“Six Short Stories About Magic”
February 28, 2018
The Magicians, never underestimate how they are going to deliver an episode to you or how they are going to make you feel all the goddamn feelings all the time. All the while feeding you Grade A+ television in ways and set ups you’ve never thought about before, but once you’ve seen it, you think, how can I ever live without with this show?!?
If “A Life in the Day” is the most emotionally moving thing you will see this year, “Six Short Stories About Magic” is hands down, the boldest hour of storytelling you will see this year. Its episodes like tonight, why its a no-brainer that Syfy renewed the show for a Season 4 earlier this week.
Our deep dive recap and review (spoilers, so many spoilers) begins … after the jump!
This episode is done vignette style, each mini story told from a specific character’s points of view … with certain storylines increasingly overlapping as the episode progressed to its end. Thus, I will recap the episode vignette style and hopefully tie everything up together by the time we are finished.
Penny starts us off on tonight’s adventure. This is a practical decision. Due to his Traveler skills, he is the necessary glue that binds so many of the characters (and their storylines) together. Like the master of ceremonies directing your attention in a Three Ring Circus, Penny helps to direct the viewers’ attention to the thing we’re supposed to be paying attention to at any given time. Anyway …
We open on Penny being spit out in the Underworld Branch of the Library of the Neitherlands. Careful to avoid detection by any workers (remember, he’s a wanted man by the Underworld Branch as he owes them a Billion Years of employment), he escapes the Branch building and wanders into the Underworld proper which, due to the loss of magic, is functioning as a sad, colorless refugee camp (not that the Underworld is not already sad to begin with but now its … extra sad).
Not really sure what he is witnessing, Penny flags down an honest to god Underworld Park Ranger, who, for a small bribe, is willing to help Penny find Benedict. What do you bribe dead people with? Game of Thrones information! Which totally makes sense. Quick cut to Penny bullshitting his way through a version of the “Throne … Game” to a surprisingly large gathering of the dead — HBO is missing out on the Underworld Subscriber base. Satisfied with Penny’s nonsensical explanations of GOT (“that’s the exact kind of twist you expect from that show” **Very Meta The Magicians, Very Meta. I appreciate you**), Underworld Park Ranger (William Vaughan) gives him the info he seeks.
Cut to Benedict, hiding out in a refugee tent, refusing to see anyone because he’s dead and really sad about it. That is, until he hears its Penny. Uncomfortable hugs ensue (you’ll recall Benedict’s super emotional response on The Muntjac at hearing Penny died – he really thinks they’re besties). When Penny asks (almost immediately) after the Fourth (Depression Monster) Key and its location post-Benedict death, Benedict loses some of his joy because he senses that maybe Penny’s besties affections aren’t entirely sincere. Quickly recovering, he tells Penny the Underworld Branch has it so, you know, its all futile and maybe Penny should just move in to Benedict’s refugee tent and they can be totes happy together for eternity, mmm kay? Not okay, says Penny, he can’t give up on all of magic and anyway, he can (reluctantly) get back into the Underworld Branch. Okay, Benedict says, I’ll go with you then!!
Promising to come back for Benedict after he finds “someone else,” Penny completely blows him off and heads back to the Underworld Branch … which is where he runs into Sylvia (Roan Curtis, returning to the role)! [Backstory Note: You’ll recall Sylvia was formerly Penny’s supervisor back during his living employment with the Library. She quickly turned into his co-conspirator to try and break into the forbidden Poison Room of the Library, which housed the Life Books of his and his friends (which the Library didn’t want them to have access to). She’s also the one who died back in the Poison Room when they finally tried their book jail break (the exposure in the Poison Room is also what led to Penny’s Mega Cancer).]
Penny tells he’s very sorry for leaving her to die in the Poison Room and while she says she is totes cool with the whole thing, Penny tells her is mad at how it played out. Anyway, Sylvia knew Penny would be there because she read it … on this sheet of paper she’s holding … which is a prognostication of the future. It’s all very confusing, but Sylvia assures him, there is one person in the Underworld Branch that can help.him.out.
The pair walk through the Underworld Branch, following a length of thick knotted rope, making their way towards this mysterious writer of futures.
[Note: The rope running down the middle of the hallway immediately made me think of the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. In the Myth, Theseus must travel to the heart of a vast Labyrinth to slew a Minotaur (half man, half bull creature). Many had tried this before but, getting hopelessly lost in the maze, no one ever made it out alive. Ariadne, daughter of King Minos, having fallen in love with Theseus, gives him a ball of thread to use to find his way out of the Labyrinth. After slewing (and decapitating) the Minotaur at the heart of Labyrinth, Theseus uses the thread to successfully find his way out. As Greek Myths often go, Theseus and Ariadne didn’t wind up together in the end, but at least, hey, the thread was a neat trick!]
