The Magicians recap: A poignant trip through Eliot's memories
The Magicians has been on a hot streak since it returned for its fourth season; however, tonight’s episode completely bowled me over. Not only did it revisit last season’s “A Life in the Day,” which was an instant classic when it aired, but it featured outstanding performances from Jason Ralph, Hale Appleman, and Summer Bishil. I was so moved by the trio’s work that I felt compelled to recap this episode!
Written by Mike Moore, “Escape from the Happy Place” essentially deals with the dangling thread of Eliot’s death/not-death from last week’s outing. We pick up with the real Eliot, who is hanging out in his memories/the Physical Kids Cottage completely unaware that his body has been possessed by an ancient monster. Well, that is until he meets Charlton, the Monster’s previous host who updates him on the current situation. Apparently, whenever the Monster takes over a new body, it also brings with it the minds/spirits/whatevers of its previous hosts. So right now, Eliot’s mind is both home to Charlton (who doesn’t understand what “f—k” means because he’s been tucked away for so long) and all of the other godly mistakes that the Monster inhabited while he was stuck in Castle Blackspire. Furthermore, those other monsters are pretty murderous and will kill Eliot (and Charlton) if they step outside of the Physical Kid Cottage, a.k.a. Eliot’s happy place.
Thankfully, it’s not all bad news. Charlton informs Eliot that there’s a secret door that will allow him to take control of the body (at least temporarily). The problem is, though, that it’s tucked away in one of Eliot’s dark, traumatic, and repressed memories. And so begins the tour of Eliot’s most effed up remembrances, which was both funny and heartbreaking in equal measure — a.k.a. classic Magicians.
The funny: we had the times when Eliot failed to get it up in bed and “creating a generation of lushes” at Brakebills. On the sad side of things, we saw the time when Eliot used magic for the first time to kill his school bully; when he joined other kids in bullying another student for being “girly” because he hated himself; and his penchant for sleeping with his friend’s significant others. All along the way, Hale Appleman perfectly conveyed how uncomfortable Eliot felt watching some of his biggest mistakes.
I found Eliot’s trip down memory lane pretty effective because it does tie into the show’s general concern about entering adulthood, and reflecting back on one’s life, especially the mistakes, is a huge part of growing up. In fact, it’s probably even stronger for millennials because most of our lives have been documented on social media. Facebook and apps like Time Hop are always there to remind us of things we did when we were younger that we would rather forget or do-over.
Next: An important Quentin and Eliot moment
After striking out multiple times, Eliot finally asks Charlton where his own door was, which helps Eliot realize that he must confront the thing he’s most afraid of: genuinely connecting with others. So, Eliot takes a trip back to the end of “A Life in the Day” and revisits the conversation he and Quentin had when the memories of their touching life together flooded back.
In the conversation that ensued, which we’re seeing the first time, Quentin earnestly made the case that they should try to be a real couple since they had proof they worked. “Who gets that kind of proof of concept?” said Quentin, as the show fully confirms that Quentin’s sexuality is fluid when he’s sober. And the fact that Quentin would be the one to suggest taking this leap feels very much in line with his romantic (read: occasionally idealized view of the world) side. But Eliot being Eliot shot him down because he thinks Quentin wouldn’t actually choose to be with a guy if he had other choices. But, we know that Eliot is hiding behind that excuse because he’s scared of a relationship that matters, and the way Ralph’s face slowly drops when Eliot turns him down is truly heartbreaking. Thankfully, the real Eliot, whose regret is palpable throughout the entire scene, finally chimes in, scolds his past self for rejecting something real like this and apologizes to past Quentin for being scared right before he kisses him.
Of course, that’s when the door opens. Eliot steps through and takes back control of his body right as the real Quentin, Alice, and Julia were trying to trap the Monster using blood from a Living Stone that they bled at Iris’ behest. At first, Quentin doesn’t believe that Eliot is actually back, but then Eliot says Quentin’s “proof of concept” line, which convinces Quentin to abandon their plan. Then, the Monster wrenches back control and proceeds to kill Iris, who showed up to yell at the Brakebills kids for failing to trap the Monster.
What’s interesting about the show’s decision to revisit “A Life in the Day” is that I’ve been thinking about that episode since the season started because of something Ralph said when I interviewed him, Appleman, and Bishil over the summer. “You know how Quentin lives here? [anxiously gesticulates],” said Ralph, speaking about how that episode changed Quentin. “After living a very slow life and accumulating the kind of wisdom that comes with that, he can’t really live there anymore. I don’t think he knows why, but I think that’s something that has fallen away, and I think he’s a more grounded, whole person now after going through that. But I don’t know if he could necessarily speak to that and say why but he definitely is changed.” That quote has been on my mind because this season it feels like Ralph has been conveying that idea in his performance. This season, Ralph has replaced Quentin’s anxious energy with this sense of exhaustion and “I don’t have any extra f—ks to give” that comes with maturity.
This was definitely apparent to me in every scene Ralph had with Olivia Taylor Dudley’s Alice, who re-entered Quentin’s life in order to save him because she read in his book that he was supposed to die trying to trap the Monster. (Luckily, that didn’t happen.) When Alice shows up at Marina’s apartment, Quentin, who is grieving Eliot’s death and struggling to draw blood from the stone, just can’t be bothered to deal with Alice because of everything else on his plate and because of everything she’s put him through. Of course, he lets her help them, but once the plan is executed, he still sends her away because he just can’t be around her anymore. “I loved you, but you couldn’t trust that. It’s done,” said Quentin in a surprising moment of maturity. So Alice follows the world book to wherever she’s destined to be, leaving Quentin to focus what energy he has on trying to save his best friend.
While I found Ralph’s performance in the episode to be particularly moving, it’s worth noting that Bishil was pretty affecting, too. Margo has the misfortune of having to break the news of Eliot’s death to everyone in Fillory, which leads to Fen devolving into a ball of tears. Margo, of course, refuses to do that and devotes all of her energy to opening her birthright box. At one point, Fen asks why she hasn’t cried yet, and Margo’s answer is particularly heartbreaking and very Margo. “I can’t cry out all the sadness ever, because if I start, I’ll never stop. Understand? I’ll be useless forever, and somebody has to rule this kingdom and I’ll be goddamned if I drop the ball if I was too busy lamenting with my t–s out,” she said, referencing Fillory’s weird and traditional bare-breasted lament. Luckily, she’s about to learn that there’s still a chance they can save Eliot so she can avoid Fillory’s odd mourning rituals for a while longer.
- Julia and her follower Shoshana discover a book that reveals that the stone organs that the Monster has been collecting are meant to form some body. They assume it’s the Monsters.
- Midway through the episode, Penny just gets kidnapped.
- In Fillory, there’s something called “the last lay,” which is when “the widow lays in her marital bed buried in the garments of her deceased love.”
- “I’m your friend. [Eliot’s] gone, but I’m here. Same number of friends,” The Monster, to Quentin.
Based on Lev Grossman’s book trilogy, this fantasy Syfy series follows the adventures of students at Brakebills University, a graduate school specializing in magic.