“The Tales of the Seven Keys”
January 10, 2018
The Magicians returned tonight to start us on a new epic quest which will take a good season to play out. We were re-acquainted with all of our favorite Magicians and over the course of this single hour, heard more memorable lines than you’re likely to hear on any other show over the course of a whole season. The writing and delivery on The Magicians is so spot on, its equal parts, nerdy, fantastical, whimsical, badass-ical, sassy and sincere. Its like being lulled by a train smoothly rolling on its tracks with a rhythmic clackety clack that just sweeps you along for the ride. Anyway, more thoughts on this amazing episode and the season outlook at the end of the post. Grab some bacon, sit back and enjoy.
Warning: This is going to be a long post, so drink lots of water (you must be diligent about hydration) and buckle up. Before we meet the Great Cock of the Darkling Woods and embark on an Epic Quest with our friends, let’s talk about what happened before …
At the end of Season 2, everything was fucked. (Spoilers, Season 3 begins just as bleak). More specifically, Ember killed his brother Umber, but before he could destroy all of Fillory, Quentin killed Ember with a sword imbued with now dead Umber’s god power (Julia – always on the ball). Having raised the ire of the Old Gods by killing one of their kids (even if he was a hedonistic asshat), they send a “Plumber” to literally turn off the flow of magic in our world and in Fillory.
Fast forward two months and things are not great. At Brakebills, Dean Fogg is teaching students (including Alice, Q and Josh the pot head) theoretical magic and he shuts down the notion that magic is coming back anytime soon. Back in Fillory, magic-less Eliot and Margo argue over how to rule a magic-less Fillory (Margo would really like a more dictatorial approach). This is where I should mention a small caveat to the “no magic” thing; that’s just humans. Magical animals and creatures are totally okay and so it should not surprise you that the Faerie Queen and her Faerie Army are knocking on Castle Whitespire’s door.
Alice, who is still hella-annoyed at Quentin (though they had some make up sex and shared some bacon) for dragging her from her niffin existence and forcing her back into a human body, learns from Joseph that someone she pissed off when she was a niffin — The Lambre (according to closed captioning). No idea who that is. Anyway, its looking to exact some revenge against her.
Another caveat to the no magic thing is Julia. Julia tells (and shows) Quentin that she still has a small spark of magic.
Last is Penny. He’s still dying from cancer plus and Kady tries to get Harriet (Marlee Matlin!! ) to help her save him. In exchange, Kady will leak Harriet any Library info she gets from Penny. We actually don’t see Penny in the end so he may already be dead. Who knows. And that was Season 2.
What Happened Now …
Last Warning About Spoilers … cause its about to be all spoilery up in this bitch. Its happening. Last warning. For real. Okay. I warned you.
We open on Julia and Q in a school lab trying to get her spark of magic to do … something. Anything. But, its no good. Unable to grow her power or actually do any really magic has gotten Julia on the “maybe its a mistake from when OLU [Our Lady Underground] gave me my shade back” train. Q is skeptical that a god would make such a blunder. Julia counters with OLU’s son, Reynard, as Exhibit A. Touche. Speaking of Reynard, Q thinks her having magic is a result of her having more contact with gods than most. I feel like maybe he was politely god-slut shaming her there but maybe not. Cut to …
Penny! He’s alive. And wearing a dapper suit and tie. He’s also tied to a chair. Seems he was captured by a survivalist-type who had an overdue Library book but also, maybe, more importantly, is trying to use some Mayakovsky spells to brew magic breaking bad-meth lab style. Not safe at all. He’s also drinking heavily from a flask; I don’t think this guy’s life outlook is very optimistic. He does spin an interesting theory about how Mayakovsky was banking on his batteries to get him through any potential magic dry spells. Let’s put that on the shelf until needed later in the season because it seems important. While Old Man Survivalist grouses on, Penny spies the book he is looking for and traveler’s himself out of his bondage and then, once he’s got the required book in hand, out of there completely. Title Card.
Before heading back to the Library, Penny stops off to see Kady, hoping for a quickie in a car. On a break from her waitress job, she’s equal parts happy to see him but also concerned about his whole, you know, impending death, so he really needs to get back to the Library. They kiss and its sad and then he poofs. Eh, these two together are my least favorite interactions. They are great characters I just like them best interacting with other people (Kady with Julia and Harriet; Penny with Zelda and Alice).
