Summer Bishel, Jason Ralph, Hale Appleman, Spencer Daniels, and Brittany Curran as Margo, Quentin, Eliot, Charleston, and Fen in "The Magicians"
So it’s gonna be fifth episodes, huh?
Season three’s fifth episode “A Life in the Day” remains one of The Magicians’ best episodes — in format, in concept, and by in putting a queer relationship front and center. It was a beautiful example of how the journey is always the best part, and a life well lived is all that really matters.
For Quentin and Eliot, most of the events from that episode were lost to Jane Chatwin’s time loop resetting, but the memories remained, the episode ending on a silent moment of revelation for both characters. The screen faded to black, and not much else was ever mentioned about the life Quentin and Eliot had together.
That is until season four’s fifth episode “Escape From the Happy Place.”
There’s a particular theme that runs through both episodes. “Escape” mentions it more boldly, but I’d argue “A Life in the Day” deals with it as well. Bravery, or having the courage to face your worst fears. In season three’s episode, that was letting the responsibility of building the mosaic, as well as their old lives in the present day, go in order to live their current lives stuck in the past. In “Escape,” the focus is on Eliot, who we’re seeing in full form for the first time this season.
So it’s perfect that we spend a lot of time in Eliot’s mind. With the Monster from Blackspire possessing him, Eliot gets the help of Charleston, the former host for the Monster. Charleston explains Eliot must go through his deepest, darkest memories in order to find a door that will allow him to regain control of his body long enough to let his friends know he’s still alive.
There are familiar moments: the first time Eliot accidentally used magic to kill a bully at school, sleeping with other people’s boyfriends, a few father issues, as well as his guilt in letting down his friends in the past.
Then there are the not-so-familiar ones: turning on the one friend he had when he was 13, some unfortunate haircuts, and the times his mom walked in on him. But none of these instances really get at the heart of the matter.
When Eliot’s mind walk first begins, he’s partying at the physical kid’s cottage with Margo a la season one. There’s a knocking at the door, but he ignores it in favor of partying. He seems annoyed by it, but not willing to confront whatever’s on the other side. This inability to face the unknown, to repress anything that might be wrong, is the journey Eliot must take to understanding.
An understanding that comes down to allowing himself to accept the love in his life that people have for him. Not just Quentin, but Margo too. And though the show hasn’t really dealt with Margo and Eliot’s friendship during this Monster possession thing, it’s Quentin “Escape From the Happy Place” uses to express how one can turn away the good things in life as a way of punishing ourselves.
“Know that when I’m braver it’s because I learned it from you.” In an extended scene from “A Life in the Day,” Eliot confronts his most terrifying moment, the knock, knock, knocking of a life he could have again.
When Eliot’s scared, he runs away, turning away from what waits beyond the door. But this time, he walks through it, right back into his own body, into a second chance (if only there wasn’t a monster possessing him). Those 50 years might be the proof of concept of what could be, but it was also this dream-like fantasy that exists in the way past of another lifetime. Now, though, it’s a choice. The same one, really. It’s just the context that’s different. More to the point, that love isn’t always going to be easy.
All of this wouldn’t ring an ounce of emotional truth if it wasn’t for Hale Appleman. Not only is the man playing two wholly different characters this season, but he shows incredible vulnerability, regret, and guilt during this walk through his head. It’s all just burning underneath every time he’s on screen. But he can also pull off the triumphant moments, too.
Peaches and plums indeed, but Eliot isn’t out of his own mind quite yet. That whole journey about facing his fears was only so he could get a message to his friends that he’s still alive. With the confirmation that Quentin once put forth the option of a relationship with Eliot and Eliot’s self-realization, there’s even more emotional context to saving Eliot – namely, that there’s something worth fighting for.
Plus, there’s Margo, who still believes Eliot is dead.
There’s a reason Eliot and Margo are best friends. In a way, they take a similar journey this episode. Margo may not be doing a dream walk through her own head, but she is doing a fabulous job of repressing her emotions regarding Eliot. She believes there’s no saving her friend, which is interesting considering she doesn’t really have any proof he’s dead. But that’s how the two are similar — each avoiding the truth they’re afraid will be confirmed. So she attends to Fillory because if she stops to deal with her emotions, she won’t ever be useful to her kingdom.
It’s also revealed the talking in animals in Fillory have turned dumb. There’s something quiet happening in the background here while we deal with the emotional baggage of the Monster.
Of course, there’s also another side to Eliot’s personal journey. Quentin spends much of this episode armoring himself against the reality of losing his friend. He must kill the Monster, but the Monster is wearing his friend’s face. This is a pretty standard dilemma, but perhaps the most interesting part of all this is Alice.
The tension between Alice and Quentin has been there for seasons. But they do have a history, a tense one at that, and so when Alice learns Quentin is supposed to die in two days, she does all she can to save him. There’s something incredibly remarkable about Alice here. She betrayed her friends to the Library last season, and now she’s working to redeem herself.
In one of the coolest moments on the show, Alice sends Christopher Plover to the poisoned world. It’s played off as pretty badass, but it isn’t until she confesses to Quentin that Alice becomes this character worthy of redemption. She pleads with Quentin, asking if her killing Plover makes her a good person or a bad person. Olivia Taylor Dudley gives Alice so much vulnerability at this moment it’s hard not to understand what she’s going through.
The two have great scenes together, but this time, it’s more about the closure. Alice assists with trying to kill the Monster, but the moment is interrupted by Eliot taking control of his body long enough to remind Quentin there’s no greater proof of concept.
And that’s that.
This was certainly another fandom-shaking episode for The Magicians, a huge step forward in making queer relationships mainstream on TV screens. Not to mention one of the most romantic episodes this show has ever done. It’s turned from nice-guy-is-the-chosen-one, caught in typical heteronormative love triangles into something more worthy of celebration – in friendship, love, and the second chances we get at each – proves once again The Magicians cares about breaking those barriers to tell more engaging, emotionally true stories.
While no one died here (Quentin was scheduled to die, actually, per the writings in the Library’s books, but those are apparently easily changed), this episode still sets up what will probably be an emotionally exhausting rest of the season.
I’m so in.
The Magicians season 4 continues on SYFY at 8 p.m. CST Wednesday nights. Follow along here at thefilmera.com.
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