The Magicians: The Writing Room   Books Included 
March 16, 2016 4:37 AM - Season 1, Episode 9 - Subscribe

Quentin, Alice, Eliot and Penny get a glimpse of the true history of the events surrounding Fillory and Further. [Warning: this episode depicts violence against children.]

This episode deviates further from the books, possibly making the backstory darker for Christopher Plover and the Chatwins.
posted by filthy light thief (36 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Well, I felt bad for the tour guide. What was impressive was how fast he was killed versus everyone else's experience with the same ghost.

Once they brought up the "rumors" I think it signaled fairly hard what direction we were going to go with Plover, though I liked how his monstrous ways were sugar coated. It could have been easier to just make him as awful as his sister, but it was atrocity spoken with a stiff upper lip.

Alice's outburst at the end about helping the children was interesting. I could see it as a callback to her own brother, but also, perhaps, her own growing comfort of sharing her feelings around others.

Even though Penny's constant belittling of Quentin over his love of all things Fillory are getting kind of old, he still delivers them fantastically.
posted by Atreides at 7:39 AM on March 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


The backstory was already pretty dark. I like that they seem to be changing the Beast plot from Martin to Plover. It seemed cruel to me that Fillory punished Martin for being abused in the books and that he in turn became a monster. The monster all along was Plover.
posted by BooneTheCowboyToy at 8:14 AM on March 16, 2016


Adding Plover's abusive/"protective" sister Prudence was weird, which felt like it first made Christopher a nice character, but then we got to his dealings with Martin.

I like the twist that Penny is the one who holds some keys to solving the riddle of Fillory:

Penny: Ugh, fine. I took the stupid thing. I was bored. It was there. Now it's gone.
Quentin: Gone? What do you mean, it's gone?
Penny: I mean I read it. I spilled my beer on it. I tossed it in the trash, and then I went and got another beer.

And then there's the b-plot, which I forgot about for some reason. I get that magic can't fix everything (at least, with the knowledge that Julia, Richard and Keira have, so far), which fits with the message of this show that Magic Isn't So Magical, but I feel bad for Keira as a throw-away character, and being a source for Julia's "redemption" (which is a twist on the books I don't like yet - it feels like the show is buying into the Magic is from Gods who want us to Do Good Things With It message from Richard).
posted by filthy light thief at 8:38 AM on March 16, 2016


"The backstory was already pretty dark. I like that they seem to be changing the Beast plot from Martin to Plover."

Are they? I was assuming this was misdirection.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:51 AM on March 16, 2016 [5 favorites]


Definitely misdirection for a surprising reveal.
posted by leotrotsky at 9:58 AM on March 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


It just occurred to me that it's a pretty dark twist on The Problem of Susan if perhaps the reason Martin can't go to Fillory anymore is because he's being sexually molested, while Jane remains 'pure'.
posted by leotrotsky at 10:02 AM on March 16, 2016 [6 favorites]


I thought about that, leotrotsky, and I cringed.

Regarding the potential for misdirection on the identity of the Beast: yes, it's probable, but part of me hopes it's not, for the sake of keeping Martin from turning from child victim into literal monster. They've changed enough already that I think this change isn't impossible.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:04 AM on March 16, 2016


Atreides: Even though Penny's constant belittling of Quentin over his love of all things Fillory are getting kind of old, he still delivers them fantastically.

I was thinking on this - imagine it's someone who hides in the Narnia books and keeps bringing them up as a 20-something. I could see that it would get annoying, especially if that person doesn't appear to have (had) that tough or trying of a life. And Penny isn't the most patient of people.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:08 AM on March 16, 2016


"...for the sake of keeping Martin from turning from child victim into literal monster."

I loathe this trope and it's in several shows -- at least two, I think three -- I'm watching now. It's lazy and the message is toxic. I'm not a survivor myself, but I've known many, and I just can't imagine what it must be like to see this in popular culture again and again.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:18 AM on March 16, 2016 [3 favorites]


It just occurred to me that it's a pretty dark twist on The Problem of Susan if perhaps the reason Martin can't go to Fillory anymore is because he's being sexually molested, while Jane remains 'pure'.