Fillory. Eliot and Margo are holding court. While it seems Tick and the rest of the royal minions can’t see the extra visitors in the room, Eliot and Margo are completely distracted by the presence of the Faerie Queen who is coddling a bunny and seemingly portalling it somewhere. Also distracting? Fen. Who is cooing a small wooden log like a baby, complete with swaddling. She also maybe has tree toes? Fen is not in good shape guys.
Margo dismisses the minions and the Faerie Queen dismisses Eliot. Alone, the Faerie Queen tasks Margo to round up every Lumbricus Campestris around the castle. She says that means earthworm and while both are Latin words, I couldn’t find a form of earthworm with “campestris” attached. My best guess is that it would seem to translate to “Flat Earthworm.” Anyway, the reason for the assignment seems unclear but I get the impression FQ has been having Margo do all sorts of menial things. By the by, FQ is fondling Margo’s eyeball in her hand the entire time. Its really creepy.
The Library. Penny finally returns to the Library with the book and immediately falls over retching. Zelda, The Librarian, comes over to him scolding him about being gone too long but unlike when we have previously seen her being a hard ass, she’s clearly concerned about his worsening health. I mean, he’s literally lying on the floor here. When Penny is in the Library, time doesn’t advance but he moves at normal time outside of the Library exacerbating his condition. Hence the need to return quickly and not booty call Kady. She doesn’t say this last part but its implied. She asks how life is on the outside and he responds, “depressing.” He’s not wrong.
Brakebills. Dean Fogg enters his office to find an Irene McAllistair in there waiting for him. Rude under any circumstance but particularly jarring for a blind guy with no magical senses. Manners matter people. Irene, we learn, is a former student of Henry’s but is here on behalf of the Board of Trustees. They’d really like to devote the students’ energies to finding Mayakovsky’s batteries and trying to bring magic back in general, and not so much on the theoretical learning stuff. Fogg refuses, saying that if we stop teaching magic, even theoretically, it won’t be long before its forgotten all together. All well and good but the Board will shut down Brakebills if the whole “no magic” thing doesn’t resolve itself ASAP.
The House. We come back to Julia trying to discourage Q’s very vague and general plan to meet a lesser god as a way to get a meet and greet with the Old Gods and you know, politely ask them to turn magic back on. Seems like a pretty bulletproof plan to me with no gaping holes in any of the steps. She’s worried that he’ll end up having a Reynard-like experience but he feels like they have to try something.
Josh enters at the tail end of the conversation and proposes a party that might work …
Kady’s Work Alley. On another break or just still on the same very long break as from earlier in the episode, Kady is now meeting Harriet (I love Marlee Matlin, she should be in every show there is). As per their agreement for Harriet to try and help Penny, she hands Kady a book but tells her, its a book you need magic for, so, Kady should get on trying to fix the no magic thing. Harriet does not believe its all gone; someone must have prepared for this possibility or knows a workaround. Marlee Matlin gives the best “Bitch, please” face of anyone. Kady is intrigued. Lastly, Kady needs to save Penny so that Harriet can be paid back for all the troubles she went through to get the book; the book that she doesn’t really explain to Kady at all. But, we see its got lots of writing in it.
Fillory. As soon as FQ is out of earshot, Margo tasks out the earthworm wrangling to a minion. One task averted, she meets up with Eliot who is trying to find the Fillorian word for bankrupt. FQ appears and calls out Margo for handing off the earthworm task. Margo claims to be a delegator, just like FQ herself. Smooth Margo. Smooth. FQ is not appeased and not so vaguely threatens to take Margo’s hands if she doesn’t get said hands dirty plucking worms. FQ leaves and Margo spins on Eliot and says that she waited until she was sure none of those “creepy little no eyebrow fuckers” [Record scratch — it was here that I realized the whole episode had been uncensored thus far; normally this is a treat reserved for binging on Netflix. Turns out, Syfy will air all of Season 3 uncensored and there are lots of curse words in this episode. The Magicians uses curses like painters use their brushes. Its art bitches.] were around so how’d FQ find out?!?
Bacchus’s House Party. Josh brings Julia and Q to a party being hosted by Bacchus, a god of partying and recreational drugs [traditionally, Bacchus was the Roman god version of Dionysus – wine and fertility and such. This Bacchus is much more 21st Century millennial partier]. Bacchus welcomes Josh with open arms referring to him as Josh “The Animal” Hoberman. Julia and Q? Nope, they have to stay outside until they learn how to be fun.
