Arjun Gupta, Jason Ralph / Carole Segal, Syfy

Who knew we were going to get a haunted house episode of The Magicians? Sure, it’s a bit random, but overall, watching the mismatched Scooby Gang of Quentin, Alice, Penny, and Eliot stumble through the mystery of the magical Fillory transport button was good spooky fun.

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One of the joys of the developing Quentin/Penny friendship (and dammit, that’s what I’m calling it, despite how Penny pretends to feel) is the way the sense of identification on the part of the viewer swings between the two of them. On the one hand, anyone who’s ever loved a piece of pop culture as much as Quentin loves Fillory can empathize with the visceral sense of excitement he gets touring author Christopher Plover’s house. And on the other hand, Penny’s utter lack of patience with all of it is pretty easy to sympathize with, too. It also serves the very useful purpose of keeping the show from succumbing fully to Quentin’s sense of wonder about what’s happening.

Of course, that sense of wonder crumbles pretty quickly during his unauthorized after-hours tour of the house. At some point, Quentin is going to have to admit to himself that every single thing he’s learned about Fillory so far has been violent and terrifying, and it’s going to be grim. But it’s not easy to give up on something that’s gotten you through the lowest points in your life, as Quentin makes plain in his confession to Alice. Many of us at one point or another have had to confront the possibility that someone whose work we admire was a horrendous person. It’s shattering to think that the person you counted on, who seemed to know and understand something vital about you and translated those feelings into art, could be a monster. And this episode goes above and beyond in proving that Plover was a monster.

But is he the Beast? The show is hinting heavily that he is, what with that little offhand comment about needing extra fingers, or the rack of moths hung up in one of the rooms of the house—and really, how did none of these people notice that? They’re on Beast high alert these days. It would be awfully easy for this mystery to be solved with that information, which makes it seem like it must be a red herring. It was nice, however, to finally get a little detail about the overall Fillory mystery, and having Penny deliver it, minus a few details he had trouble remembering, was a good way to get the information out without Quentin having to take the lion’s share of that exposition again. Also, the notion that the final Fillory book disappeared, not because of magic, but because Penny spilled beer on it and tossed it, was a fun subverting of viewer expectations. Plus the pig in the collar was pretty cute.

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Eliot joining the trip was about as random as the fact that they went to a haunted house. Has he ever expressed interest in Fillory? Generally, Eliot’s weary disdain for the world is a welcome addition to most scenes (See: “I’m a supervillain. Now talk.”), but he seemed like he was here mostly so that the group could be split up evenly when things went wrong. He and Alice both break the rule about never eating or drinking anything you’re fed in another dimension, though. For two people who know a lot about magic, this seems like a serious oversight on their part.

In our other visit to another realm, we see Julia continuing to take slow steps towards figuring out how to be a person again. How long until Richard betrays her in some way? That’s kind of a pattern for Julia’s friends. And the first magic task he gave her ended with her having to kill someone. Who was a queer woman of color. Guys, come on. You do not get bonus points for diversifying your show when you immediately kill the character off. And not to spoil anything for certain other shows out there, but this is an especially bad week to casually kill off a queer character. Moreover, the death of a queer person of color should not be used as a mechanism of spiritual growth for a white lady. I get that this oversimplifies what happens in that subplot, but it also…doesn’t.

Whether Julia has actually achieved something closer to inner peace will have to wait a week, however, despite her quest to make amends with Quentin “after I incepted the shit out of you.” For now, we’ll just have to enjoy how we all knew exactly what was going to happen to Penny when he touched that button, and how that made the moment when he disappeared just as satisfying.

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Stray Observations

  • “You can’t possibly want to be a dick more than you want to live.”
  • As a certified wimp, I really appreciated everyone’s commitment to staying in teams during the haunted house exploration. Never get separated in a haunted house, guys.
  • How haunted? “Haunted as balls,” per Quentin.
  • Hey, think it’s going to be a Thing that Alice wanted to save those kids and no one else did? Kinda seems like it’s going to be a Thing.
  • Yeah, Christopher Plover was Charles Shaughnessy from The Nanny. Which had to be explained to me, because I never watched it. I know, who hasn’t seen The Nanny? I promise, this confession was received with as much horror by the friend who watched the episode with me as you’re experiencing now.
  • I was going to give this episode an A-, because overall I thought it was really solid, but I’m downgrading it a full letter grade for that BS with Kiera.

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