This The Magicians review contains spoilers.
The Magicians Season 4 Episode 8
The Magicians has become the most elaborate online roleplaying game chain quest ever. You know the sort: the town blacksmith wants a rare gem to upgrade your armor, but when you go to the local miner, he wants you to fetch ten kobold pelts in trade, and that requires a special skinning knife obtainable from a nearby tribe of wood elves, etc. etc. It’s fun in its own way, but are we going too far down the rabbit hole now? Quentin has to get the next Monster organ from a dragon hoard by trading Poppy’s egg; Julia must “seek the binder” in her quest to understand her godhood; Zelda needs Alice’s help creating a beacon to find Harriet in the mirror world; and Fen has to catch a hooded cat lady in a dream. This is next level World of Warcraft, people.
It’s entirely possible that The Magicians will tie these disparate quests together, but at the moment, it’s difficult to care about what Zelda wants or whether she is having second thoughts about Alice’s culpability. Make no mistake, the personal journey that Alice must undergo with her mother to create the beacon for Zelda was quite touching and even entertained us with Carol’s naughty voodoo dolls and the misdirect over whom Stephanie actually betrayed to the Library. Alice seeing Sheila join the Order must have been disconcerting, but this is but a blip on a radar screen filled with more important hits.
One of the most interesting plotlines got the shortest shrift in this episode, and that’s Kady’s burgeoning hedge witch revolution. When Pete — sorry, Lovelady — offers to be her lieutenant and says, “You ready to graduate from helping your college buds to solving a real crisis?” we want Kady to say yes, even though we have a vested interest in her friends, too. We feel her pain when Penny 23 tries to deliver 40’s message of regret, and the fact that it only makes her suffering worse concerns us deeply. But when she wants to turn in Whitley to the Library for her terrorist act, we also want more immediate payoff to her success or failure at avoiding war, not because we’re impatient or doubtful that it will happen but because her arc is far more interesting than the others at this point even though it’s much newer.
And that’s saying something! Previous The Magicians reviews have made it clear how wonderful Margo has been, both in her newfound power and in her barely restrained vulnerability. If part of her awakening involves realizing that Fen and her prophecies are important, as we must also come to understand, then so be it, but the focus on the birthright box is getting a little blurry. Margo went through a lot of trouble to get that beet juice, and trusting in Fen’s burning lizard premonition has taken quite a detour from curing mute animals to tracking down the questing beast responsible for the dreams. Again, it feels like a game quest that requires us to take notes to remember the original objective.
That’s not to say the stakes weren’t raised substantially when Napster tells Fen that, after standing by Margo against all of the leaders in Fillory and beyond to protect the land, she must dethrone the High King, even if that means drenching the throne in her blood. In fact, this macabre prediction helps tighten Margo’s arc at the same time it creates one for Fen. Fen might fangirl over Margo and Josh, but mostly what the Quickening interlude gave us was Margo’s mistaken acceptance that Eliot was gone, allowing her to prioritize Fillory and her birthright in the first place. Knowing that a coup is coming may have moved the goalposts, but at least any potential stagnation in Margo’s story has been avoided.
Meanwhile, the Monster’s drug-addled distraction has kept Eliot sidelined, and instead of Quentin continuing the search for stone organs, Kady has taken charge, which turns out to be a good thing. The next stone’s jump from the temple of Esna to a dragon’s hoard to Poppy was a bit dizzying, again contributing to the confusing game quest feel to this episode, but it was nice to see Felicia Day again (she hinted at her return in our interview). As amusing as the dragon fetus charm was, though, it mostly brought forward the idea that Poppy’s reawakened parental instincts may reflect a similar desire in Quentin. Is that something we were hoping for for either of these characters? It’s unclear how invested we were supposed to be by the time the dragon egg was traded for another Monster part.
Harold the herald did, of course, give us incremental progress in Julia’s mission to understand her divine nature, and we’re already used to the deliberate pace of this particular thread. Like Julia, however, we might be inclined to want more from the dragon’s advice than simply a cryptic, “You must seek the binder.” A three-ring binder? A soul binder? That’s the sort of mystery that would be much more enticing if it weren’t surrounded by a thousand other quests for stones, green ladies, beacons, dragon spooge, and more. Even Penny’s attempt to liken a Traveler’s loneliness to that of a powerless god seemed more like a pick-up line than true sympathy.
Keep in mind that our trust in The Magicians and its ability to bring everything together in surprising ways is unshaken, but this middle part of the season is starting to feel less purposeful even if there ends up being rock solid intention behind all of the tangents. We still have fun watching Margo take down a fake seer or applauding the use of a magic gauge as a kind of innocuous yet fascist electric meter; this show has never been short of ingenuity like that. After this whirlwind clears, we’ll get Eliot back, avoid Margo’s death, and receive a bag of holding and some XP for our troubles.