Apparently, sticking too close to the plot of the books last week just meant that this week The Magicians was going to finally make a huge break from them. And, not surprisingly, it works really well. Sending Julia to Fillory with Quentin provides an emotional payoff to both of their plotlines after a full season of them being cruel to each other, and also saves the show from constantly navigating the complicated dynamics of the Brakebills kids following the ill-advised threesome last week.
An awful lot happened in “Thirty-Nine Graves,” but the action mostly doesn’t feel rushed. Sure, Quentin and Julia solve the issue of getting to Fillory conveniently quickly, and Julia’s friends are written off just as abruptly as they were written on the show in the first place, but the time travel plot actually gets as much attention as it needs. No sooner had I written a note asking why the Dean is aware of the time loops than the show explains–he’s powerful enough to know what they are, but not powerful enough to do anything about them.
It’s also a big step for the show to suggest that Julia needed to not get into Brakebills, and that’s what’s going to make the difference in the fight against the Beast. Does this mean that Julia is officially the main character on this show? Consider the evidence: She’s the chosen one amongst her hedge witch friends, and she’s apparently the one element needed to tip the balance in Fillory. Quentin doesn’t have any chosen one moments. He’s simply in the right place at the right time, a much-needed chess piece for Jane Chatwin to move around, but a pawn nonetheless.
Naturally, not everything worked quite as well as the twist with Julia. The two hookups that happened this week were a bit random—Penny is so nice to Alice he seems like a different person, and Richard has been so underwritten that he comes across as a “why not” option for Julia rather than an actual love interest. Plus, I had to pause the episode to look up who Victoria was when Josh started talking about her.
Oh yeah, Josh Hoberman is here! Whether or not he proves to be as major a character as he was in the books, he provides a much-needed pop of levity to the otherwise painfully dour group that’s wandering the Neitherlands. And as soon as he mentions the hallucinogenic carrots, it’s clear someone is going to ingest one, namely the character currently trying to drink himself into oblivion. Given how much Penny has talked about using substances to deal with his emotional issues, maybe he could have a word with Eliot? One way or another, something needs to move forward with what’s going on with him. It’s not like he needs to suddenly get over what happened with Republican Mike, but the lack of interest from the other characters to try and address what’s going on with him is getting a little odd. Even if they accept that he doesn’t want to talk about it, why would they bring him along on a mission that might kill them all when he’s clearly unstable? He’s now gotten them kicked out of the library and nearly killed by the mercenaries in the Neitherlands, but no one suggests that he sit this one out.
Margo, on the other hand, had a lot of great moments here. She’s the only one of the threesome trio who can move past what happened to focus on the mission at hand, she saves Eliot’s life because she ignored Quentin’s (bad) advice to leave guns at home, and she voices what we all feel about all the romantic drama: “Is it wrong that I’m starting to side with the Beast?” The character has often gotten sidelined over the course of the season, but she’s now finally starting to make sense as the one person who doesn’t get wrapped up in her own problems.
Despite the glossing over of certain plot points (sure, Kady is on a quest, healing cancer is possible, and Richard gets to fix what happened with his kid), this episode does a solid job of setting up the finale. Everyone has been moved into place to make an attempt on the Beast. Plus, Quentin not only gets to go to Fillory, but he gets to experience it with the perfect person—the friend who first fell in love with the books with him. A shared pop culture experience is a pretty important bonding moment, and despite the fact that we haven’t really seen much of the Quentin/Julia friendship, there’s still a sense of rightness to the moment they both look out at Fillory together. Here’s hoping they get to geek out with each other a bit before the Beast appears.
- The introduction of Josh Hoberman is basically a giant Easter egg for book readers (he’s not really the same character here), but it’s not even the best one in the episode, which has to be Margo telling the librarian her name isn’t Janet. “This time.”
- Richard responding “Fewer than I’d hoped” to Julia jokingly asking if he bangs a lot of undergrads with a line about Dionysus is actually just gross and not charming.
- The Dean’s refusal to see Groundhog Day even though Quentin mentions it in every time loop is really taking stubbornness to impressive levels. Has the Dean never had cable?
- “I never thought I’d say this, but thank god for Hitler.” “Yeah, no, that still sounds bad.” Thank you, Julia.