The Brakebills gang are crowned kings and queens of Fillory, and Julia enters into a tenuous alliance with The Beast

By Chancellor Agard
January 25, 2017 at 10:00 PM EST
Carole Segal/Syfy
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Previously on The Magicians: Quentin, Eliot, Alice, Margo, and Penny’s battle with The Beast, a.k.a. Martin Chatwin, failed because Julia stole their god-killing knife and asked Martin to “f—k up [a god’s] s—t.” Julia and Martin apparated out of there, leaving most of the Brakebills gang near death or severely maimed. And the throat-clearing season 2 premiere picks up right where the show left off, with Quentin, the sole survivor of the confrontation, running through the woods looking for help, which ends up being somewhat unnecessary because Alice uses her god powers to revive all of their friends without much problem. Unfortunately, they’ve now lost the knife, which means they need to find a new weapon to kill The Beast. Thus, The Magicians season 2 begins.

The Syfy drama remains as glib and irreverent as ever in its second season premiere, which doesn’t put too much effort into concealing the fact that it’s mainly concerned with moving the story pieces around for the upcoming season. “Knight of Cups,” the premiere, features both the things that made the show fun in season 1 — clever pop culture references, Margo and Eliot’s great one-liners — and the things that made it hard to get through at times — uneven plotting, gratuitous snark and deconstruction — dialed to 11. That being said, there are times in the premiere when the show regains its chill and takes a break from all of the snark to make you feel; this mostly occurs in Julia’s material, but this also applies to a couple of moments involving Quentin and the gang.

For the most part, the premiere is focused on the powerless seeking, well, power. As I mentioned, the Brakebills gang is still in Fillory, and they begin searching for a way to defeat Martin since Julia has the knife. Quentin suggests they search Castle Whitespire’s Armory — a.k.a. the library — for a powerful spell that Rupert Chatwin used at the Battle of the Bulge (jokes!). The gang’s mission in the premiere has a stop-and-start feel to it. To enter the castle, they need to be crowned, and to be crowned they need to visit the titular Knight of Crowns, which means crossing the Rainbow Bridge to get to the “coronation spot.” Yes, this leads to some fun moments, but it’s clear the show is stalling, and the story loses momentum in the process.

They eventually make it to the Knight of Crowns, who confirms they are truly Children of Earth by administering a ’90s pop culture test, which is superfluous to the plot but still funny — especially when Eliot breaks out a hilarious Patrick Swayze-in-Dirty Dancing impression to pass the test. Satisfied, the Knight of Crowns gives the gang the crowns, and they proceed to crown each other. “It’s important. We should honor it,” says Quentin, making a case for taking this moment seriously. And that’s what the show does. The scene plays out with way more sincerity than we’re used to on this show. Quentin, Eliot, Alice, and Margo use this as opportunity to clear the air on their issues, specifically the threesome that broke up Quentin and Alice.

“I think it’s incumbent on me to promise never again to betray you like I did,” says Eliot as he crowns Alice queen. “I have some character defects. I’m working on it.”

Once they make it to Castle Whitepsire, they discover that the Armory is empty and the spell they’re looking for is at Brakebills. Sadly, this means they have to leave Eliot behind, since he’s High King of Fillory now and has to tend to the land’s many problems. Quentin and Eliot share a very tender and earnest goodbye, with Quentin reassuring him that he won’t be alone for too long, even if time moves differently between worlds.

“You know, it’s considered extremely disrespectful to touch a king without permission, but I think you should probably hug me right now,” says Eliot in one of my favorite moments in the episode. It’s worth noting that Hale Appleman perfectly captures the dread Eliot feels at having to take responsibility for an entire kingdom.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, Julia strikes up a tenuous alliance with Martin, which is her way of gaining power. She agrees to give him the god-killing knife if he helps her kill Reynard, the trickster god that raped her at the end of last season. Her storyline continues to be the most interesting part of the show and the one that works the best, because its purpose is more clearly defined than the Brakebills/Fillory stuff, which is unstable and almost too unpredictable. (In a meta moment, Margo describes their gang as the “comic relief,” which is funny because it’s true). Moreover, the idea of Julia teaming up with Martin is fundamentally interesting because he, too, has been raped, so they have something in common. After magically sealing their deal, Martin shares with her what he took away from his assault.

“It helped me understand a truth. You’re powerful or you’re weak. If you’re powerful, you will survive,” he tells Julia, clearly outlining what the show will probably explore this season.

For Martin, becoming powerful means abandoning pesky emotions like the ones she’s feeling, and he suggests that she do this by removing her shade, which is basically the show’s version of The Vampire Diaries‘ humanity switch plot device, except it sounds permanent. Severing her shade would make it “easier to live,” says Martin, which seems like the show is raising the question of whether or not life is worth living if you can’t really feel anything. However, Julia declines, even after he gives her a taste of what that relief would feel like.

At this point, it’s still hard to judge how the show is handling this rape storyline. I was disappointed when they introduced it last season (I guess this is the point where I confess that I haven’t read the second book) because I’m frankly tired of sexual violence toward women on TV. But they went there, so we have to accept it. However, the premiere is pretty unbalanced, and we don’t spend nearly enough time with Julia in the episode. That being said, Stella Maeve works, well, magic with the time she gets in the episode. I’m interested in seeing how the show uses Julia and Martin’s interesting dynamic.

Odds and Ends:

  • Quentin gave a woman in the forest a vial of his blood in exchange for her helping his friends. However, she refuses to give it back after Alice heals them on their own. Thus, we have to keep an eye out for Chekhov’s Vial of Blood this season.
  • Penny visits the Chatwin Torrent to fix his hands. He’s rude to the river’s attendant, so the attendant retaliates by cursing him with a magical form of alien hand syndrome. Moral of the story: Actions have consequences, so don’t be an dick to people
  • “Wow, swallowing has its privileges.” — Margo, reacting to Alice’s god-like ability to bring them back from near death
  • “We’re stuck in some epic fantasy that likes to behead its heroes half way through season 1. If we even are heroes. We might be comic relief.” — Margo, on the gang’s traumatic experiences in Fillory
  • “This feels as natural as underwear” — Eliot, reacting to having a crown placed on his head

We wrote a react for this episode, which means we’ll just be checking in occasionally, but if this is a show you’d like to read about each week, please let us know! You can email chat@ew.com with your feedback and suggestions.

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  • 12/16/15
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