Jason Ralph, Olivia Taylor Dudley / Carole Segal/Syfy

Well, for anyone who thought the first two Magicians episodes tore through plot too quickly…that problem is not going away. The third episode, “Consequences of Advanced Spellcasting,” had three different complicated half-baked plots to get through, which inevitably ended up with none of them getting fully served, though it’s safe to say the Penny subplot was the most neglected. His conflict with Quentin seems inorganic, and at this point, he’s almost on a different show.

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The Alice/Quentin moments probably worked best, possibly because Alice is the only person on this show whose problems can’t be boiled down to “I’m upset because I didn’t get a thing that I want.” That’s perhaps a little unfair to Julia, who makes a pretty compelling case to Quentin about how hard it would be to have magic offered and then taken away from you. But the whole big blowout between them doesn’t have anywhere near as much emotional power as it would have if it had come a little later in the season. As it is, these are two people we’ve barely seen interact. And while we’re told that Julia is changing a lot, and neglecting her life, we’ve had so little time to see what’s happening with her that her desperation doesn’t totally seem earned.

Stella Maeve is doing her best with the part, but the occasional montage isn’t quite enough to see what she’s going through. Quentin’s cruelty to her during her fight was still effective, though it felt effective more in the sense of identifying with anyone being told their dream is dead. Anyone familiar with the great Mountain Goats song “The Best Ever Death Metal Band Out of Denton”? The line “When you punish a person for dreaming his dreams, don’t expect him to thank or forgive you” seems pretty apropos here. (We’ll pause here while you go listen to that song and weep gently.)

The show is handling other things better. The actual performance of magic remains pretty neat, and while the polar opposite color scheme between golden Brakebills and dreary New York is perhaps a bit over the top, it does lay some of the groundwork for Julia’s path. Notice also how Alice and Margo’s world switches to blues and grays once they go visit poor Emily in New York. Margo is awfully one dimensional right now, and it’s hard to gauge whether that’s the performance or the writing. Hale Appleman is doing a lot more with Eliot, but also Eliot gets all the best lines. His reaction to books humping (“Love wins”) was a highlight of the episode. Though Alice unnecessarily confiding to Quentin that she doesn’t drink much was cute.

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Her focus on contacting her brother also gives Quentin the opportunity to be the hero, which is not a role he’s especially good at elsewhere. The whole confrontation with her brother Charlie felt, again, really rushed. They only started looking for him in this episode, and they found him and defeated him already? What if this episode had ended with Charlie’s hand creepily emerging from the water and flipping the bird? Instead, we get the entire arc of that quest, ending with Alice storming out. Which, much like Quentin’s potential expulsion in the last episode, seems unlikely to stick. Also, doesn’t it seem like Quentin should have been a little more affected by his fight with Julia? Even if he has moved on emotionally from her (you know, in the longest three months of everyone’s lives), he seemed completely unshaken by it for the rest of the episode.

And to get to Penny, belatedly, (much like the show itself! Sorry, Penny), his entire quest is so isolated and underdeveloped that it’s hard to see what we’re getting out of it. Professor Sunderland’s jovial embrace of the whole thing was fun, but how did she and the Dean know where he’d traveled to, since he seemed to be responding to a call for help? There’s a point where “it’s magic!” is just a plot hole. The show can only depend on Arjun Gupta’s expertise at playing constantly roiling fury for so long without expanding on what’s going on with him. On the other hand, using him to out everyone’s white bread musical taste would also be a fine use for the character. Which Taylor Swift song do you think Quentin was singing? He seems like a “Bad Blood” kind of guy. The fact that he hid behind a tree to get away from Penny was kind of amazing. While the early going has been a bit unsteady, The Magicians is certainly managing to create its own take on Quentin Coldwater.

Stray observations

  • For book fans: I wasn’t sure if they were going to go to the Arctic, but the fact that they included Emily being in love with a professor seems to indicate he will pop up as a character.
  • Every scene with Anne Dudek is great. Apparently, Professor Sunderland is the only person to graduate from Brakebills with a sense of humor. Can we see her teach a class?
  • John Hughes movies are a part of every childhood, even magic ones.
  • We also got our first hint that Alice has a bit of a thing for Quentin, which naturally was followed immediately by her screaming at him. Sounds about right for that guy.

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