Arriving at double doors at the end of the long hallway, Penny and Sylvia enter to find … an old woman, faced away from them, writing furiously at an old fashioned writing desk. Nothing else in the room. Meet Cassandra. As she turns her face to the visitors, we see its a very aged Alice … which, also confuses Penny, but that will have to wait because “Cassandra” lets out a piercing scream. Like, an “all the murderers in the world are coming after to you” level scream. Commercials.
When we return, “Cassandra” is still screaming. Its intense, guys. Also, side note, that thick rope we followed down the hallway, is actually Cassandra’s hair in a super long, braid. Girlfriend has been here a while. Penny can’t get over how she looks just like his friend who also happens to be alive and not, last time he checked, an old woman in a room in the Underworld Branch of the Library writing books on the future. “Make him go away,” Cassandra urgently whispers to Sylvia but she explains that Penny needs her help.
Why the screaming? Sylvia explains to Penny that Cassandra doesn’t like to see anyone she is writing about and, as Penny and his friends are on a quest to bring back magic, she’s been pretty busy writing about them.
And yes, she is the one who writes all the books of people’s lives that we’ve previously explored on this show. She’s been here thousands of years, according to Sylvia. A jilted ex-lover (of the god variety) cursed Cassandra with the power of magical sight.
[Note: You may know this story – its the one about the god Apollo who, in a bid to woo her, gives a mortal, Cassandra, the power of sight (prophecy). When Cassandra refuses his advances, he changes the gift to a curse (romantically, some versions of the story have him bestowing the curse by spitting in her mouth during a kiss) by making it so no one will ever believe her prophecies (even though they are all true). In several tellings, her father, a King of Troy, locks her up for her supposed “madness” of “untrue” fortune telling and has Cassandra’s overseer report all of her prophecies to him though, again, not believed. She is driven mad by not being believed; she even predicts the Trojan War and the downfall of Troy for goodness sakes but nothing. She lives kind of a miserable life, including being raped in a temple. Eventually, King Agamemnon of Mycenae takes her as a concubine but his wife and her lover eventually kill Agamemnon and Cassandra. In Summary: Power of sight but never believed; madness, misery then death. Bleak.]
The Library, discovering her gift, took her in and, although she could only write 1 book at a time, the Librarians “industrialized her thing” and voila … multiple books could now be written simultaneously. But, without magic, they’re back to just “One Book at a Time, Cassandra.” Sylvia runs her pages to the Bookwyrm (who, presumably spits them back to the Library where they are assembled in book form?) and that’s the process. however, when she saw penny’s name, she decided to intercede … mainly because she read that she does. Timey Whimey indeed.
Penny asks, reasonably I think, if they are supposed to just wait around for her to write about the lost Key … which is when a still annoyed and panic stricken looking Cassandra tosses a crumpled page towards them. A sex scene! Featuring Quentin and Poppy! Not relevant to Penny’s urgent quest but …
Post-Coital Quentin is back to panicking about the quest and how he feels wholly unable and unequipped to be the Hero the story demands. He doesn’t see how Harriet thinks her plan can work. He explains his reasoning — a Quest is supposed to change the Quester; that the person who “begins” isn’t supposed to be able to finish it without undergoing a change.
[Note: If you’re not familiar, Quentin is referring to an important stage in one of my most favorite things to read and blog about in well done shows, “The Hero’s Journey.”
A long used narrative and literary device, “The Hero’s Journey” or “monomyth” was modernized by Joseph Campbell in his famous book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, and refers to the process the Hero of a story will typically go through in order to come out enriched and/or victorious on the other side of the thing. I am not going to explain the whole thing here but specifically, Quentin is referring to the part of the Hero’s Journey where he is transformed, his apotheosis; the part of the story where the Hero has finally earned the knowledge or power needed to get on to finishing the really hard part of the Quest. For Quentin, the Quest cannot be fulfilled without this step.]
Poppy, for her part, admits to being in this for completely self-interested reasons (wants magic back) and posits that maybe Q doesn’t need to change who he is to become a Hero for the story. No, perhaps, the catch is that he’s supposed to stay exactly who he is?!? Feeling like she made her point (Q doesn’t visibly seem to agree), Poppy (clad only in bedshirt) heads into the hallway and runs right into Alice but no worries, Alice is much less concerned with who Q sleeps with than with his getting killed.
