In the eleventh episode of The Magicians, the Beast becomes more aggressive, leaving Quentin, Alice, Penny, Eliot and Margot scrambling to figure out a way to defend themselves. Naturally, they turn their attention to mastering battle magic, but there is one small hitch: not only is battle magic illegal, it’s also nearly impossible to do on a dime. It takes magicians years to be able to perform even the most basic of battle magic spells, and unfortunately, our merry band of aspiring spell-casters don’t have years. With the Beast’s arrival at Brakebills imminent, they need a way to protect themselves as soon as possible. Therefore, the only plausible solution is to seek the most effective shortcut—bottling up their emotions, a hedge-witch trick—which has unforeseen consequences.
I have to take a moment to applaud the writers for coming up with such a clever way to get the characters to unpack their emotional baggage. For some of these characters, it was long overdue. Eliot in particular is experiencing a worrying downfall that prior to this point has only been casually addressed by the other characters. In this episode, we not only gained insight into Eliot’s headspace and his belief that he is irrevocably broken but we also see how his struggles are affecting others, especially Margot. This makes sense since Margot is arguably the person who is closest to him.
Margot’s vulnerability in her scene with Eliot and Quentin on the bed was stunning. She’s obviously afraid that she’s going to lose Eliot and she doesn’t know what to do to stop it. I found it interesting, too, that Margot confessed to Quentin that she’s never loved anything the way that Quentin loves magic. I’d have to disagree with her there; I think she loves Eliot the way that Quentin loves magic and she’s only just beginning to scrape the surface of what that love and devotion means to her.
Alice’s and Quentin’s emotional arcs were a little less surprising. I was glad that the writers acknowledged that Quentin’s depression is still an ongoing problem and that getting involved with magic didn’t fix him. Like many people with clinical depression, changed circumstances don’t change brain chemistry, and we’re seeing that with Quentin. Personally, I think that Quentin needs to get back on medication; otherwise, he’s going to continue to struggle and won’t be able to make any progress.
And then we have Alice, whose big emotional reveal was that she loves Quentin. Frankly, I found this to be rather underwhelming. I expected the writers to delve more into Alice’s character than that. There has to be more going on emotionally than just that she’s in love with Quentin and I hope they explore that in the future like they did in the previous episode.
My favorite storylines of the entire episode, however, were Penny’s and Julia’s. Over the course of the show, Penny has slowly but surely become one of my favorite characters due to his emotional complexity, and his arc this time around only intensified my love for him. From the beginning, Penny has had a relationship with the Beast that has barely been explored. We know that the Beast was his companion while he was growing up and that he takes a special interest in Travelers, but until this episode, we had no clue as to what the Beast was planning for them. “Remedial Battle Magic” rectified that in horrifying and heartbreaking ways. As it turns out, he was invested in them because he wanted to destroy them. One by one, he mentally torments Joe and then Penny’s mentor until they are driven to suicide. Distraught, Penny spends the majority of the episode hanging on by a thread, unsure of who to turn to for help.
Eventually, Penny receives a temporary reprieve in the form of a shielding device, but he’s still left with the harrowing task of letting down his emotional barriers long enough to allow people to help him. For a character like Penny, who has learned not to trust anyone but himself and who has yet to deal with Kady’s recent abandonment, I can imagine that this is difficult for him to do. But he’s making progress and that’s all that matters at this point.
Last but least, we have Julia’s storyline, which was the most intriguing of them all. I love the idea that Julia is god-touched because it creates an interesting contrast between her and Quentin: Quentin, the one chosen by Brakebills, discovers that, in the scheme of things, he’s really not that special, while Julia, the one rejected by Brakebills, discovers that her specialness exceeds even her own expectations. I’m excited and nervous to see what happens next with Julia and this goddess, and am already convinced that Julia is going to become a vessel for her. I only hope that Julia doesn’t end up being burned by this new supernatural connection, too, because I don’t think she could handle another disappointment.
All in all, this was a strong episode that raised several compelling questions. Why is battle magic illegal and who made it so? How is Alice going to react to Quentin’s infidelity? Will she be able to forgive him or will she rain down her wrath on him? And who exactly is the goddess reaching out to Julia? Are her motives pure? With the finale around the corner, I expect some answers are on the horizon, but I’m kind of looking forward to being held in suspense until the show’s next season. Are you?
The Magicians airs on Monday nights at 9:00 pm ET/PT on Syfy.