This The Magicians review contains spoilers.
The Magicians Season 3 Episode 8
There’s one fault The Magicians can never be accused of having, and that’s predictability. Although “Six Short Stories About Magic” didn’t totally sell its attempt at unique storytelling, the more conventional main narrative and its subplots were more than compelling enough to ignore the superfluous title cards and shifting perspectives. With the fate of several characters still hanging in the balance, the re-acquisition of the key is one of the few resolved items in this episode, but the loose ends serve only to entice rather than frustrate.
One previous hanging thread that begets another is the confirmation that Irene McAllister (and the Library apparently) is using “essence of fairy” to keep magic going on a limited basis. Using Fen as the means of discovery for these horrible abuses was a good use of an underutilized character, and the idea that the enslaved fairies remain captive because they believe they are the only members of their race in existence is particularly cruel. But the story remains open-ended with consequences for the maltreatment still undetermined — something to look forward to.
Another interesting development that will have consequences is Poppy’s self-serving exodus from the Library. She initially seems helpful in trying to short circuit Quentin’s panic attack, and her honesty about the dangers of using Victoria to create a mirror bridge and even her confession to stealing Alice’s niffin notes was at least up front in its selfishness. But telling Quentin that “the brave thing is to be you and accept the consequences” may come back to bite her. She left everyone behind, and that won’t possibly sit well with those she’s supposedly assisting.
In fact, everyone has their secrets and lies, whether we’re talking about Benedict, Alice, Harriet, or the Head Librarian herself. Those last two, as time-shifted mother and daughter, introduce a whole new dynamic to the Library’s restrictive stance against the free and open access that Harriet desires. Rather than (or perhaps in addition to) just being a FuzzBeat editor advocating for freedom of information and a censoring, shushing librarian, we get a rebellious daughter and an overprotective mother seeking a relationship with each other. Plus we get to see where Harriet’s overdue book from last season came from.
As for the other two, Benedict could be forgiven for wanting Penny to stick around and include him in his adventure, and Alice’s quest to create a grand unified theory of magic isn’t that big of a secret. Benedict, in fact, provides the only closure of the episode by giving up the key and getting a happy ending of sorts in the Underworld Library’s map room. Alice, on the other hand, appears to have made some sort of “exchange of information” deal with the Library that may require more secrecy in the future. Again, another fun loose end that could develop further.
The Penny storyline gives us the biggest cliffhanger of all, of course, as his debt to the Library is called in, but it also brings a welcome reunion with Sylvia, a character that brought so much to her brief time in season 2. Sadly, her snarkiness is somewhat dulled in this episode, but the introduction of an Alice lookalike in the form of the Greek mythological figure, Cassandra, was a twist no one saw coming. We’re left wondering once again how Penny will get out of another seemingly impossible situation while pondering the question of whether Cassandra really is Alice, linked somehow through time by the deal she made, or not.
The problem is Cassandra’s short stories referred to in the episode title don’t really work all that well as a narrative device. The differing points of view weren’t sufficiently different from a conventional episode to justify the title cards; they simply explain some of the revelations Penny gained from reading Cassandra’s tales, including the one at the end when Poppy’s phrase, “I can only go so long feeling alone and worthless before I break down and do something stupid,” allows him to realize that Benedict was lying about the key. The shoehorned scene of Eliot appealing to a talking wombat is a good reminder of the turmoil on hold in Fillory, but it also illustrates the choppiness of the “six short stories.” Cool idea but a bit haphazard.
It doesn’t really matter, though, since this episode of The Magicians delivered so much otherwise. Julia is realizing that the more good she does, the stronger she gets. The quest for the keys to bring back magic now has four of the seven. Even the horrible ending for Victoria and Harriet trapped on the mirror bridge was satisfyingly tragic if their fate is indeed sealed. Meanwhile, the role of the fairies just took a turn, Alice and Poppy have consequences in store, and unexpected storylines have sprung forth to join the fun. Bring on the next five episodes!