A lot happens on The Magicians this week, which is not surprising, since there are a ton of threads to tie up in the remaining two episodes. After “Remedial Battle Magic,” which is a little heavy on plot and short on character, I have yet more questions: Will we get all the way to the end of book one of the series this season? Will there be terrible teases of things to come? (The Expanse, I am looking at you.) Will Eliot ever feel a shred of happiness again? Will Quentin ever make a good decision? Can Kady become a main part of this team? I have so many questions.
Battle spells and spoilers ahead!
Remember those pages the Librarian gave Penny? They reference a knife that can kill basically anything. It seems like a pretty good tool against the Beast, but nobody except Quentin is presently that gung-ho about going to Fillory, land of magic, Chatwins, and, oh yeah, the Beast. The team looks for another way to protect themselves, but a probability spells shows them—horribly—that their other options involve imminent death. Possibly they might want to learn some battle magic, stat.
Battle magic, it turns out, isn’t that easy. Most people can do it in bursts, but it takes a lot of practice to consistently access that power. The person who explains all of this is Kady, who Quentin smartly remembers used battle magic at the start of school. They find her alone in Julia’s apartment, and in a perfect, awkward storm of hurt feelings and regrets, Quentin dances around asking about Julia while Kady avoids asking about Penny. Kady doesn’t understand why he cares, after what Julia did to him, and Quentin’s explanation is stumblingly accurate: when you give a shit about a person, you don’t just stop because they messed up.
The look on Kady’s face when she thinks about this, when she hears this vital thing from this stammering, freaked-out young man, is what makes this character one of the secret hearts of this show.
Penny has a more urgent concern: the voice in his head turns up the volume. The voice—presumably the Beast, though I never felt like that was confirmed—does this to travelers all over the place, with horrible, ugly results that we see up close when Penny goes to his erstwhile mentor for help. Nothing has truly rattled Penny up until now, but this sure does. Penny’s meltdown is particularly poignant given that he just last week had to ask Quentin and Alice to save him; you can’t really blame him for not wanting to be vulnerable again, even though he’s clearly in serious trouble.
And he has a heart attack. The good part about this scene, though I feel a little shifty calling a heart attack “good,” is that it brings Professor Sunderland back on the scene. Just when I thought I couldn’t like her any more, she tells Penny she’s done things that would make him crawl under a blankie. Along with some genuine concern, she offers him a not-totally-approved, really uncomfortable looking patch thing that should keep the noise at bay.
If Penny has the immediate worst situation, Eliot is still in the deep end, and Hale Appleman is doing astonishing work with very few lines. Eliot’s drunk, he’s a mess, and as it turns out, he and Margo haven’t really talked about things because they’re not really talking. He is a shaken-up champagne magnum of repressed feelings, which ties in neatly to the battle magic shortcut Kady reluctantly tells them about. You can, it turns out, literally bottle up your feels, giving yourself short-term access to the kind of mental stillness that usually takes a decade of meditation and study.
In an episode full of death and failure, the scene on which our emotionless gang start speaking very flatly and plainly is a delight. (“I like your sweater,” Penny says, nonsensically, to the unstylish Quentin. Penny is presently dressed in cast-offs from the closet of Oberyn Martell; I dub thee Sexy Bathrobe II, Penny.) There is a downside to this bottle magic, but without any feelings, no one is very concerned about it. They traipse out to their lovely, warmly lit practice space in the woods and commence trying to fire magic missiles at wine bottles. (It is only natural that they’d have a lot of wine bottles to practice on, given Eliot’s state.) After three hours, they have to gulp down their shot-glass sized feelings again.
And those feelings hit them a whole lot harder than shots would. The emo hangover gets rougher each time they experience it. This premise is a really clever way to move the characters along an arc that takes a lot more time (like, most of their time at Brakebills) in the book. People either gush or lock up even harder, as is their wont: Alice tells Quentin she really, really loves him; Margo asks Eliot why they’re not best friends anymore; Eliot, tellingly, frighteningly, hardly seems any different.
Meanwhile, in Brooklyn, Richard gives his gang a pep talk about their god-finding goals, and how Julia is the key, because she actually succeeded at that spell he gave her back in rehab. He sends her and Kady off in search of some lesser magical creatures that might be able to point them to a real god, and after a brief encounter with a trashy vampire, they find a lamia who, quite cruelly, appears as Kady’s mom. Kady, bless her sarcastic soul, basically rolls her eyes and explains that she is not, in fact, a moron—though her expression says it’s bothering her more than she’d like.
The lamia tells them all the gods are dead, which is a bummer until Julia has a dream in which a lady in a white dress makes coins and milk fall from the sky and then gives Julia a map. Dear lady in white dress, please don’t be evil. Please let Julia meet someone nice. Please let Julia and Kady be BFFs. The little moment when Julia takes Kady’s hand is such a graceful demonstration of the person Julia is, or at least is trying to be: She isn’t without ambition, but she still wants to make things better for people.
With the bottled emotions highlighting the cracks in everyone’s relationships, Quentin and Eliot get rip-roaring drunk while Penny and Alice, being ambitious and/or freaked out and/or having had enough to drink this episode, decide to practice without the feels-bottles. They’re pretty good, and the scene is about more than just their success: Not only are they both notably powerful, but their relationship isn’t fraught with complexities and insecurities. There are no doubts or fears or confessions of love; when they practice together, it’s purely magical.
This, like much of the rest of battle magic, is the reverse of what we and the Brakebills students have learned about the relationship between magic and pain. Battle magic—the magic of causing pain—seems to come from stillness. Take away your emotions, and you don’t have pain to draw on. I love this, because it balances the scales of magic: to make good things, draw from pain; to fight, draw from calm. If you are a raging
psychopath maniac, you’re probably not going to easily access deadly magics.
But speaking of pain, the end of this episode, in which all the pent up emotions come home to roost, is a doozy, if one that I don’t think was entirely earned. The bottles as a shortcut worked on some levels, but not this one; the betrayal still seems to come out of nowhere, and just after last week’s development of Q and Alice’s relationship, no less. They just learned to talk to each other! Give them a minute!
Molly Templeton is starting to think that lady in the dungeon is a trap.