Bowling in the Underworld: The Magicians, “The Rattening”

If “The Rattening” isn’t a Buffy nod, I don’t know what is. Why rats? Why do only some of the people in Castle Whitespire turn into rats, and not others? What other power is messing with Fillory? I have so many questions, and this is only one of this week’s super-intense, quietly game-changing incidents. Senator Gaines starts to understand the range of his powers, Penny makes a new friend, Reynard shows his hand (or at least part of it), Margo gets blamed for everything, and Julia…

Julia’s confusing me a little bit right now. Just how much does not having a shade change a person? Not so long ago she was saying she’s broken, and now she’s making choices that—on the surface, at least—have no benefit for her.

But maybe they do.

I’m hardly the only person to joke about dragons living in the sewers—all that steam that floats out!—but leave it to The Magicians to make it literal. This dragon is a queen, and a collector, and an impatient, glorious being who hates Millennials. I rather expect she just hates whatever generation is youngest. If this show were set in the ‘90s, she’d be cursing about Gen-Xers. Probably no one should take it personally.

The most important thing the dragon says, though, is not one of her delicious swears, but a hint about how Q can get back to Fillory once he’s given her the button. “The first door remains open, little mammal.” Which is the first door? Not the one the Chatwins found; Fillory is much older than that. And also: Why is Julia concerned about Q getting home, about his friends needing him? Logically, she might’ve argued for him keeping the button for a host of reasons, including just having an escape hatch. But her argument seems emotional, which is odd, given her shadelessness.

Shadelessness, it turns out, is something of a problem in the Underworld as well, though we still don’t know what happens to the shadeless. Everything in this Underworld—which is just where souls hang out for a while, you know, before they go wherever they’re going—is just slightly off, from the introductory video to the bowling alley where Julia’s reunited with her old coven.

Quentin: “Why would anyone want their afterlife to look like a terrible middle school birthday party?”
Julia: “Is this about your incident?”
Q: “I’ve moved on.”
J: “Have you?”

A weirdly corporate Underworld, Powers That Be, missing deities—all of this reminds me very much of the better seasons of Angel, as does the whole question of who you are without your soul/shade (Julia hasn’t turned entirely vicious or killed anyone’s pet fish, but she did kill those trees). The details we see just suggest more layers, more complications, only some of which the show will have time to address. Where are Hades and Persephone? Why are there so many rules here?

And what’s Julia to do when she sees Richard? Real Richard, that is, not Reynard-wearing-Richard’s-face. How does she stay so calm? This is the man she was at least sort of in love with, but it’s also the face of the being who raped her and murdered her friends (who are now hanging out in the Underworld with him). She has to accept all these things, yet still behave normally, get through it, move on with the quest. Is seeing him a good thing or a terrible thing? Would it be harder if she had her shade?

Like I said, so many questions. If Hades and Persephone are missing, who’s running the house full of minor-miracle performing shades? And where are the gods of the Underworld? Given Julia’s discovery—that Persephone and Our Lady Underground are the same—I have a feeling it can’t be anywhere good.

But there’s a little bit of good here, in what’s essentially purgatory. For a very sweet moment, we get to remember Julia how she once was, as Quentin describes her to the miracle-making shade-child. Remember first season Julia? Remember how hard she fought for magic?

The little boy shade thinks he knows who Quentin is describing: the kind of new shade, the one who’s always getting into trouble (with who?) and sneaking into Miss Persephone’s room. But Quentin finds shade-Julia in the hall, because the boy-shade was talking about Alice.

Did anyone see this coming? We’re so far from a place where Julia and Alice are similar, but they were, in some ways: fierce, smart, stubborn, willing to tolerate and even love Quentin, despite his flaws. (“She says he’s a good guy. Stupid sometimes, but good.”) Quentin has probably never thought about this, about the similarities between the most important women in his life. And he’s not likely to think about it now, while he’s facing yet another version of Alice. Her soul, kind of. Maybe the reason why he failed at bringing her back.

Alice’s shade is so calm, so smart, and so different from the Alice we’ve seen recently—the Alices, plural. And something obviously happens with Julia when she sees this girl. There’s such a look on Julia’s face just before she says “You first,” to Quentin. You go through the portal first. Don’t look back. There’s no looking back on the way out of the Underworld, especially when your best friend is throwing away her chance at being whole in order to help you.

How does shadeless Julia make this choice? What might shade-Alice have said to her when Quentin left the room? Would shade-Alice be willing to take shade-Julia’s place without having a very good reason to believe there’s a way to fix everything? Is something in it for Julia—a way to bring Alice back and then get her help? “It’s all going to be ok, Quentin,” shade-Alice says, but how?

(I don’t want Julia to be selfless on Quentin’s behalf. I want Julia to be whole again. But if that’s going to happen, it’s clearly going to happen some other way. Unless doing this selfless thing somehow heals her?)

