It was all fun and games, but is it enough?
Crazy heist plus musical episode was sure to equal a slam dunk of entertainment, but when that episode is also the penultimate of the series, well, then there's bound to be some problems.
The faults don't lie with the episode itself -- The Magicians Season 5 Episode 12 -- but rather with the story arcs and conclusion of the series.
The musical episode is a trope some series try at least once in their run.
Some are iconic, such as Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 6 Episode 7, while others make you wish your favorite series had never attempted such a feat, such as Grey's Anatomy's Season 7 Episode 18.
This is the show's third musical episode, though The Magicians Season 1 Episode 4 and The Magicians Season 2 Episode 9 featured "Shake It Off" by Taylor Swift and "One Day More" from the musical "Les Misérable," respectfully.
What makes these musical episodes and numbers more successful than other shows' attempts is the fantasy of it.
In a world with magic, characters randomly breaking out into song and dance makes more sense than on non-genre shows, which has contributed to the past episodes' success.
Zelda: Well, there’s the conductor spell. Created by a conductor who was going blind so he and his orchestra could still communicate.
Josh: Wouldn’t all those voices be kind of confusing?
Zelda: Each musician only hears the conductor but never one another.
Fen: I’m totally sure I don’t understand and totally sure it’s going to work.
Alice: Why wouldn’t it set off the hotel protections?
Zelda: The spell was designed to help artists, so by nature, it’s innocuous.
Margo: You’ll be the conductor then?
Zelda: I would, but I don’t know the hotel, not like…
Alice: So wait, not only are we breaking into a hotel of horrors but our conductor has to be a psychopath.
Marina: Sociopath, technically.
The best musical episode and/or number remains The Magicians Season 4 Episode 10.
Along with the "believable" explanation why everyone is singing and dancing -- Margo is tripping hard on lizard -- the episode works because the songs correspond with the storyline instead of trying to drive it.
Based on the journey Janet takes in "The Magician's Land," Margo embarks on a quest into the desert to find a way to expel the Monster from Eliot.
Without recapping the entirety of the episode, which is worth a second watch, it's a powerful feminist and sex-positive journey that gives Summer Bishil a chance to shine like nothing else.
The songs only serve to enhance the already compelling and deeply emotional 42 minutes, rather than trying to overwhelm the story being told, which is sadly what happened here.
The songs, as fun as they were, didn't really elevate the episode.
It seems as though the plot of the episode was devised around the songs, as opposed to the other way around.
Sure, it makes sense why the gang goes full "Glee" whenever they have an emotion, as Josh put it, but it doesn't add anything to the episode.
Margo: I think I speak for the group in wondering why the fuck did we all Chorus Line?
Alice: And I heard all of you in my head, not just Marina.
Josh: Yeah, what the hell?
Zelda: Our circumstances are unstable. Our collective surge of emotion must have broken down some of the spells’ barriers. And as for the singing, well, it was designed by a conductor, and music is the purest manifestation of feeling.
Josh: So let me get this straight, every time we have a feeling, we’re gonna go full on Glee. That doesn’t seem ideal for, you know, a heist.
It has the opposite effect as it detracts from the limited screen time viewers have left with these characters.
If this wasn't the final season, I could be more forgiving of the episode, as it still is loads of fun to watch, but with only one episode left, I feel I have to be rather critical.
The song that worked best was Alice and Eliot's duet of "Don't Give Up."
Alice, still reeling from the trauma of George cutting off her fingers, laments how she feels like a failure for not being able to do anything to stop him.
This is particularly tough as Alice's identity has always been tied to being the best, yet in that instance, she wasn't.
With only one hand to cast with, it's understandable that Alice would want to give up.
After all, if she can no longer be the best at something, then what's the point.
Eliot, though, goes to comfort her, explaining she can't give up just yet as she has friends to lean on and more fight left.
Eliot's words of encouragement are enough to get through to Alice, something that wouldn't have been possible a season ago.
Eliot: Alice, whatever it is, whatever you’re feeling, you can…you can just tell me.
Alice: I just can’t stop thinking about what he did to me. I was so useless, so stupid.
However, after their heartfelt conversation on The Magicians Season 5 Episode 3 where they cleared the air, it works.
The other songs worked to mixed results, but again, it still felt rather disjointed.
The writers, though, did a better job when it came to constructing the heist.
While the heist, itself, was overly complex, all the moving parts came together and made sense.
The dry humor and insanity of everything helped offset the time-consuming nature of the plot.
