This week’s episode of The Magicians (Syfy, 9/8C) is entitled The Strangled Heart, which is appropriate because this is the episode where the show finds its heart and soul after seven episodes of slowly and carefully (for the most part) building our familiarity with the core characters.
There’s a lot going on in The Strangled Heart: Quentin (Jason Ralph) and Alice (Olivia Dudley Taylor) try to figure out if the connection they made at Brakebills South is real or just a foxy pheromone thing; Eliot (Hale Appleman) bares his soul to his new boyfriend, Mike (Jesse Luken); Penny (Arjun Gupta) makes a pass at Professor Sunderland (Anne Dudek) – the thought of which clearly intrigues her – before seemingly uncharacteristically taking one for the team (in a way that relates directly to the episode title); Dean Fogg’s (Rick Worthy) gloves come off and he begins to work on reacquiring his physical magic skills; Julia (Stella Maeve) has checked into a rehab facility where she finds a surprisingly empathetic counselor and has an unexpected visitor, and so much more.
Written by David Reed and directed by Jan Eliasberg, The Strangled Heart follows up on the secret sharing of last week’s The Mayakovsky Circumstances with secrets that were shared between partners at The Trials being shared again in much different circumstances – resulting in the discovery that connections have been made that now run deep between more than a few characters.
Between Brakebills and the rehab facility, we learn a great deal more about the nature of magic and discover that there are several approaches to it including at least one that makes it seem like a drug-using situation. We also learn more about Fillory – which also ties into the theme of heart and soul in an unexpected way.
Most importantly, we learn that magic is not the real subject of the series – that would be human connections and caring (though, apparently, that won’t necessarily be enough to keep The Beast from killing everyone Quentin knows and loves – or even just knows).
If, as has been stated (by the showrunners and author Lev Grossman) that The Magicians is a grown up Harry Potter in a more realistic world, then The Strangled Heart is where magic goes from being something that drives a story to something that is a tool that might only be used to its greatest potential by magicians who care about their family, friends and world (though that might not how they’d express it…).
The Strangled Heart is filled with moments of light and insight, darkness and mystery, and even a cute little bunny. It’s fulfilled most the potential of early episodes to the point that what seemed like a far too early mental health facility episode, The World in the Walls, now seems like a proper fit in the overall story (no matter how awkwardly it was done).
As the season has progressed, the story and characters have been developed in ways that have been, for the most part, unexpected (and yet inevitable once seen in context).
If ever I had doubts about the series, they have well and truly been dispelled and I am now hopelessly hooked.
Final Grade: A