REVIEW: The Magicians, S4E5 – Escape From the Happy Place

With “Escape From the Happy Place,” The Magicians once again proves how adept it is as toeing the line between comedy and tragedy – wringing out the best of both like Alice (Olivia Taylor-Dudley) bleeding a lifestone. Quentin (Jason Ralph) and Julia (Stella Maeve) were on a quest to lock the monster away forever just as Eliot (Hale Appleman) was on his own quest to prove to his friends that he was still alive, which meant that something had to go wrong from the start. And while the audience shivered in anticipation of the final showdown, the series made use of another one of its strengths: calling on the power of nostalgia without ever feeling repetitive.

Watching your life pass you by like…

The episode opened on the Physical Kids Cottage, taking us all the way back to The Magicians‘ first season and the ragers Eliot and Margo (Summer Bishil) would throw. The chaotic serenity on their lost youth was soon interrupted by a consistent knocking, though, which ended up belonging to the monster’s previous host: Charlton (who hilariously didn’t know the meaning of f–k after spending nearly his entire life locked up). Unfortunately, Eliot had to face the harsh reality that his body had been possessed and that searching for the exit door would only result in his flesh being ripped from his bones. But Eliot being Eliot, of course, stopped listening after “door” and set out on a trip down traumatic memories lane alongside a group of his imaginary friends to figure out which repressed event was hiding his “Escape From the Happy Place.”

As usual, the memories swing from humorous recountings of the times Eliot couldn’t get it up to heartbreaking recollections of how he killed his childhood bully and how he became a bully himself out of self-hate. Appleman’s reactions to his own life are perfectly executed, injected even the more trivial moments with real meaning. But the heart of the story – and therefore the location of the door – lay in a return to the events of “A Life in the Day.” After spending 50 years together, Quentin confessed his desire to be in a relationship with Eliot since no one else gets “proof of concept” that their love could be fruitful. In the past, Eliot shot that opportunity down for fear of something real, but this time he apologized and kissed his best friend just as the door opened to allow him a brief moment in the real world. The metaphor was obvious and beautiful, and the near-tragedy of timing made for an intense viewing experience.

Friends die for each other every week, right?

After all, at that very moment Quentin and Julia were seconds away from the culmination of their plan to lock the monster away for good. The Goddess Iris was holding Julia’s life hostage, and Quentin refused to back down even if it meant his own life was on the line. Of course, he was so gung-ho about ending the monster only because he believed that Eliot was gone for good, which the audience knew was a lie. Alice even joined in on the action after assuring Quentin that she would disappear to wherever her book destined once the deed was done, and it was very interesting to compare Quentin’s near-exhaustion when dealing with what was left of their relationship to his obvious longing for Eliot.

Thankfully Eliot managed to break through to the real world just as Alice was about to douse him in blood from the stone, which meant Quentin was able to save him. Julia lost her maenad to Iris’ wrath because of this, but The Magicians still came out the winners thanks to glibly convincing the monster that they had planned to bring him Iris and her heart all along. Not only that, but they had figured out that the parts the monster was in search of came together to create a body. Was it the monster’s original one? Will Eliot make it out again? Did Alice do the right thing is sending Christopher Plover to the poisoned world, and what will become of her now? And, finally, who kidnapped Penny (Arjun Gupta) and why? “Escape From the Happy Place” opens up plenty of questions like these, but they’re exciting to think about rather than frustrating.

Over in Fillory, Bishil gave a powerhouse performance as Margo focused her energies on learning the secret of her birth box in the face of the entire kingdom mourning her friend’s death. This was another instance of The Magicians seamlessly merging the absurd humor of bare-breasted laments and Fen’s “last lay” amidst her husband’s clothes with the heart-wrenching pain of Margo not being able to start crying for fear that she would never stop. In the end, Margo’s birth box held no answers because the talking lizard inside it has been silenced along with the other animals in the kingdom. She may have taken an Ambien and gone to the sleep of silence for now, but soon enough the High King will have to confront the problems in her kingdom as well as the news that Eliot is still alive.

The Magicians airs Wednesdays at 10/9c on SYFY.