It’s sort of hard to believe this episode resisted the urge to use the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Do You Believe in Magic” as its closing-credits song. Or ELO’s “Strange Magic.” Or the Cars’ “Magic.” Or the Police’s “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic.” Or the Drifters’ “This Magic Moment.” Or …
My point is, there are a lot of songs that use magic as a metaphor for love and romance. The idea that the love is an indefinable “magic” is common enough to border on cliché, particularly in romantic comedies. But in keeping with Love’s skewed approach to the rom-com, “Magic” subverts that idea in a way that reflects and deepens the show’s setting, characters, and themes.
Gus is absolutely the sort of person who would be a member of Los Angeles’s exclusive Magic Castle — a real place, in case you’re not aware, that requires a (paid) membership and formal attire to enter. He’s the sort of guy who enjoys seeing a guy pull a necktie out of a magazine, and he truly believes Mickey is the sort of girl who would appreciate seeing the Castle’s “ghost piano,” Irma. He’s also the sort of guy who really lets it bother him when it turns out she’s not that sort of girl.
Gus’s heart is certainly in the right place when he comes up with the plan for his and Mickey’s first real date. (Everything up to this point was just them “workshopping” a relationship, in case you weren’t yet convinced that Love is a screamingly unromantic show.) Given that his disastrous date with Bertie is only a few days in the past, he surely wants to up the stakes for a date with the girl he really likes, and the Magic Castle is a unique experience that clearly means something to him. But magic is not for everyone, and it’s certainly not for Mickey — “I just feel like there’s a trick to it” — so their trip to the Castle undoes whatever tentative “magic” the pair had managed to conjure.
And they do manage some real magic before they even leave Mickey’s house, thanks to the adrenaline rush of a good bug slaughter. It’s telling that the most unambiguously romantic scene in Love thus far is one where Gus squashes a bunch of trapped bugs, which may or may not be poisonous and full of Ebola. It’s also a scene that literalizes the idea that Mickey is looking for someone to save her — more from herself, but also from bugs. (I feel you, girl.) The combination of Gus’s chivalry and Mickey’s fragile state is enough to induce a spark between them, and the two are soon engaging in some rigorous yet gentle pre-date sex. (“I just want you not to be in pain,” Gus murmurs, verbalizing the emotional basis of Mickey’s attraction to him.)
With that out of the way, Gus is ready to move on to the Castle, even though Mickey seems more in the mood to just order a pizza and listen to the high-school marching band down the street. They barely manage to keep the spark alive over dinner, thanks mostly to Gus ordering garlic chicken so Mickey can get the side of ponzu sauce she wants. (“That’s, like, the nicest thing anyone’s done for me.”) Their conversation is still fairly stilted and awkward in that first-date way, but it’s a far cry from the Bertie disaster. It’s okay. This could still work out for them.
And then Gus goes and brings magic into it.
We’re back to talking about real magic now. Well, “real” magic, which, as Mickey points out, is “all still fake, though.” There’s a lot of hope rolled into Gus’s desire to take Mickey to the Castle, the expectation that she’ll share his enthusiasm for something that’s an extremely niche, extremely dorky hobby. My apologies, magic fans, but it’s true. (Full disclosure: I have been taken on a date to the Magic Castle, and while it was nowhere near as bad as Gus and Mickey’s trip, it was enough to make me pretty sympathetic to her position in this episode. I have lived through that “ghost piano” explanation, pretty much word-for-word.)
In other words, the Magic Castle is a high-stakes choice for a first date, and a far cry from the noncommittal “workshopping” they engaged in just the day before. Then again, Mickey’s suggestion that they “just go to a bar” is just as fraught with implication, even if Gus doesn’t know it; she is still fostering the idea that she can’t be with him and be sober. Mickey does appear to make it through dinner and the Castle without having a drink, though, which means two things:
- She doesn’t have to reset her sobriety app.
- Her obnoxious behavior during the magic show is nothing but pure, uncut Mickey. (She’s totally right about the gender imbalance in magic, though.)
What’s great about “Magic” — which is directed by Steve Buscemi, of all people — is that neither Gus nor Mickey is entirely in the wrong. Yeah, Gus could be a little more relaxed about Mickey’s apathy toward the magical arts, but he also put a lot of thought and effort into showing her a good time. And yeah, Mickey could have played along better than she did, but she was also reacting to Gus’s tendency to emotionally micromanage others. Mickey enjoyed watching that lady enjoy magic, but Gus wants her to enjoy what he enjoys about the Magic Castle. Even though Mickey is sort of a boor, “Magic” feels a lot more sympathetic to her side of things than Love usually is. (That might be attributable to Lesley Arfin, who gets the sole writing credit for the first time.)
To be fair, Gus and Mickey’s date doesn’t go off the rails as decisively as his date with Bertie did. It’s more like one wheel went wonky, so there’s a hitch in their get-along for the rest of the night, one that even a “Blister in the Sun” sing-along can’t correct. When Mickey gets them thrown out of the Castle, the date firmly enters “disaster” territory, but there’s still a sense that they could salvage things if they could just laugh it off, the way Gus and Bertie did.
But during the car ride home, Gus and Mickey sort of apologize and sort of blame each other for the night, inadvertently revealing what we already know: They relate to the world in fundamentally different ways, and those differences may mean they’re ultimately a bad match. Gus believes in magic and Mickey doesn’t. That’s a bad combination for a date to the Magic Castle, and may be an even worse formula for a relationship. Despite the alarm bells, they attempt to power through their doubts and end the date the way they began it. But as they grunt and fumble through their second attempt, it’s clear to them, and to us, that whatever tentative magic they had is long gone.