The Magicians Season 4 Episode 7 Review: The Side Effect

The Magicians reminds us that “the most important characters aren’t who you expect,” in this week’s cleverly executed episode.

Penny in the Underworld in The Magicians

This The Magicians review contains spoilers.

The Magicians Season 4 Episode 7

The Magicians is making us eat our words as it answers the exact question we were critically posing last week: “Where the heck is Kady?” In a wonderfully meta homage to minor characters, Penny 40 makes his return with an exploration of what’s really important in the story of season 4, and although we don’t really get a full picture of how Kady’s revolution, Fen’s prophecies, and Zelda’s misgivings about the Order relate to each other, the seeds have now been planted, and we’re dying to know how it turns out. Since we’re now in the back half of the season, there’s a greater expectation for resolution to the problem of the Monster and the Library’s fascist rule.

The idea that Penny 40 is reading what his friends are up to and making the connections that they (and we) can’t necessarily see is somehow comforting, and this storytelling technique, although reminiscent of last season’s “Six Short Stories About Magic,” is much more successful in creating a sense of a deeper importance beneath what we’ve witnessed so far. The narrative trickery also manages to highlight the audience’s own tendency to place more importance on what Quentin and Alice are doing versus what the “side characters in epic quests” happen to be up to, whether they’re white or not.

What’s interesting is that despite the insight we gained into the characters of Zelda, Kady, and Fen, none of these storylines reaches a full resolution, and that’s okay. But the ending that reveals that Penny’s interrogation of the new guy is actually a test conducted by a seasoned veteran of Penny’s own abilities as a Librarian has an oddly unsatisfying conclusion. Promoted to Secrets Taken to the Grave? On the one hand, we get to see that Penny 40 has accepted his death and servitude in the Underworld and is doing well, but whether there’s more to it than that remains to be seen. Perhaps Penny’s new post will reveal even more relevant details later.

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The promise of relevance is more clear in the set up provided by Fen’s prophetic dreams. The Magicians expects us to keep up with the slight time rewind in this storyline, and the fresh perspective on the drama between Josh and Margo during the state dinner with Lady Pike was a nice bonus. But really the prophecies were designed to introduce a new influence in Fillory: that of the mysterious Green Lady who is revealed during Fen’s lucid dreaming. All we know is that we’re headed to the Fuchsia Forest to continue the quest to bring back the animal’s voices, which, although it’s still not the most compelling aspect of the season, was told in an innovative and entertaining fashion. Plus Brittany Curran got to have her time in the spotlight, which is long overdue.

The internal politics of the Order and the personal turmoil of Zelda weren’t as highly anticipated, but they certainly provided a welcome change of perspective (and a return for Jewel Staite – hooray!). The discovery of Alice’s escape revealed how easily the Librarians vacillate between moral superiority and tyranny, arguing against imprisonment but also advocating death if it “protects the flame of knowledge from being extinguished.” Zelda’s mission into the mirror realm to rescue Harriet got somewhat muddled with her lying about Alice being safely away from magic in Portland, but both served the same purpose: to unsettle Harriet enough to make her complicity with Dean Fogg in asking Alice for help believable.

The most solid story arc of the episode, however, belongs to Kady, and what a great use of Jade Tailor’s strength of presence to have her character lead a hedge witch revolution. Not that we’re there yet, but the set-up here is much clearer than Fen’s or Zelda’s. Kady’s desire to continue Sam Cunningham’s search for justice rather than being satisfied with being a sidekick in the Physical Kids’ quests parallels nicely with Penny’s characterization of her importance to his Underworld colleague. She shouldn’t have to justify to us or Julia that she kept the others from handing Marina “nuclear launch codes,” but honestly, we needed the reminder.

Meanwhile, the scavenger hunt on behalf of her Baba-Yaga-channeling landlord was a delightful journey through the black market of hedge witch culture, and the context it provided for the attack on the Modesto library was definitely welcome. Talk of charisma cufflinks and bags of holding must have thrilled the D&D contingent of The Magicians’ audience, but it really was all about giving Kady a purpose beyond solving crimes or doing drugs. Her hedge witch mother provided the perfect motivation for Kady to turn a warning against personal enchantments and tainted Deweys into a larger crusade that will surely have an exciting payoff in the coming episodes.

“When you file people away as sidekicks, you don’t realize their importance to the story, and this story belongs to a lot more people than you think,” Penny says near the end of this episode, speaking to the audience as much as to his boss’ boss. The Magicians has become one of the most tightly-written series on television lately, and although this episode had its flaws, our faith is strong that connections will be made that will ultimately be satisfying. At this point, the show has a lot of balls in the air to juggle, but that’s how you reach the most exciting finale, which we’re sure is on its way.

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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.

Rating:

4 out of 5