It’s fun to see the entire premise of this series -- people unbelieving in magic suddenly stumbling into it -- turned on its head. Unlike most of the characters’ first introductions to Brakebills, this season doesn’t see them being sought out by magic, but them seeking it out.
The Magicians has always done metaphors well, and this one plays right into the concept of what it means to find and want to hold on to one’s identity.
Whether that’s ruling a land, being with the person you love or believing you have a higher purpose, as Josh’s monologue at the god’s party beautifully points out.
On The Magicians Season 1 Episode 1, we saw only Quentin desperate for a version of a life with more meaning. But in moments throughout “The Tales of the Seven Keys,” like the aforementioned scene with Josh, that emotional desperation is universally shared and significantly more palpable.
The Magicians Season 3 Episode 1 really drove home how magic isn’t just fun or an escape for these characters. It’s a purpose and reason for living.
In the two prior seasons, particularly The Magicians Season 1, this show did a great job at playing on its biggest metaphor: magic (and a magical school) as a substitute for the soul-searching “millennials” often find themselves doing in college.
It was a nice narrative change of pace to watch them all realize under different circumstances (or the absence rather than the presence of magic) the importance and necessity of committing to something you aren’t just good at but truly love.
There are a lot of dramatically hefty moments in The Magicians Season 3 premiere, from Penny’s bloody return to The Library to Julia admitting she needed to be able to trust people. The entire cast delivers on both the magical and personal implications of their current stakes well.
In fact, “The Tales of the Seven Keys” is a great example of how much stronger the series’ writing, acting and cast chemistry has gotten over three years.
The moments between Jason Ralph (Quentin) and Stella Maeve (Julia) are arguably some of the best of the episode, whether they’re hashing out ways to call on gods at Brakebills or in the neon scramble of a party god’s rave.
In their storyline this episode, we best see the true power of what everyone’s lost. Back in Season 1 and even parts of The Magicians Season 2, magic had not only physically torn Quentin and Julia apart, but it even pitted them against each other.
Now it is strengthening the bond between them. I am left to wonder if they aren’t better off without magic considering how well they’re working together, but then I recall how messy and unfulfilled they were and I become hesitant to think on it further.
Beyond all of “The Tales of the Seven Keys” well executed emotional moments and its few exciting reveals (the backdoor to magic especially), easily the episode’s best scene is its funniest. While in Fillory, the episode drops major visual hints that it’s Margo’s physical eye that’s snitching on them to the Faerie Queen.
This makes how long it takes Eliot and Margo to figure it out a little taxing, but it definitely pays off when it finally clicks for the two.
As we see, they turn to using very human pop culture references to communicate about what’s happening. Personal favorites? Margo’s love of Battlestar Galactica's terrorism allegories and the mention of Buffy’s best episode (no the other one).
I was also partial to the Gossip Girl and Police references, as well as Eliot admitting he had only read the wikis on Game of Thrones.
Not only was it incredibly clever writing, but it also highlighted one of the series real strengths. This show knows how to write to its demographic by using its lexicon. The people watching and connecting with this series will get many of the jokes almost instantaneously.
The Magicians, from the get-go, has really found creative success in its incorporation of pop culture and this just one more example of why it shouldn’t stop.
I will say that I was a bit surprised that the show tried to juggle so many storylines so soon. A lot had been left up in the air for everyone and a slow easing into each plotline is what I expected. To “The Tales of the Seven Keys” credit, its focus grew tighter and balanced out as the episode went along.
We got a necessary and welcome update on the status of Penny and Kady, but let Julia and Quentin and Eliot and Margo lead the major developments. Hopefully next week we’ll see more of the first two and where their season three arcs plan to take them.
Finally, the episode ended on Eliot’s new quest, which seems like it will reunite the gang. To be honest, there’s nothing I love more than when the whole group is together, so I’m eager to see how this plays out.
As for this week's episode, I may watch The Magicians online again, before Season 3 Episode 2 airs, just because I enjoyed it so much. Will you?
Abbey White is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.