That's not a twist, it's directly from the books. Like others, I assume the Plover thing is misdirection. Fillory's rejection of Martin is supposed to be read as cruel and awful.

The bit where the sister kills the two younger kids is new, though, isn't it? I thought the younger girl just kind of "grew up" and out of Fillory like whats-her-name in the Narnia stuff.
posted by Justinian at 12:28 PM on March 16, 2016 [3 favorites]


Susan, yeah.

Actually, even the Plover stuff is somewhat changed, right? IIRC he never knew Fillory was anything but made up stories from the children in the books?
posted by Justinian at 12:29 PM on March 16, 2016


I think the two younger kids were the housekeeper's kids?
posted by BooneTheCowboyToy at 1:12 PM on March 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


Oh I guess I wasn't paying close enough attention. I assumed they were Rupert and either Fiona or Helen.
posted by Justinian at 1:25 PM on March 16, 2016


From what I recall and (re)read, Prudence and the housekeeper's kids were fabricated for the show, so the larger history of child abuse, drugging and (accidental) murder was added for extra horror.

If you're looking to quickly jog your memory from the books, you can search them in Google Books:
* The Magicians (snippet previews only)
* The Magician King (full preview)
* The Magician's Land (full preview)

And if you want to browse episode transcripts, you can do so on Forever Dreaming, which has a lot of current show transcripts, but you'll have to recall who said those lines, as it's not common for the character names to be included next to the dialog.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:29 PM on March 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


This was a really upsetting episode, going further than it needed to go for really no reason. I know it's a horror show and it's been pretty gory so far, but ghost kids being drugged and raped and killed is not entertainment for me, and I don't know why they had to go there for the plot.

The ghost kids give the button to Quentin/Alice/Penny/Eliot because these are the Chosen One(s) Because Destiny Says So [warning: TV Tropes rabbithole], or that's what the shitty framing of the series keeps persisting in telling us.

And the Chosen Ones just abandon the ghost kids to replaying the horror show forever for... reasons. Well, the writers want to leave the ghost kids there because they want to be able to revisit this later for more convenient plot exposition. No thank you.
posted by aabbbiee at 2:19 PM on March 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


The ghost kids give the button to Quentin/Alice/Penny/Eliot because these are the Chosen One(s) Because Destiny Says So [warning: TV Tropes rabbithole], or that's what the shitty framing of the series keeps persisting in telling us.


But the ghost kids didn't give the button to anyone, Quentin happened to see where it ended up per the ghostly recreation of events. In this case, they had to hunt the button down (find the grave) and take it for themselves. I don't think it's necessarily moving toward automatically granting anything to Quentin, either. He's yet to be to Fillory, while Penny has now, intentionally or not, been twice. In fact, for being the nerd that he is, he has generally been shown repeatedly that his knowledge from the books is not entirely helpful - be it trying to cure Penny from the poison (he had to get help from Jane because he applied the reasoning wrong) and managed to lose the one manuscript about Fillory that was important (doesn't matter if Penny borrowed it, he didn't keep it in a safe place.)

I also don't think the ghost children were left to repeat the haunting over and over. First off, no one is experiencing repeated atrocities, it's simply an echo of things which already happened. That's confused of course by Alice's concern, but that concern sparked the writers response, "In the rules of this universe, there's nothing that can be done to stop a haunting that already exists." Right now, I don't think the writers are so lazy as to repeat the haunting trick again, which would require creating a reason to return to the house (location of a portal to Fillory?).

I think the conclusion of this episode was really just meant to provide a bittersweet victory feeling for the Brakebills crew and not as lackadaisical decision to keep plot threads open for the future.
posted by Atreides at 2:39 PM on March 16, 2016 [3 favorites]


Did anyone else notice that the name of the pub that Eliot and Margo's door led to was "The Ball and Sack"?
posted by A dead Quaker at 3:53 PM on March 16, 2016 [7 favorites]


That's not a twist, it's directly from the books.

