“Consequences of Advanced Spellcasting” was the title of the third episode of The Magicians, but could’ve worked as well for this one. “Thirty-Nine Graves” is full of reveals, emotional and magical fallout, and one much-needed reunion.
Also, no one is taking care of Eliot. Still.
Surprisingly, Julia’s story started out on a weak note, as she and Kady followed Our Lady Underground’s directions, in search of a man who can show them “the way.” It’s familiar territory: We’ve been warned off dangerous magic before; Julia and Kady have already gone to sketchy locations seeking magic; Arturo del Puerto doesn’t have a lot to work with to make his threshold guardian character stand out. But when he pushes Julia, she snaps back into determined, ambitious, pre-rehab mode, but with new goals. She’s trying to reach something higher.
At Brakebills, a multidirectional emotional trainwreck has everyone sulking forcefully, clutching a flask, staring into the distance, or all of the above—except Penny, who neatly sums up their moping-before-impending-doom situation: “You people need to stow your shit.”
“You are the least crazy. Tell me what’s going on,” he says to Alice a few minutes later. She’s drinking alone in her room, which leads to Penny’s very apt followup question: “What did Quentin do?” It’s good that the show fit in that awkward hug between Alice and Penny when they were practicing battle magic, as it set the tone for the greater closeness between them here. Arjun Gupta is even better than usual, showing Penny’s secret soft side, which only appears when someone else really needs it (see also: Kady). He has a scrappy, kinetic grace as he tells Alice that there are lots of ways to get through the next hour. Including one that Quentin might overhear from the hallway.
There are a lot of satisfying scenes in this show, but Alice snapping at Quentin, “You don’t get to shame me!” is among the best. Quentin is desperate to blame everyone but himself for his latest poor choices, which builds the tension that’s not likely to help them on their impending adventure to the Neitherlands. Not that Quentin sees much of the fountain world: the minute they arrive, Eve and her gang show up, and Q falls right back through the fountain to Earth. To Q’s credit, he gets proactive with his frustration, dosing Dean Fogg with a truth serum to get some answers.
A Q&A session where someone tells the main character everything that’s been going on often seems like a lazy shortcut, but this conversation does something clever: It establishes that multiple versions of The Magicians‘ narrative—say, the book and the show—can exist within the story’s world. In the novel, Quentin finds out much later that Jane Chatwin was messing with time, looping things over and over again in an attempt to destroy the Beast. It’s almost an afterthought: By the by, you previously tried this several dozen times! Now, Quentin heads into the final confrontation with the knowledge that Jane has been sending them through timeloops, changing something each time. With this clearly established, it seems clear that what happened in the books—close to this version, but a little bit different—can be read as one of the other attempts.
This is the fortieth try, and Jane is no longer around to hit the reset button. It’s now or never—which it always has been, for Quentin and company, because as far as this version of themselves knew, they’ve always only had one chance. (Does this take away some of the tension? Does it make it seem like victory is inevitable? It’s hard for me as a book reader to judge this, but I’m curious how it feels for those who are new to the story.)
It seems a teensy bit absurd that it took Jane forty tries to consider not sending Julia to Brakebills, but that turns out to be this timeloop’s variable: Julia’s fight for magic outside the system. When Quentin goes to tell her this, he finds her in a haze of happiness after the Free Traders’ successful summoning of Our Lady Underground, who fixed all their problems and sent them all off on missions. (Is anyone else skeptical? No? Just me?) If Julia is the key, what does that mean for Quentin and his place in the narrative? The scene where they apologize to each other is the quietest in the hour, but maybe the most important, given how much of Quentin’s story seems to be about truly recognizing other people as, well, people. Will he have to accept that his own story is just part of Julia’s?
While they plot how to get to Fillory, Eliot continues his downward spiral, getting the whole gang booted from the library, which seemed to be the only safe place in the Neitherlands. Quentin and Alice have a lot of heartache, but Eliot’s pain is much, much worse, and frankly I’m starting to get frustrated with Margo’s frustration with him. Has no one really talked to him? Do we realize just killing the person you thought was your boyfriend isn’t really “snap out of it” territory, even if you think you might die next week? Or today?
Maybe not today, given the appearance of Josh Hoberman, a book character whose backstory is rejiggered a little bit to explain the missing third-year class. I have never shouted “Josh!” with such glee as I did when he turned up, quoting the Terminator and leading them to safety. Josh’s Neitherlands lair comes fully equipped with quite a bit of exposition, pizza-flavored plums—and psychedelic carrots, which are not the best thing to have on hand when your party includes a dramatically self-destructing intoxicant aficionado.
So much happens in the last few minutes of “Thirty-Nine Graves” that it’s easy to skim over the little character moments that make this episode: Alice wrestling with the way she feels bad for Quentin and hates him all at once; Penny, still trying to control his own powers, telling Alice to stop undermining hers; Eliot risking everyone’s life in a moment of deeply terrible judgment that makes me wonder why they don’t dump him in Fogg’s office, or get him some magical handcuffs or something until this loop is played out. I love Eliot and want him to suffer less, but does he have to be there? Could he just get a hot cocoa and wait for them at home? What happens now that Margo’s saved his life by taking someone else’s? (Margo is not fucking around at all, which brings her more and more into alignment with her book self.) And while I’m asking a lot of questions, when did Penny learn Sectumsempra?
While everything is going bloodily to hell in the Neitherlands, Julia and Quentin find their own way to Fillory, which involves time travel and WWII, just for fun. Despite the air raid sirens, this is the cheeries part of the episode, and that has everything to do with Jason Ralph and Stella Maeve, who subtly, perfectly display Julia and Quentin’s delight at their re-established friendship. Both of them relax, drop their shoulders, smile a different smile, and allow themselves to forget for a few minutes that Quentin, if not both of them, face imminent death. Their battles have shifted, but they always had Fillory, and now they’re teamed up to really, really find it. There’s nothing else that could have distracted Quentin from Alice (not to mention that he seems pretty bad at having both a lover and friends); there was no better time for Julia to join Quentin than when she’d found her own strength.
Probably all of this will go to hell in the finale, but at least they got that one great Fillorian view, right?
SO MANY GOOD LINES
- “Why do you all look like you did crime last night?”
- “Dionysus! You bang a lot of undergrads with that one?” (Since when is Julia interested in Richard? Their hookup came out of nowhere and seems contrived to create some sort of later fallout. I hope I’m wrong about that.)
- “People don’t get to be mad at me because I had sex with them.”
- “Actually, it’s Margo,” says MarJanet, and the librarian just replies, “This time,” and my week is made, because I love book-Janet so much—and this really confirms the notion of the book-narrative as one of the other timeloops.
Molly Templeton isn’t sure how she feels about something that looks like fruit but taste like pizza.