Jason Ralph, Olivia Taylor Dudley, Arjun Gupta / Carole Segal, Syfy

If this season’s premiere spent a lot of time resolving crises from the Season 1 finale, the second episode spends a lot of time setting things up for Season 2. Consequently, this episode is a little scattered at times.

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Penny, perennially marooned in plots of his own, tries a few different methods to fix his hand problem, none of which get much explanation. Are we going to get a diagnosis for him at some point? And the second healing method seems to be purely a reason for him and Professor Sunderland to make eyes at each other. She never explains what she’s doing to him, and her telling him they can hook up once he’s graduated is a little confusing, in that none of these people appears to be enrolled in classes. Are they still students? Does all of this count as one long independent study?

Julia, on the other hand, is spinning her wheels because she needs bait for Reynard to come back. While the various other plotlines involve a little more concrete problem-solving, Julia is locked into hanging out with Martin indefinitely, at least until she caves and gives up part of her soul to him. It seems like it’s only a matter of time until this happens, but in the meantime, there’s a lot of darkly lit scenes of her drawing pictures while Martin makes cheesy jokes. He’s got a nice voice, but the singing feels like hold music until he reveals whatever evil plan he’s got in mind.

The Brakebills kids, perhaps unsurprisingly given their constant privilege in this world, are having significantly more fun. They get a standard riddle-esque quest, the sort of thing that feels very Hogwarts, except for the part where a pixie points out that Quentin and Alice have sex a lot. It’s the sort of callout to the conventions of the genre that the show has had fun with in the past, and which generally works well. You can’t really go wrong with a riddle quest, even if it all falls into place a little too easily. The show is so relentlessly meta that it’s almost surprising Quentin doesn’t have a pop culture reference for this. He’s been a little subdued in these first two episodes. We’re due for another Taylor Swift singalong.

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The Eliot plot is also a little aimless. He’s farming? There’s something a little tonally weird about a character who lives and breathes irony living amongst the totally earnest. And with Margo back on Earth, he doesn’t have his usual sparring partner, and neither does she. They’re written in the same language, so to speak, and their usual charms are somewhat diminished when they’re separated. There’s also a lot of foreshadowing about prior rulers of Fillory and their terrible fates, but none of it comes to anything in this episode.

Ultimately, it’s the sort of episode where everything is more or less fine, but it doesn’t all quite add up to a lot. It’s still funny and entertaining and generally holding together better than some of the episodes of the first season did, but the strain of getting all of the characters to the relevant climactic moments at the same time is showing a bit more than it should. It’s not usually a good sign when most of the subplots seem like placeholders while the main action goes on back at the school. Eliot and Julia and Penny are all such juicy characters that their storylines are clearly going to kick into high gear shortly—no one gets too much peace in the world of The Magicians. But for now they’re seeming a little secondary to the main action.

Stray observations

  • “It is good to see you guys, though.” “Fuck off.” “OK.” Josh Hoberman’s presence here is a little confusing, but at least it allows for some prime Penny putdowns, now that he isn’t making them nonstop at Quentin.
  • Could at least one person who talks to Julia about her rape not suggest that it doesn’t matter to them? She needs to find Kady again or something. Her brief interaction with Quentin doesn’t allow for a lot of spiritual healing.
  • “The answer is to hire Michael Buble to kidnap me and then use me as your bait?”
  • It’s so hard to know whether Julia should trust the advice Martin gives her. His motives are pretty opaque to us. At least we know Broadway is probably safe from his mischief, right?
  • You really notice how tall Arjun Gupta is when you crop a photo of him next to Jason Ralph and Olivia Taylor Dudley.
  • Also, given how amused I was by Alice’s horse love, I appreciated this piece of trivia.
  • Oh man, book things are happening. Structurally, breaking those various plot points over two seasons makes a lot more sense than trying to jam it all in to Season 1.

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