REVIEW: The Magicians, S3E1 – The Tales of the Seven Keys

After killing the god Ember, The Magicians were punished with loss of magic everywhere – except for within Julia (Stella Maeve). Meanwhile, Margo (Summer Bishil) and Eliot’s (Hale Appleman) Fillory kingdom was besieged by fairies, Kady (Jade Tailor) sought desperately to save Penny (Arjun Gupta) from certain death, and the Lamprey began seeking Alice (Olivia Taylor Dudley) out for repayment for something she did during her Niffin phase. What happens next? We find out in ‘The Tales of the Seven Keys,’ a premiere full of all the whimsy and wit we’ve come to expect from this show.

Everyone gets some kind of showcase in the episode, and they all tie back to the same theme even though most plots are minor in comparison to the meat of the story. Dean Fogg (Rick Worthy) receives a visitor coming on behalf of the board of trustees, and is told that Brakebills will be shut down if an alternate resource for magic isn’t found soon. Penny is still able to use magic because being a Traveler classifies him as a creature, but his super-cancer speeds up every time he leaves the Library. He reunites briefly with Kady in a sweet and silly moment that reminds us how much they love each other even when at their harshest, but the most important part is the return of Kady’s acquaintance Harriet. She’s found the book needed to save Penny, but it can only be used when magic is back.

Magicians‘ very own Harry and Hermione.

Which brings us to the impetus of The Magicians‘s entire premiere, which mostly follows Julia and Quentin in their attempts to fully restore her brief spurts of magic. Though she believes it may have been a speck accidentally left behind when Persephone restored her Shade, Quentin begs her not to give up. He has a crazy plan to contact an old god and ask politely for magic’s return, and it turns out Josh (Trevor Einhorn) knows a god they could call on thanks to the wonders of social media. This leads to one of the first laugh out loud moments of ‘The Tales of the Seven Keys,’ when a drunken Bacchus requests that Julia and Quentin “come back when you’re fun.” The two of them get properly drunk and manage to comply with the help of a tenth grade song and dance number that is nothing short of delightful.

In the end, Bacchus isn’t much help, though at least he is the proud owner of a Star Trek edition of Trivial Pursuit. He tries to refer them to Prometheus (who is dead) and remembers that there is a secret backdoor to magic – or was it a brothel? His clue yet again connects the various story lines in ‘The Tales of the Seven Keys,’ all of which make it clear that magic is something they must unlock. Before Bacchus disappears from the story, he gives Quentin hallucinogens that take him – and the audience – back to Alice’s departure. We don’t find out where she is until the end of the episode, but it turns out she’s on her own quest in search of the Lamprey who’s after her. Despite starting off as the central romance on The Magicians, the two of them often don’t feel connected in the way Kady and Penny do, nor does their romance match the platonic bonds between Eliot and Margot or Quentin and Julia. Perhaps that’s due to the limited appearances Taylor Dudley has been making.

While Josh doesn’t do much on his own, he does put the thesis of ‘The Tales of the Seven Keys’ into words during a particularly poignant scene with Julia, where he bemoans how magic was the only thing that made him feel like he belonged. The hope she ignites in his eyes upon blowing a magical smoke ring is one of the most heartwarming moments in The Magicians premiere, and almost worth Quentin’s immediate recriminations.

The Fairy Queen is no match for these two.

Margo and Eliot unwittingly pick up where their friends on Earth left off when they try to find a way to overcome the Fairy Queen (played with delicious deadpan by Candis Cayne) and her minions who are holding Fillory hostage. Every time they try to outsmart her, though, she’s three steps ahead of them. How can she have eyes and ears everywhere? Turns out it’s only one eye: Margo’s. Eliot conveys the horrible truth to her in what is hands down the best scene of ‘The Tales of the Seven Keys’ and perhaps the best use of pop culture references ever displayed on The Magicians. Speaking in a code that ranges from Grace Park in Battlestar to “XOXO Gossip Girl,” he manages to warn her that her eyeball is spying on them for the Queen without her knowledge. Margo plays along excellently, and even refers to Quentin as “our Harry [Potter]” in a genius stroke of referential humor.

Eliot goes in search of the White Lady to push back the fairies and save Fillory, but instead he finds the Great Cock. With a few well-placed compliments, he is granted an audience and petitions for help against the tribal matriarchy he’s facing. It is this act that triggers the epic quest The Magicians has been promising all hiatus. How long does such a quest take? “A good season.” To complete it, Eliot must become vulnerable once again and use neither magic nor the strength of his kingdom. But at least he has his friends’ help – as soon as Quentin responds to a message from a talking rabbit and travels to the depths of the New Jersey public library to retrieve a book aptly titled ‘The Tales of the Seven Keys.’

Quentin and company are well on their way to being united in the search for the keys to unlock magic’s backdoor, and the premiere proved the writing retains its unique tone no matter what new circumstances are thrown at the characters.

The Magicians airs Wednesdays at 9/8c on SYFY.