In “Magicians” episode 8, entitled “The Strangled Heart,” Hale Appleman’s Eliot undergoes a huge transformation — and not necessarily for the better. Going from carefree party boy to lovestruck puppy dog to betrayed vengeance-seeker, it’s safe to say that after the show’s conclusion, he’ll never be the same.
Zap2it caught up with Appleman, who is genuinely thrilled with the newly-unlocked facets of his character’s personality. Read on for his exuberant take on the betrayal, Eliot’s magic powers, and mental elements that go far beyond the script. But beware, “Magicians” fans — spoilers lie ahead.
In “Strangled Heart,” Mike (Jesse Luken) destroys Eliot’s heart — and nearly all of Brakebills — when he reveals that he is a minion of The Beast. Nearly killing Penny (Arjun Gupta) while attempting to assassinate Quentin (Jason Ralph), Mike later murders Professor Sunderland (Anne Dudek) and then sets his sights on Dean Fogg (Rick Worthy). At the last minute, Eliot emerge from the shadows, manipulating his fingers in an intense magic move that seems to slice the throat of his former lover.
“He has no choice but to unleash it,” Appleman says of the scene. “It’s almost like he becomes possessed by the fury of his pain.”
Those who’ve been playing close attention to the Syfy hit should notice a payoff. “There’s this section is episode 2 where Quentin reveals that he has been institutionalized, and Eliot says ‘Well, you might think you’ve got it rough, but I’ve killed people,” Appleman of the callback. “[He believes] that the worst s*** makes you a magician.”
According to the actor, his reaction to Mike’s betrayal is largely informed by the inner pain that was revealed with that story.
“You get to experience that in episode 8, when Eliot commits a murder,” he reasons. “And the experience of that is similar to the one he told Eliot about killing his bully. A reporter said he thought the story was about Eliot killing his lover, which was interesting to me; I do believe that first murder was sexual in nature. He was retaliating against someone who had humiliated him in public, took advantage of him sexually or had a secret sexual relationship with him.”
Since his relationship with Mike was similarly sexual in nature, its corruption hits Eliot hard.
“Anyway, that’s weird backstory that you didn’t need to know,” he laughs. “But it informs the pain and shame that Eliot is trying to distance himself from. And in episode 8 it rears its head again.”
As for the scene itself, Appleman explains: “This unfortunate power overtakes Eliot, and he becomes an unlikely murderer … his body is overtaken.”
It’s quite a change for a character who, until now, has been characterized by his self-assurance and happy-go-lucky attitude. “He’s always suppressing his feelings — but every so often, something hurts him and he’s in so much pain that he retaliates in a way that is furious and full of all that pain, anger and anguish he suffered as a young person in this world that doesn’t accept him.”
But as hard as it may be on the character, the actor couldn’t have been more delighted.
“I loved it. As an actor, I really thrive when I get to wrestle with dark, emotional material,” says Appleman. “What I love about ‘The Magicians’ is that I get to do both. I haven’t gotten a chance to show how funny I can be with different characters in my career, so Eliot is a welcomed change that I’m excited about; I do get to explore humor with him. But what grounds the character and keeps the character fascinating is that there is a dark underbelly to him. There is so much to explore in the layers of his complexity.”
“Episode 8 is the big turning point,” he says of the character’s journey. “I hope the fans embrace these next couple episodes, because they set Eliot up on the trajectory of his deep, dark spiral. It’s important that we see him try to keep things together, even as he falls apart.”