Jason Ralph / Carole Segal, Syfy

Is it a coincidence that the most entertaining episode of The Magicians yet is also the one that has the least in common with the books? Instead of rushing through a series of plots that never intersect, the show has one plot that runs the course of the episode, and it’s one that connects both of the main characters. And even though the story revolves around something that’s happening to Quentin, by the end of the episode, Julia is the one whose circumstances have changed the most.

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The specifics of what happens to Quentin are not my favorite trope. Also, it’s a knockoff of a Buffy episode. There’s never any question that he’s going to escape from the alternate reality mental hospital and return to the reality of the rest of the show. He’s one of the two leads, and we know magic exists. So, similar to the second episode, we know that Quentin is going to finish the episode safely at Brakebills. It’s just a matter of how he gets there, so the particulars of what he suffers through don’t pack quite as much of a punch.

That said, aspects of that are awfully fun. The callback to Quentin’s love of Taylor Swift may be a highlight of the show so far — a scene both ridiculous (was that Eliot motorboating UFO-loving Alice there?) and fun. And effective! Once Julia accidentally lets slip that she can see the magic he’s doing, Quentin has the reassurance he needs that the world he knows exists, including the telepathic classmate who hates him. Kudos to Jason Ralph for going all in on that one, despite a complete lack of singing ability. I maintain that he seems like more of a “Bad Blood” fan, but given the circumstances, “Shake It Off” works better as a Penny-summoning song.

The show holds back on just who is doing this to Quentin for just long enough. Is it the Beast? Some obscure test from his Brakebills professors? No, it’s just the hedge witches, who are using him to force the Dean to lower the school’s wards so Marina can regain her school spell memories. Marina’s final moves, though cruel, don’t seem that out of character for her. As much as she’s been a helpful mentor to Julia, Kady’s fear of her seems genuine. Nice, wise mentors don’t inspire fear and hatred in people.

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Poor Julia. She went from Quentin humiliating her last week to getting exiled from the only peers she’s managed to find in the next episode. On the one hand, she seemed pretty horrified by potentially killing him. On the other, she’s now desperate and alone. Hard to see her going anywhere but further down a dark path at this point.

Not everything in the hallucination worked. The bits with Quentin’s father were a bit over the top. The show hasn’t given us reason to think Quentin has deep issues with his father lurking in his subconscious. He’s seemed to have a certain amount of garden variety post-adolescent alienation from parents who didn’t understand him that well, but the bit about stabbing his father suggested something a lot more intense. The fact that he fears that the entire world he’s constructed is invented makes a lot more sense. It’s particularly cruel of Julia to throw in that she’s engaged to James in this alternate reality. But given that Alice wants to hook up with him in his dream, he seems like he’s well on the way to moving on in that part of his life.

Who knew that what this show needed to break through was some Taylor Swift inspiration?

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Stray observations

  • You guys. YOU GUYS. I went to watch the “Shake It Off” video for research purposes for this episode (I wanted to confirm that Quentin does a “Shake It Off”-esque bounce back into the room after he’s done tormenting Penny, which he does) and what do you think pops up about a minute and fifteen seconds into it? Why, it’s finger tutting, the dance form the creators are using for how magic spells are created. I have uncovered the secret of The Magicians, and it’s that Taylor Swift is writing it. Wait, no.
  • Given that the song isn’t over when Quentin goes back into the room, I like to imagine that he finished off singing the song as a brief respite in his nightmare world.
  • Ideas about what Marina has on Kady to blackmail her that successfully? And is Marina turning into the season’s other big villain? Let’s hope Julia gets a suitable revenge on her at some point. As noted last week, “When you punish a person for dreaming his dreams, don’t expect him to thank or forgive you.” Hail Julia, indeed.
  • Somehow it seems very fitting that Quentin’s choice of Taylor Swift songs is the one where the video got some flack for cultural appropriation, given that he randomly gives Penny a stereotypical Indian accent in his dream.
  • Margo merits a mention by name in the hallucination, but doesn’t appear. That poor lady needs a plotline.

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