – but at least she has more drive to kill Reynard than ever. On the other hand, pairing Penny with Kady once more gives him the chance to be less broody. The sinister aspect looms, though, as Julia will be facing off with a Senator (guest star Christopher Gorham) who seems to believe in the light and goodness inside all people but doesn’t believe in magic. Only on The Magicians would this be the son of an evil god.

Kady makes the Senator see he is a demigod.

Julia comes close to killing the Senator for his demigod energy, but she’s thankfully held back by Penny and Kady. This begs the question of how they’re able to stop her without violence – why doesn’t she turn on them immediately? Perhaps there is still a hint of her soul left, which causes her to stay loyal to her friends even when she disagrees, and she can be restored from there. Penny doesn’t seem to think so, reminding Kady consistently “that’s not Julia.” It feels like a parallel story is developing with both Julia and Alice, and I only hope both women make it out alive and (somewhat) whole by the finale of this Magicians season.

The theme is emphasized when Alice-in-Quentin’s-body tries to convince Julia to let her out, while Julia calmly surveys whether or not that’s something the real Quentin would want. Clearly Julia without a shade does not mean total anarchy, but rather cold logic freed from emotion. And she will need all the logic she can muster now that Reynard’s come looking for his son, whom the Magicians have kidnapped and are hiding within the wards of Brakebills. The Fillory storyline coincides with this one for a moment, as the wellspring goes black and shuts the wards down – meaning Reynard is on the brink of invading the school.

With so much at stake, Julia makes the clever-but-cold decision to throw Quentin to the wolves (or the Fox as it were) in an attempt to get him to unleash Alice at Reynard. When Quentin refuses, the trickster god freezes them all and absconds with his son. It’s a relief that he didn’t hurt or kill anyone else – and it’s interesting that Julia was ready to cross the wards to help Quentin when he faltered – but it’s still the last straw for Kady. She throws her friend in a dungeon that allows no magic, but she still recognizes that Julia isn’t at fault. Quentin comes to the opposite conclusion about Alice, choosing to trust that the niffin only wants to make “beautiful magic” and setting her free. We’ll see if that comes back to bite him by the end of the season.

Even with a soul and with her humanity intact, Margot wavers when having to make a difficult choice of her own. The faeries require a royal child in exchange for returning magic to Fillory, which means the High Queen must manipulate Fen into giving up her baby if Eliot lives. While the stakes are getting ever higher for the rest of the group, Eliot learns that King Idri would also have preferred a male companion over his wife. Can they develop the attraction between them instead of killing each other? Fillory’s polyamorous marriage laws say they can. But how will Margot handle the dealings she made on Eliot and Fen’s behalf when Eliot didn’t even need the faeries to save himself?

Simply put, this season of The Magicians keeps getting better and shows no signs of slowing down.