Alice begins to pepper Poppy with detailed questions on their plan to rob the Library, use Mirror Bridges to access the Satellite Branch of the Library, and how, if the metamath is off, even a bit, Victoria (the hedge witch who will be casting the Mirror Bridge spell) will die and everyone will be maybe cast into space. Alice knows all about the physics of Mirror Bridges from her time as a
niffin sociopathic energy monster so, believe her when she speaks.
[Note: This is a nice nod to the Books (and Julia’s experience as a Brakebills outcast), which talk about Mirror Bridges a decent amount as the way Hedge Witch Safe Houses connect themselves. Think … instant portals between places but ones that can have horrible and deadly consequences if the spells are off even a bit.]
Quickcut to Victoria meeting with Kady, Poppy, Q and Harriet and essentially she is all, “fuck no. Alice has raised some good points here and so, unless you can get her to confirm your math – find someone else. Peace out.” Kady has asked already and Alice said she on’t help with math. Victoria storms out and Harriet signs that she’ll go speak to her. Alone, Poppy presses Kady on what Harriet’s goal is; if they ae risking their lives, the should know what Harriet wants out of this (presuming she’s not after the lost Key).
Kady explains that, according to Harriet, the Library is in possession of a MASSIVE battery, the Alexandria Cell, one that was infused with the magical power of Librarians from Ancient Egypt. Harriet says she has seen Librarians doing magic, “big magic,” on Earth, ergo, the Library HAS the battery. And, if they could get it, it could be a game changer while magic remains inert.
The Cottage. Poppy has managed to steal all of Alice’s Niffin Notes on Mirror Bridges so, they should be able to verify the math without her active help. That Poppy — woman of questionable ethics, indeed. Q’s reaction that this is not a good idea is probably correct but too late because …
We cut to Victoria slicing open her arm and triggering the Mirror Bridge. As they step through, the 2 sides of the portal are connected by a small foot bridge with just black abyss all around. Victoria explains she is staying inside the portal “to feed the sigils” (her blood if that wasn’t clear) while the rest of the gang steps through to a bathroom in the Library Satellite Branch.
Once through to the other side, Harriet signs explicit turn by turn instructions on how to get to the book chute. “Have you been here before,” Quentin asks? “Once … twice,” Harriet meekly answers. Oh, there is something going on here with her, huh?
Q and Poppy head off to the Book Chute and the Bookwyrm’s hidey-hole. Despite not having any time, Poppy, with childlike glee, can’t help but say hello to the BookWyrm Dragon in the chute, “Hellllo.” Its a cute moment for a character that has been rather hard to root for thus far. Anyway, there nothing yet from Penny and according to Poppy, they need to give up and bounce with a quickness. Kady and Harriet on our their own trip, she says and by the by, nothing here is worth Victoria’s life. Her position would be more sympathetic if even an ounce of me thought she really cared about Victoria’s life any further than necessary to see she makes it home safe.
They turn to leave, until Alice rounds the corner and now Q doesn’t know what to do. Poppy does and she leaves both of them behind. This is Poppy’s Story still so we follow her back through the Mirror Bridge where, despite Poppy’s urging, Victoria refuses to leave the others behind. Poppy is all, “peace out snitches” and gone.
Thus ends Poppy’s Story. (Victoria by the way? Not Looking Good. At all!)
When we return, our MC is catching us up, Quentin is about to leave without Penny and Alice is mysteriously in the Satellite Branch and Cassandra? Not providing useful info. “Alice, if you’re in there, please, where is the key,” Penny pleads to Cassandra. He gets another crumpled paper for his troubles.
We pick up Alice’s story on the second floor of the Cottage where she talked to Poppy about impending death via bad metamath. Cut to …
… the conversation Kady alluded to earlier wherein she and Harriet asked Alice for help with metamath seeing as she’s made it clear their current plan will go tits up. Alice reconfirms that their math won’t work and that she did the right thing saying something to Poppy about it. Should she have let them “walk off into deep space”? Harriet asks if Alice has ever been to the Library (“once,” she replies) and then launches into a diatribe about how the idea sounds great, the collection and safekeeping of all knowledge BUT safekeeping from who, Kady reports her as signing. “Whom,” Alice says (like a real jerk) and Harriet replies, I said, “whoooom” which is so funny.
I Heart Marlee Matlin so much – she should be in all the things.
