Jason Ralph, Bobbi Charlton, Mackenzie Astin, Stella Maeve / Eike Schroter, Syfy

There’s a moment in Season 6 of 30 Rock where Liz and her boyfriend Criss haphazardly decide together, in a very 30 Rock way, that they’re maybe going to try to have kids together. Surprised, flustered, and excited, Liz exclaims, “Life is happening!” It’s the rare memorable 30 Rock quote that isn’t comically weird or absurdist, because it’s a more earnest moment for Liz herself, as she’s overwhelmed with the abrupt forward momentum of her own life.

If Quentin were more of an obsessive comedy guy than a fantasy guy, it’s the sort of thing he might find himself reminded of the moment Julia walks through the underworld door with Alice’s shade instead of her own. It’s the culmination of spending most of the season mourning for Alice, trying to live with her niffin form, and reconnecting with her in an alternate universe. All of a sudden, life is happening. At a point where he’s more or less given up on the thing he’s wanted, it’s placed within reach.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this episode of the Magicians is weighted pretty heavily towards the underworld plotline. The most exciting things that happen in Fillory are when people suddenly leave it, and Kady and Penny are more or less spinning their wheels for the duration of the episode. True, pairing Penny with someone ruder than he is does provide some solid entertainment, but generally Penny is unprepared for people who are unimpressed with his tough guy act. Last week, it was Marlee Matlin’s Harriet. This week, it’s the teenage Sylvia, who is probably like a Sopranos character whose name he can’t quite recall. The slight fudging around who her dad is suggests that we might be about to learn about some more unsavory aspects of the magical world. Her eagerness to get into the poison room is awfully suspicious, too.

The upside of the Fillory plotline is that it looks like Margo may finally get a moment to do something heroic. The specifics of her getting thrown in jail are a little iffy—why does she confess to the baby trade, but not to the fact that someone else is to be blamed for the Rattening, as the episode title so aptly puts it? She’s just received the intel that there’s another player at work in all of this, and in the scene with the fairy messenger, Summer Bishil reacts as though she has some suspicions about who it might be, but for some reason, the truth serum doesn’t compel her to share that.

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It’s frustrating to ding the show on the specifics when some of the reveals are handled so well. Julia’s behavior in the last couple of episodes has been really hard to parse. There were hints that she might be turning into a villain, but the moment that possibility occurs to her, with Kady throwing her in magic prison for her actions, she completely stops behaving like that. In this episode, she even commits a few selfless acts for Quentin, first suggesting he’ll be safer if he doesn’t go to the underworld with her, then giving up her own chance at her soul to give him a chance at happiness. That doesn’t suggest a person who’s lacking in conscience or morality.

But the double reveals about Alice’s shade work really, really well. All along, there’s been a certain synchronicity between her and Julia. There’s a reason these are the two women Quentin has loved. They’re different versions of what being the smartest person in the room does to someone, particularly when they can’t get what they want. Alice torments herself by feeling bound to stretch her abilities to their limits because she’s convinced she has to do it to save the people she loves. And Julia falls apart when, for the first time in her life, she’s not good enough for something. It makes total sense that Quentin’s description to the little boy shade can apply to either one of them, and also that Alice is the one who actually got into Persephone’s room. Julia’s more of a face-to-face troublemaker, while Alice quietly learns just enough to get herself in trouble.

And the surprise switch between whose shade comes back to the living world is going to lead to some interesting dramatic territory, as well. Can a shadeless person avoid turning into a Martin Chatwin? And what exactly happens to a person who’s been de-niffined?

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Stray observations

  • “You have 24 hours to return to the portal.” “Or…” “I sit patiently, waiting for you to come back. No, I eat you, I’m a fucking dragon, what do you expect?”
  • Is Josh in charge of Fillory now?
  • Quentin gave up the one remaining button to save someone everyone else hates, so I’m sure no one will be mad about that.
  • Reynard’s gross reaction to Persephone’s past rejection of him is predictable, isn’t it?
  • The return of Julia’s hedge witch friends didn’t totally work. We never really got quite enough time with them in Season 1 to be as fond of them as she is, and we learned just enough about the underworld to suggest something intriguing is happening there before we left it.
  • In the interest of this review not reaching the length of a book, I didn’t get into this, but the subplot about the senator realizing nothing that ever happened to him is real is just brutal. Great work from Christopher Gorham, and yet another entry under the “magic ruins as much as it fixes” column.
  • I hope that no matter what else happens on this show, no matter how dark things get, or who dies, or who betrays whom, no one ever tells Quentin that his bowling strike was anything but real.
  • Thanks to the commenters who pointed out that we did get some information about why Julia didn’t get into Brakebills in this world. My new policy when wondering about the history of things is going to be to assume Jane Chatwin is responsible.

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