What do Taylor Swift and Syfy’s hit supernatural drama The Magicians have in common? Apparently quite a lot, if the recent episode is any indication. In “The World in the Walls,” Quentin (Jason Ralph) finds himself trapped in a horrifying alternate reality in which he is a patient in a mental institution and everything that he experienced at Brakebills is nothing more than a delusion. Sound familiar? It should. It’s a popular television trope that has appeared in some way, shape or form in a variety of shows across the genres, but most notably in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Smallville, which both featured their main protagonists waking up in a mental hospital to discover that the life that they thought they were living was a lie.
For that reason, I inwardly groaned when I first heard the premise of this episode. I feared that The Magicians wouldn’t bring anything new to the table in regard to this trope and that I would have to sit through 45-minutes of lackluster predictability. Imagine my surprise when this didn’t end up being the case at all. Rather than being a rip-off of other shows’ episodes, “The World in the Walls” ended up being clever and fun, with a twist at the end that I never saw coming.
That’s not to say that I was in any doubt that Quentin would escape from this oppressive alternate reality. After all, he’s one of the show’s main protagonists and we’ve already been shown that magic exists. Therefore, the overriding question going through my head throughout this episode wasn’t “Will he get out?” but rather “How will he get out?”
It’s the how that makes this episode such a standout. Once Julia lets slip that she can see the magic that Quentin is doing, he immediately begins formulating a plan to get out, which hinges on his ability to make contact with his psychic roommate Penny (Arjun Gupta). To get his attention, Quentin sings a wacky but spirited cover of Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off,” complete with background singers and dancers. This was, without contest, the best moment of the entire episode. Despite his singing ability, you can tell that Jason Ralph had a blast with this opportunity, as did everyone else involved in the scene.
Anyway, Quentin successfully summons Penny to his aid and gives him instructions to find his unconscious body in the real world, which he does. At first, it’s unclear as to what the cause of Quentin’s ailment is–the show plays that close to the chest for about half the episode–but then the horrible truth is revealed. It’s the hedge witches, who’ve cast a spell on Quentin in the hopes that Dean Fogg will lower the school wards long enough for Marina (Kacey Rohl) to recover her stolen school memories (which she does). To make matters worse, both Kady (Jade Taylor) and Quentin’s old BFF Julia (Stella Maeve) are accomplices to Marina’s cruel plan.
Eventually, Kady and Julia’s consciences get the better of them and they try to help reverse the spell on Quentin, but Quentin ends up being the one who has to save himself. Once the danger has passed, the wards go back up–but not before Marina snatches Julia back out of Brakebills and exacts vengeance for her supposed betrayal. For the second time, Julia finds herself exiled from her magical peers and forced to live a life apart from magic.
At this point, I’m very afraid for Julia, since I can’t see her heading down anything other than a dark path as a result of this development. She didn’t handle her previous estrangement from magic well, so the odds are that this one won’t be any easier. Will she try to seek out Marina and beg for forgiveness? And what does the spell that Marina cast on her do? Does it prevent her from talking about magic or from doing it at all? Will she turn to Quentin for help? My money is on the latter. I only hope that Quentin will be able to forgive Julia for what she did.
Altogether, this was one of the show’s most cohesive episodes. The writers were able to take an overused television trope and twist it in such a way as to make it seem fresh and original. I especially liked that we got to see a different side of Penny and a different sort of Penny and Quentin interaction. Moving forward, we might even see the two of them grow into becoming reluctant friends–but maybe that’s just wishful thinking. Either way, I’m excited to see what happens next.
A new episode of The Magicians airs on Monday, February 15 at 9:00 pm ET/PT on Syfy.