Anyway, Harriet can’t get past how the Library acts sole arbiter of who gets access to its accumulated knowledge and who doesn’t. But Alice does’t think all of that knowledge should be broken open for anyone to get. An impasse but even with the offered boon of the Alexandria Cell, Alice’s decision remains final … she’s not willing to risk lives for power that maybe, no one should have, she reasons. “No, thank you.”
Sometime later, as Alice enjoys some of the good brown liquid, Fen drunkenly busts through the Grandfather Clock and stumbles to the floor. “Can I have one of those,” she asks?” Sometime later and Fen is drunker and talking about her tail, and how she needed some time away from the “ball and cock.” Ball and chain, Alice asks? “No, that doesn’t sound right” Fen confirms. Alice tries to commiserate talking about how she lost all of her knowledge and Fen, even in her inebriated state, knows that’s fucked up. She calls Alice on the difference between losing knowledge and losing a child. “My daughter is gone forever,” she says. “You forgot some stuff.” YAS Fen!! “Go get it back,” she tells Alice.
Brittany Curran, again, give her the award for scene stealing actress of the Year. Just homeruns ALL.SEASON.LONG.
Cut to Alice sitting by some water throwing rocks down a randomly placed Book Chute. Gavin (you’ll remember him from Kady’s hospital bedside after she OD’d; he was trying to figure out how and why Penny hadn’t reported for duty in the Underworld) appears and tells Alice, “no” whatever she’s looking for. He calls her a “Library groupie” and accuses her of having a “knowledge boner.” All True Things. How’d you even find out about this place, he asks, and she says Penny told her. “Bad news booktard, Library is closed.” Gavin is awesome because he delivers lines like he’s in a bad American Western but he does it in a nice suit with a British accent. Alice tells him (with a trace of the “addict desperation” voice) that she needs to speak to his boss; she’s got something the Library will want. Fine. He grabs her and they go.
The Library. How can Gavin travel with someone without Wellspring magic, is among the first questions that Alice poses to Zelda. Also, she’d like to make a formal complaint against him. To the latter, Zelda claims “roguish belligerency” is common trait among travelers, and to the former, she doesn’t answer. Alice moves along and says she wants a Library card. Zelda informs her, sadly, that they are not taking new applications nor are they interested in her research on Niffin life — they’ve got everything they need already from Alice’s experience. Alice explains that she wants to finish what she started as a Niffin, “a grand unified theory of magic.” “But you’re just a human magician with no magic now”, Zelda condescends. Nasty, gurl. Alice processes this and posits that they don’t want her to finish her work. Zelda plows over this and says Alice does have something they need though, and in exchange, they’ll give her full access to the Library. “You’re familiar,” Zelda begins, “with the Quest for the 7 Keys,” but a minion whispers something in her ear which pulls her away from Alice before we can find out what exactly she wants Alice to do.
Left standing there, Alice puts back her Niffin Notes and turns to leave … which is where she runs into Poppy and Quentin (who were just coming from the Book Chute you’ll recall from Poppy’s Story). This time however, we see the interaction since we’re no longer following Poppy. Quentin asks Alice how she keeps appearing places and then, if she’s working with the Library. “Not yet” would be the correct answer but all Alice says is, “Q, you have to go.” Great – come with, Quentin implores her but nope, she’s not done here. Quentin leaves. Thus ends Alice’s Story. Commercials.
When we return, Sylvia is snarking about the lack of narrative mystery in the “bookish girl” joining the Library. Penny is more concerned with the fact that Q left without the Key!! Cue the crumpled paper from Cassandra.
Eliot and Margo are sitting side by side, on trial it seems, as we pick up from the end of their episode last week. Eliot would like to make a final statement and it involves a lot of complaining about how he hates Fillory and how much of a backwards shit hole it is BUT also how Fillory saved Eliot’s life and now, its his turn to save Fillory. But, he can’t do that if his head is in a basket, so, if it pleases the, “uh, you guys,” kindly dismiss this trial and the peasant uprising … “Your Honorable Wombatness.”
“What the shit is this,” an affronted Penny exclaims, he can’t even with Cassandra and this place anymore. “Next.”
