Hale Appleman, Jason Ralph / Eike Schroter, Syfy

Most of us have tormented ourselves with the notion of what might have been from time to time, but for Quentin in Season 2, this particular temptation has been a near constant. Every time he tries to get over losing Alice, there’s another opportunity to relive what she meant to him, whether through his twisted relationship with Emily, the false hope that her niffin form offered, or in her latest incarnation, a broken, defeated version in an alternate universe where he died instead.

The particulars of whether or not that universe continues to exist in any real way are a little baffling—time travel and alternate universe travel tend to be the sorts of plotlines that don’t totally hold together once you think about them too carefully. Also, speaking of plot oddities, why in the world did the Dean not tell Julia about Alice’s shade research himself? We’ve now learned that they were quite close in the alternate realities where she got to go to Brakebills, so much so that he feels bound to release her in this one, but it doesn’t occur to him to mention that he knew someone who was obsessively researching the topic?

Moreover, what was the point of sending Quentin to Fillory only to send him off on a new quest? While this episode shows a nice sense of the show expanding its scope as it heads into the final stretch of the season, there are some odd workarounds to setting everyone on the right path.

But those new paths are all showing good signs, even, a little bit, the folks over in (sigh) Fillory. Although this hint of optimism will be rescinded if Margo does not actually get to go on a quest to save the day. On the other hand, Penny and Kady continue to demonstrate why they’re the coolest people on the show. Shocking no one, this is a show that has its most macho character toss off a quick line about how rape is not just a women’s problem. Penny is not tagging along with Kady just because he loves her. The elimination of Reynard should be a goal for everyone, not just the people Reynard has personally harmed. There’s also a neat gender flip happening here. Instead of the woman being the love interest coming along on a man’s quest, Penny is very much in the support role here. Kady does all the magic and knows all the languages, and Penny is here to help her out.

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Their deepening bond is also giving the show an opportunity to explore the conflict between Brakebills and the hedge witches, which had died down following Julia’s connection to the school. Penny’s quick to say that he think Kady is one of those risky hedge witches who wants dangerous books, but the fact remains that she is one. It’s easy to see this as a Magicians-world version of a class disparity—the Brakebills kids clearly have all the resources, while the hedge witches have to scramble by on what they can. And Kady, more than anyone, is all too aware of the differences between those worlds.

And on the other side of the show’s universe, we’re finally getting to see Quentin and Julia team up. It’s a welcome development. We’ve known since the show began that the two of them are lifelong friends, but the instances where they’ve gotten to spend time together without some sort of conflict interrupting them have been pretty sparse. It feels fitting that Quentin isn’t going to hold a grudge about her latest effort to endanger his life. The bond between them has always been deeper than the latest obstacle to their friendship, and now that all the other characters have been sent off on their own respective quests, there’s finally room for them to explore it.

This final batch of episodes feels like the beginning of new arcs for everyone. Margo slips ever closer to undoing her work or confessing to Eliot, Quentin and Julia reach toward salvation for her, and Kady and Penny are hot on the trail of defeating Reynard for good. There’s also the introduction of new players on the field in the form of Senator Gaines, either a powerful hero or a villain, and Harriet, whose motives are unclear, but who provides a welcome quirk of uncertainty thanks to a playful performance from Marlee Matlin. Just what did she need to get out of the poison room that badly, and why did she wait ten years to get it?

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It’s easy for a show to coast on doing the same things in each episode (by all means, fill in your favorite example here). But this show is demonstrating a lot of confidence in figuring out ways to make its characters bounce off of each other, while still keeping them in service of the overarching plot, and, most of all, having fun with the concept. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go search some #viral #content for secret magic spells.

Stray observations

  • So wait. How many languages does Kady speak? Is it…every language?
  • “Those grapes died for nothing now.”
  • Can someone please let me know if Fuzz Beat, the site for cat videos and real news, is hiring? That really sounds like somewhere I could excel. Plus, magic!
  • We’re going to need to know a whole lot more about the Dean’s rivalry with Bob Ross.
  • “Just floating this. Would it be weird if I fucked Josh?” “I certainly hope it would be weird.”
  • If Julia gets into Brakebills in every incarnation of the world except this one, what’s different about her here that gets her rejected? I’m not sure the show has the time to get into the details of what determines a Brakebills acceptance, nor would I want to lose all the mystery of it, but in this case, it seems worth knowing.
  • OK, but after this time, we’re done dangling alternate Alices in front of Quentin, right? It’s useful for keeping Olivia Taylor Dudley on the show, but the poor guy has been through enough. On the other hand, this version of her was the only time he got to say anything approaching a meaningful goodbye.

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