So we have an episode that actually included elements I actually liked and was impressed by.
Firstly, unsurprisingly, Alice is not leaving, her very very impressive Aunt Genji convinces her to stay in school a little longer. Especially since she doesn’t quite know what she wants to be and wants to do – and school is a good place to discover that. Alice learning this and her slow and sweet reconciliation with Alice which is actually really well done.
Anyway part of what Genji is there for is some kind of career fare. And I like it (again, I’m shocked) because it shows how mundane the magical world can be. As Elliot puts it, this isn’t Lord of the Rings, not everyone can have big epic adventures. You need magical foot doctors and similar mundane professions and skills. It’s not all about adventure – and that’s a really nice thing to include and focus on.
Another theme of this episode is the limits and costs of magic. Starting with some genuinely emotional scenes because Quentin’s father has cancer. The two connect and we do have some very real and, for the first time, moving scenes as his dad confronts the mistakes he’s made with Qunetin (it’s not overt because they’re both doing excellent portrayals of men-who-really-don’t-do-feelings-very-well), including pushing Quentin to be something he wasn’t and turn his back on what he wants to be. This includes a veiled admission that trying to “fix” Quentin probably did far more damage (with an allusion to why his brain cancer cannot be cured as well).
It’s emotional and important and ends with a beautiful little scene of Quentin revealing to his dad that he isn’t in finance school – he’s a wizard, he’s using magic and he’s living the life he wants to live. It’s sweet and the first scene on this show that I’ve found generally powerful on this show.
Of course, before that Quentin desperately looks for a way to cure cancer with magic – only to be told time and again that it cannot be done. As one puts it “if magicians could cure cancer, why would anyone still have cancer?” Magic has a cost, magic takes energy as Quentin finds out when he kills Cancer Puppy (a mascot – and I confess I totally laughed at Dean’s monotone “you killed Cancer Pupy”) Dean (is that his name or title?) throws in his own insight, pointing out he uses magical glasses to enhance his sight, he hasn’t cured his eyes: not only is not everything fixable but trying to fix it can radically change the Magician as well. Again, it’s really well done, a lot of powerful messages and well portrayed
Quentin and Alice also manage an incredibly powerful spell in a magical match between different magical houses. This completely surprises everyone – but, as Eliot once told us, “Magic comes from pain” and Quentin is hurting. It also comes with messages from Margo and Dean that, no, you can’t fix everything – but that doesn’t mean you can’t fix some things, you can’t achieve something.
Again, this is shockingly well done.
Meanwhile Penny is dealing with being a Traveller and gets his new Mentor, Stanley, another very very very very rare Traveller as well. Well, he says he’s a mentor – but his main mission is to try and convince Penny to limit his powers with a tattoo which will stop him doing more than astrally projecting. He has good reason – it’s a hard power to control and odd thoughts can end up with you travelling to very dangerous places –like the bottom of the ocean.
Of course Kady thinks he should control his power rather than suppress it… and when he experiments with it he discovers another lie from Stanley: another Traveller, one of the year in class who all disappeared in mysterious circumstances. His astral projection allows him to find her and see she is being imprisoned by the moth creature
Stanley’s no help and Kady admits her research can’t find this missing woman or where she is imprisoned – so they turn to Quentin and Alice (I have no idea why Kady things they’d know, but she does and they do). Quentin recognises where she was being held – it’s Fillory. Yes the fictional world he reads about.
Meanwhile we have Julia whose story continues to be tragic and broken. Kicked out from the Hedge Witches, she’s pretending to live a completely different life to James. She continues to practice magic, any magic she can find, even dangerous and risky magic. She still maintains a link to Peter to try and get herself more magic – he seems to think they’re developing a relationship while she seems to be pretty much using him to get spells – even having sex with him if he’ll direct her to more Hedge Witches. Not that that meet adds up to much since they know less magic than her so she has no interest in dealing with them
This becomes especially hard for Julia when James’s memory is erased – he suddenly doesn’t know who she is. Julia is furious and thinks it’s vindictive – but Peter hits back with, honestly, some hard truths: James need protecting from her and her obsession. He also points out absolutely no-one is working with her because all she’s really doing is taking – not inaccurate. She’s avoided doing anything the hedge witches advised from the beginning, she completely abandoned one group when it was clear they couldn’t help her and she was pretty clearly using Peter
So I suppose we finally have a reason why Julia would be denied Brakesbills. Her obsessive nature, her recklessness and her general ruthlessness are not fun…
Except it doesn’t work. Yes she does all of this –but she does this from desperation. If she had the same opportunities as Quentin would she be this person? For that matter is she that different from Quentin? How many times has he got in trouble because he used magic in ways he was told not to? I can see the message they’re trying to send but it just doesn’t work – it’s too simple, it fails to take into account her situation sufficiently to be really sold. You can’t present someone as being morally questionable because they are desperate and ruthless when you put them in a desperate situation
Interesting elements – Dean doesn’t want to punish Julia because there’s no need to. They’re not the police and Hedge witches are not a threat or worth noticing. But he said this because Quentin asked and seemed disappointed that the answer was no… I’m not sure how I feel on that score. On the one hand that is a deep betrayal of a long friendship where she clearly did a lot for him. On the other hand, after what happened to him last week, I don’t blame him for being totally done with her.
One more note – Eliot. Before this show was released thecreators did what many others did before, and heavily sold the fact he was gayto the gay media: it’s a classic attempt to gain a gay fanbase from a community that is still hungry for representation (especially in this genre which is awful for LGBT inclusion). Well it’s episode 5 and we have the odd tiny reference, but nothing sexual (and this isn’t a sexually shy show), nothing really definite and the person he is the most physical with (lots of hand holding, hugging, lounging around) is a woman, Margo. In fact, despite his CONSTANT sassy teasing and risqué jokes (because he’s a good little stereotype), the ONLY person he is physical with is Margo. I am almost impressed how many shows manage to make gay men both sexless and sex obsessed.