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“The Magicians” 1.8 Review: “The Strangled Heart”

In the world of The Magicians, pain is power—and “The Strangled Heart” demonstrated exactly why this is an unalienable truth. Full of suspense, intrigue and emotional bombshells, and with an action-packed center that made it a pleasure to watch, the eighth episode maintained the show’s trend of being a character-driven drama, focusing and expounding on previously established relationships. It starts off by dealing with the emotional fallout from “The Mayakovsky Circumstance”: after their visit to Brakebills South, Quentin and Alice find themselves struggling to understand their confusing feelings for one another. Meanwhile, Penny is dealing with Kady’s recent abandonment in the only way he knows how: by repressing it and lashing out. He dedicates his time and energy to mastering his Traveling skills rather than acknowledge his emotions. If matters weren’t complicated enough, these three are also thrust into the same study group as they move on to the next stage of their magical education.

However, the most compelling storyline in this episode is the one involving Eliot and Mike, Eliot’s new boyfriend. In the previous episode, we learned that Mike has some kind of connection to the Beast, and “The Strangled Heart” wasted no time showing us exactly what that entails. As it turns out, Mike isn’t just being controlled by the Beast; he’s actually possessed by him and has been since, presumably, the moment he walked back into Brakebills. While cuddling up to Eliot, Mike/The Beast were plotting their next assault on Quentin and Brakebills. After a particularly gruesome scene involving a rabbit and a knife, Mike/The Beast set out to remove Quentin from the equation once and for all—only find their efforts thwarted by Penny, who gets stabbed in Quentin’s place and lands in the hospital.

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If you thought that was the extent of the drama, think again. As it turns out, the knife is cursed with a spell straight out of Fillory, which means that Quentin and Alice are the only ones who can break it. I was kind of disappointed that Margot wasn’t around for this episode because it would have been interesting to see her contribute her own knowledge of Fillory. Nevertheless, Quentin and Alice get the job done—and celebrate with an impassioned kiss.

Things for Eliot and Mike don’t turn out nearly as well. Under interrogation, Mike reveals that he doesn’t remember anything about the attack or about his return to Brakebills. But it isn’t until his confrontation with Eliza that we get the whole truth. During their short conversation, we learn quite a few shocking revelations, such as Eliza’s true identity. Eliza, to my surprise, is really Jane Chatwin, the heroine of the Fillory books. Sadly, we’re hardly given any time to digest this information because she is murdered by the Beast soon after.

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I have to admit that I found this to be an unsatisfactory turn of events. For starters, I don’t think that Jane Chatwin would allow herself to get locked in a room with a known dangerous person without any means to protect herself. That seems like a rookie mistake. Mostly, however, I feel like we were deprived of the one person who could tell us the truth about Fillory. Now, our merry band of aspiring magicians will have to learn as they go, which could prove to be perilous.

Regardless of what’s to come, one thing is for certain: it’s going to be difficult for Eliot to shake off this latest emotional blow. From the moment that he discovered Mike’s secret, my heart broke for him. Eliot doesn’t let a lot of people into his life, and he certainly doesn’t tell a lot of people about his past, so to have someone who he shared intimacy with turn out to be evil had to feel like a betrayal of epic proportions. To make matters worse, Eliot then had to be the one who took Mike out. I have to take a moment to commend Hale Appleman for doing such an amazing job at portraying Eliot’s struggle and grief. It made these scenes that much more unforgettable.

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Last but not least, we have Julia’s storyline, which, while not as action-packed as the others, was nonetheless thought-provoking. In an attempt to recover from her addiction to magic, Julia admits herself into a rehab facility, where she gets a disturbing visit from Marina (who I believe only came to put the fear of, well, Marina into Julia in order to prevent any further attempts at seizing power). At this facility, Julia meets Richard, a missionary who also happens to be a magician. Richard encourages Julia to seek support from a higher power, which she does. At this point, I have no idea where her storyline is going to end up, but I can say that I don’t think it’s wise that she is replacing one addiction with another.

All in all, this was the strongest episode of the show so far. It pulled together multiple storylines and provided opportunities for many of the characters to develop, grow and forge new relationships. I can only hope that the show continues to deliver more twists and turns in the remainder of the season.

New episodes of The Magicians air on Mondays at 9:00 pm ET/PT on Syfy.

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