Editor’s Note: Ashanti Williams is a brand new FanBros.com contributor who is a writer and podcaster. You can find her on Twitter at @Ashantiw1989
Despite my tastes intersecting within several different realms of geekdom, the fantasy genre has never been one that I’ve been into. So, when a friend of mine told me about SyFy’s The Magicians I wouldn’t say that my interests were exactly piqued, but on a bored Saturday afternoon I gave the show a shot. Long story short, plans were cancelled that weekend and now here I am anxiously anticipating season 3.
Fair but obvious warning: these recaps will contain spoilers, so don’t read if you haven’t seen the show yet and don’t want to be spoiled. Now that you’ve been properly warned let’s get into The Magicians Season 1 Episode 1, ‘Unauthorized Magic’.
The show starts with Dean Fogg coming out of a magical door in the middle of the day near a park. He sits on a bench and a British woman who for now remains nameless approaches him. They talk about how ‘It’ is starting to happen again, how ‘they’ aren’t even at the school yet and how Dean Fogg needs to speed things up and get them ready before ‘he’ finds them. The ‘he’, we find out later is the show’s big bad who goes by the The Beast. Before she leaves, the woman gives Dean Fogg a pocket watch and tells him to hold on to it ‘just in case’. It’s all very ominous and purposely so.
It doesn’t take long to find out who ‘they’ are, as we meet Quentin, a magic loving, self-described loser who deals with both depression and a serious case of Peter Pan syndrome. Quentin’s exit interview at a psychiatric hospital delivers a lot of exposition about who he is as his talking is inter cut with scenes of him at a party, failing miserably at socializing. We’re also introduced to Julia, who has been best friends with Quentin since childhood. While he is socially awkward, only ever interested in talking about children’s books and magic, Julia is anything but. She’s effortlessly confident and comfortable even when surrounded by a room full of people. The party not only introduces us to who I think of as the show’s two main protagonists, but also gives us the first glances of their friendship, which is integral to the story. It’s Quentin and Julia who are introduced to magic and Brakebills without any prior knowledge of either, and it’s their constantly diverging and converging paths that propel the show forward.
At Quentin’s Yale interview, Julia and Quentin find the interviewer dead and when the paramedics arrive, one of them is the British woman from the beginning of the episode. She gives Quentin an envelope before they leave. Inside, Quentin finds a manuscript for a 6th Fillory book. His excitement about the book, combined with having just found someone dead sets Julia off. They throw barbs back and forth, but Julia’s land the hardest. She perceives Quentin’s obsession with Fillory as a means of unhealthy escape.
Separately, they both enter Brakebills. Julia enters through an elevator, and when she steps out there’s nothing magical about her surroundings. It is just a nice waiting area with a sign showing where the entrance exam is taking place — very down to business and straightforward, which Julia is. Quentin, however enters on the outside of Brakebills,and while Julia simply followed the signs to enter the exam, Quentin takes it all in, obviously as much in awe as he is curious and confused about his new surroundings. Elliot, another main character and an instant favorite of mine from the moment he’s on screen also makes his first appearance,escorting Quentin to the exam room.
After the exam, Julia and Quentin embrace, happy to see the other despite their earlier fight, but only one of them passes. Julia is told she failed and all knowledge of magic will be erased from her memory. It’s here that we see firsthand how smart Julia really is; when her intellect fails to convince the administrator not to wipe her memory, her resourcefulness shines through and thinking on her feet , Julia cuts herself with one of her rings to remember. I will admit, I don’t quite get how the cutting correlates with remembering exactly, but I suppose some mental gymnastics could be done to justify the move. Go off, I suppose.
Quentin passes his exam and is told to simply do some magic in front of a board of Brakebills administrators. In response, he performs party tricks, obviously not impressing anyone in the slightest. He gets easily rattled under the pressure to perform so Dean Fogg gives him some tough love, demanding him to “stop dicking around and do some goddamn magic”. Dean Fogg’s method works, and Quentin does do some goddamn magic by levitating a deck of cards and constructing an elaborate card house before he promptly passes out.
Quentin is accepted into Brakebills effective immediately and is told to surrender his anti-depression pills as he wasn’t actually depressed, he just didn’t have magic. Thinking about this statement doesn’t exactly upset me, but I can’t help but feel disappointed because a theme that comes up often is that magic isn’t a fix all for life’s problems. I’d find it much more worth while to see how a guy deals with learning how to be a magician while also dealing with depression more fascinating than just saying ‘oh well you weren’t depressed, you just hadn’t stepped into your destiny yet’.
Penny, the guy Quentin sat next to in the exam turns out to be his roommate, and right away they are at each other’s throat. The aggression between them is interrupted when Elliot barrels into the room with his best friend Margo, and together they give him a proper introduction and tour of Brakebills.
The last of the main characters, Alice an anti-social, but brilliant magician rumored to be from a family full of magicians and Kady who with her smoky eyes and leather pants gives off instant Faith Lehane vibes. Alice displays her aptitude by making a pony while Kady flirts with Penny. The next scene is a smash cut of the two of them in bed, levitating while having sex.
