Don’t Drink the Ghost Tea: The Magicians, “The Writing Room”

This week, Julia dons magical missionary garb while Quentin and the gang go on a seriously creepy side-quest. And no one talks to Eliot about what happened last week. You guys! Take care of Eliot!

Spooky spoilers follow!

Bless Julia, who can’t write an amends letter without pointing out that Quentin fucked up too. It’s a fair thing to say, though, and he knows it. Their friendship, tenuously reforming via letters, is on unstable ground, but for the moment, neither of them is passionately angry at each other. Quentin’s full of regrets about losing the Fillory book Eliza gave him; Julia’s feeling hopeful and humble, trying to move forward with magic in a new and calmer way with the help of Richard-the-chaplain.

Quentin’s regrets, however, are a little simpler, and the answer comes to him when Alice asks, “What do you do when you lose something?” Well, a spell, clearly—which leads him to a typically insouciant Penny, who admits to taking the missing manuscript. “I read it, I spilled my beer on it, I tossed it in the trash, and I went and got another beer.”

Magicians 109 Penny

Cleverly, this makes Penny doubly necessary: His magical talent will most certainly come in handy, but now he’s the only one who knows what happens in that book—which turns out to have been written by Jane Chatwin, not Fillory author Christopher Plover. Penny conveniently remembers just enough to be dangerous, including the key fact that Jane, on her last trip, obtained a button that Martin could use to get to Fillory whenever he wanted. And that button might still be in Plover’s house.

Activate quest mode! Penny, who rolls his eyes at Quentin about 17 times in the span of a scene, apparates his way to the UK without Q and Alice, but no planes are required: Eliot has a door he and Margo made to their favorite pub. He insists on coming along, which is good, since he’s clearly a magical badass (if magic comes from pain, Eliot is basically Gandalf right now), but also bad, because no one seems to notice what terrible shape Eliot is in. He’s sarcastic as ever, and he always has a drink in his hand, but this is different: you can see it in his face, in his slight dishevelment, in his even-more-upright posture. Margo really needs to come back from Ibiza, as no one else can look past themselves long enough to reach out.

Magicians 109 Eliot

Though to be fair, they do find themselves in something of a situation once they get to Christopher Plover’s deeply haunted house. The scenes there are effectively creepy, but take a long time to get to the point: Christopher Plover was a terrible person, and Martin’s obsession with getting to Fillory was totally understandable seeing as he was trying to escape sexual abuse. This is revealed very differently in Lev Grossman’s novels, but the show expands on it, filling the hour with a house of horrors run by Plover and his child-murdering, obsessively-devoted-to-him sister-slash-housekeeper.

Poor Quentin, finding out the truth about his literary hero—just hours after nerding out hard over being in the room where the Fillory books were written. The face Jason Ralph makes as he mouths along to the tour guide’s quotes is his perfect, hopeful-disbelief face, the one he’s made every time Fillory comes up. Before everything goes spectral and bloody, Quentin gets caught up in the magic of the place and tells Alice exactly how much Fillory meant to him—how the books saved his life the first time he was hospitalized. I don’t think the show needed to spell this out quite so tidily, but it does work to make Quentin’s eventual disillusionment that much heavier. And again, the writers smartly veer away from magic solving things; Quentin explains to Alice that his brain isn’t un-broken, but it works better. Magic can’t cure depression, but it can help Quentin find his way through.

Magicians 109 Chatwins

Magic couldn’t fix things for Martin Chatwin, either. This episode hints heavily that Plover is the Beast—from his quest for power that might require an extra finger to his predatory behavior—but for now, it’s vague about what happened to Plover (presumed dead, but possibly missing) and Martin. Both were looking for escape, and that’s what “The Writing Room” is all about: the way Quentin escaped into Fillory contrasts, terribly, with what Martin Chatwin was so desperate to flee. Alice’s failure to save Charlie still haunts her, and she wants to help the ghost children escape the horrible loop of Plover’s house.

And Julia, looking subdued in flowy skirts of indeterminate color, looks to a form of penance as an escape from the guilt of what she and Marina did to Quentin, and what happened to Hannah. Richard, in his role as rehab counselor, takes Julia to meet Kira, a brilliant magician in a comatose state who is very much alive inside her mind. She and Julia talk, and trade memories—Julia’s is about Fillory, and Quentin, and hints at a greater reconciliation to come—but Kira wants something more than just to get her complex magical idea out into the world. This is a tricky bit of plot: Kira wants to die, and it’s entirely her choice, but it’s still the second week in a row that the show’s killed off a queer character. That’s hard not to notice. Is Kira’s death about Julia’s redemption, or about her learning to respect someone else’s choices? Julia’s story is in a strange limbo at present, and this seemed a peculiar turn.

Magicians 109 Kira

Effectively spooky though it is, there are a few loose ends in the haunted house section that are still bothering me: How does anyone explain what happened to the poor tour guide? And why you would mention that Professor Sunderland has a PhD in Haunting and then not involve her in trying to help the ghosts that Alice is so desperate to help? You can’t help everyone, as Alice just keeps learning, but that tidbit of info detracts from the lesson—which the show doubles down on when Eliot tears into Alice at the end. Eliot is biting, accurate, and undeniably cruel, but who can blame him? She’s obsessed with helping ghost children who died before any of them were born, but no one has offered the slightest bit of aid to Eliot, who is falling apart in front of them.

In short, everybody saw some terrible shit, and no one really knows what to do about it. But they have the button, and they have a very ballsy traveler who’s entirely certain that he doesn’t go anywhere until he wants to go.

Needless to say, he’s wrong.

Magicians 109 quartet


  • “It’s a manuscript, not a referendum on your character.”
  • The sequence where Penny tries to remember the book, and the scenes he read come to life and change as he narrates, is a nice misdirect for the tone of this episode.
  • “You can’t possibly want to be a dick more than you want to live.”
  • When does Rupert Chatwin show up? Does Jane ever find out the truth of what’s happening to Martin? Will we ever find out if she found out, now that she’s dead?
  • “I’m a supervillain. Now talk.”
  • Penny and Quentin’s combative friendship is extra brilliant this week; they are allies, reluctant as Penny may be about it, but they goad each other in a way that’s mostly for the best. Mostly.

Molly Templeton is really excited about the show going to the Neitherlands next weeks.


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