It says something about the struggles of this show to juggle its many plots that my initial reaction to Eliot and Margo having their vacation plotline introduced was a bit of an eye roll. That duo has been sidelined so completely as comic relief or occasional plot devices that it was a shock when it turned out their storyline not only had emotional heft, but would be moving the whole show’s plotline forward as well.
But that eyeroll was also partially inspired by how well the Antarctica plotline was going. The show brought in Brian F. O’Byrne, an Irish character actor you’ve certainly seen in something over the years, to ham it up as the Russian Professor Mayakovsky, which he did with glee. Though his interest in Quentin and Alice’s romance was a little odd, the concept that their inability to act on their feelings was holding them back as magicians worked well enough. It would be good to see that he had some reason to be so invested in those two specific students, however. What difference does it make to him whether or not they become better magicians?
Overall, this was largely an episode about couples (er, minus Julia, who we’ll get to in a minute), all of whom are at different stages in their relationships. Alice and Quentin are falling in love, Penny and Kady are a few steps beyond that, and Eliot and Margo are dealing with their own sometimes complicated bond. The two of them are obviously a different kind of couple, but even with the largely trivial nature of their prior storylines, the show has never suggested their friendship was less than hugely important to both of them. They’re a pairing in their own way. And, as badly as it’s clearly going to turn out for him, it’s nice to see Eliot get a love interest instead of having his sex life be something that happens offscreen or not at all.
Meanwhile, Penny and Kady take one step forward only to take two steps back. While it made sense for her to confess to him what was going on with her (which the show is still keeping secret), it made less sense for her to leave without telling him why. There’s no reason to think Penny wouldn’t understand why they have to separate for a little while until he finishes school. Seems pretty logical, really. Instead, their separation now seems likely to serve as a plot device for her to pop up unexpectedly down the road, either in danger and needing rescue, or to save him. The first seems slightly more likely—does anyone think Marina is just going to let her go?—but the whole parting was handled pretty sloppily. Whatever bump in the road is going to reunite them could still happen without her cruelly ditching Penny.
Speaking of people who have been cruelly ditched, we finally got some insight into who Julia is. Specifically, someone with a terrifying family that will involuntarily commit her if she doesn’t straighten out. Given how completely her life has gone off the rails in a few short months, it made sense that someone was going to turn up eventually, but it does seem a little off that it took so long if her family is really that intense. This particular thread did get a little less attention than it needed, but it would have been stranger not to do anything with Julia this week, considering how we left her last week.
All around, this was a solid episode, building on existing relationships, moving the season arc forward, and generally showing a lot more confidence in the world it’s building than we’ve seen so far. No rushing through plot, no messy side stories that didn’t make sense, and more than anything, the beats of the story felt earned, even if on Quentin and Alice’s side, they’re letting a few yearning looks do the work of the actual sense that these two people have anything in common. Let’s see what happens to ruin everyone’s fragile peace next week!
- Margo’s response to learning that the djinn has read her mind (“That’s so fucking rude”) is apt.
- Also, Alice’s “Oh, come on” in response to being told to take her clothes off was pretty on point. Even beyond the fact that she’s a reserved person, getting naked repeatedly for magical tasks would get a bit old.
- While I did think something mysterious was up with “Mike,” since he turned up so serendipitously when they needed an Arabic speaker, I definitely thought he was Todd in disguise. But no, Todd is just a normal geeky dude. I hope he sticks around so Margo can keep being rude to him.
- The Arctic sequence played out a little differently than it did in the book, but overall I was a fan of how they handled the fox thing, minus the fact that it was just Alice and Quentin getting to take part. Penny could have used the pick me up.