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On The Magicians, physical and emotional wounds take their toll

When you open yourself up, you're vulnerable

Samit Sarkar (he/him) is Polygon’s deputy managing editor. He has more than 15 years of experience covering video games, movies, television, and technology.

Anytime someone betrays you, it can feel humiliating and can cause you to turn further inward — especially if you've been burned before. This week's episode of The Magicians neatly intertwined a few different storylines with that theme, illustrating how difficult it can be to open yourself up to others.

Alice and Quentin may have left Brakebills South in a state of infatuation after last week's foxy lovemaking, but "The Strangled Heart" begins with Alice wanting to put the brakes on becoming an official couple. She wants to be sure that they have an attraction beyond animal urges, and suggests they "spend some time apart so we can know what's real and what's fox," which is an example of a great line that makes sense only in the weird world of The Magicians. It also makes sense considering that she's still grieving the loss of her brother Charlie.

Quentin, who has spent much of his young adulthood pining for Julia, doesn't know how to handle this new development. And as much as he mocks Penny as a "panty whisperer," it was pretty funny to see Quentin fail at hiding his feelings for Alice and then act bashful when someone confronted him about it. The sweetest part of their courtship is the way Alice demonstrates how much she cares about Quentin and his interests: familiarizing herself with the Fillory books well enough to recognize Penny's infection.

The Magicians episode 108 Alice 1000

Meanwhile, the fling between Eliot and Brakebills alumnus Mike has escalated, at least for Eliot, who's so desperate to impress Mike that he's asking Quentin for fashion advice in Margo's absence. "Things aren't usually worth caring about," Eliot says, when Quentin notes that he's not used to seeing Eliot care about, well, anything. We learn just how hard Eliot has worked to cultivate his image — that of a haughty, sophisticated lover of culture — when he reveals his humble origins to Mike.

"Becoming me was the greatest creative project of my life," Eliot tells Mike, explaining that he hails from Indiana and that his parents are farmers. This is the same person who discovered his latent telekinetic ability when he accidentally killed a high school bully. It's a reminder that college (or in this case, grad school) presents misfit youths — like, say, bisexual magicians — with the wonderfully liberating opportunity to reinvent themselves and figure out who they really are.

"Things aren't usually worth caring about"

Their budding romance makes it all the more tragic for Eliot when Mike attacks Quentin and Penny during a study session, wounding Penny with a deep gash in his midsection. Eliot later confronts Mike in Brakebills' clean room, and Mike insists he blacked out and can't remember the stabbing incident. Eliot asks if Mike was blacked out when they met, and when Mike looks away, you can see Eliot's heart break in slow motion (kind of like Ralph Wiggum's).

Penny, too, is reeling from Kady seemingly ditching him in Antarctica. He's just as much of a dick to Quentin as ever, and when Alice asks him about Kady, Penny repeatedly refers to a "ripcord" — the idea of being ready to parachute out of a relationship whenever it threatens to disappoint you. Penny bears all the hallmarks of a heartbroken man who's trying to act anything but, so it makes sense that a Kady-related object would be important to him. Even so, I didn't quite buy the idea that a wrapper for a chocolate bar would be one of his most precious possessions just because she left it for him.

The Magicians episode 108 Julia 665

Eliza — or rather, Jane Chatwin, one of the original Fillory children — is the one who helps Quentin understand how to heal the wound that Mike's cursed dagger dealt to Penny. As Quentin and the audience assume, Mike is actually a manifestation of the Beast, and the Fillorian being murders Eliza in the clean room. It's one of The Magicians' biggest departures from the novels so far; Jane is a notable secondary character in the first book. But if she has indeed met her grisly end here, I'm not too sad to see her leave, since the show used her primarily as a mysterious figure to lead Quentin along and dump some Fillory lore where the plot required it.

Marina is another character who seems to be outgrowing her usefulness. She makes a half-hearted attempt to get herself back in Julia's good graces by showing up at Julia's rehab facility in a conciliatory mood. "I don't let in a lot of people," she says after apologizing for her actions. But Julia spurns her, and we see Marina's true colors once again, as she threatens to kill Julia and everyone she cares about.

Julia has only studied magic under Marina's abusive tutelage, and it has left her so scarred that she's willing to give up magic altogether. Her past is why she (and the audience) has reason to be suspicious of Richard, the rehab center's chaplain, who says he recognizes her hedge witch tattoos because he attended Brakebills. But she reads the incantation he hands to her, which turns out to be a prayer to some kind of powerful but apparently benevolent magical god. It lifts her into the air and lifts her spirits as well, with strong magic that Julia also senses as dangerous.

"The reason you treat magic like a drug is because the people that taught it to you act like drug dealers," Richard tells her. "They buy it and they sell it, and they fight and they fuck for it."

Julia replies, "That's the only way I've ever seen," and Richard tells her it doesn't have to be that way. Here's hoping he's being truthful, and that neither Julia nor we have to deal with Marina again.

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