Are you sure? I don't remember that ever being spelled out in any kind of detail in the books.
posted by leotrotsky at 4:55 PM on March 16, 2016


going further than it needed to go for really no reason.

From what I recall and (re)read, Prudence and the housekeeper's kids were fabricated for the show, so the larger history of child abuse, drugging and (accidental) murder was added for extra horror.

The books were already tapdancing on the edge of "grimdark for no reason" and this episode seems to have grabbed that ball and run off a cliff with it. I mean, he's not only abusing the children, his sister has a torturemurder room?

Oh, and they killed a gay disabled POC engineer. Way to go, writers!
posted by BungaDunga at 6:14 PM on March 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


Are you sure? I don't remember that ever being spelled out in any kind of detail in the books.

I'm sure. It wasn't depicted but it was pretty clear. It's from the third book. Even the squicky gross implication of Martin no longer being allowed into Fillory because he was no longer "pure".
posted by Justinian at 8:51 PM on March 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


Though I suppose it depends on what you mean by "spelled out in any kind of detail". It was, in my opinion, the clear and intended implication but the book didn't ever say "PLOVER RAPED MARTIN AND THATS WHY HE RARELY GOES TO FILLORY ANYMORE", no. But it was definitely the intended reading.
posted by Justinian at 8:53 PM on March 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


I recall Jane as the Watcherwoman directly saying something to the effect that Plover diddled Martin, and that's why he wanted so badly to escape to Fillory permanently.
posted by tautological at 10:21 PM on March 16, 2016 [4 favorites]


But the ghost kids didn't give the button to anyone

The ghost kids pretty much led Brakebills group to the button. They were certainly helpful in the process. They didn't outright give the button to Quentin because they are ghosts. However, they did as much as they could do.
But why? The Brakebills group left that horror show behind them, did nothing to help those kids, seemingly only because they fancy going to Fillory. They wanted a button to go to Fillory, that's it. They don't know they're the Chosen Ones. They don't know they've been Selected by Destiny to Save Fillory. All they know is they wanted the button so they got the button.
The writers contrived the entire plot to get the button into Quentin's hands, so the idea that they're somehow working within a set of rules where they can't possibly save the ghost kids is ludicrous. There's only one good reason they didn't resolve the ghost kids situation, and that's because the writers don't want to close doors that could be opened again later.
It's the same kind of shit that happened on Game of Thrones, where they clearly were just waiting for a certain actor to turn 18 so they could finally write her rape into the show.
They made it all up, it's not in the original books, it didn't have to happen, they did it for no other reason but because they could, and it's awful.
posted by aabbbiee at 7:59 AM on March 17, 2016


aabbiiee, while I agree with your views on the most part, I'm not sure of what we're seeing with the ghosts of the past.

Penny: Sunderland talks about it all the time. She has a PhD in hauntings. Her favorite thing about a haunted house is, you get these ghost movies of the past running on a loop.

That makes it sound like hauntings are imprinted "memories" of the past, not actual spirits of the deceased who could be put to rest. Sure, they interact with Team Chosen Ones, but hauntings could be "interactive movies" of the past.

And then there's the end dialog (characters attributed as best as I can recall):
Alice: We have to go back. Come on. We have to go back, Quentin.
Quentin: And do what, exactly?
Alice: Help those children. You can't seriously be thinking of leaving them there.
Penny: They were there before we were born.
Alice: Trapped. This is exactly the kind of thing that we should be able to fix. There are ways to clear a haunted house.
Penny: The house, yes. It doesn't help with the ghosts.
Alice: There are rituals in every civilization.
Penny: To prevent this, not reverse it.
Alice: We have to help them. There has to be something. Those kids-- they did nothing. That is so unfair.
Penny: You don't say.
Alice: You're not helping.
Penny: I'm the only one helping. [scoffs] Life ain't fair. Why in the high, holy f*ck should death be any different? Thinking that you can change anything-- it's such an act of monumental ego. I mean, who the f*ck do you think you really are?

