Episode 101, “Unauthorized Magic”
Episode 102, “The Source of Magic”
In a double-episode season opener, The Magicians kicks off its edgy magic university story (based on the novel of the same name by Lev Grossman) with two complementary episodes and some intriguing special effects.
Episode 1, also seen as a sneak peek last month, introduces us to the cast and school as Quentin Coldwater (Jason Ralph) is recruited into Brakebills University, along with other young adults who have a propensity for magic. Also sitting the entrance exam is his friend, Julia (Stella Maeve); however, she doesn’t make the cut, and her memory is wiped before she is sent home…or so they think. Quentin moves forward to meet his new classmates and teachers, while Julia, memory intact, tries desperately to persuade the school to give her another chance.
J: “I can’t just go to Yale if I know this place exists.”
For the first time in his life, Quentin understands that he’s not crazy; he’s a magician. He leaves his anti-depressants at the door and with the help of new friends Elliot (Hale Appleman) and Margo (Summer Bishil), he gets a tour of the campus, an introduction to the various disciplines, and starts making friends, whether he wants to or not.
Alice Quinn (Olivia Taylor Dudley), an introverted, demure student, has an agenda of her own. Studious and driven, her sole purpose for coming to Brakebills is to find her brother. There’s only one problem with her plan: he died five years ago.
Alice is convinced that Quentin is destined to help her resurrect her brother after seeing a symbol burned into his hand. It just so happens that Quentin received the mark from a young woman named Jane Chatwin when he visited a fictional land called Fillory during a dream — or was it real? This is where the story starts to feel like it could go down that “Hogwarts meets Narnia” path, but if you can bear with it, it may just surprise you. Jane Chatwin (Rose Liston), one of the fictional characters of Fillory, warns Quentin that the Beast is coming for him. She tells him to stay on the garden path, a reference that we will hear from several people giving Quentin advice.
In an attempt to summon Alice’s brother, Alice and Quentin unwittingly by-pass the school’s protective wards, which allows a terrible moth-man beast from another world onto campus. Although there were a few good scenes in this first episode, the final scene stole the show. After being frozen in their positions at the stroke of twelve, the students witness the Beast entering the lecture hall, killing the professor and plucking out the Dean’s eyes while they are helpless to fight back. We never see the Beast’s face, as there is a swarm of moths that seem to come from his neck and orbit his head in a hap-hazard pattern, but he approaches Quentin and calls him by name. Just as he is sure to do something horrible to him, Quentin is able to obtain a stopwatch from the maimed Dean by magic transference that releases the class from their frozen state. This allows Alice to perform a complicated spell that makes the Beast retreat back into the mirror, which they promptly destroy.
The Beast has got to be one of the best arch villains ever. This guy is creepy, what with moths for a head and his Darth Vader throat crushing technique, but even creepier was his light dance steps through the classroom as if he was strolling to music at the grocery store, choosing where to focus his attention next. Add that to the effective theme music and the Beast’s love of disturbing smiley faces, like the one he drew using the Dean’s eyes on the desk and smearing the blood from his fingers to draw the smiling mouth, and you’ve got yourself a really great menace to society.
The aftermath of the intrusion of this malevolent creature begins in Episode 2 with the fallout suffered by the students and an investigation, led by Dr. Sunderland (Anne Dudek) who gets to the bottom of things pretty quickly. Dean Fogg (Rick Worthy) is blind and his hands are crushed, but he is alive. The same can’t be said for the metallurgy professor, who died at the whim of the Beast. The students are in shock, reliving the last few moments in the classroom in flashback fashion to fill in the blanks.
Penny (Arjun Gupta), Quentin’s roommate, decides to leave school; however, his girlfriend, Kady (Jade Tailor) convinces him otherwise. Alice is not outed, and Quentin takes the blame for the breach of security at the school. Armed with a spell (courtesy of Eliot) and a crystal (courtesy of Penny) to protect his mind from being wiped, he meets with a Specialist, Eliza (Esmé Bianco), and is surprised to learn that he is not going to be expelled.