Fillory. In the first of two coded conversations we see tonight, Rafe lets Eliot know that a rare substance found in the corridor built by the High Queen, Chen Li the Bookish of rare stone from the Shivering Sea, will kill the faeries. Eliot takes this information to Margo and surprise surprise, she’s totes okay with poisoning the “Queen Bitch and all her spooky little bitches.” Coincidentally, all books on the Faeries are now missing from the library. Eliot thinks to write Idri a message over in Loria; maybe he knows something about this. They head to the throne room to send the message but FQ is there and stops them cold. FQ advises them that all books on the Faeries are gone from Loria too so, aw well. Eliot focuses on the creepy Margo eye that FQ keeps with her at all times and says that he and Margo need to go have a good think over what they have done.
Bacchus’s House Party. When we next see Julia and Q, they are laid out in the stairwell outside Bacchus’ place and are definitely drunk or high but very relaxed. And much more fun than usual. They decide to recreate a dance they used to do together and well … I’ll let it speak for itself.
After watching this, with all the hip thrustiness, you shouldn’t need to be told that Bacchus admits them to the party post-haste! “She wants it, uh, uh. She wants it, uh.” Sorry, wait. What was I saying?
Inside the party, Bacchus welcomes Julia and Q with auto refilling pink shots and an offer of either Twister, piercings, or Trivial Pursuit: Star Trek Edition. You know, Bacchus and I could be friends. For real. There is copious amounts of pot smoke, alcohol and scantily clad, day-glo painted women filling the scene of this party. Again .. Bacchus, call me, k? Anyway, before can move on (to go get Trivial Pursuit), Julia and Q inform him that magic is gone all over because of the whole Q killing Ember thing. Bacchus didn’t know Ember so he’s pretty cool with the whole deicide thing and tells Q to open his mouth. That sounds like something I heard at many parties in the late 90’s … its a trick Quentin, don’t fall for it! Bacchus slips a pill on his tongue … cue the drug montage!
As amusing as it is, the important thing to take away from the drug montage is an Alice flashback Quentin has in which we see her moving out of the House, leaving school and breaking up with him. She can’t forgive him and he needs to forget about her and move on. Buzzkill! For her part, Julia seems to have gotten her own pill or high and freaks when she thinks she sees Reynard lying next to her but nope, just some random. She wanders the party and some more and finds a stoned but sad, Josh. When he admits his high has turned on him and he’s not sure what life is even about anymore without magic, she tries to make him feel better by showing some of her magic tricks she can still do. Having seen this, Quentin pulls her away and basically scolds her, she can’t be showing off her magic skills because there are bad people that will want that from her and maybe hurt her for it. She makes the very valid point that Josh Hoberman is not one of those bad people and if she can cheer him up, she needs to be able to do at least that if she can’t do anything else with her magic.
Fillory Forest. The greatest conversation you will see on TV this year is about to happen. Eliot reminds Margo of the first season of Battlestar Galactica, and asks her why it was so good. Before she can answer, he tells Margo that she is Grace Park from Battlestar. “You’re Grace Park, Margo.” After a beat, she gasps and says, “I’m Grace Park.” A helpful subtitle appears on the screen to translate that Margo is acknowledging this means she is an “unwitting sleeper agent.”* From here, Margo and Eliot speak to each other in advanced pop-culture referencing code on what this means, how they can defeat FQ and her Faerie army, and where to do they go from here.
They use Gossip Girl to reference someone hiding in plain sight and spying on them and James Marden’s portrayal of X-Man character, Cyclops, to indicate its through Margo’s eye (always in the FQ’s possession). Margo invokes Fairuza Balk’s character from The Craft to call FQ a crazy bitch but Eliot counters she’s more Cersei Lannister from Game of Thrones (ruthlessly smart, not crazy). Because FQ can see whatever Margo sees, they need to keep it “Best Episode of Buffy.” No, not a reference to Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s fan favorite musical episode, “Once More, with Feeling” but fan favorite episode “Hush.” Margo wants to know how they can “Lizzie Borden the shit out of this thing” because she’s “willing to go full on ’07 Britney.” This translates to her asking how can they kill FQ because Margo is about ready to beat her to death, with an umbrella if necessary (Britney had an unfortunate rage episode in 2007 in which an umbrella was an unwitting tool of destruction). Eliot doesn’t know what to do if this place isn’t “Pottered up” but Margo asks what their Harry Potter would do? Without magic, Eliot is stumped but Margo asks what Quentin would do (their Harry Potter) and Eliot deduces he would consult the creepy pedophile book, er, Fillory and Further. Commercials.
