For all that The Magicians has (most successfully) veered away from the books it’s based on, this week is an absolute treat for book fans. From Alice’s parents to the Neitherlands, “Homecoming” is full of new places, new faces, and one delicious little twist.
Spoilers in the library!
Penny, last seen touching the magic button, appears swimming up out of a fountain (he’s magically dry the minute he climbs out; his shirt, naturally, is only half buttoned). He’s obviously somewhere weird, a fact the show oversells with endless skewed camera angles. The locals seem friendly enough until they hear about the button, at which point Penny finds himself on the run and I want to remind him never to show his magical toys to strangers. He travels away, only to finds himself at another fountain. Welcome to the Neitherlands, kid: it’s fountains all the way down. Or across. Or whichever.
It’s a good thing Penny already has some practice appearing in Quentin’s dreams. I loved the latest scenes from Quentin’s subconscious, from Penny’s nerd-mocking glee to cosplaying Julia and Alice shutting Quentin down for getting in the way of the dream passing the Bechdel test. Quentin’s dreamscape says more than Q ever says about himself: “I’m a feminist!” he protests, as his dreamgirls roll their eyes. The scene neatly foreshadows Q and Alice’s struggles, later in the episode, when they’ve gotten a sex-based spell that will help lead Penny back to the Earth fountain. The spell requires them to finish together, and when Alice is skeptical, Quentin goes on the defense. He doesn’t think of whether he’s let Alice down; he thinks only of whether his manhood has been impugned. And this isn’t the least bit surprising, because we already saw that mutual satisfaction is not what’s on Quentin’s mind.
That doesn’t make him a terrible person; it just makes him a pretty average twentysomething dude. The Magicians finds a clever way to illustrate that using all the things we know about Quentin, girls, and his geeky obsessions—and, as ever, Penny’s on hand to comment. And to ask for help, much as he hates to do it. Time is passing much faster in the real world than it is in the Neitherlands, and our boy needs out.
This episode is all about asking for help, and it’s deeply sympathetic to how difficult that seemingly simple thing can be. Reluctantly, Alice turns to the people she least wants to ask for anything: her parents, introduced in all their toga-sex-party gloriousness. Her dad floats around in a cloud of historical magic; her mom insists on being called Stephanie and can deftly manipulate Alice even while naked in the bath (sorry, Alice’s dad: the tepidarium). You can see exactly why Alice is the way she is, as she bounces between her brilliant, bonkers parents, and to Quentin’s credit, he sees it too. (He still can’t resist making a crack about being attracted to damaged chicks.) She was basically raised by magical sex wolves. It would do a number on you. But Alice eventually gets the help she needs: She and Quentin meet with her parents’ other partner, Joe, a traveler from another world who gives them the spell they need to light a magical beacon for Penny. The fact that it needs to be lit with simultaneous orgasm is just a fun little wrinkle.
In Brooklyn, Julia’s hanging out online with a whole network of hedge witches via the magical message board Free Trader Beowulf (book shoutout!). Richard brings the rest of the FTB gang in for a meeting in Julia’s apartment, and this is where certain fans of certain characters start to vibrate with excitement, because Asmodeus is going to show up.
And she turns out to be Kady.
I didn’t see this coming, though I probably should have: Kady obviously had other contacts outside Brakebills, and she had to come back into play somehow. It’s a minor twist, but a perfect one, as Asmodeus is a great character and I for one didn’t want to see Kady out of the picture too soon. Kady and Julia stare awkwardly at each other for a bit, but Julia has learned a few things about forgiveness and guilt in rehab. Magically, they’re great together, as they should be: they’re more alike than they’d ever admit, bruised by magical letdowns and suffering from deep betrayals. Recognizing each other’s prickliness lets them take the edges off. Plus, they’ve got bigger things to worry about when Richard sends time spinning momentarily backwards. He’s been helping other people; now he wants to help himself. By summoning a god. Surely that will go swimmingly.
While all this plot frolics through the episode, poking characters into ever more vulnerable states, Margo has arrived back on campus. Eliot—whose limp hair is a barometer for his emotional disarray—is apparently not really saying much even to her, being too busy with pills of various colors. The two of them do an awkward little dance of friendship through their scenes, which involve a magic/sex STD comparison that’s just a little too on the nose, and also result in them discovering the Margolem, created by an ex who couldn’t let Margo go. Watching Summer Bishil smile slyly at herself is a delight, but it’s hard to take my eyes off Eliot, who radiates hurt and won’t ask for any help, even when it’s offered.
In the Neitherlands, Penny falls through a book return chute into one of fiction’s great libraries, where a librarian with amazing pants calls him William—obviously too boring a name for our bare-chested friend—and shows him a shelf of books. One of his friends’ names is on each of them (notably, Eliot has two volumes already), though the librarian warns Penny off reading his own book (“People who read their books often discover they don’t like the main character, and are rarely happy with how it ends.”). Martin Chatwin’s book is also there, and before Penny can steal it, the librarian neatly undermines his plans, tells him what he was going to do, and teleports him back outside, with a tantalizing fistful of pages.
Quentin could use a librarian like this in his life.
Penny doesn’t have to ask for help; the librarian streamlines everything, giving him what he would have tried to take. But everyone has to ask, or give, and is changed by it. Quentin and Alice move from “you didn’t tell me”/”you should’ve noticed” to “I should’ve asked”/”I should have paid attention,” revealing more about their feelings (and their hangups) along the way. Alice, asking her mother for help, transforms temporarily into the daughter her mother wants her to be. Penny asks Quentin for help almost as often as he makes fun of him, and that friction builds their relationship whether they like it or not.
And Eliot tries to ask. He tries, and becomes this week’s poster child for how magic is as likely to screw something up as it is to fix it. The Margolem has no help for him. Everyone’s pain is rising to the surface, his most of all. It’ll be handy when they next face the Beast, but for the moment, it just sucks.
- “If you would just shut up for two seconds, this sex dream would pass the Bechdel test, Quentin.”
- “The one time I need you to know this Comic Con shit!”
- “The fact that you could want to have sex with anyone after living in this house is pretty impressive.”
- “Shit like this is why people hate librarians.” I don’t know who these “people” who hate librarians are, but I’ll forgive Penny just about anything: that’s how good Arjun Gupta is in this role. It often requires him to be alone in scenes, and he’s brilliant at slightly shifting the way Penny takes up space, reflecting his discomfort or confidence. Also, he mutters to himself gloriously
- “Life is a unicorn shitting rainbows of candy.” Oh, Eliot.
- “You haven’t even touched your penis.”
- Alice’s parents’ house, like seemingly every fancy house in a show filmed in Canada, seems to be Harrison Wells’ house from The Flash, which is also a house that appears in the first season of The X-Files.
- Anyone else have a sneaking suspicion that golem is going to be more trouble that it seems?