Back home, Julia’s attempt at remembering magic and Brakebills was successful, but her knowledge comes at a cause as she fixates on finding out as much as she can, neglecting everything, even taking care of herself and eating, which worries her boyfriend who practically begs Quentin to come back. Her boyfriend reminds Quentin that it’s Julia’s birthday, so he decides to go and see her. Stella Maeve does an amazing job portraying Julia in her current state; dead-eyed and looking as if her mind is a thousand miles away. Every step she takes seems like she’s just going through the motions. She sees no point in anything in her world if magic exists, and she’s desperate to have access to it again, knowing beyond any doubt that she is capable. She asks Quentin to talk to the administration at Brakebills on her behalf, but even after she performs a spell she’d found on the internet he refuses and tells her that she needs to let this go and get a grip. It’s a nice reversal of roles from their earlier conversation after they’d found the Yale interviewer’s body, only while Julia’s criticism came from a caring place, I can’t help but get the impression that Quentin’s came from a somewhat smug one.
In the bathroom after Quentin leaves, Julia is magically attacked, her shirt is ripped off and her hands are tied with it. The door is locked magically and Peter, a guy who’d Julia had earlier rebuffed at the bar walks into frame. Julia uses magic to free herself and he’s pleased. She pretty much calls it like she sees it and accuses him of being a sexual predator. Peter sounds offended at the accusation despite the fact that Julia is topless and he pulled some classic creepy guy face touching before she freed herself. He tells her he’s associated with some people who have been watching her that she might want to meet and honestly, after re-watching it I’m still torn over how I feel about this scene. On the one hand I am more than sick of seeing sexual violence against women on screen, there’s too much of it to use it in an effort to be edgy, in fact it’s disturbingly commonplace in movies and on TV. On the other hand, if magic is triggered and amplified by emotions, I suppose the fear of being sexually violated would elicit some pretty strong ones. However, I don’t think that just because you have a solid justification to do something you always should. More than anything, I can’t help but think that the scene is a pretty thinly veiled excuse to get Stella Maeve topless which makes the scene feel grimy considering the circumstances.
Elsewhere, Quentin enters a door into Fillory while studying and gets chastised by Jane Chatwin about how The Beast is coming for him and he’s not ready. He gets a symbol burned into his hand which wakes him up as if entering Fillory was just him dreaming (spoiler alert: it wasn’t ). The symbol is one that he’d seen Alice looking up in a book, so he finds her and they make an agreement to help one another. The symbol is meant to help in contacting the other side, which Alice wants to do because her brother died at Brakebills years before under mysterious circumstances. Her motivation for coming to the school not being a love of magic, but to find out what happened to him.
Penny hears a voice that tells him to go somewhere on campus, and Kady goes with him. The voice leads him to the same room Quentin and Alice attempt to contact her brother in as they need four people to perform the spell. The spell seemingly doesn’t work and they all leave. Only afterwards when the room is empty do we see the mirror fog up and a smiley face drawn from the other side.
Quentin, Alice, Penny, and Kady are in class when time suddenly stops and The Beast shows up and shows out . He appears to be a well-dressed man with six fingers, and a swarm of moths surrounding and obscuring his face. The visual is more striking than words can do justice and so far, is the coolest thing I’ve seen on the show, and this episode had levitating sex. The beast quickly proves himself to be a bad mother fucker, laying waste to the teacher and rendering all the students paralyzed. Dean Fogg bursts through the door and it’s here that we get the first look at how magic is really done on The Magicians, not only with incantations but with finger tutting; sometimes exclusively, sometimes together, which is a great alternative to just seeing someone point a wand or mutter a spell, especially when battle magic is being thrown around. Dean Fogg’s magic is strong, but barely affects The Best who seizes him, breaks his fingers, plucks his eyes out, and places them on a desk. He draws a smile on the desk under the eyes with Fogg’s blood, making the least chill smiley face of all time.
The coin that was in Quentin’s hand when time froze drops which causes the The Beast to go over to him and the episode ends with The Beast standing in front of Quentin’s desk saying in a tone way too calm for a guy who just plucked some dude’s eyes out, “Quentin Coldwater, there you are”.
And there it is, the pilot episode of The Magicians. As far as first episodes go, while not perfect, the show was more than satisfying. As someone who hadn’t read the source material or even heard of the franchise I think the episode does a really good job at not only introducing the audience to its characters, but establishing interest in 3 different worlds.
The Magicians is reminiscent of a lot of other works like Harry Potter, Narnia, and Peter Pan, but the fact that it’s self-aware helps it not feel like a rip off with little nods to other works within the genre scattered throughout. The cast is diverse and the show does a good job of subverting common character tropes. The dialogue is a strong point for me, and the ending scene sets up The Beast as a villain worth sticking around for.
So what did you think about The Magicians Episode 1, ‘Unauthorized Magic’? Had you heard of/read the series prior to watching the show? Or went in cold like I did? Who’s your favorite character and why? Do you think levitating sex is just for show offs? Let me know down in the comments.