Syfy’s The Magicians knows how to do drama and horror, but last night’s episode “A Life In The Day” reminded us it’s also a master of emotion. The show just gave us its version of Star Trek: The Next Generation’s “The Inner Light.” And it was fucking amazing.
Our magicians have been in some deep doo-doo this season. Magic is gone except for a spark held by Julia (and some leftover enchantments held by the magical elite). That’s one big problem. The other? Fairies are keeping Fillory’s kingdom hostage in a frustrating long-game with no end in sight. To return magic to the world(s), the crew has started a quest for seven keys. The journey brought them somewhere incredible last night.
Quentin (Jason Ralph) and Eliot (Hale Appleman) were the big focal point of the episode but I had no idea of the emotional roller coaster that lay ahead. As part of the crew’s mission to collect the next key from their giant The Fable of the Seven Golden Keys-led quest, Quentin and Eliot must travel back to Fillory. And they do... just not in present day.
The two experience time normally, albeit decades and decades before their younger selves made it to Fillory the first time. They come upon an old man attempting to put together a rather large mosaic but he gives up just as they arrive to complete the same task. The mosaic’s image is meant to reflect “the beauty of all life”; once they complete it, they will receive the key.
But it’s a really hard puzzle, folks.
As time goes on, and on, and on, you realize—they’re going to have to dedicate their lives to this quest. It’s the only way to bring back magic. And somewhere along the way, Quentin and Eliot make a connection, a deep one. They’ve already had sex (that threesome with Margo in season one) but here it’s so much more. They live together. Like, together together, for years. A young woman who previously stopped by now and then to sell them fruit eventually becomes part of their family. And they have a child who goes on to have his own children. And they all grow old together. And Eliot dies.
The Magicians played out the classic Year Outside, Hour Inside trope. It’s when a character, or characters, experience time differently in some fashion than everyone else and are returned to where they started—sometimes drastically changed, sometimes not changed at all. Here, it’s a bit of both.
As he’s digging Eliot’s grave, Quentin finds a piece of the mosaic hidden in the earth. The puzzle could never have been completed until the magicians lived out their lives the way they did. They needed to solve it together. “The beauty of all life,” indeed. Quentin secures the key but is immediately interrupted by... young Jane Chatwin. Having read the Fillory books, Quentin knows he’s not meant to keep the key at all. He gives it to Jane.
While Quentin and Eliot are living out their quest, Margo has been offered up for marriage once again, this time by the Fairy Queen and with incredibly horrifying results. She opens a gift on her wedding night from none other than Quentin, which includes the key they used to get to Fillory and a note informing her of their timey-wimey demise and directions to collect the key he gave away. Margo meets with adult Jane Chatwin, a.k.a. the Watcherwoman, who is still “alive” in the Clock Barrens, where all moments exist at the same time. Jane is meant to give the key to Margo, only she can’t because its magic is what keeps the Clock Barrens in existence. What she can do is tell Margo to retrieve the key on the linear plane back on Earth, buried with her corpse. But wait! There’s more time travel nonsense yet to come!
The show returned to the moment Quentin and Eliot were about to enter Fillory and start the quest, and they’re suddenly thrown into a bit of a head-scratching paradox situation. By retrieving the key from Jane’s grave, Margo is able to interrupt the pair and stop them from entering Fillory through the clock in the first place.
And that’s when my heart dropped.
We don’t often get to see loving relationships between men like this on television. Appleman told Entertainment Weekly, “It’s a little bit of a departure for the show in that it’s more intimate—intimate in every sense of the word, I think, from a storytelling standpoint.” An understatement! I’d wager that The Magicians’ fans are pretty open-minded as a whole but seeing something on TV outside the usual heteronormative view was wonderful to watch and incredibly moving. Queer relationships on TV are still far too rare and even when we do get them, they’re often underdeveloped. Even though this episode depicted an entire lifetime in under 40 minutes, you got to experience so much. Showing that love isn’t just the one simple thing we’ve been offered in mainstream media for decades is a powerful message, and one we need more of.
So when Margo stopped them from beginning their journey I thought that meant the entire, wonderful thing had been erased. Even Eliot explains that it was “an alternate timeline, one that we never have to live now,” and one they don’t remember because it never happened. But if they never went to Fillory, how did Margo receive the note that led her to Jane and back to Quentin and Eliot? It’s a time-looping paradox for sure but there’s a twist. When the three return to the castle in Fillory, Quentin and Eliot find the note to Margo. And a basket of fruit. They do remember. Everything. How do they remember? Let’s just say... magic. And let’s enjoy the moment.
How this will change Quentin and Eliot’s relationship going forward remains to be seen—but one thing is for sure, they will never be the same.