Eliza: “You are a much better liar than I expected you to be…. You’re so eager to belong you forget why you are here.”
Quentin: “Why am I here?”
Eliza: “You dreamed of Fillory before the attack, like a warning, and I have, too…and I have looked into that beast’s eyes.”
Quentin: “Who are you?”
Eliza: “Just another inadequate magician who’s lost people.”
Although she takes the crystal from him, he gets a reprieve. Instead, he is given probation and another chance. There are dangerous forces at work, and they are going to need all of the magicians they can get to fight it. Her parting words are a bit of a mystery (as if the other conversation wasn’t cryptic enough), and Quentin is more perplexed than ever.
Eliza: “Don’t hop back on the garden path like some little lemming. Everything’s connected—don’t overthink it.”
This episode digs deeper into Julia’s quest to belong in the magical world. After having been rejected by Brakebills and by Quentin, who refuses to vouch for her, she is recruited by Pete (David Call), who is part of an unsanctioned underground school for misfit magicians. Julia is put to the test right away and earns her first tattoo star, essentially “leveling up” in a day by escaping a locked meat cooler and a rather ‘unsavory’ experience. Marina (Kacey Rohl), a frightened new recruit, was in the cooler with Julia, playing the damsel in distress role, but once they emerged safely, she reveals that she’s actually a level 50 magician and has connections at Brakebills, among other places.
Julia: “How am I supposed to trust you?”
Marina: “Why would you ever trust anyone?”
Naturally, after the Beast experience, Quentin sees that the magic that used to allow him to excel at parlor tricks has vast dangers and even larger consequences. He doubts that he should be doing it at all. Although it’s not apparent why, Eliot is becoming both a friend and a mentor to Quentin, convincing him to stay by confiding a dark deed from his own past.
Elliot: “Magic doesn’t come from talent—it comes from pain”
Margo tries to befriend a dubious Alice, and through their brief conversation it’s revealed that Alice didn’t take the entrance exam; she just walked right in using her parents’ alumni key that she stole. …wait, WHAT? With all of the protective wards and shields to guard the campus from attack, you are telling me that Brakebills didn’t notice a new student just appeared without any records? Okay, we’ll go with that for the sake of the story, which reveals a weakness in the protection around the school, and may come into play later.
We eventually understand what Marina meant by having connections at Brakebills, and she and Pete are somehow coercing Kady to be a spy for the underground school. She’s shown handing over an ancient book to Pete and Marina outside the grounds, and promising to get them the crystal and some other ingredients on their shopping list. The plot thickens….
Quentin tells Alice about the existence of Fillory, and he speculates that the Beast came from there. Alice is somewhat convinced that Fillory can be real after Quentin shows her that the books were written by a man who lived near the real Chatwins, and knew the siblings who disappeared: Jane and Martin Chatwin. He also admits to Alice that he met Jane Chatwin in a dream, manifesting a magic symbol (a sigil) on his hand before their séance.
Q: “We called something from another world…what if Fillory is real?”
At the end of Episode 2, Eliza visits Dean Henry Fogg in the hospital, where is recuperating from his attack by the Beast. Their discussion is about getting ready for something big.
Henry: “No one is ready; we need more time and a teacher with full use of his hands! This is your problem, and you should solve it! Find a way back, find the beast. Kill him.”
Eliza: “All we can do is make them magicians.”
Henry: “That’s not enough.”
Eliza: “I know.”
The episodes are clipping along, and they explore some very dark and gritty areas of life and magic. It does add an air of real life to the consequences they experience; however, as with many new series, some of these characters need more time to develop in a way that give them more dimension. Next week’s teaser shows the magicians learning more skills, more complicated hand gestures, more Harry Potter references, and more danger as Julia starts to realize that she’s possibly in over her head.
The Magicians airs Mondays at 9/8c on Syfy.