This The Magicians review contains spoilers.
The Magicians Season 1 Episode 4
Viewers who have read The Magicians trilogy by Lev Grossman will no doubt recognize that “The World in the Walls” was a complete departure from the books, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. However, this bottle episode overemphasizes much that’s already known about Quentin’s disillusionment with the world, and, like Quentin, the audience doesn’t buy for a second that his spell-induced dream is real. Aside from some genuinely funny moments that shone out from the bleakness and the shocking moment for Julia at the end, this episode was merely okay.
It’s dangerous to make comparisons to the book, of course, because the show should be judged on its own merits, but it’s hard not to notice that the spellcasting seems faintly awkward with no context as to where the magic was learned. Many spells even lack incantations which made the spells more complex in the novels. Of course, Quentin’s spells aren’t supposed to work in this episode, but even the magic of Dean Fogg, which did have some pretty cool chanting, seemed clunky this week, especially with the weird metal scorpion-like creature and the nerdy hipster assistant.
Perhaps it’s because the infiltration of the hedge witches was just so easy – too easy. Not that putting someone in a “Scarlatti web” isn’t hard; perhaps it is. But the fact that a summoning is required that necessitates lowering Brakebills’ protective wards seems reckless at best, and Marina’s clear path to reclaim her memories of the time she spent at the university was unrealistically unguarded. Why is there no security in place? And why not leave Quentin in the dream until preparations could be made?
Kady is right: Marina is a psycho. Perhaps the memory-erasing techniques of Brakebills are harsh, both with Julia’s failed recruitment and with Marina’s mysterious expulsion, but the head bitch of the hedge witches doesn’t care who she has to use to get her power back. The most notable moment of the episode was definitely Julia realizing her prank against Quentin was both damaging to him and utterly tragic for her as she has her star tattoos removed. What will she do without access either to institutionalized magic or the back alley variety?
The fact of the matter is, Julia’s plight is infinitely more interesting than Quentin’s. Viewers already understand that Quentin is damaged, that his life is meaningless without magic. The gimmick of having him encounter Brakebills students and staff in the psychiatric ward is certainly fun, especially with Alice and Elliot being crackers themselves, but it doesn’t do much for moving the story forward at a time when progress is needed.
There were a few chuckles to be had in spite of this: Penny discovering that the dream version of him that Quentin has conjured up has a stereotypical Indian accent, for example – priceless! Equally amusing was the crazy version of Alice having as her delusion the classic Stark Trek episode, “The Menagerie.” Way to play to your geeky, television-watching audience, Syfy! And of course there was the callback to Penny’s distaste for Taylor Swift.
The discovery Quentin makes with the help of Jane Chatwin encapsulates nicely what The Magicians needs to do: stop playing and start living. As Quentin asserts to Dean Fogg, “I don’t need to be taught what magic is or isn’t; I need to be taught magic, so that I can decide what it is or isn’t for me.” The most that can be said about this week’s episode is echoed in Fogg’s response: “That was almost well-put.”