On The Magicians Season 3 Episode 13, viewers were offered a satisfying cliffhanger that serves as the perfect ending to a near perfect season.
“Will You Play With Me?” ended up being both exactly and not at all what I expected from this season’s finale. Completing the quest was ultimately in the cards.
Not having the team unlock magic would have essentially made all the mechanisms of the season a waste. But the ultimate cost of turning it back on was the real shocker and proves that The Magicians writers have a real understanding of what separates a good plot twist from a great one.
If you took the events of the final The Magicians Season 3 episode at face value, it might not seem all that satisfying. Particularly as much of what was gained over 12 episodes was lost in 42 minutes.
Julia became a goddess and then quickly gave up her powers to save magic. Magic was restored but fell into the hands of The Library.
The Fairy Queen got what was coming to her (despite her wonderful redemption turn), but at the hands of someone who shouldn’t have been alive to deliver the blow.
The Brakebills kids came to know and lean on each other better and more than the entire two prior seasons, but lost whatever they had forged between them entirely.
So if you only see that, then the finale was average. But it was in fact so much more than that.
From the metaphor about growing up (and the sacrifices we unnecessarily make to do that) to practically upending the entire universe, “Will You Play With Me?” was a near perfect send off.
I have cried approximately twice while watching this show. The final ten minutes, including the montage set to Until the Ribbon Breaks' cover of "One Way Or Another," made it thrice.
It’s possible that this was a very personal takeaway. But after seeing all of the Brakebills crew fight so hard for magic – an obscure representation of our innocence, curiosity, imagination, determination, and more – then lose it felt like a weird metaphor for the transition into adulthood.
Back in Season One when Julia couldn’t let go of the idea that she remembered having magic, Quentin told her to move on because she hadn’t been chosen.
“Move on” meant grow up. Step into the real world. Find the thing that’s “right” for you.
But after three seasons, the idea that Fillory, magic and all the beasts, creatures, and challenges the Brakebills crew have faced isn’t “real” seems out of touch. That this wasn’t their “right” path seems wrong.
The idea that being a dreamer, a creator, a believer – that daring to step outside the confines of our own mind to see something bigger – is just for kids isn’t mature. It’s a betrayal of the human experience.
Being an adult doesn’t mean becoming something different than who we were. Something “expected” of us, as we see the Brakebills kids at the end of the episode.
Being an adult should mean being true to ourselves. Even if that's playing with magic for a living.
And that’s what they’re gonna have to do, apparently, in Season 4. They’re going to have to believe again, much like Neverland and Narnia require and despite their own gut instincts, to find their true selves.
To become the people Prometheus believed would save them all.
Beyond that well delivered (and sweeping) metaphor, I think the episode pushed the limits of its own world building in all the right ways.
The series circled back to the role of ancient gods, specifically Prometheus and why he “died” to help explain the magic and power of the seven key quest.
It continued its play on the idea that “gods” are all around us and that magic and mythical power exist in even the most mundane of places (e.g. games like candy collider).
It gave us iconic heroes (the guardian, most of the Brakebills crew, the Fairy Queen) and thrilling villains (the creature, Fogg, The Library). It also gave us some beautiful animation, a nice spin on the in-universe storytelling.
Not to mention, its chaotic ending was the perfect way to round out a season driven by structure.
It also pushed its established approach to character building, but not in a directly obvious way.
I think a lot of this show’s character development is driven by people making mistakes and then redeeming themselves. It’s a very direct call to the idea of being human and the “human experience.”
We make mistakes. And often we make them again, and again until we don’t. Or do again.
But there were a couple moments this episode where the idea of redemption seemed, personally, more difficult than before. I’m specifically talking about characters like Alice, Fogg, and Eliot.
After watching this cast of magicians take so many missteps in the past, the idea that they wouldn’t just follow the plan, or that they hadn’t gotten over thinking they were above the natural laws of nature and magic, didn’t even cross my mind. Because it just seemed so counterproductive.
Yes, Eliot absolutely needed to save his friend. Fogg absolutely needed to save magic. Alice absolutely needed to save the world (and herself). But in the end, nothing really got saved. Magic was brought back, yes, but at what cost to itself and others?
Eliot doesn’t even know Quentin anymore to call him a friend or know he’s alive, and the old Quentin probably wouldn’t have wanted the life he now has.
Fogg saved magic but for what? To have betrayed the goddess who helped him? To have something powerful siphoned out in a near unusable way?
Then there’s Alice. She so much wanted to have her own life, but in the end, she’s the only one of the group that didn’t get that chance.
She also wanted to stop the bad so much she was willing to sacrifice the good. Instead, she handed the good over to the bad and now there’s nothing to stop the badder. Not just your regular old badder either. The kind that has even the gods in hiding.
And if the gods are afraid of this creature – that’s now been let loose and is occupying Eliot in the greatest turn for Hale Appleman in this series ever – how are a bunch of graduate school level magicians gonna stop it?
Other questions: Is Julia's god power completely gone or will the gods step in to help her? And is Penny40 gone-gone now that we've got yet another Penny? Might this open the door for a non-controversial Penny23 and Julia romance?
Could the Alice locked in that Library room be the future scriber we saw earlier this season if she doesn't get out?
Why is everyone, including Fogg, so comfortable with the idea of magic being controlled by a single source? And was Fogg in on the fairy dust thing with Irene the entire time?
How will that Fairy Queen deal hold up? What happens when you do actually break a fairy deal?
Will the show continue to call Margo Janet during Season 4? Will the creature jump into the other Brakebills students' bodies? What are everyone else's new names?
And finally, I'm very excited about this development, but will Hale Appleman be the best villain we've seen on The Magicians?
In all, the finale felt like the right ending to this incredible season and I'm already ready for the next one to start.
If you have thoughts about The Magicians' latest episode, "Will You Play With Me?" comment below! And if you haven't caught up, you can watch The Magicians online.
Abbey White is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.