When we return, Eliot is out in the Fillory wilderness complete with bow, arrows, his copy of Fillory and Further, and his trusty man servant, Tick. Tick learns of the Faerie occupation and you can see it really fills in some blanks that he and the other minions have been having (remember, they haven’t been able to see the Faeries). The plan is to shoot the White Lady and then wish the “faeries to the fucking cornfield.” Tick doesn’t know what a cornfield is but he’s otherwise very agreeable to Eliot’s plan.
Bacchus’ House Party. A now sober-ish Quentin corners Bacchus and tries to ply some questions out of him about how he might go about meeting Bacchus’ parents. After threatens to smite Q for being a vibe-killer, Bacchus says meeting the ‘rents is a no go as he hasn’t spoken to them in millenia and anyway, they suck. Quentin persists, as only Quentin can, and Bacchus is like jeepus, you need to go see the “up with humans” god, Prometheus, and quit harshing my buzz. Sadly, Rambo (Bacchus’ semi-passed out sidekick) tells us all that Prometheus died 1,500 years ago. Bummer, cause Bacchus is pretty sure Prometheus would have been really into helping out Q; dude loved Magicians. Anyway, Bacchus vaguely recalls Prometheus telling him about a secret backdoor to magic but the salient details are escaping our favorite party host … although it might have had something to do with a brothel. “Shots!” [Let’s agree to put “secret back door” on the shelf next to Mayakovsky’s batteries as something that may become important later on in the season.]
Fillory Forest. Having lost Tick, Eliot finds himself pointing his bow at something in a bush. The thing in the bush chastises Eliot for threatening him to come out instead of offering a compliment. Yes, friends, meet the “Great Cock of the Darkling Woods.” Eliot is taken aback, “The Great …” “Cock. Have you never beheld one, child of Earth?” Eliot, “No, no, I’ve beheld one … or two.” I cannot say enough about how solid the writing (and delivery) is in this show. Just seamless with perfect timing and patter. The beats are magical (yeah, pun totally intended). Time for The Great Cock (guest star, Farah Tahir) and his petitioner to chat …
On a well appointed picnic setting in a clearing, The Great Cock lays out for Eliot an Epic Quest. This whole scene is the point of the episode as it sets up everything that will follow this whole season. Eliot starts off by trying to get a wish granted from his High Cockness but TGC sets him straight, wishes are the White Doe’s thing and anyway, what petitioner hasn’t been “utterly ass-fucked by a wish grant?” Fair point. No, no, TGC has a better way to fix the problem of the “tribal matriarchy” occupying Castle Whitespire. He’s going to send Eliot on an epic quest to bring back magic which, if successful, will solve all of Eliot’s problems including the faeries. Eliot is non-plussed, he was really just looking for a quickie fix. “How long does a quest like this take,” Eliot asks. “A good season.” HA! I see what you did there show! Very meta Great Cock, very meta. The Great COck goes on to tell Eliot its time for him to stop being a good king and become a great one. But it’ll be hard and, as Eliot fears, he might really fuck it up. But, that’s the point of a quest, no? And besides, you have friends Eliot: the one eyed conqueror (Margo, duh); the traveler (Penny); the warrior (process of elimination makes this Kady); the fool (Quentin); the god touched (Julia); the lover of tomatoes (Josh); and the torture artist (Alice). Eliot is not sure who that last one is but its Alice. TGC specifically reference Eliot’s brother of the heart with the floppy hair (Quentin – Eliot knows that one) and says they’re all parts of one whole and that no one can do this alone.
The Quest: Find the book with no author; a tale for children but they’re hardly that. There is the key, or keys, located in the public library in (the shire of) Chester, (in the land of) New Jersey. TGC ignores Eliot’s objections (e.g., can’t contact most of his friends and also, no way to get to Earth) and tells him this is the task Eliot was born for. Claim it!
Fillory, Castle Whitespire. Eliot finds Rafe and confirms that the FQ is using bunnies to deliver communications, as bunnies can move easily between worlds and its every bunny for themselves – they are not beholden to the Faerie Queen. Back on Earth, at the House, a bunny appears to a hungover Quentin, “Need Help, Love Eliot” is its message (delivered a hysterical hoarse voice). Five minutes left, the episode picks up in speed from here on out with lots of scene cuts. Hang on, friends.
When we return, we’re outside the public library in Northern New Jersey and Julia has found a book, “The Tale of the Seven Keys.” (Why was Eliot waiting outside, is he banned from the NJ Library system? I was on the lam once from the NYC library system so I know how he feels if so. Anyway, the book. Its got no author and when Q takes off the dust cover, its got a picture of 7 keys forming a circle on the cover. Inside, other than the first few pages (title page, page 1 of Chapter One), its completely blank … which definitely seems like a thing the Magicians would have to deal with. Quentin wisely intones that you have to earn everything in a quest and seems really excited to be on this quest. Which, of course he is.
