REVIEW: The Magicians, S3E5 – A Life in the Day

The Magicians offers up a beautiful and compelling episode with “A Life in the Day,” managing to further the quest a great deal while also reaching deep into the souls of several characters. Margo (Summer Bishil) must contend with a forced marriage and the death of everyone she holds dear, Quentin (Jason Ralph) and Elliot (Hale Appleman) live an entire life together in the name of restoring magic, Penny (Arjun Gupta) and Kady (Jade Tailor) break everyone’s hearts a little bit more, and Julia (Stella Maeve) discovers the secret to her magic with Alice (Olivia Taylor Dudley) by her side. And “A Life in the Day” pulls all of this while handling time travel with grace, which almost no other show has been able to manage.

Can someone give this woman a break?

The shortest story is between Penny and Kady, but that doesn’t mean it leaves no impression. Whatever romantic reunion Penny may have been expecting, seeing her boyfriend’s astral projection through a truth-revealing key only sends Kady into more of a spiral. Not only is she freaked out that can see but not touch him, but she’s also emotionally drained from trying so hard to save him and failing. Tailor portrays Kady’s anguish perfectly, and it’s clear how much she’s hurting even as she resorts to her usual insults to push him away. Gupta also holds his own, conveying the heartbreak and resignation that comes with seeing her in this position and not being able to help. Worst of all, her apparently one-sided conversation with him is captured by the hospital cameras and results in her being kept under observation. Will any of their friends find out, and should they even break her out?

Julia and Alice have a little surprise bonding in “A Life in the Day,” as well, thanks to the mysterious force that’s been prodding Julia in different directions. When commanded to help Alice, Julia takes her to a bar where they contemplate the reason behind the little spark of magic that’s left. Once again the truth-revealing key comes to the rescue, but what she sees is terrifying. Reynard’s eyes look back at her, and soon Our Lady Underground is informing her that she planted a seed of his magic within Julia to ensure she had power of her own. While Julia is perfectly right that the Gods are cloudy on the concept of consent, Alice reminds her that Reynard is gone and there’s no reason for them not to use this gift to save themselves and everyone else.

But as touching as these moments are, the heart of “A Life in the Day” lies in Quentin and Eliot’s journey through the portal to Fillory. In order to recover the third key, they must solve the mosaic of the “beauty of all life,” which with its 784 tiles may take decades to complete. As frustrated as the two of them become, they never once consider abandoning their quest and letting magic die. Instead they learn to work together, growing closer which each failure to crack the code, and eventually sharing a kiss on their one-year anniversary. Soon, a villager joins their duo, marrying Quentin and giving them a child. It’s really quite a beautiful sequence, with Quentin’s grown son eventually saying goodbye to his dads before heading off on an adventure of his own. Eliot eventually passes, and Quentin is left solving the mosaic alone. But no sooner does he place a single tile – a testament to his enduring spirit – than a key emerges as his reward. In a cool twist, none other than Jane Chatwin shows up, just as in the Fillory books when someone else solved the mosaic before her. Knowing that she needs the key to stop the Beast, Quentin hands over his reward… But not before securing a backup plan for Margo.

Leave it to Margo.

Speaking of Margo, she goes through quite a whirlwind “A Life in the Day” as well. For reasons unbeknownst to us, the Fairy Queen demands that she marry a member of the Tribe of the Floating Mountain – whose mountain is now an island off the coast – in order to gain control of their army. Thankfully, her future husband hot as hell and was raised in a matriarchy, so Margo is counting her lucky stars. That is, until his little brother murders him in front of everyone in order to marry her himself.

Margo fools her murderous child husband into thinking she must open every present before they can consummate, which is good because the last present she opens is a key and request courtesy of Quentin. She goes to the Clock Barrens to speak to Jane, where she learns that her tale is her own and it won’t be boring. Now she must dig up Jane’s corpse in order to get the linear key, and that way she can stop Eliot and Quentin from ever going through the portal at all. Time travel, you guys! She falls apart in Eliot’s arms, in a heartbreaking and beautiful moment. The boys return the favor by staying with Margo in Fillory, where Quentin finds the letter he sent Margo and with it remembers all the lost memories from the alternate timeline. It’s a sweet and poignant final scene, as they hold hands to a gorgeous soundtrack and recall the peaches they would each while working on the Mosaic. There is no particular explanation for how they remember, but it doesn’t matter because sometimes love is the most powerful form of magic.

The third season of The Magicians has been firing on all cylinders, and each episode feels more powerful than the last. If it keeps up this momentum, it might wind up being one of the strongest sci-fi/fantasy series in recent memory.

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