(I think Eliot may have had some of those lines I attributed to Penny, but I think that's generally the flow of things)

On the flip side, I've heard of efforts to put "restless spirits" to rest, to clear a haunted house, so I don't think it had to be this way, except the writers were happy to make this about the limits of magic (at least as held by this group - there are bigger magics available, as we see in the books).

Maybe they'll learn some more magic, and come back to right the past, or at least put the past to rest, once and for all. Or maybe it all dissipates when The Beast is slayed. We'll see.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:52 AM on March 17, 2016


Penny: I'm the only one helping. [scoffs] Life ain't fair. Why in the high, holy fck should death be any different? Thinking that you can change anything-- it's such an act of monumental ego. I mean, who the fck do you think you really are?

They're magicians in a fictional fantasy television series who just stole a button that will take them to a fictional fantasy land. That's what I'm saying. The stakes of this episode were really high and dark and awful and the payoff was what? Some spoiled grad students now get to go see what Narnia looks like. Who has the monumental egos here? Alice? What?

We can discuss the limits of magic, sure, sounds fascinating. But let's not pretend these aren't arbitrary limits made up by writers on the fly, so therefore the story had to end that way. It's like the arguments that GoT has to be full of rape and white people because that's how we think of medieval society, which totally ignores that it's a fictional fantasy world with magic and dragons and so, no, it does not have to be full of rape and white people.

This show can have magical limits, but let's not pretend the writers are forced into this storyline or story ending to prove them. They've disposed of plenty of magical limits in this adaptation for the convenience (portals are very magically-limited in the books, but totally NBD in the series, for instance) but now they're inventing limits just to show child rape/murder.
posted by aabbbiee at 9:35 AM on March 17, 2016


One thing to point out, furthering the point of imprinted memories/events, is that Jane and her brother are both part of the haunting. Jane only recently died, but as implied by the tour, the hauntings have been going on for a while now. Additionally, even though I haven't read the books, I gather from the discussions for the show, that her brother is the Beast - who's still alive. So it's not a case of tortured souls in the sense of Supernatural or something like that.

That does leave the housekeeper's children, but as they are part of the same haunting as a living individual (the Beast and until recently, Jane), it's just as clear that their presence is simply part of a memory of events with a little bit more latitude apparently for interaction (though I don't think we ever see an opportunity for anyone but the sister and the little kids to interact with our Brakebills crew.

I think a complaint concerning the use of the subject matter is valid, that's the writer's choice, but I think it's clear that there is no reoccurring victimization going on here. It's not like Prometheus chained to a rock and forced to endure an eagle eating his liver every day. It's multi-spacial film which plays over and over of events that happened decades ago.

More so, building on filthy light thief's point about the limitation of magic, that's actually been an ongoing theme of this season. Quentin can't save his father from cancer, Alice can't save her brother, the Dean cannot easily replace his vision, and even in this episode, the inability of the MIT engineer to save herself. While the decision to assert this theme concerning the haunting is objective, it's existence is a rule that has followed the characters repeatedly as a rule through the season.
posted by Atreides at 9:50 AM on March 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


I think that Alice's instinct has some validity in that the fact that the ghosts are able to interact with living people indicates that they're self-aware and persons in some sense. Their self-awareness is probably limited and their ability to exert their will is also probably limited, and if you believe in a soul then you possibly (but not necessarily) think that their ghosts are not their souls -- and, as Atreides points out, some of these are from people still living. Which raises the question of whether those particular "ghosts" could interact with living people or if it's only those who were killed in the house who were able to do so (and therefore they may well be "trapped souls"). But, regardless, while even though I'm emphatically not a dualist in real-life but am okay with dualism in fiction, I still have a problem with a worldview that would deny any sort of personhood or empathy concerning suffering to entities like these ghosts who do have some demonstrated capacity to think and interact and exert their will. That's sufficient for me to accept that there's "suffering" and that I would have some responsibility to end it, if I could. So, yeah, I too disagree with the assertion that "it's clear that there's not recurring victimization here" with regard to those ghosts who interacted with the living characters.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:11 AM on March 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


