The Magicians The Balls Review

If you ever wanted to watch a musical version of an Oceans movies set in a hotel not unlike The Continental from John Wick: Chapter 2, then look no further than this episode of The Magicians. We start “The Balls” in the gang’s New York City apartment, where Marina walks everyone else through the intricate plan they must enact in order to steal the World Seed from The Couple’s stronghold in the Nave Hotel. 

I won’t go into many of the delightful details of the heist here (suffice it to say it involves a knock-off purse with magical incubator properties, a bottle of Two-Buck Chuck, and overcoming golems who can sense microaggressions), except to note that the gang will all be able to communicate during their elaborate robbery through a Conductor Spell that Zelda knows. 

Given that this is this season’s musical episode, we’re ready for it when the spell, given the wonky magical circumstance on Earth, goes a bit wrong. After Zelda casts it, the gang is visited by everyone’s favorite sexist pig, Sir Effingham, who wants to shoot Julia for being the force that will bring the end of Fillory. Things get heated (although luckily for Sir Effingham, Julia along with Penny23 are the two who aren’t part of the World Seed heist), and the strong emotions cause the Conductor Spell to go awry, forcing everyone—including Sir Effingham—to take part in a song and dance number of Nick Lowe’s “Too Cruel To Be Kind.” 

This group musical performance is the biggest one of the episode; unlike previous years (The Magicians has a musical episode in each of its five seasons), the songs in “The Balls” are mostly smaller affairs, more intimate ballads between a handful of characters rather than full-out musical showstoppers. Season 5 has been a quieter and sadder season than years before it, however, and this relatively toned-down musical performance (emphasis on the world “relatively”) fits the overall arc and mood of the season. 

The songs also don’t seem to be as plentiful as previous musical episodes, though I admit my memory could be off here. Even if I’m remembering correctly, however, fewer songs are okay—we still get oeuvres that move us, such as Eliot and Alice’s rendition of Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush’s “Don’t Give Up,” and we also still get exciting ensemble pieces, such as the aforementioned “Too Cruel to Be Kind” and a golem-fighting finale where the gang breaks out of the Nave with the World Seed to the tune of the Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Sedated.” 

Also unlike some other musical episodes of years past, there was a non-music-infused storyline this episode as well—Penny23 and Julia track down Penny’s mother in order to better understand how having a Traveler baby will impact Julia’s sanity. Both of their interactions with Penny’s mother are heartbreaking. It’s been years since she has seen Penny, since she gave him up as a child because she wasn’t mentally capable of taking care of him. To the surprise of Penny and Julia, she’s better now, but soon hears voices when Penny talks to her. It turns out there’s a magical connection between the two, one where Penny literally drives his mother mad. And while Julia tries to salve this decades-long wound, to let Penny’s mom know that she could likely use magic to prevent that from happening again, Penny’s mother refuses—she’s been through too much already, and she thinks going through it again will kill her. 

It’s a more bitter than sweet moment when Julia gives Penny a photo of him and his mom—her last gift to her son, and the message is a painful one: loving someone does not mean that you’ll be there for them. This message doesn’t provide happy foreshadowing for Penny and Julia next week, and I’ll be bracing for them to face some heartache in the season (and series!) finale. 

We end the episode, however, at the Nave Hotel, where the gang is getting a getaway lift from Alice’s old cell neighbor, Santa Claus, who greets them with a cheery F-bomb-laden greeting before we cut to credits. And now we have one more episode left, our last 45 minutes or so with the characters we love. (Before we start the 5-season re-watch, of course. I have some extra time on my hands lately, who else is in?) Knowing next week is the series finale, I’m both eager and anxious to find out where everyone will end up. I’m guessing some new world will be created with the World Seed. And I hope it’s a good world, one where our complex characters can thrive and finally be happy. 

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