It's hard to be mad at how long characters are taking to accomplish a task when there's crazy antics at every turn, whether it be a singing and dancing anthropomorphic pig, a makeout orgy in the lobby, and the realization of where the world seed ends up.
It's just good old fashioned, not at all clean fun.
What the heist did lack though was stakes.
Even when characters were seemingly in trouble, there was never a doubt they were in mortal danger.
Fogg 17: Let me guess, camouflage potion? Liquid explosive? Ah, good old chloroform? Ah, goddamn scotch, but not just any scotch: Isabella’s Islay single malt. Goddamn it, who knew you had taste.
Kady: Wait no, I need that.
Fogg 17: Are you a drunk now? Well congratulations. Let me help you get back on the wagon. Now, what don’t you save us all some trouble, and tell me where the rest of your colleagues are. Goddamn it, what did you put in this?
Kady: A pharmaceutical I bought off a very helpful bartender. Street name, Archie.
Josh: What just happened?
Kady: I just sent him on a trip to the etheric realm where rules prevent Henry Fogg from leaving. Here’s hoping they’re too high to notice there’s a new one.
As light-hearted and fun the first, and undisputed best, heist on The Magicians Season 2 Episode 7 was, it also came with real consequences.
The dopplebanger was "killed" during the heist, putting Eliot's life in jeopardy, and because of how things played out, Julia ended up losing her shade.
Here, the worst that happened was Marina getting dumped and George getting shot.
Not the life or death consequences one may have expected, especially after the heist was built up by Marina as being essentially impossible without the harmonic convergence.
Everyone managed to get out in one piece, and no one was worse for wear.
They even had a nice getaway courtesy of Santa Claus.
Compounding this issue was that the Couple weren't very menacing villians.
The series built George and Paloma Ball to be this evil force that would stop at nothing to get what they wanted.
Fen: The first thing you have to do is explain why you want to build a new world.
George: To you?
Fen: To the seed. It’s alive, and in order to grow, it needs to know exactly what you want and why. The seed will know if you lie and refuse to grow.
Paloma: We’ve made powerful enemies here on earth, and one cursed us, making us…
George: Unable to have children. But on a new world, beyond the reach of our enemies, we hope to have a family.
Fen: Uh OK. I have to admit that’s not a motive I could have guessed, but do you really think you’d make the best parents?
They killed their supposed best friend to get the world seed, and George had no problem torturing Alice to get the instruction manual.
Yet when it came time to live up to their reputation, they faltered.
Margo, Josh, and Fen were captured instead of being killed on the spot when caught trying to steal the world seed, and they barely put up a fight when the world seed was stolen.
Sure, the Nave had its own magical restrictions in place, but I was expecting something more, even if it was a vow to hunt the group down and kill all their loved ones.
Something that would make it seem like they give a damn about losing their only chance to have a biological child.
The big takeaway of the episode is that the gang got the world seed.
They went through a whole lot to get it, which involved crazy shenanigans and randomly bursting into song, but the world seed is in their possession, or rather Fen's.
Margo: Fen, where the fuck is the seed?
Josh: Why are you running so weird?
Fen: The seed is somewhere warm, very humid, even moist.
Josh: Oh, whoa.
Now, they can theoretically create a new world where they can transport all the raptured Fillorians.
The group has all the necessary pieces, but it now becomes the task of putting them all together.
It's quite a daunting task ahead of them.
They have to rapture all the people of Fillory into the Ark, destroy the entire land, kill the Dark King and stop him from resurrecting Lance, and create a new world, all within the span of an hour.
Plus there's still the resolution to Julia and Penny's storyline, which I'll touch on more later.
And when you factor in the happyish endings, well, that's a lot of things to get through.
This sort of timetable is somewhat worrisome, as it's possible some things will be either glossed over or conveniently worked out.
Marina: You see? This is why I don’t hang out with you people.
Zelda: But on the bright side, we were pitch perfect.
However, judgment should be reserved for the series finale.
Considering it's already been filmed and edited, there's not much we can do about it.
Missing out from the craziness was Penny and Julia, who were on a mission of their own.
They're no closer to figuring out how to stop Julia from going insane once their child is born, but they did figure out why traveler mothers end up going crazy whenever they're near their children.
Some sort of magical cord tethers the mothers to their children, with the mothers taking on traveler powers, such as hearing voices, whenever the women are in range of their children.
Knowing Julia, she isn't going to rest until she finds a way to sever that connection with her unborn child.