Fillory, Hallway of Castle Whitespire. Rafe, Fen and Eliot are trying to wrangle a nest of a bunnies (that, or colony, is the actual name for a group of bunnies – we do research here at PCR – FOR YOU!), all of which are simultaneously (and hoarsely) delivering messages. Sifting through the goop, the important phrases include “After Island,””a back door,” and “all seven keys.” Overwhelmed, Eliot hushes the bunnies and organizes his thoughts for himself, Rafe and all of us. An Epic Quest, to find keys, which may restore magic. Quentin and Julia think the first key is in Fillory at a place called After Island. No bueno, say Rafe. After Island lies beyond the borders of the kingdom and the Outer Sea is not particularly friendly towards the king. Those that have gone before drowned. Rafe is not sure how to prevent that from happening but Fen, in the only lucid moment we’ve seen from her today (she was just coddling a bunny ago treating it like her baby … like 5 seconds ago), says she knows the boat to use.
Final Scene. Alice is in the alley way next to a diner, letting a vampire suck her blood in exchange for information on the Lambre. He doesn’t offer much but shows her a picture on his phone (we don’t get to see what it is) of something that she can use as an early warning signal in case the Lambre gets close; maybe she’ll have time to run. Dejected and more than a little scared looking, she returns to the diner and orders a side of bacon. The episode ends as she begins to eat the bacon forlornly (or as forlornly as you can be when eating bacon).
Thoughts. WOW! What a way to hit the ground running. A hallmark of The Magicians is both its dialogue, irreverent and nerdy while being sincere and heartfelt with just a dash of young person angsty (I can cite almost every line of this premiere episode as proof of the art the writing is in this show), and its character relationships. The chemistry between certain characters on this show is like the most beautiful disaster you simply can’t look away from and you don’t even want to try. Scenes between Margo and Eliot; Julia and Quentin (Quentin and Alice though we didn’t see that tonight); and even newer ones like Penny and Zelda and Kady and Harriet (see how I didn’t list Kady and Penny – booooo hisssss) work because the characters feel like they belong together. Even when they are fighting, they are drawn together like magnets. Which is a result of not only stellar writing but actors who deliver lines with ridiculous comfort and ease.
It shouldn’t be a surprise after three seasons that this cast is so comfortable with each other, but they are and because of it, the scenes flow like magic which allows us, the viewers, to follow along like little kids who are getting to hang out with their much cool older siblings and their friends. I don’t want to interrupt Margo and Eliot in the forest, I want to be sitting there, silently watching them talk in code and just stare open mouthed at how awesome I think they are (especially at how effortlessly they curse). Even without magic, I still think these characters are cool which says something.
But this is just me fan gushing. Objectively, “The Tales of Seven Keys” did exactly what a season premiere should do; it reintroduced us to the characters, told us what they have been doing since we last saw them, and laid out for us the goal of the season. The world is bleak ya’ll. Here on Earth and certainly in Fillory. All of our friends are suffering, even Julia who actually has a spark of magic still, is psychologically not okay. Still dealing with her fallout from the Reynard experience and frustrated at not being able to do anything meaningful with her spark, she’s in as bad a shape as everyone else. Except for maybe Alice who is in a particularly bad way because she’s got no shoulder to rest on (of her choosing) and some unseen entity hunting her. And Penny who is pretty fucking close to dying. Real talk.
So, how do you fix things when your world is completely broken? An epic quest, bitches. The Great Cock was the colorfully feathered answer to all of our Magicians’ problems. Through the use of the bunny texting service and reliance on their friends, our intrepid yet dysfunctional band of misfits have some ray of hope to bring magic back and set their various worlds right. At the very least, they have a direction to head in, some objective to achieve which, sometimes, is as important as the result itself — the feeling of having something to do.
Til next week, friends. Put something in your mouth and try not to worry too much, its going to be ok .
*In Battlestar Galactica, humans fought against Cylons – highly advanced artificial machine androids that are so life like, they actually can co-exist with humans in secret. Enter, Grace Park who plays plucky space fighter pilot, Sharon “Boomer” Valerii on the series. Its revealed in the show that Boomer, unbeknownst to her, is actually a Cylon (Cylon Number 8); hence an unwitting sleeper agent.
This Season On The Magicians …