The Magicians Season 4 Episode 3 Review: The Bad News Bear

The Magicians somehow weaves together a heist, a gambling caper, a prison escape, and moral dilemmas galore into a cohesive story.

This The Magicians review contains spoilers.

The Magicians Season 4 Episode 3

It’s becoming difficult to quantify the brilliance of The Magicians these days. In each episode this season, every little detail has either served to pull disparate story elements together, heighten the drama of the moment, or bring just the right amount of humor to balance things out. Small elements like Alice’s ingenuity or Josh’s legendary culinary skills or Quentin’s card expertise were put into play in ways that were both perfectly implemented and consistent with what we know about each character. We’ve reached a point where this series is so comfortable in its own skin that it can pretty much accomplish anything.

Let’s start with Margo’s quick thinking. Yes, the sacrifice of Bacchus is a horrible thing, and Josh’s assertion that Margo is protecting Eliot even though he could already be dead is valid albeit probably incorrect. But think about it. If Margo had used the distilled ambrosia to incapacitate Eliot long enough for her friends to escape, he would have just found them again and killed them as originally planned. At least this way she created leverage, displaying the Game of Thrones-level manipulation of a true monarch.

And even if Margo could have overdosed and killed the Monster, there’s no guarantee it wouldn’t just jump to a new host as it did after the god-killing bullet was used last season. In any case, the emphasis on Margo’s fairy eye accentuated the mystery of what it was the Monster pulled from inside the god, and The Magicians nailed the emotional roller coaster of Josh’s betrayal of his friend and Margo’s cold calculation illustrated by the wonderful gender-flipped entreaty, “Start acting like a real pussy and take one for the team.”

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Further Reading: The Magicians Season 4: The Quiet Fascism of the Library

Even the separate story of Alice continues to find cohesion through clever links to the main story, this time through Fogg’s hints about stealing her friends’ books from the Library to prevent their enemies from finding out about their memories returning. Alice’s escape would have been compelling enough with her innovative use of magic resistant paint from her cell walls to disable the prison lock, but giving her a purpose beyond escaping with Nick up the chimney weaved her arc in with the others and provided a wonderful moral dilemma for her at the moment of freedom.

Finding the revisions room where the life books are — apparently having their endings filled in past the Great Blank Spot, whatever that means — will present a new challenge to Alice, and that’s before taking into account her mysterious captor as she hides in the stacks. Hopefully a friend! Alice’s mini-story once again is as well-rounded as a subplot can get!

Meanwhile, the quest to acquire Deweys, the new magical currency needed to cast a cloaking spell to protect the students from the Library and the McAllisters, was another great caper evocative of season 2’s heist episode, “Plan B.” Bringing in the wonderful Zach Cherry of You as the lucky counterfeiter worked beautifully as a setup, not only for the ultimate goal of protecting the group but for the enjoyable details along the way. Besides using Penny-from-another-timeline to explain the new contact, the fact that The Magicians paused to let everyone reset their phones gave the writing such an authentic believability not often seen, especially given that it also led to Quentin’s tragic voicemail.

And that’s the thing! The whole interaction between Quentin and Julia was so goddamn real, displaying sympathy between friends about sacrifices made in vain for the sake of magic. Julia, with her divine fortitude, logically chose to hold the titular “bad news bear,” but the onus fell to Quentin who, in addition to more humorous punishments like paper towel cuts and a toilet snake, had to suffer the torture of the voicemail while also creating momentary suspense when he let go of the bear. Quentin’s realizations about his easier life as Brian really made the discussions of whether it was all worth it that much more impactful.

Plus he had his moments of triumph in this episode, too, with his game of Push to earn the team’s first Dewey. The game itself makes perfect sense for a world with rationed magic since there’s a lot more strategy involved when your cheating has to be more subtle. The increase in improbable circumstances such as the card standing on its edge made the three-round tournament more unusual as well. Not to mention Jason Ralph’s card tossing skills were as impressive as Quentin’s final strategy of draining the room of magic to allow for conventional cheating. All around a really entertaining sequence!

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On the other end of things, Penny and Kady’s trip to the bank was a lot of fun, from the theft of the card from the ex-70’s porn star to the hilariously bad disguises that still somehow worked. The fact that the pair decided to acquire two additional Deweys for themselves was smart thinking, and the added danger made the tension of the scene that much more exciting. Kady keeping the black card just long enough to punish Marina with a mysterious bad luck visitor (who was that?) and steal her apartment was the perfect touch, not to mention gaining a puppy to replace poor old Cancer Puppy from season one.

The journey so far for The Magicians with the return of magic has definitely been worth all the ups and downs because as Julia tells Quentin, “The world is a little brighter even if they never know why.” The emotional connections of these characters is so strong this season with Margo clearly hurting over Eliot’s predicament and Julia naturally relating to her old friend Quentin’s woes, and even Kady and Penny having been a couple in another timeline gives their adventure its own poignance. There’s very little to criticize about this episode and so much to love about the direction we’re headed in season 4. Next week can’t come soon enough!

Keep tabs with all of the news, reviews, and trailers for The Magicians season 4 here!

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Michael Ahr is a writer, reviewer, and podcaster here at Den of Geek; you can check out his work here or follow him on Twitter (@mikescifi). He co-hosts our Sci Fi Fidelity podcast and voices much of our video content.

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5 out of 5