By Jessica Toomer | TV | May 3, 2019 |
By Jessica Toomer | TV | May 3, 2019 |
If you’ve been wondering what kind of show The Magicians really is, the latest episode sums up its essence quite nicely. It’s a show that combines the absurdly silly with the brutally honest, a show that centers a sexually fluid woman of color as its hero for an entire episode, a show that stages musical montages in a patriarchal desert.
In short, it’s a show that can do it all, and often, does what no other series is brave enough to.
Take Season four, Episode 10’s “All That Hard, Glossy Armor” for instance. Nearing the end of the season, another show might begin tying up loose ends, regrouping its main cast, setting up its white male savior’s imminent victory.
Not The Magicians.
Instead, the show takes us on a musical jaunt through a barren wasteland as Margo embarks on a quest to retrieve a magical weapon that may save Eliot — he’s still possessed, guys. What could’ve been just an interesting subplot, a nice bit of action to distract us from more sinister things like Gods murdering each other and hedge witches being targeted, turns out to be one of the show’s timeliest, most subversive episodes yet.
Margo ventures to the edges of Fillory, sustaining herself on the sweat of a talking lizard and having some vividly real, strangely melodic hallucinations. She sees Eliot — only it’s not the real Eliot, but a version of herself, leading her to a tented village on the outskirts of the desert. This village is ruled by men, men who claim to protect the women from some devious spirit that takes the form of slithering mounds of red sand. If a woman becomes angry, upset, emotional, the red sand rises up and attacks. Only men can defend these women, shielding them from the spirit, letting it enter their own bodies, and then expelling it with enchanted weapons made of grains of black sand.
It’s those weapons that Margo came for, and she ignores the patriarchal bullsh*t thrown her way in order to forge her own.
First, she must go out into the desert alone and spend days combing through mounds of dirt to gather enough black stones to craft them. The journey is tiring, the task emotionally exhausting. She sits in a tent with her Eliot hallucination humming a lullaby her father once sang to her.
For four seasons, Margo has enjoyed her own small evolutions. She’s transformed from a hard-partying grad student to a High King of Fillory, a woman ready to sacrifice for her friends and her subjects. She’s made tough decisions, terrible mistakes, and won a few hard-fought wars, but it’s in this tent, when she’s on the edge of an emotional breakdown, that we get our best glimpse into why she built the invisible armor she wears for the world.
It’d be easy to write Margo’s callousness, her fear of abandonment, her endless rage off as the by-product of “daddy issues,” but The Magicians digs deeper, taking a frankly sexist, all-too-common descriptor and digging into the consequences of internalized misogyny.
For Margo, and for so many women, that suffocating sense of low self-esteem began with her father. As she describes it, he was better than other dads, doting on her, singing her lullabies over the phone on business trips. He labeled her his “little princess” and that pedestal felt comfortable, desired even when Margo was young. It’s when she had the audacity to grow up when she dared to believe her father’s encouragements about being anything she wanted to be, that the pedestal began to crumble. You see, her dad failed to explain that women can be strong, or smart, or beautiful, but they can’t be all things. They certainly can’t be angry, emotional, or too loud. Maybe a red sand demon won’t rise up to destroy them, but the patriarchy will, men will, and so will women who’ve decided to play along is better than to stand up.
Margo’s breakdown, her failed relationship with her father, and the lone wolf attitude she felt she needed to adopt to defend herself, isn’t unique to just her.
How many women struggle with growing up and growing out of their father’s shadow? How many young girls are hesitant to express their emotions to distant, closed-off fathers, too afraid they’ll disappoint them if they don’t live up to the fictional image these men created of them in their youth? How many teenagers roll their eyes exasperatedly while their dad threatens their partners with shotguns before school dances, or measures the length of their shorts before going out in public?
Even worse, how many women have felt they would be seen as less than if they didn’t remain “pure?” How many women still feel the traditional urge for their partners to ask their fathers for “permission” before marriage? To be given away, like a piece of property, to another man on their wedding day? To be protected, like cattle or sheep, with the threat of a firearm when they reach sexual maturity?
Maybe Margo’s dad wasn’t like that. Maybe he just couldn’t handle her mouthiness, her brashness, her unapologetic confidence in herself. Isn’t that just as bad?
Fathers and daughters have all kinds of complicated relationships, but what does it tell young girls when the first male role model they’re given treats them as some delicate, fragile thing to be hoarded, a person incapable of making their own decisions, a princess in need of a prince? What does it tell them when that same role model begins withholding affection and treating them with hostility and suspicion as they grow up, as they become women?
What kind of love are we being taught to except when we’re forced to choose between being a little girl forever or morphing into “the bitch,” a woman that can’t be controlled and must, therefore, be subdued?
It’s what the men in the desert village have taught their women, to keep their heads in the sand, quite literally, instead of rising up and demanding more. They’ve been instructed that their emotions are the enemy, their anger is the problem, and they’ll be punished for it by a monster that bears such a symbolic resemblance to a woman’s menstrual cycle — red blood, red sand, you get it — we can’t help but read the subtext, that when women step out of the arbitrarily-defined bounds of acceptable behavior imposed by the men in their lives, they’re not just “dirty,” “unwanted,” or “shamed” they’re putting themselves in physical peril. In that way, the power of a woman’s safety, her bodily autonomy, her sense of self, is placed in the hands of the men who surround her — boyfriends, brothers, or fathers more than happy to use the illusion of danger, the ignorance of self to fulfill their own desires of dominance, of keeping women not only subservient, but in a suspended state of innocence and youth they’re more comfortable with.
What The Magicians does so well is to reject that idea, to give us a version of masculinity in Eliot that’s not only progressive and fluid but accepting and encouraging of the untraditional feminine, the woman too angry to shut up, too proud to back down.
The show empowers Margo to not only save herself, love herself, but to give that gift to other women because no matter what kind of damage is done to us by the men in our pasts, it can be fixed by women willing to shoulder the burden, to help each other, to rise together and share each other’s strength.
Maybe, like Margo, it’s time we reject being princesses, and start being kings.
Header Image Source: SyFy