Jason Ralph / Photo by Carole Segal, Syfy

There are times when adapting a TV series from a book series provides a helpful guideline for where the series can go. It gives the writers a framework to work from, and as a bonus, there’s a constant source of Easter eggs to keep readers of the books happy. But there are also times when faithfulness to a book can be crippling. A slavish devotion to plot points that occur at a different pace in a different medium can lead to inorganic movements for characters that make little sense in the new world that’s being built. Such is the case with Quentin’s betrayal of Alice in this episode.

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Worst of all, it occurs during an episode that travels in unexpected directions, most of which have nothing to do with how these events occur in the novel. The show has been relatively fearless about modifying and changing plot turns, which made this all the more frustrating. Even if the “Quentin cheats on Alice” plotline needed to make the jump to the TV show, why wasn’t this spaced out over a couple of episodes? While there have been signs that these two troubled people will struggle to have a functional relationship, infidelity doesn’t make a lot of sense for what would happen between them. Obviously, in real life, people cheat for all sorts of reasons, many of which may not make sense to outsiders, but TV shows don’t work like that. Events only occur when they serve a narrative purpose. And while it seems clear that separating Quentin and Alice is going to serve some narrative purpose here, that’s all it is. One pained glance at Penny and some magic emotional confusion didn’t do enough to explain what’s going on with Quentin here.

The episode is disjointed throughout, too, as though after a couple of episodes in which the pacing made a lot more sense, the series needed to rush through a ton of developments to get to its finale in time. The group experiment with potential futures comes out of nowhere, and the magic behind it is so vague as to make it even more confusing. Why did this group decide to start doing this test? Given that it looks pretty complicated, how did they prepare it that quickly? There’s a point after which “show, don’t tell,” becomes “wait, what’s happening now?”

There’s also the consistent problem the series has had with incorporating Margo and Eliot in with the rest of the group. Why are they so concerned with the Beast? Despite his connection to poor possessed Mike, Eliot’s nihilistic bender doesn’t exactly make it seem like he’d be jumping at the chance to hang out with a trio of people he’s rarely been anything other than disdainful of, and as appealing as the character is (largely due to Hale Appleman working wonders with limited material), he’s never come across as someone interested in acting the hero, which seems like the only other reason to try to do something about the Beast. And Margo doesn’t really seem like the type to risk her own life. It’ll be interesting to see what that little hookup means for the two of them. Does having Quentin as a sort of physical and emotional intermediary make it any easier for them to deal with what’s going on between them?

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Despite the hot mess that comprises the rest of the events of the episode (sure, why not include the random, brutal onscreen suicide of a character whose main characteristic has been his penchant for survival at all costs), Julia’s plot made some sense. Her quest has been developing more meaning of late, and the lamia pointing out that she’s trying to become whole again is one of the most clear explanations for what’s happening with her we’ve seen yet. Also, it’s hard to overstate how important her shaky alliance with Kady has been. Did everyone catch the moment where they were leaving the lamia’s lair and Julia grabbed Kady’s hand? How long has it been since we saw an act of affection from that character that wasn’t just a means to some other end? Isolating Julia so thoroughly made sense from a storytelling perspective, but it often turned out to mean storytelling that wasn’t as emotionally meaningful as Quentin’s stories. Given the possibility for emotional closeness between the two of them, Kady’s longterm survival chances are basically nothing, right?

Speaking of Kady, why wasn’t Quentin more honest with her about what’s going on with Penny? Even if he doesn’t fully understand what Penny’s going through, he knows Penny’s in mortal danger. Why not tell her that?

So now we’re almost ready to journey to Fillory with a group of people who hate each other. That will undoubtedly go well.

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Stray observations

  • Eliot’s response to Quentin saying Fillory was pristine was one of his better zingers: “Oh yes, very pristine. It’s been taken over by a kiddie diddling mutant.”
  • Did I miss it or has the show been explicit about Kady knowing battle magic? That seemed really random, but I could just be misremembering. Also, I think this is not the first time I’ve suggested she might die. She just seems like the character who dies to prove things are getting “real.” She is the Fred Weasley of The Magicians. If they could up Jade Tailor to a series regular before the finale, I’d appreciate it, thanks.
  • Penny saying, “I like your sweater” was a pretty great way to show that none of them were experiencing emotions in the right way.
  • In addition to being an extremely jarring death after we’d already learned that cheerful sex therapist/traveler Joe has killed himself, the loss of Penny’s mentor Stanley seemed like a waste. M.C. Gainey was a fun character actor to have pop up every now and then.

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