39 Other Lives: The Magicians, “The Girl Who Told Time”

“The Girl Who Told Time” goes way back in Magicians-land—and moves a lot of things forward. Remember how there were 39 other time loops in which the Brakebills gang faced the Beast and failed? Thirty-nine loops thanks to Jane Chatwin (RIP). And 39 loops in which Julia went to Brakebills. Hedge witch Julia is the wild card that changed everything.

It’s an important reminder.

Fogg: “One thing I’ve learned about you, Miss Wicker, is that you are a searcher.”
Julia: “You don’t know me.”
Fogg: “Thirty-nine times I’ve known you. Which is why I trust that you’ll put aside your fear and self-pity and look for the answers that can save you.”

I don’t know who I feel worst for this week. Fogg, who remembers those other 39 time loops, full of death and grief? Alice 23, shocked to the core by the sight of Quentin, alive? Fen, panicked about losing her child? Or Quentin, who just let go of one version of Alice, only to be faced with another one?

What do we call the scene with Fogg and Julia? A flash-sideways? What a reminder of how her life could have been, and how much she unknowingly lost in this timeline, in which everyone lives—but not without damage. We can only assume that Julia’s discipline is the same, and that it’s relevant, as Fogg spells it out so precisely: “Your discipline is meta-composition. You are a knowledge student. Part psychic, part physical. There really is no branch it doesn’t touch on. The short version: you are drawn, mind and body, to the discovery of magic.”

The difference in Julia’s face, then and now, is almost as drastic as Fogg’s. But Fogg’s faith in her is unshaken, and it means so much. Brakebills didn’t take her, this time, and Quentin’s friends don’t like or trust her. Her relationship with Q is strained. But Fogg knows who she can be—and who she still could be. It counts for a lot.

And then there’s Quentin, who has a different kind of faith when he, tripping balls on Josh’s magical edibles, sees Julia’s shade in another world. So much is packed into this episode that there’s no time to remind us just how rattled Q should be right now. His childhood best friend tossed him at a rabid trickster god without a second thought, yet he opts to help her just as quickly. It’s a reminder of Quentin’s growth: When he sees Julia’s shade, he knows he can help her be herself again. Help her be a person who doesn’t feed her friends to wolves. So he puts whatever anger he has aside and chooses to help.

This kind of choice defines a person as much as his choice to let Alice go does. Q may (understandably) want to spend some of his time drunkenly moping around Fillory, but he’s capable of more. Even he’s starting to realize that. There’s such a dance of friendship and forgiveness happening with Q and Julia, and it plays out beautifully—a plot full of coincidence (Todd!) and choices in equal measure. This part of the story does so many things, from reminding us of all the stories Fogg knows (and mostly isn’t telling) to demonstrating Julia’s control (the grace with which she and Fogg work the Tesla Flexion spell) to, well, making life shitty for Quentin again.

What does it mean that Quentin encounters two different versions of the two most important women in his life? Is it just a reminder that he has some control over who he chooses to be—that there are other outcomes, other ways to hurt more or less? Julia’s shade is so young and scared; Alice 23 is heartbroken, obsessed. Where was she, before she wound up in this tent with other Quentin? What damage will this do to her, when she’s already so tired and sad and traumatized? She knows just enough to help—that shades go to the underworld, that they need to find an ancient one to help them get there—and she desperately needs the time to apologize.

This scene is almost too much about Quentin, but giving Alice 23 that moment is important, and so is Quentin’s response. He can’t change anything, not in his time, and not in Alice 23’s. He can’t even escape seeing versions of Alice that are not the woman he loved. But he can do one little thing:

“I don’t know what the other Quentin thought, but in this world, I love you. No matter what, I love you.”

It’s very cruel of the world to keep throwing not-Alice in his face, but he needed that. Even if it makes him sadder for a while. It’ll help in the end. Maybe having been able to say that to an Alice will make him stronger when niffin-Alice inevitably shows up again, ready to wreak more havoc.

Meanwhile, in Fillory, Eliot is a groomzilla, Josh has to make a like-potion to trick the Fillorians into liking the neurotic High King, and Margo is in a pinch. Three months have passed in Fillory. Three months of Margo stressing about how to fix the fairy situation. Three months of Eliot playing backgammon with Bayler and somehow convincing himself Bayler’s his pal now. Three months of Fen seeing fairies around the castle and thinking she’s hallucinating.

What has poor Fen done to deserve this? She’s freaking out, but she’s still supporting Eliot, telling him it’s her job to be understanding about the third person joining their marriage, that it just means a stronger kingdom. When Margo tells her what she sort of agreed to, Fen has a moment of defiance, but mostly we see panic—and then what looks like a fairy spiriting her away. Can the girl please get a break?

Things are somewhat less fraught with Kady and Penny, though she’s still not sure he needs to be helping her with Reynard. She doesn’t want to owe him, to further complicate their relationship, but Penny has the right idea when he says, “Rapist monsters are a universal problem.” This is the thing everyone kept forgetting—a thing Penny finally understands. Reynard isn’t just Julia’s problem. He’s a huge problem.

Would the library agree? And is this library bad news? The argument about whether there’s some information that’s too powerful to be readily available is kind of a muddle, but it sets Penny up in conflict with his new employers and gives Kady somewhere to aim her ferocious focus. Also, it’s an excuse to bring in an utterly wonderful Marlee Matlin as Harriet, the force behind “Fuzz Beat,” a website that does “serious news and cat videos at the same time.” Except not exactly, because half of the content is encoded knowledge for magicians. (The Magicians: Justifying all our time spent on Buzzfeed in a single scene.)

I have a lot of questions about Harriet, including why she kept Principals of Conjuring Elementals for so long, why she knows about the Poison Room, how she can be so good at magic that she bespells a library card in one flick of her finger, and where she found out about the exact book Kady needs. (I love that Kady knows sign language almost as much as I love how frustrated Penny gets when he can’t understand them.) Did she hex that librarian on Kady’s behalf, or was she after something for herself? Does she split because she thinks the Library will come after her? Does the library come after her? What does magical librarian justice look like?

Obviously the really important question is: What else is in the Poison Room? “There is knowledge behind that door, Penny, that could destroy more than just people,” the main librarian says. “It could destroy worlds.”

Hello, creepy foreshadowing.

MAGICAL TIDBITS

  • “I need a free moment to rub one out in a hot bath before I fucking kill someone.”
  • Margo and Eliot perform so well for an audience that it’s a delight, momentarily, to have Josh around to serve in the audience role. It was Quentin’s role to appreciate them, back in a different era, when they were all so much more innocent. Josh is less into it (“You guys, stop the bit, I’ll go”) but Eliot so wants to keep performing. It’s their comfort zone, his and Margo’s, and you can see them missing it.
  • Eliot! You cannot tell Josh he can shave the nymph of his choice, this is a serious consent issue.
  • Pretty confident the librarian is eyeing Penny with a more than professional interest.
  • What else is Fogg not saying about the other 39 timeloops? He doesn’t volunteer the shade information, but he doesn’t hold back when they ask him for it, either.
  • For the record, there is no better way to end a Magicians episode than that look on Julia’s face and … CUT TO DRAGON.

Molly Templeton is anxiously excited about dragons on a Syfy budget.

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