The Magicians Season 4 Episode 9 Review: The Serpent
The Magicians goes all in on the Library’s fascist control of magic while it liberates and dethrones others in an insightful episode.
This The Magicians review contains spoilers.
The Magicians Season 4 Episode 9
The lack of unified quests that we worried about in last week’s episode of The Magicians takes a step in the right direction in “The Serpent.” In addition to an intriguing twist in the hedge witch storyline, the rescue of Harriet gave us some wonderful insights into Alice’s character, and there were moments in Fillory that likely left few dry eyes in the audience. And of course, the mission to recover the Monster’s missing parts took a surprising turn and upped the ante in ways that we have yet to fully comprehend. Fortunately, the fog seems to be clearing up around the disparate conflicts, and although the way forward is fraught with difficulties for Julia, Margo, Eliot, and others, the journey is one we truly care about.
We still have to remember, though, that the stories of the Library’s control of magic, Margo’s birthright, and the Monster’s possession of Eliot are still fairly separate, but what this episode does is bring in elements that cross between the threads, although not always smoothly. On the one hand, the introduction of “The Foremost,” a leader of the southern nomads in Fillory who can expel demons with special weapons, creates a compelling reason for Margo to move from curing talking lizards to trying to help Eliot. On the other hand, the mysterious appearance of a book called “Binder” in the middle of Alice’s mirror mission was a bit more jarring in its attempt to bridge the Library’s arc with that of Julia.
The fact that Julia’s divine self-discovery keeps getting interrupted by the need to assist the Monster in his own godly research indicates that her inevitable awakening will most likely be tied to the Monster’s defeat — or perhaps the defeat of those who wronged him. The latter possibility springs from Penny’s discovery while exploring the Monster’s memory that Bacchus, Iris, Heka, and most importantly the missing Enyalius may not have had the most altruistic motives for luring the Monster to their altar. When Penny tells the others that the stones are not about making a body but something much worse, who’s to say the Monster’s evil doesn’t spring from what was left behind rather than what was taken?
Perhaps the expectation of a twist of that sort comes from the surprise knowledge that Zelda’s mentor, Everett, wonderfully played by Brian Markinson, is the one behind the frightening attacks on hedge witches. Although the existence of blood worms feels a bit contrived this late in the game, the plan is brilliant: either stop the hedges from using magic forcefully or use fear to have them submit to a voluntary Reed’s Mark tattoo to remove their powers, supposedly temporarily. Zelda may have initially agreed to help Kady map the junction boxes to get Harriet back, but now that Harriet has revealed the truth about Everett, all bets are off. Plus, you know, poor Pete.
As for the mirror realm rescue, the phosphoromancy spell was clearly more about Alice’s fragmentation than Harriet’s, narratively speaking. Sure, Harriet was able to spy through the mirrors, but the splitting of Alice into her mousy and arrogant halves gave us quite a bit of insight into what makes her tick. Not only are we reminded that it was Alice’s fear not her arrogance that destroyed the keys in the season 3 finale; we also get the enticing assessment from Alice’s more brazen (and frankly more appealing) version, who says, “We still have no idea what were actually capable of.” An ex-niffin with renewed confidence in her own abilities might be just what The Magicians needs heading into its season 4 climax.
And truth be told, it doesn’t even really matter if Margo ends up finding a way to exorcise Eliot’s demons. The fact that she’s now aware of her best friend’s continued existence was a huge relief and gave her new purpose. Coming on the heels of Fen’s prophecy, Margo’s realization that Eliot was still alive could easily have gotten tangled up in a clash of opposing conflicts, but when Josh tells Margo about the impending betrayal, her sudden need to be free of royal encumbrances in order to visit one of Fillory’s sworn enemies made the dethroning more palatable by far and made us hopeful for a compelling journey ahead for the former High King.
Plus, once again, Summer Bishil nailed a heartfelt performance thanks to some undeniable chemistry with Brittany Curran’s Fen as Margo tearfully begs to be overthrown. Anyone who wasn’t moved by Margo’s banishment or Josh’s farewell has a heart of stone, and no matter who you are, there’s no avoiding the stirring of emotion that comes from listening to Pat Benatar’s “We Belong” as Margo heads off into exile in slow motion. And viewers could be forgiven for being equally excited to see what Fen does with her newfound power — not as acting High King, but as Fillory’s first native ruler.
This review didn’t even get a chance to touch on moments like Alice glancing longingly through the bookshelves at Julia and Penny and then at Quentin or Zelda acknowledging Kady’s capacity to sit with the woman who caused the death of the man she loved, but there were many instances of strong motivation and character insight in this episode of The Magicians. This, along with an encouraging pivot towards more cohesion between the story arcs with conflicts that we truly care about, makes “The Serpent” a wonderful build-up to what will surely be an explosive finale.
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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.