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Even without their memories, the Magicians gang has plenty to offer

Janet hangs out with a few pals at her high-powered magazine job to discuss how everything about their lives is an illusion
Image: Eric Milner/SYFY
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How do you keep a show fresh, season after season? One method: Wipe the memories of all of your core characters. The Magicians starts its fourth season off having given our favorite misfit magic practitioners a hard reboot.

Yes, thanks to their efforts to bring back magic last year, they’ve been rewarded with fake memories, new personas, and no magical ability. They find themselves in a range of very earth-bound situations, all of which feel very broad—the spacey DJ, the mean magazine editor, the goofy Uber driver, etc.—until it’s revealed that they’re all based on characters in a pulpy comic book. This being The Magicians, obviously they’re going to be trapped in some kind of pop culture reference.

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As a standalone episode, it’s a lot of fun. As a reentry into the world of the show, you may feel like you need to read a few Wikipedia entries. Given that people have been mad at our crew throughout the duration of the show, a quick reminder of the specifics of their beef with Irene McAllistair might have helped. Or, say, a bit more information on what Marina’s deal is. There’s a lot of world-building on this show at this point! Even the most loyal of us could use the occasional refresher.

Even so, as things roll along, it’s easy to get swept back into this world. As befits a premiere, we don’t spend too much time with the current Big Bad, which has put on an Eliot suit for the time being. His scenes with Quentin are enough to get a sense of how menacing he’ll be, as well as the fact that Quentin’s pals are in danger. At this point, that’s all we really need to know about him—with plenty of time to explore his evil plans later, the show smartly recognizes that the really entertaining thing here is everyone’s efforts to get themselves out of their various predicaments, whether they understand what’s happening or not.

Kady has been dropped into a cheesy police procedural, but unfortunately for the people trying to keep her memory suppressed, that involves bumping into some misbehaving hedge witches. And giving someone the persona of a tenacious detective really only means she’s going to track down whatever mystery she finds, which Kady promptly does. Another side effect of the lack of focus on Quentin and Eliot, who tend to occupy the A story a lot of the time, is that we get the very rare Kady/Margo team-up. These two have almost nothing in common (other than their dislike of most other people), and their plotlines have only occasionally crossed paths, so the reboot provides an unusual opportunity to watch the two of them try to figure something out together.

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Alice, meanwhile, is stuck with a functional memory in library prison next door to literal Santa. He’s in trouble for trying to find the good kids, but that means he can tell Alice what she’s needed desperately to hear for a long time: that despite her various betrayals and missteps, she’s still a good person. Whether you agree with Santa on this one may vary (normal sentence to write), but for now, he’s given her the motivation to…store a beetle in her mouth for a painfully long time as part of an effort to break them out of there. 

And Julia, generally the most tragedy-prone of the gang, has an unexpected protector: the Dean, whose overwhelming guilt about what happened to her in the past has led him to drag her into Brakebills where he can keep an eye on her. Sure, young Kimber D’Antoni wants to do magic, but she’s just so gosh darn bad at it for some reason. 

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It’s all a solid enough blend of tongue-in-cheek humor and forward motion to prove that, four seasons in, the writers have a firm grasp on their wandering plot and slowly evolving characters. These people have come a very long way from a bunch of spoiled kids going to magic graduate school, but the show remains as creative as ever at moving its various game pieces around in new and exciting ways.

Plus, what’s terrible for Margo is good news for us, the viewers: She may be trapped, powerless and memory-free in Fillory, but since Summer Bishil was the show’s undisputed rock star last year, it’s exciting to see her get the chance to be Fillory’s hero. All hail High King Margo! Even Ember, who seems a bit confused about the concept.

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Stray observations

  • Penny is not going to be happy when he learns about his Taylor Swift remix.
  • At last, a small helpless animal survived this show! Did anyone else get nervous about Ember handling all those kittens?
  • Are we officially moving forward with NewPenny exclusively? I have enough faith in this show to assume they’re not going to drop the thread of what’s happening to OldPenny completely, but it has been frustrating to see that plot left hanging for so long.
  • Kudos to Olivia Taylor Dudley for not overplaying the “Alice secretly has a live beetle in her mouth for this excruciatingly long scene.” You never forget that it’s happening during Zelda the Librarian’s long, slightly menacing speech, but Dudley keeps it subtle enough that you believe the Librarian wouldn’t notice something is up.
  • It’s weirdly reassuring to see Margo getting her eyepatch back. Really makes her look more like herself at this point.
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About the author

Lisa Weidenfeld

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Lisa is a writer and editor based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.