The Magicians Season 5 Episode 3 recap: The power of grief and truths

Olivia Taylor Dudley as Alice Quinn and Hale Appleman as Eliot Waugh on The Magicians. Pic credit: Eric Milner/SYFY

I first stumbled upon The Magicians about a decade ago. I was still in college, Harry Potter had just ended, and I needed something to fill the void that Hogwarts had left behind. So what better way to do that than to dive into a brand new magical world that also featured a magic school?

It seemed like the perfect escape.

However, The Magicians by Lev Grossman didn’t grab my attention. I read the first book and thought it was okay, but I wasn’t interested enough to go back for more when the other books came out.

Now that I think about it, I was probably too young then to appreciate the beautiful, complex, and complicated characters Grossman created.

Flashforward to 2019. I had been hearing about the show The Magicians for a couple of years, but I still held on to the notion that if I hadn’t liked the book, I probably wouldn’t like the show.

And then a hiatus came around, and all my shows were gone, and I was bored. I had just watched Carnival Row on Amazon Video, and they recommended The Magicians. I thought to myself, why not?

Three weeks later, I had watched all four seasons, and I was absolutely in love with these beautifully complex characters, and in complete shock that they had just killed their main character Quentin Coldwater.

That brings us to this week’s episode and how everyone is still processing Quentin’s death.

Last night’s The Magicians was a beautiful reflection on grief and how it takes on different forms for different people.

Eliot and Alice and a study on grief

The Magicians Season 5 Episode 3 “The Mountain of Ghosts” showed us just how deeply both Eliot and Alice are hurting, but especially Eliot.

The first two episodes focused more on Alice’s grief and how Eliot is bottling everything up while drinking himself into a stupor to try and numb the pain.

After the events of season 4, there is plenty of guilt to go around between them, and when Eliot catches Alice trying to sneak into Fillory, it doesn’t take long for him to get the truth out of her.

Following last week’s episode, where Alice created a golem using Quentin’s essence, she realizes that she needs to return what’s left of it to the Underworld.

There is a Mountain of Ghosts in Fillory with a hole at the top, supposedly going to the Underworld.

So long story short, Alice ends up spilling the beans to Eliot about what she’s done and where she’s going, and he insists on tagging along. Of course, things do not go well.

Not only do they have to deal with the Takers on their way up the Mountain of Ghosts, but they are not particularly happy with the other at the moment. This is on top of the insurmountable pain of losing Quentin.

Not long into their hike up the mountain, they start arguing and throwing ugly truths at each other. They both feel immense guilt over Q’s death, and the mountain and grief have a way of making it come spilling out in the worst way possible.

When Eliot throws in her face the line, “I was thinking more about that one time where you betrayed all of us, I ended up possessed, and Q died cleaning up the mess,” Alice feels like she’s just been sucker-punched.

Because as much as it hurts, it is also true.

So while arguing and barely keeping it together, Alice and Eliot are attacked by one of the Takers, who takes advantage of their distraction to steal the vial with Quentin’s essence. Eliot nearly dies, but a mysterious stranger (Sean Maguire) saves him.

We don’t catch his name, but he makes camp with Eliot and Alice. They drink and talk, but he connects with Eliot, who ends up confessing that Quentin was a hell of a lot more than just a “good friend.”

Mr. Stranger encourages him to tell Alice the truth, but Eliot doesn’t want to add even more to the pain she’s already going through.

And that leads us to one of the most beautiful and heartbreaking moments ever in this show. When they finally reach the top of the mountain and Alice throws Quentin’s essence to the Underworld, Eliot shows her the letter he wrote to Quentin.

That moment was cathartic for both these characters. The two are in unimaginable pain but connect over their love for Quentin Coldwater and what he meant to them.

Hale Appleman and Olivia Taylor Dudley gave their very best performances to date.

In a scene that was so incredibly raw and poignant and so full of regrets and pain and bittersweet memories, Appleman and Dudley broke my heart a million times over — especially when Eliot says, “I never really got to talk to him again; he just died.”

This scene encapsulates the very essence of what I love about this show. Sure, it’s about magic and fantastic worlds and creatures. However, at the end of the day, it’s about relationships and how messy and complicated and complex a human being is. Nothing is ever just black and white.

With the truth finally out, Alice and Eliot found in each other the comfort and solace and understanding that only those who loved Quentin as fiercely as they did could comprehend.

Other highlights:

  • My head is still spinning with the reveal that the mysterious stranger that hung out with Eliot and Alice in the Mountain of Ghosts is the Dark King. I most definitely did not see that coming.
  • As absolutely hilarious as it was to see Fen and Margo participating in the Annual Tournament for the Elite Centurion Guards, I am heartbroken for my girl Margo. I can’t believe Josh cheated on her — with Fen! I’m sure all their fighting and betrayal will have repercussions — other than just Fen being a werewolf now. I just wanted to take a moment to praise both Summer Bishil and Britany Curran for that last scene in the cages. The absolute raw emotion and pain they both displayed were absolutely heartbreaking to watch. Kudos to both of them for making me cry like a baby.
  • Elsewhere, Julia and Penny 23 are on a quest to try to find someone who can predict when the magic surges are going to happen, so they can try and stop them. When they finally convince Danielle Marcus to help, she gives them some pretty ominous news. A Harmonic Convergence — a rare and powerful astrological occurrence — is right around the corner. If they think the magic surges have been bad so far, they’re nothing compared to what havoc the harmonic convergence will do to magic. Which means they’re facing a very imminent apocalypse. So they need to save the world. Again.

The Magicians airs on Wednesdays at 10/9C on SYFY.

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