This The Magicians review contains spoilers.
The Magicians Season 4 Episode 1
The Magicians was already remarkable for having improved on its storytelling from its uneven first season to its stellar sophomore outing to its top-notch quest for the seven keys in season three, but if “A Flock of Lost Birds” is any indication of what’s to come, season 4 will outdo them all. This amazing premiere was by no means a sure thing given the shocking but somewhat worryingly disruptive finale last year, but somehow this fresh take on the characters we love with their new identities is like re-discovering The Magicians all over again. Every moment and every subplot was a pure joy!
Who’d have thought that would be true, even for the introduction of Kimber D’Antoni who is invited to take the entrance exam for Brakebills? The familiar music, the paper floating on the wind just out of reach, even the cigarette-smoking Todd dressed identically to Eliot from the series premiere excited our nostalgia. The fact that Kim is actually Julia, that she fails every question miserably, and that Dean Fogg knows exactly who she really is provides an amazing amount of intrigue with very little narrative. Clearly Fogg sees this as his second chance with the powerful hedge witch and an opportunity to circumvent the punishment imposed on his students by McAllister and the Library.
The whole idea of hiding our team of magicians behind unrecognizable but faintly similar faces only made their new identities that much more fun. The safeguards put into place to prevent them from learning about their previous lives or about the existence of magic were impressive, humorous, and formidable in equal measure. It all just made perfect sense, operating with its own internal logic despite its innate ridiculousness! Especially enjoyable were Sam/Kady’s jinxed investigation into hedge witches and Janet/Margo’s failed attempts to track down the Fillory books.
The Magicians tricked us into thinking Kady was a drug dealer in last season’s finale, and the fact that she’s actually an undercover police officer gives the new story arc the perfect law enforcement angle to bring the separated characters together. The protection charm “Sam Cunningham” confiscated from a hedge witch provided an appropriately flawed level of shielding as she uncovered the book, “A Flock of Lost Birds,” from which their fake identities were derived. Although she was only able to bring together Josh, Margo, Josh, and Penny, the investigation unfolded with a logical progression and a heightened level of anticipation.
It was especially helpful that Margo already knew something strange was going on because of her visitation with a projection of the not-so-dear, departed Ember. The Magicians made the right choice in not actually telling us what the emergency in Fillory was; it could be any number of things, and those can be addressed later. All we need to know is that Margo’s fairy eye is bothering her enough to warrant a decorative eyepatch (Janet works in the fashion industry after all) and that once Ember realizes she’s not actually in Fillory, he transports her there in a convincingly terrifying manner, even though we know that High King Margo would feel perfectly at home there.
Marina’s involvement should help speed up the recovery of the others, but there’s still Brian/Quentin to deal with, and it was a wise decision to have Eliot and his playmate together from the start with the sense that they’ve been at this awhile. Brian has clearly become accustomed to the bad behavior of this magical creature based on their humorously macabre interaction with the ice cream man. Although this subplot may take longer to unfold separately from the main group, the prospect of seeing how Quentin deals with this forced friendship with Eliot-but-not-Eliot promises to be as entertaining as it is worrisome.
Likewise, the story of Alice and Santa Claus, both imprisoned by the Library, portends plenty of trouble ahead, but the journey towards what we hope is Alice’s escape is extremely enticing. The episode begins with suspicion for the cellmate who talks to Alice through the wall, but the story of how “Nick” was imprisoned for stealing a book from the Posion Room served two main purposes. First, it reassured us and hopefully Alice that she is a good person despite what she did in last season’s finale, and second, it gave Alice the idea to exploit the Library’s supposedly good intentions by ensuring a trip to the infirmary for herself.
What she hopes to gain from the capture of a cockroach is anyone’s guess, but that’s what’s so genius about this season 4 premiere. The Magicians has planted the many seeds that will decide which direction this season will go, and all of the potential storylines are as solid and intriguing as they could possibly be. Whether we’re worrying about Quentin, rooting for Alice, cheering on Margo, or following closely as false personas are dismantled, this season appears to be on a track that will see the series outdo itself once again.