If we’ve learned anything about Fillory over the course of The Magicians’ first season, it’s that nothing is as it seems. The show’s season two premiere, “Knight of Crowns,” takes this a step further, turning the fantasy genre itself on its head. All those tropes and clichés to which you’ve become accustomed in this type of literature? Get ready to toss them out the window, because Fillory is having none of that.
This episode makes this clear from the jump by having Quentin encounter a native of Fillory who turns out to be only looking out for herself. Moreover, she warns Quentin to always be on his guard. “We’re not all whimsical creatures,” she says before leaving him in the dust. It’s a stark contrast to the role that other magical creatures have served in other fantasy stories: instead of existing purely for the purpose of assisting human characters, they are living separate lives and have separate interests, which can, at times, conflict with those of human protagonists.
It’s a theme that persists throughout “Knight of Crowns,” and it’s one that the characters would do well to remember. The scene with Penny and the magical river’s unofficial guardian builds on this theme, demonstrating that not only does our merry band of magic-users have to be wary of Fillory’s natural inhabitants but they also have to be respectful. After submerging himself in the river in order to use its magic to reattach his hands, Penny disrespects the man who asks for payment. In return, the man curses Penny, leaving him unable to use his newly-restored hands. When Penny returns to the river and demands that the man undo his spell, the man replies as follows: “Actions have consequences, Penny, even glib words spoken in casual arrogance.”
For me, this entire scenario reinforces the idea that the people of Fillory aren’t here to serve human interests. What’s curious, though, is that the episode also subverts this theme at notable points, exposing the lasting imprint that the human world has left on the magical world.
The first instance of this, of course, occurred at the end of last season, when we discovered that only children of Earth can be Kings and Queens of Fillory. This was carried over from the Chronicles of Narnia franchise and therefore contains similar notes of mankind’s supremacy over other beings. In the second season opener, this takes a comical turn: in order to pass the titular Knight of Crown’s tests, the group must answer several 90s pop culture questions. Thus follows an impressive reenactment of one of Patrick Swayze’s monologs from Dirty Dancing; I think Eliot deserves a round of applause for that one.
There are other comical moments, too, moments in which the characters themselves seem to question their roles in all of this. “We’re stuck in some epic fantasy that likes to behead its heroes halfway through season 1,” Margot laments, an obvious nod to George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice. “If we even are the heroes; we might be comic relief.” This is the sort of fourth-wall, existential questioning that I’ve grown to love about this show.
Besides this, “Knight of Crowns” also does a fantastic job of setting the foundation for what are bound to be some of the most compelling storylines this season. We have Eliot, who is facing the frightening prospect of having to stay behind in Fillory forever with a wife that he barely knows. Will this mean that his character will take a backseat moving forward? Hopefully not, as that would be monumentally disappointing.
Then we have Quentin and Alice, who are beginning on their path to reconciliation. But does that mean that they will get back together romantically? Perhaps they will, and perhaps they won’t. While they hook-up underneath a tree, Alice hints that might not be their destined path. Could this just be the show sending us mixed signals? We’ll have to wait and see.
Finally, there’s Julia, who made an uneasy alliance with the Beast/Martin at the expense of her friends in order to find a way to defeat Reynard. Will she allow Martin to lead her down a path similar to his own? As of now, she’s hanging onto her humanity. But what happens when the trauma of her rape becomes too much to bear?
As much as it pains me to say, I’m curious about Martin, too. He was so careful with Julia and respected her wishes regarding her shade. Furthermore, he appears to genuinely want to help her kill Reynard and get revenge. Is it possible that his attachment to her could lead to his downfall? Could her detraction from the group be the factor that sets the 40th loop apart from the others? We can only hope.
Altogether, “Knight of Crowns” suggests that this is going to be an intriguing season comprised of numerous, intertwining plotlines. I can’t wait to see where the writers choose to take each of these characters and take each of us viewers in the process. I have no idea what to expect, but I do know one thing: it’s going to be an interesting ride.
The next episode of The Magicians airs Wednesday, February 1st, at 9:00 pm ET/PT on Syfy.