I would like to submit that the reveal that Plover had been molesting Martin Chadwick was by far the stupidest part of a series of books that had a great many stupid moments. There are a lot of valid criticisms of CS Lewis that could (should) have been incorporated into the series, but the accusation that he was secretly a child molester isn't one of them, and making that a defining part of his stand-in was cheap. Narratively, the reveal pulled the rug out from under the themes that Grossman had been building the entire first book. The idea that retreating into a fantasy world and refusing to engage with reality is ultimately bad for you was thematically introduced early and supported throughout the text, and the Beast appeared to be the most significant expression of that. That would have been something worth considering, but it would have made sequels difficult and it would have challenged fantasy fans to engage in a brief moment of self-reflection, so that naturally couldn't be the origin of the Beast.

I suspect that Alice's distress (and everyone telling her that there was nothing that she could do, and that it was arrogant of her to try) was included in the episode because the writers are building her characterization as someone who, when she wants to help someone, has a tendency to massively overreach. They started this with her brother, and gave us a quick reminder here so that when she goes nuclear during the fight with the Beast, it'll seem true to her character. Which, if correct, would suggest that whoever's writing this show is better at characterization than Grossman is.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 11:22 AM on March 17, 2016 [7 favorites]


I assumed that the molestation side of Plover is a reference to the reputation of one of the other well-known Oxonian children's authors - Lewis Carroll - rather than being a slur on CS Lewis.

We spent some time trying to decide which Margot and Eliot's favourite pub is (maybe this one?), and also how cool it would be to walk through a door from there into the Physical Kids' cottage at Brakebills.
posted by featherboa at 1:45 PM on March 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


I'm with featherboa; I thought it was a reference to Carroll.
posted by Justinian at 3:02 PM on March 17, 2016


The photograph thing was definitely a reference to Carroll.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:10 PM on March 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


So is the actress who plays Alice going to be laid off for season 2 and brought back for season 3 (assuming the show is renewed)? I can't see this show having room for Poppy. Will Kady reappear in Venice as both Josh and Poppy? I like that I have no idea where they're going with this.
posted by rikschell at 4:39 AM on March 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


So is the actress who plays Alice going to be laid off for season 2 and brought back for season 3 (assuming the show is renewed)? I can't see this show having room for Poppy. Will Kady reappear in Venice as both Josh and Poppy? I like that I have no idea where they're going with this.

With the rewriting they're doing, I assume they'll just resolve the niffin issue mid-season, while having her pop up occasionally to make mischief.

BTW, where the hell is Margo/Janet?
posted by leotrotsky at 6:33 AM on March 18, 2016


In the beginning of the episode, when Eliot said he wanted to join Quentin, Alice and Penny on their adventure, he said Margo was still in Ibiza, which makes me hope we see Todd again.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:42 AM on March 18, 2016


I don't think saying they wanted to get the button just because is fair - they clearly are aware they need to fight the Beast. Well, at least Quentin does.
posted by corb at 8:50 PM on March 18, 2016


Hello. It's me. From the future, after everyone realizes this show is amazing and follows it for two (+) more seasons.

So, upon a rewatch, this is the first episode where I really see that the writers are confident in their own direction for the story and have a lot of really creative ideas about how to tell it in the serialized TV format. The scene with the collaborative retelling of Book Six, interspersed with flashback shots that change with the details, is not a new gimmick at all, but it's funny and also well done here in a way that lines up with a lot of recurring themes of the series.
posted by absalom at 6:39 PM on June 11, 2018


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