I was, until this episode, tiring of the Reynard plot; I want him to go away, not hang around teaching Gaines to control people. Gaines, who’s suddenly realizing that he can’t believe anything in his life is “real”—he’s been controlling people, including his wife, whether intentionally or not. “Everyone uses whatever they’ve got, John, and the bad ones don’t hesitate,” sneers Reynard, who continues to offer a master class in abusing one’s privilege.

But then Gaines brings up the women Reynard has killed, because Gaines, out from under Reynard’s thumb, has been listening to women. And Reynard loses his shit:

“Those women were hardly victims. … They were summoning an evil bitch! You looked me up. It says trickster. See, that’s honest. Yes, I fuck with the weak. You know what that does? Improves the herd. I help the same little creatures you want to help. It’s not surprising you’re my son. How else could it be but her? The benevolent Our Lady Underground, oh, it is all about her. Power. Attention. Grinding men and gods into the fucking dirt and then she leaves!”

Now this is interesting. Is Reynard suggesting that it’s OLU’s doing that his son is a do-gooder? Why? How? Is Reynard responsible for her absence? Does he attack the hedgewitches who summon her because he doesn’t want her to come back? Could the show be any more pointed about Reynard as the manifestation of misogyny? Can Gaines, suddenly awakened to his privilege, become a real ally?

Are we really going to tie up all these threads in two more episodes?

Over in the Neitherlands Library, there’s another new character: Sylvia, the sarcastic teen daughter of some totally respectable businessman who just happens to have taught his daughter about dreamception. (Surely his job is entirely above-board.) She’s sarcastic and dry and just curious enough about the Poison Room to help Penny and Kady get in there, maybe. I love her, and Kady’s a fan, too: “Pervy mob girl has a point,” she says, after Sylvia says they can just keep trying, or they can let her help. Danger, whatever: “You’re not responsible for me, k? Free will, I exercise that shit.” There’s not a lot of movement on this front, but with Sylvia around to roll her eyes at Penny, that’s pretty just fine.

Meanwhile, in Fillory, Eliot is happy, which clearly can’t be allowed to last long. I don’t understand what any of our rulers are wearing at the moment, as someone clearly wrapped Margo in pink floof and then tangled her in some kind of magical cat’s cradle, and it looks uncomfortable. Still not as uncomfortable as the moment when Eliot—having finally reached a breaking point due to the absence of his wife and his fiance being turned into a rat along with much of the castle—“trufies” the three who are left.

No one is innocent (damn, these councilors keep busy), and Margo, trying so hard not to say anything, is trapped. “I made a deal with the fairies and I know where Fen is.”

Here’s the thing, though: Eliot says Margo started this when she declared war, and to a point that’s true. She started some of the problems. She did not, however, crap in the Wellspring, nor build Fillory’s clearly problematic system of government. She screwed up for sure—you’d think a girl who’s read the Fillory books would have also read enough fairy tales to know that deals with fairies rarely work out for the humans—but there’s ever so much else going on here. Including whatever mysterious factor the fairy ambassador is referring to:

Fairy ambassador: “I take it back. You’re not entirely simpleminded. There’s another power which you made the mistake of overlooking.”
Margo: “You wanna be specific, or not?”
Fairy ambassador: “A power without logic. A power that acts not for gain, but solely because it can. That’s the true danger. Face that, or face the end of your kingdom.”

Chaos? Nature? Are disappearing blondes (including palominos) the Fillorian version of a natural disaster?

At least Margo gets the nicest room in the dungeon. And Eliot, trying to save every rattened person himself, gets a rude awakening when Josh suggests “Get you some delegates, son!” Sure, maybe Josh just invented democracy. But Fillory doesn’t want it.

Todd: “I thought you were off being, like, the High King of Fillory?”
Eliot: “I am. I was. I think I just got kicked out.”

We’ve got two episodes to get all three High Kings and Queens back on their thrones, Reynard dealt with, magic fixed, and maybe Alice returned. And the dragon’s got the button.

This should be interesting.

MAGICAL TIDBITS

  • “I’d leave … money?” Does Julia not know how the tooth fairy works?
  • “I kind of have a thing about splitting up in houses full of creepy kids.”
  • Does Julia pocket that Our Lady Underground coin?
  • SPHINCTER MAGIC. Yes, I believe that would be “an exceedingly difficult way to do magic.”
  • Two Arrowverse casting crossovers this hour: Graeme McComb, aka young Victor Stein on Legends of Tomorrow, as the Concierge, and Liam Hughes, who played young Barry Allen in “Duet,” as the kid shade.
  • Inceptisex. Insextion. Intercepticourse.
  • “I’m gonna hate this.” “You hate everything. It’s why I like you.” It’s very hard not to quote every one of Sylvia’s lines. Can we keep her?

Molly Templeton can’t decide whether it’s a good or bad idea to reread the Magicians books in between seasons.

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