[This is a review of The Magicians season 2 finale. There will be SPOILERS.]
Based on the same-named novel by Lev Grossman, Syfy's The Magicians started off as a Harry Potter-style tale of magic for the older young adult crowd, though it's clear the story was additionally influenced by The Chronicles of Narnia. While season 1 of The Magicians focused on Quentin Coldwater (Jason Ralph) and his friends learning about magic - and, more specifically, learning that magic isn't a cure all to unhappiness -- season 2 has been fully entrenched in a number of worlds interwoven with magic, exploring the good and bad that comes along with that power.
The Magicians season 2 premiere featured Quentin, Eliot (Hale Appleman), Alice (Olivia Taylor Dudley), and Margo (Summer Bishil) become the kings and queens of Fillory while Penny (Arjun Gupta) looked on. However, they were still dealing with the fallout from their failed attempt to kill the Beast/Martin Chatwin (Charles Mesure), as well as Julia's (Stella Maeve) betrayal when she made a deal with the Beast to help her kill the trickster god Reynard the Fox. By the end of season 2, though, the problems of The Magicians characters have changed dramatically, as have their various outlooks on magic.
The Magicians season 2 finale, 'We Have Brought You Little Cakes' -- directed by Chris Fisher and written by showrunners Sera Gamble and John McNamara -- sees Eliot rallying his friends in order to save Fillory from being destroyed by the bored god Ember. Meanwhile, Penny and the Librarians are worried about the blank pages at the end of everyone's books, and Quentin continues to worry about Alice acclimating to life after coming back from being a Niffin.
'We Have Brought You Little Cakes' starts off in a much different way than any other episode of The Magicians, with Ember telling the story of the past two seasons from his perspective. It's an especially humorous sequence, but also establishes a sense of finality and sets the stage for just how great the stakes are going into the season 2 finale. Between the blank pages in the Librarians' books and Ember threatening to destroy Fillory -- and all of magic on Earth along with it - Quentin and his friends have quite the battle ahead of them. However, the characters of The Magicians at the end of season 2 aren't the same students of Brakebills who tried to face the Beast at the end of season 1. Since then, they have killed the Beast, ruled Fillory, traveled to the Underworld, survived a variety of magical attacks/experiences, and learned from it all.
As a result, their battle against Ember isn't a battle at all, but rather a well thought out plan that plays to both Ember and his brother Umber's weaknesses. Tricking Ember into killing his brother, using the power given off by Umber's death to forge a weapon that can kill Ember, and Quentin doing so is rather anticlimactic. But then, the various experiences of the characters have given them the knowledge of just how to pull this plan off. Still, though the former Brakebills students are more knowledgeable about how to kill gods, post-Niffin Alice makes it clear they don't know everything about how the world -- or even magic -- works.
And, because they killed two gods who were the children of even older gods, the consequences are especially steep. In their effort to save Fillory and magic, Quentin and his friends wind up angering the old gods, who turn off magic entirely from all of Fillory and Earth. The episode ends after a two month time jump, which finds Quentin and Alice studying theoretical magic at Brakebills, and Eliot and Margo arguing over whether to move ahead with their plan to establish a democracy in Fillory during the magic drought. The final sequence sets the stage for the major throughline of season 3, in that everyone will be struggling in a magicless world. Individually, Alice is being hunted by the lamprey, Eliot and Margo are going to war against the fairies, and Julia shows Quentin that she's somehow able to perform a very small bit of magic.
On the whole 'We Have Brought You Little Cakes' works as a mirror of the season 1 finale - which is especially apparent in the title of the episode, since the final episode of season 1 was titled 'Have You Brought Me Little Cakes'. While season 1 focused on Quentin and his friends learning the ins and outs of magic, not to mention the consequences of wielding magic, they all still held onto the preconceived notion that magic is a cure-all in any situation. But, Julia being given her memories back of Reynard raping her, as well as the Beast's attack on Quentin and his friends, forced them all to realize magic can cause more trouble than help in many situations.
As a result of the season 1 finale, season 2 sees each member of The Magicians ensemble cast learning what it really means to wield the power that magic grants, sacrifices and all, instead of expecting magic to simply help a situation. As a coming of age tale, it's especially compelling to see each of the characters grow into themselves throughout season 2, and their growth is epitomized by their actions in the finale. The characters become less passive magicians, and instead are able to take matters into their own hands, creating a much more exciting and compelling dynamic in the season 2 finale.
Still, they haven't learned everything yet, as evidenced by them failing to foresee the possible consequences of killing Ember and Umber. However, just as their actions in the season 1 finale helped set the stage for a more in depth dive into the world of magic in season 2, the loss of magic in 'We Have Brought You Little Cakes' will no doubt pave the way for The Magicians to explore new realms of the world's mythology - not to mention develop the characters in new ways as they attempt to forge their paths in their magicless situation. Since the season 2 finale works as a conclusion of sorts to the storyline of The Magicians so far, season 3 has the opportunity to take the show and the characters to new heights.
The Magicians will return for season 3 at Syfy.