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“The Magicians” 1.09 Review: The Dark Side of “The Writing Room”

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If you thought The Beast was terrifying before, then brace yourself for even more disturbing revelations about the series’ chief villain in “The Writing Room.” In many ways, the ninth episode of Syfy’s The Magicians is a game-changer; everything that we thought we knew about Fillory, Christopher Plover, and the Chatwin siblings is shattered in one fell swoop, leaving some of our favorite characters flummoxed as to how to pick up the pieces. In addition, it sets the stage for what’s sure to be an epic confrontation down the line, which makes me really excited for the next few episodes.

However, let’s focus on what happened in this episode first, because it was a doozy. The writers ventured into some extremely heavy territory this time around, showcasing just how dark the show can go. As a whole, it was a perfect mixture of creepiness, humor, and emotional discord, both internally and externally. Furthermore, I want to commend the writers for being able to present two complementary storylines so expertly without them feeling like they were detached from one another. In their own unique ways, each storyline—Quentin’s and Julia’s—tackled the issue of Fillory and its place in their magical lives, which made the episode feel cohesive rather than disjointed.

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Regarding Quentin, it should come as no surprise that, for him, the Fillory and Further books have served as his saving grace. When he was at his lowest point, the books series gave him hope and a reason to keep going—which is why the events of this episode affect him so much. While we already knew that Fillory is a lot more dangerous than it is painted in the Fillory and Further books, we knew next to nothing about the books’ legendary author, Christopher Plover. “The Writing Room” rectifies that, putting Plover under a microscope and peeling back the image that Fillory fans like Quentin have constructed over the years.

So, what was the biggest bombshell? Undoubtedly, it was that Plover was drugging, molesting and raping children, in particular Martin Chatwin, and that his sister Prudence was covering it up. The poor boy was desperate to get back into Fillory because he wanted to escape his tormentor, but Fillory, for some unknown and cruel reason, refused to grant him access. Although I’m not sure if Jane Chatwin knew about the abuse that her brother was enduring (which also brings up the question: did Plover molest the other brother, too?), she recognized his agitation and agreed to go into Fillory in order to obtain a one-way ticket into the magical land for Martin. Ultimately, she was successful; she brought back a button, which she claimed was the key to Fillory, and which sadly became lost after a series of tragic events.

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It’s this button that Quentin, Alice, Penny, and Eliot are after when they visit the historical Plover home, but they get so much more than they bargained for. In a matter of minutes, they are thrust into a vivid time slip, in which they witness not only Martin’s abuse but also the murder of the housekeeper’s two children, Beatrice and George. Understandably, Quentin is rocked to his core. He feels betrayed and also as if he has somehow contributed to Plover’s crimes by worshipping his work. But it’s Alice’s reaction that is the most interesting. Overwhelmed by the idea that these children are trapped in this house for eternity, forced to relive their own deaths, she demands that they help them in some way because, as she puts it, “these are the type of things we should be able to fix.” However, as Eliot points out tactlessly, there is nothing they can do. With heavy hearts, they have to leave the house and its tortured spirits behind.

While I know that The Magicians will probably zip on to the next story, I really hope that they take some time to deal with the emotional repercussions of this intense episode. For both the characters and the viewers, this is a lot to take in and digest. What kind of impact is this going to have on Quentin moving forward? I expect that he’s going to see Fillory as a perilous, unjust place rather than the happy-go-lucky fantasy world that he built in his head. Moreover, I think that he’s going to become even more dedicated to taking the Beast down—because that was the other major bombshell in this episode: The Beast is Plover, who was so desperate to get into Fillory that he started studying wild magic and Traveling, presumably transforming himself in the process.

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Now, Plover/The Beast wants to possess every road into Fillory (which, if you think about it, is an interesting commentary on authorial ownership and intent), but could he be after more than just power? Could it be that he wants to use Fillory to continue to lure children in for his own pleasure? At this point, anything is possible, but I have to say that the idea that Fillory is a trap rather than an escape for children would add an even more unsettling dimension to Fillory and to the show as a whole.

I’m also curious as to what became of Martin Chatwin. Since Jane was still around until last week’s episode, I have to surmise that Martin must still be around, too. Will we find out more about him moving forward? Since the button was lost, I know he didn’t make it to Fillory, but it’s likely that he started studying magic in a desperate attempt to defend himself. My only hope is that he’s got enough good left in him that he’ll be an asset to Quentin and the others rather than an adversary.

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Before I move on, I want to point out that the writers did an excellent job of using the ghost narrative as a chance for the characters to confront the personal demons that are haunting them. Both Eliot and Penny are unsuccessfully dealing with the recent tragedies and treacheries in their respective lives and it’s beginning to affect how they react to outside problems. While Penny lashing out at Quentin was nothing new, I was stunned that Eliot was so cruel to Alice regarding putting the trapped ghosts to rest. From Eliot’s point of view, it’s impossible to bury the ghosts of the past, so why bother trying? But I can’t help but feel like they should still try if for no other reason to than to be able to say that they did everything that they could.

This sentiment was mirrored in Julia’s storyline, which was as poignant as the ghost one, albeit a little less shocking. While seeking help for her addiction to magic, Richard, who is like her sponsor, encourages her to seek penance by mind-melding with a paralyzed magician named Kira. Over the course of their interactions, Kira urges Julia to chase the good memories of her past, which I take it to mean Quentin and her love for Fillory, and then begs Julia to end her suffering. At first, Julia objects, but eventually recognizes that it would be cruel to leave Kira in this tormented state—much like Alice in regard to the ghosts at the Plover house.

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Altogether, “The Writing Room” is another stellar example of this show’s exceptional writing and storytelling techniques. The dark material of the episode is balanced by splashes of humor, providing each character with an abundance of opportunities to demonstrate a profound amount of emotional depth. Moreover, it elevates the central conflict to a new, personal level while also upping the stakes involved in solving it. Since there are only a few more episodes this season, this makes me eager to see what happens next and, based on what the show has already delivered, I’m confident that I won’t be disappointed.

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

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