The Magnus Protocol Reviews: “Well Run”


“Well Run” Does Not Feel Like A Singular Episode

“Well Run” is a chaotic, disjointed, flawed, but ultimately enjoyable episode of The Magnus Protocol. The main horror story is riffing on a classic concept that’s been explored in many other places but is still effective for a reason. And the side stories are all well-done. Its main structural downside isn’t even the individual episode’s fault.

But we’ll get to that downside. First, we have to be spoilery. I don’t usually go in-depth on an episode’s plot like this, but the “twist” is the most interesting thing about the anthology section.

Let’s start, though, by talking about the “rich people hunting poor people for sport” as a horror concept. It’s evocative because it serves as an instantly understandable threat and is blatant social commentary. It’s also, from a writing standpoint, so easy to put into a narrative. You don’t have to explain much for an audience to get the entirety of the situation.

 But “Well Run” is trying to subvert that trope. And I don’t think this specific subversion works. The setup being obvious is fine—even the cannibalism angle is telegraphed from way off. And it was genuinely effective audio misdirection with the rain. Most people listening, I imagine, will assume the narrator is calling from the estate’s forest. There’s even inherent tension in that. Will narrating the story give him away? Will this story end like “Futures” did?

And spoilers again, technically, most of the trope’s script is adhered to. But the cleaver scene is what breaks it. The cleaver scene reminded me of Mag 112 “Thrill of the Chase,” but without a strong narrative setup or an adequate justification. It felt like the subversion took over the logic of what people might’ve realistically done in that situation. People didn’t panic or run at the times I would’ve expected. And the main character’s switch to violence is jarring. The most likely explanation is The Hunt’s magic.

Well Run

There Is A Lot Of Arbitrariness To The Hunt Scene

But the scene did give us Lady Mowbray. Her introduction sort of breaking the fourth wall is an audio trick I’m amazed the series has never used before. And from the moment she started sniffing her prey, I knew we had a memorable character. One that this series really needed. She’s like Simon or Elias: a rich, amoral avatar who is having an absolute blast serving her god. Between her, our needle-wielding murderer from “Introductions,” and Mr. Bonzo, The Magnus Protocol is frontloading its villains much faster than Archives did, and I’m honestly all for it.

But that’s not the whole episode, is it? And that’s what I meant by a structural issue. This episode is the opposite of “Pet Project.” It’s trying to fit like five things into around twenty minutes. In addition to everything else, we have Celia and Sam’s dating life, Alice learning about Celia’s kid, Luke’s rising musical career, and what seems like someone The Vast has claimed. It’s frankly miraculous that this episode feels cohesive at all. I’ve wanted the meta-plot to get going, sure, but I didn’t expect The Magnus Protocol to put its foot on the gas with such wild abandon. I don’t know how you can maintain horror tension if things keep going like this.

But there’s also the speculative, doom-and-gloom, alternative outcome: the plot freezes. Alice saw something supernatural happen. Avatars are actively visiting the office. Celia clearly knows what’s happening to some degree. And if the next episode is just more of the normal day-to-day events of the characters with an unrelated spooky story, it’ll make this a weird series to relisten to. It’ll make episodes feel pointless.

Of course, that’s all speculation. I could be wrong. I’m a mega-fan, and I do think that biases me toward stricter judgment. I still trust this team to do something great with this series.

“Well Run” being a good episode also helps maintain those expectations. And it really is a good episode. The pacing is fast, but never so fast you can’t understand it. And the real stand out is the sound design/audio engineering. This is perhaps the best it’s ever been. Different levels of rain sounds, dogs growling and barking, background music and crowd noises, plus the entire final scene with Alice: just amazing work. Perhaps that’s even influencing how high of marks I’m giving “Well Run,” but, if so, I’m certainly not complaining.

Well Run

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