The latest episode of The Magicians begins with a newly returned, and blinded, headmaster giving a lecture on how dangerous magic can be because it has the power to change you into something other than yourself, and though this latest episode is rife with examples of that theme, it also, unfortunately, contains a whole lot of Alice, and suffers tremendously because of it.
After Quentin, always the outcast misfit, joins the Physical Kids because there was “extra room” in their group, he and Alice continue her quest to figure out what made her brother mysteriously disappear from Brakebills five years earlier. Apparently, they can’t learn their lesson about messing around with magic that hasn’t been taught to them yet because they keep on fucking shit up. If I had brought the Beast onto the grounds accidentally, I probably would take a break from trying to summon my lost brother for a little bit, but not Alice. She keeps trucking along with her plan to raise her brother from the dead.
Even after they summon a haunting at the fountain pool that injures two other students, Alice can’t let it go and continues her search for information and summoning spells. With the help of another classmate, Margo, they track down Emily Greenstreet, who was friends with Alice’s brother Charlie while they were at Brakebills together but has since “gone full Muggle.” I do like the little Harry Potter references throughout because it gives a nice little nod to the inspiration for the story and shows that the creators are self- aware enough to realize how closely the original idea is to the Harry Potter series—though if you’re expecting a complete rip-off, thankfully, the books take a complete left turn away from Hogwarts eventually.
This leads to the first illustration of magic as transformational as Emily tells the story of how she tried to use magic to make herself more beautiful and ended up transforming herself into a disfigured monster. When Charlie tries to help her by piecing bits of magic spells together by himself, always a bad idea, he turns himself into a niffin, someone who has been completely consumed by magic. He basically gets eaten by blue fire and disappears.
While Alice’s storyline is playing out, Julia is also negatively transforming away from her original ambitious self by becoming consumed by magic in a more relatable way, much as one would be consumed by an addiction to drugs. The parallel is drawn explicitly when she explains her constant absences and aloofness by an addiction to Adderall that she is receiving treatment for through narcotics anonymous meetings. She wants to continue living with one foot in the magical realm and one foot in reality, but as her mentor tells her, she won’t be able to have it both ways for long.
Quentin is reunited with Julia when he and Eliot set out to find a book that was stolen from their cottage in the previous episode. He seems to have picked up Eliot’s superior attitude about magical ability when he tells Julia that she’s better than the pathetic hedge witches and their desperate attempts at magic, and that all the magic she can do basically evens out to what he considers a “party trick.” This leads to the revelation that Quentin harbors resentment towards Julia because he had a crush on her and she didn’t reciprocate his feelings. He’s basically “that guy” who gets upset about being “friend-zoned” and places all the blame on the girl for not liking him even though he’s a “nice guy” who’s actually really just a jerk.
In a role reversal from episode 1 before they realized magic existed and Quentin was obsessed with the fantasy land Fillory, it is Quentin this time who tells Julia to grow up and move on with her life. Quentin is ready to ditch Julia forever as he moves on, so he thinks, to bigger and better things. As Eliot tells him, “You found out who you are; she found out who she’s not.” I have a feeling from what Julia has shown us so far that it won’t be that simple for her.
As a side plot, we find out that Penny is what they call a “traveler” who can travel to different places and worlds at will which foreshadows future travel plans for our characters further along in the season.
The episode ends back with Alice, who has hatched a plan to save her brother the niffin. Of course her plan goes horribly awry, her brother turns out to be evil now, and he tries to kill both Alice and Quentin. It’s all very tiresome. As Alice wastes time attempting to save her brother, Quentin performs a spell that traps him in a box, which enrages Alice because she wasn’t able to save her brother due to Quentin actually doing something right this time and meddling with her plan with a magical spell that, for once, was effective.
I thought an expansion of Alice’s storyline would make me like her character more because she would become more than just an underdeveloped side character, but it was just the opposite. The more screen time Alice gets, the less I like her portrayal of the character, which is a shame because the Alice in the books is extremely likeable and dynamic. At the end of the episode, when Alice leaves Brakebills, determined to not return, I was just happy to see her go, and hoping she’d stay gone.