She's smart as a whip, determined and will do everything in her power to make that happen
After she finds that solution, there's a decent chance Julia can replicate the effects, meaning Penny's mother Neela would no longer go insane every time she's within earshot of her son.
Julia: You’re not crazy Neela. Look, magic is real. I’m a magician, and so is your son. But he’s a rare breed with this link that they have to their mothers. Every time they’re close by their abilities start to bleed over.
Neela: Stop, stop, stop. Just stop.
Julia: My baby has the same abilities as Penny, which means it causes the same problems.
Neela: This isn’t happening.
Julia: This is happening. Look, I swear. I know I’m asking a lot but if you could just take a chance and let me help you, you could have your son back, get to know your grandchild. Wouldn’t that be worth it?
Neela: I can’t. I can’t go through this again. It’ll kill me. Tell William I’m sorry.
Neela could have had her son back in her life and make up for lost time, but instead, she decided it wasn't even worth the risk, which is so much worse.
Neela had such regret about having to send Penny away as a child, yet when the decision of whether to be in her son's life or not presented itself once again, she chose to abandon him all over again.
While I respect that she couldn't put herself through that mental instability again, Neela wasn't even interested in other alternatives.
Being physically near Penny, even for a few minutes, caused her to start hearing voices again.
But what about staying in touch electronically or video chatting with her son regularly? And those are just the non-magical options.
For Neela, it was easier just to close that chapter of her life, once and for all, than risk the normal life she has worked so hard to create after years of hearing voices.
Again, it's understandable, but it doesn't make it any less heartbreaking to watch, especially for Penny.
Though he hadn't dealt with the trauma of his childhood, he had buried it enough to live a semi-functional life, or as functional a life as a magician can.
Penny: I need to know everything you went through. When did you start hearing voices?
Neela: About three months into the pregnancy. At first they thought it was a chemical imbalance, but after you were born I started to get worse. They said the stress of parenting brought on a latent psychological disorder, probably one I’d inherited. The first time I had to send you away… I hear myself say that and I still can’t believe I did it. I am so sorry.
Penny: Mom, I’m OK. I need you to tell me everything you can.
Neela: The voices went away when you did, and when you came back so did they. Every time you came back, there was less and less of the little boy.
Penny: Mom, this isn’t about me.
Neela: I wanted so much to raise you, love you, protect you, but what you needed protection from was me. What?
Neela: I’m sorry. Someone’s calling me. What is it? What do you need?
Penny: Mom, there’s no one calling you.
Neela: Of course there is. It must be one of my patients. There’s more of them. You don’t hear them? They’re screaming.
Penny: I don’t.
Neela: Oh no, no, no, no, not again. Please stop.
However, he had to go through this entire ordeal, which was retraumatizing in and of itself.
First, he had to confront the pain of being abandoned by his mother, and then deal with the guilt that he was the one, unknowingly, causing her insanity.
And just when it seemed like maybe he and Neela could make amends and have a fresh start, she chose to walk away again.
It's even more painful this time because as an adult and a magician Penny knows the full extent of what's going on.
Before, it wasn't Neela's choice.
Now, it is.
Some stray thoughts:
Let's all take a moment of silence to thank The Powers That Be for keeping Fen on the varsity team. Not only did she get to participate in the heist in a meaningful way, she was key in deciphering the instruction manual on how to grow the world. She even schooled the Couple with her intel.
She was still Fen -- goofy, endearing, naive -- but she kept her newfound confidence and outspokenness from The Magicians Season 5 Episode 11, so points for continuity and great writing. It's pretty late in the game, but I'll take it.
Marina and Zelda is the spinoff I didn't know I needed. I would watch an entire show with just the two of them arguing for an hour. They're such polar opposites but have great chemistry. Their presence was enough to make me forget Charlton wasn't in this episode, and I wasn't even mad.
Oh, Pete and his scams. Some things never change. Since The Magicians Season 4, the guy has grown on me, namely because he's not doing Marina's bidding and screwing Julia over, so a horrific end in his case is no longer needed.
So what did you think The Magicians Fanatics?
How did the musical episode and heist compare to previous ones?
Do you have reservations about the time management of the series finale?
Did Penny get screwed over by Neela?
Hit the comments below to let me know your thoughts. If you happened to miss the latest episode, remember you can watch The Magicians online at TV Fanatic.
Jessica Lerner was a staff writer for TV Fanatic. She retired in October 2021.