I can’t even tell you how many feelings I had to eat in order to fortify myself to think about “Divine Elimination.” These are dark times, my friends. How much control does Julia really have over the Beast? How many people have to get hurt while she and Team Fillory power-struggle about which enemy should die first? How much chocolate am I going to cry into over the course of this season?
But before the true darkness, a little regicidal levity.
The “previously on” is deeply unsubtle: Do you know what a niffin is? Do you? Because this will be on the test.
Team Fillory are back in Castle Whitespire, where Eliot is—rightly—somewhat proud of himself, though less about his agricultural conquests than about having had the throne room tidied up. He’s also a little hurt about all that transpired back on Earth, and possibly slightly jealous that he doesn’t have a cacodemon. Hurting Eliot is Eliot at his sarcastic best, complaining that “Rhinemann Ultra” sounds like a not-so-great beer, and also could they maybe take five seconds to revel in their majesty. “Be regal miscreants.”
Or be murderous miscreants. All it took to spring the Beast’s curse, apparently, was for these newbie royals to plunk their Earthly bums down on the thrones. The curse brings out the worst in everyone, especially Margo, whose tactless meanness goes well beyond 11—along with her practicality. Margo the Destroyer, indeed. Penny’s on defense with an assist from Fen, who observes that curses usually just need to run their course. This course being death, that’s a little tricky, but Penny figures out a workaround, because Penny is smart and resourceful and the show would like us to remember this.
I choose to believe this sequence is here to remind of Penny’s skillset (and Fen’s resilience), because otherwise it just seems like a weird sort of comic relief (not that there’s anything wrong with that) en route to ridding Margo and Penny of their cacodemons. (Alice the soft-hearted let hers out.) It’s also a reminder of the Beast’s power: He set that curse who knows how long ago, and it’s so effective that when Margo’s the last woman standing, she kills herself. Yikes.
All that power is not enough to impress Marina, who’s still questioning Julia’s taste in teammates. She doesn’t believe that Julia found the singing mage in Fillory, which is kind of a bummer: I would love to see Marina handle the notion that a storybook magical land is real. She’s so Team Practical that of course she thinks to ask Martin what happens after they deal with Reynard.
His answer is less than satisfying. But the Beast has no interest in her except as bait. And she’s such excellent bait! I love Kacey Rohl’s eyerolling first attempt to summon Our Lady Underground, but the switch that flips when Julia says, “Act”—that’s something else. I can absolutely believe that something—anything—would be listening.
This brings us (again) to the catch in Julia’s bond with Martin: He has to help her, but he doesn’t have to do what she says, especially if what he does serves her ultimate purpose. Which it does, here, though not quite in the way Julia had planned. For a long, long scene that I could barely watch, we’re trapped with Marina, at the whim of a demented demigod. Mackenzie Astin’s Reynard is all the more horrible because he looks so unremarkable. Marina’s attempts at glibness, her fight to maintain her calm and dignity in a scene straight out of a horror movie, just breaks my heart. “You’re trying to hurt my feelings and the best you can come up with is Why can’t you find a man?”
Some of Marina’s jabs land, like the notion that back in godland Reynard barely ranks, but it doesn’t matter. (Of course Marina had a cat. I cannot think about that cat.) Eventually, Martin and Julia break past Marina’s wards, just in time for everything to go to shit on two worlds.
The timing of this is absurd, but it feels unavoidable. On Fillory, Quentin was making terrible metaphors about dicks, trying to demonstrate a point about distracting the Beast; on Earth, the overcompensating godling Reynard was about to eat another woman. Our kings and queens don’t trust Julia, and they don’t understand that they’re picking a fight they could postpone: Beastly Martin can’t even come after them right now! But they’re self-centered and scared and they fuck everything up by bringing the Beast to them. With Julia, who Quentin saves from the blast radius of Alice’s spell. Everyone else can be furious at her; she’s still Q’s oldest friend. That connection still matters, at least for now.
For all the fuckups, the planning scene with Team Fillory is maybe the most practical and together they’ve ever been. And the scene with Quentin and Alice that follows their failed Beast-killing attempt is the most honest these two have figured out how to be: Quentin trying to lighten the moment, to distract Alice, only to turn everything around and make it about his feelings. “You can’t trap me in here and expect me to deal with all this emotional shit when all I can handle right now is a goddamn ice cream sundae!” Alice snaps, in a moment of glorious rage.
And Quentin, finally, gets it. When he says that he’s growing, that’s one thing. It’s another when he demonstrates it by talking about ice cream instead of how much he wants to win her back. Ice cream! That’s your breakthrough topic, kids. Ice cream sundaes. With gummi bears. Gross.
But not as gross as Ember leaving his godly floater in the Wellspring. The so-called gods of Fillory are really into bodily function jokes, which finally breaks Martin Chatwin’s smooth British exterior. (Of course Quentin, lover of all things Fillorian, thinks about how that can’t be good for the world.)
The tone of the second half of this episode—everyone scattered, Ember being useless, Julia taking out her anger on Penny—is frantic, breathless, and final. The third time is the charm, even (especially?) in Fillory. After everything, this is what it comes down to: Alice versus the Beast. Again.
And finally, Alice is powerful enough. Too powerful, even. She tears off the little indicator of how much juice she’s got left, and all she has is herself and the choice she makes. She’s the only one who can win, and I hate that she’s the only one who can win, because Alice deserves more life than this. When she winds up her spell—too far, too much—she turns into something else, but with enough of herself left to know that she has a purpose: tearing Martin Chatwin apart. Olivia Taylor-Dudley was perfectly cast for this: she appears so good, so harmless, but she has all that terrible, transformative power tucked away. It burns her up, then sparks along her niffin-y cheekbones, and her expression is something we’ve just seen once before: When cursed Queen Alice wanted to kill everyone.
There’s no quick fix for niffinhood, though. When Quentin whispers “Quentin says go free,” is he just talking to his cacodemon, or is he also talking to what’s left of Alice?
This is where we end, in an episode that feels like the true ending of season one, the cliffhanger/heartbreaker book readers knew was coming. You can’t escape what happens to Alice; to change that would be ducking the darkest, ugliest parts at the heart of this story. And here, in the show, it’s even darker: It’s not just that the most powerful woman sacrifices herself to save her ex and her friends. It’s that what’s left of her is destroyed by the man who loves her as best as he knows how.
Suddenly, Eliot and Quentin have something terrible in common. At the end, Eliot takes Margo’s hands as her chin wavers in fear and sadness: these two have each other, still. Quentin has a life-threatening injury and a crushing sense of guilt. And Julia has nothing. Back in the Brooklyn, Marina is dead, and Reynard and the knife are gone. Reynard knows Julia was involved in calling him. What’s to stop him from coming back?
I don’t know. I think I need more chocolate.
- Nothing is funny and everything hurts, but Margo going full Conan was a violent delight.
- There’s a mapmaker? This seems like it might be useful, for problems cartographical in nature.
- “Just imagine dicks, ok? With one dick you’re just jerking yourself off but with three dicks suddenly you’ve got six people having sex.” Even Quentin’s imaginary sex math is so straight.
- “If those horses can get us there before the Beast I’ll gladly fuck them both.”
- Where even is Penny, at this point? Julia taking out her anger on him and his busted hands is understandable, but such a dick move.
- “He kicked us out before we could even ask for the jizz.” PLEASE LET THIS BE THE LAST WE HEAR ON THIS TOPIC.
Molly Templeton is going to go watch The 100 to cleanse her palate from all this sadness.