When I reviewed the pilot for The Magicians back in December, I mentioned that Syfy had done an excellent job in keeping true to the atmosphere of Lev Grossman’s novels, even though elements of the story were different.
I still believe that, even though I finished last night’s episode wondering why certain things had been changed. I’d like to think I can trust Syfy not to ruin anything with The Magicians, especially when they have such great cooperation with Grossman (did you catch his cameo last night?), even if it sometimes leaves me scratching my head.
In “The Source of Magic”, we see the aftermath of the Beast’s attack in the first episode. Dean Fogg (Rick Worthy) is alive, although his eyes have been ripped out and his hands badly damaged. Quentin (Jason Ralph) and Alice (Olivia Taylor Dudley) try to meet up with Penny (Arjun Gupta) and Kady (Jade Tailor) so that they can get their stories straight before anyone finds out about the spell they did that seems to have summoned the Beast. Sadly, they are unsuccessful, and for reasons I’m not yet clear on, Penny essentially sells out Quentin, which nearly gets him expelled.
I’m not sure where they’re going with this – no one was directly responsible for the Beast’s attack in the books, and while Quentin and Penny were never friendly, I don’t remember them being this overtly antagonistic to each other at first. I mean, Quentin attacked Penny in broad daylight, in front of witnesses, using Battle Magic – and this is apparently a very big deal, and certainly did not help his case. This could be an effort to beef up Penny’s character; the first Magicians book overlooks him for most of their time at Brakebills, and he virtually disappears until later in the story.
Meanwhile, Julia is given another test by the group of hedgewitches she is anxious to join; hedgewitches that we soon learn are working with Kady, or at least using Kady to steal supplies from Brakebills. Julia’s story is an excellent counterpart to Quentin’s; whereas everything seems to come easily to Quentin, Julia has to suffer a lot more for her magic, which is interesting, considering Eliot’s explanation that “magic comes from pain”.
The show is at its best with spectacle. The flashback to the fight between the Beast, Alice, Penny, and Kady was beautiful, with excellent choreography. The idea that magic is more than simple wand-waving or incantations (silly incantations, if you will), but involves arm movements and hand gestures is something that seems to be unique to the world of The Magicians. However, where the show suffers is in pacing and character development; we spent an equal amount of time at Brakebills as we did with Julia back in New York City, but the information dump of backstory at the school made it seem like Julia’s (just as interesting, if not more so) plot dragged.
And there was such good, fascinating backstory being revealed! We learned that Alice sneaked into the exam and wasn’t invited like the others, Eliot accidentally killed someone and that’s how he discovered his powers, and Penny has been inadvertently trained in magic by the Beast itself. Eliot’s story and Penny’s confession do fit within the context of the episode, but with the way they’re speeding through the plot, I don’t know if people are connecting with the characters in the way that they ought. I don’t understand why they’re speeding through the plot, either. The first book encompasses all three years at Brakebills, plus some time after they’ve left school. There is so much that you can do to slow down the storytelling, even while simultaneously incorporating Julia’s arc.
I’m kind of sad that we got into the Physical house so early – and so easily! – but yes, please, to anything that gives us more Eliot (Hale Appleman) and Margo (Summer Bishil), who don’t have much to do yet in terms of the story.
One change of which I was not a fan – and those who have read all three books, please correct me if I’m wrong – is the idea that Quentin and Penny have this grand destiny; that they were purposely recruited to Brakebills because they and only they can fight this mysterious Beast – a creature that made mincemeat of a powerful magician like Dean Fogg. Knowing that Penny was trained by the Beast lends a little more credibility to the idea that he has an important role to play, but I’m so beyond tired of these “chosen one” narratives. I much preferred the concept of the books – a bunch of kids stumble around and discover something, rather than being fated to do so. It’s kind of boring, and brings a little bit of blah into an otherwise unique story.
That said, The Magicians is at its core a wonderfully engaging show. “The Source of Magic” faltered at times with its storytelling, but the characters are compelling, if still slightly underdeveloped. Hopefully future moments of character development will grow more organically out of the story rather than seeming to be checking off items on the exposition list.
Author: Jamie Sugah
Jamie has a BA in English with a focus in creative writing from The Ohio State University. She self-published her first novel, The Perils of Long Hair on a Windy Day, which is available through Amazon. She is currently an archivist and lives in New York City with her demon ninja vampire cat. She covers television, books, movies, anime, and conventions in the NYC area.
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