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“The Magicians” Ends Its First Season on a Brutal, Buzz-Worthy Note

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From the beginning, The Magicians promised to be a fantasy series unlike any other, willing to tackle complex, adult themes and effectively turn the genre on its head—and that’s exactly what the season one finale accomplished. One could say that every episode leading up to this one was preparing us for the horror and carnage to come. In fact, we should have guessed that Fillory, the last stronghold of childhood imagination, so to speak, would turn out to be nothing more than another source of disappointment, anguish and suffering. However, there’s no way that any of us could’ve seen the game-changing cliffhanger at the end of “Have You Brought Me Little Cakes” coming.

The episode begins with Quentin taking over as narrator and crafting his own Fillory book. In the process, he recounts how he arrived in Fillory with Julia, discovered that they played a minor part in the iconic Fillory and Further book series and reunited with the rest of the Brakebills group. But with each subsequent chapter, it becomes apparent that Fillory is not all it’s cracked up to be—even with its opium-infused atmosphere—and that Quentin’s role in this story isn’t as major as he had initially assumed.

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This is a bitter pill for Quentin to swallow but one that he surprisingly handles with more maturity than we’re used to seeing in him. For someone who desperately wants to be special and who struggles with self-worth, he passes the torch to Alice with little complaint. Looking back, though, I have to wonder if that was the right choice. Would the outcome of their confrontation with The Beast have been different if Quentin had remained “the volunteer tomato”? Did Quentin unknowingly change too much and set the group up for another defeat? Because for all of his talk about Alice being more qualified, she flubs her chance to defeat The Beast by losing the enchanted knife designed to kill him. Not exactly something that you’d expect from a “Chosen One”….

But maybe that’s the point. Maybe they lost because they neglected to realize that “Chosen Ones” aren’t a dime a dozen. People can’t just step into the role because they feel qualified or step out of it because they feel like they can’t measure up to others. The mantle of the Chosen is something that is usually bestowed upon someone without their consent; it’s very rarely a matter of free will or personal choice.

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Or maybe, in the world of The Magicians, there are no Chosen Ones. Maybe there are only “volunteer tomatoes” who can be replaced at a moment’s notice. Maybe it was never about defeating the Beast so much as it was about surviving to fight another day (well, for most of the characters, anyway. I’m really hoping that Alice pulls through but things aren’t looking good).

One thing is for certain: pain seems to be the primary determiner of every outcome on The Magicians. It’s what drove Martin Chatwin to seek out the source of all magic and drink from it in the first place, effectively killing his humanity and turning him into The Beast (yes, Martin Chatwin is The Beast, just as I predicted). It’s what differentiates Eliot from Quentin and Penny, and leads to him being chosen as the new High King of Fillory. Most important of all, it’s what causes Julia to make a rash and unexpecting decision at the end of the episode—a decision that could spell very bad things in the future.

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In many respects, Julia’s storyline this season has mirrored that of Martin Chatwin. Like Martin, she is rejected from magic. And like him, she refuses to accept that rejection and resorts to extreme measures in order to force her way into that world because she feels like she was meant to be a part of it in the first place. For a long time, this determination is what defines Julia’s character and what motivates her to continue on her path, regardless of the consequences.

As we learn in this episode, the consequences are more than Julia can bear. As it turns out, the summoning of Our Lady Underground didn’t end as happily as we had thought. Rather than granting everyone’s wishes, the entity that the Free Trader Beowulfs summoned—which was actually a Trickster god named Reynard the Fox—slaughtered the majority of the group before brutally raping Julia, after which it left to presumably wreak havoc on the world. Overwhelmed by the trauma, Julia called Marina and begged her to perform a memory-erasing charm on her. Marina went one step further; not only did she put a patch over that portion of Julia’s memory but she also invented an alternative ending for Julia, one in which everyone gets their happily ever after.

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Unfortunately, Marina’s spell was hasty as well as shoddy. Everyone from the Watcherwoman to Ember notices the patchwork immediately. To Quentin’s horror, the latter even goes so far as to remove it, thinking he’s helping Julia. Ember’s actions, however, do more harm than good; by ripping the band-aid off, he leaves Julia flailing under the wave of trauma and pain that is unleashed and unwittingly cripples the group’s assault against The Beast.

It isn’t that Julia is incapacitated by it—quite the contrary, actually. In a strange and disturbing twist, Julia is empowered by what happened, and she uses that power for her own gain. Rather than destroying The Beast, she strikes a deal with him in order to get back at the entity that assaulted her and killed her friends. With a dismayed Quentin looking on, the two of them vanish into thin air, leaving Alice and Penny bleeding out on the floor and Eliot and Margot in an unconscious heap.

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This is a horrifying way to end the episode, to be sure, but that doesn’t make it any less brilliant. It leaves viewers with a multitude of new questions to mull over. Who will survive? How long will Julia’s alliance with The Beast last? Is Julia pregnant with the Trickster god’s baby? How will the group get out of Fillory now that Victoria is gone and Penny’s hands have been severed? And will Eliot really have to stay in Fillory until the end of his days? Without a doubt, this finale has laid the foundation for what is sure to be a stellar second season—and I for one can’t wait to see what they do next.

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