The Cottage. Fen, sometime after passing out from drinking with Alice, wakes up on the couch and spies Irene McCallister stopping by … with an subservient looking Faerie in tow. Julia answers the door and they chit chat for a bit before Irene gets down to brass tacks: the magical creature coke she’s been snorting in huge quantities has caused a nasty abscess like thing on her torso. There is a treatment but it requires big magic and obviously, she can’t fix it herself. So, she is calling in the favor Julia owes her. She gives Julia a list of requirements for the spell, a time and place and bounces. Cut to …
Fen explaining to Julia that Irene has a Faerie traveling with her but Julia can’t see her because she never made a deal with the Faeries. This is their MO Fen explains, hiding behind powerful people that they manipulate into doing their bidding. Julia recalls Penny saying he saw something moving when they were snooping Irene’s house for the Second (Truth) Key. The knowledge that there are more Faeries on Earth causes a Fen Panic Attack but Julia clarifies, these Faeries at Irene’s house were doing chores — she thinks they may be more slaves than bosses. Fen is dubious and doubtful and if by some chance, they are slaves — they totes deserve it. Julia PSAs that no one deserves to be a slave. Again, Fen is doubtful.
Julia tells her that it seems to her that her magic grows when she uses it to help people (which is consistent with OLU’s advice via possessed people from earlier in the season) and so maybe their job is to try and Harriet Tubman Irene’s slaves. And because only Fen can see her, Julia needs Fen to talk to Irene’s Faerie.
Irene’s Office. As Julia begins her spell to treat Irene, Fen goes snooping and finds Irene’s Faerie. Aggressive Fen is all aggressive, “Hey, What’s your name … Yes, I can see you.” (the “bitch” is implied in her tone but unsaid). The Faerie is all meek and downcast eyes but Fen plays the “Irene will be very mad if you don’t answer me” card which gets the Faerie all sputtering. “Shit, you are her slave,” Fen is chagrined to learn. But no no no, the Faerie slave explains that Irene protects them from other Bad Magicians, “she hides us.” Wide eyes, Fen asks in exchange for what, does Irene offer this service? Faerie non answers by asking how Fen can even see her and she explains a Faerie Deal was made on her behalf. “But, there are no other Faeries,” Faerie explains?!? A bell goes off and Faerie gets all panicky that she’s got to go, Miss Irene will be waiting. Fen steps aside but before Faerie leaves, she raises her eyes just a tad and asks Fen if they can speak tomorrow (Miss Irene won’t be home)? Also, “my name is Skye.” Aww, you just want to hug Skye.
The next day, Julia and Fen return to the McCallister house. They decide to break into her shed first before heading to the Big House. Inside, Fen tells Julia that Skye is laying on a slab, semiconscious, and missing a leg. On a worktable, Julia spots residue of white powder and it all comes together that the essence of magical creature is ground up Faerie Dust. But, not like like the cool Tinkerbell Faerie Dust that makes you fly. No, Faerie Dust like made with 100% real Faerie pieces. Grossssssssss. Fen asks the barely moving Skye who did this to her but Fen, girl, its obvious, “Irene did” Julia answers for me. The look of horror and disgust on Fen’s face says it all.
And Thus Ends Fen’s Story. Commercials.
When we return, we get no saucy Penny intro into Harriet’s story. In fact, we get no sound at all. For the next 9 minutes and roughly 10 seconds, there will be no sounds as we progress through 3 phases of Harriet’s life and learn her entire backstory in a nutshell.
1952. A young girl (Winter Obidos) skips into the Library and, oh hey Zelda – you haven’t aged a day. Hey, Zelda, why is this girl (who is deaf and is using ASL) calling you mom? Nevermind right now, Zelda the Mom is all mom flustered that her daughter could have come back all grown up — she reminds her daughter that time moves so differently in the world outside of the Library. But Zelda gets it, the little girl was looking for Fillory and, who can blame her; the world is big and she wants to see all of it. Interestingly, Zelda uses this as a cautionary tale and vaguely tells the girl that when she was little, she saw too much of the world, too much at too young an age. Zelda, please. Be more cryptic! Anyway, she tells this little girl that there are a million worlds inside the Library so … no need to go anywhere. Ever. Little girl counters that no one writes books about those that stay behind to read them but Mom Zelda is ready for that again, vaguely, warns her daughter that being “in the story” isn’t always so great either. *buzzkill* She wants a promise that the little girl won’t go looking for Fillory again.
1985. A 20 something, sassy woman, in fantastic boots by the by, is calling something “bullshit” to Zelda and Zelda reminds her about “language.” Hey, wait. Zelda called this woman Harriet (this age is played by Stephanie Nogueras). WHAT?!?!? Yes, I mean duh, I drew out it for you but clearly these are different stages of Harriet’s life and TA DA, Harriet is Zelda’s wayward daughter. They are fighting over the Library’s restrictive nature and practices vis a vis divulging the information contained therein. Side A doesn’t understand the point of a Library if no one can read the books. Side B says that some of the info in the Library is too dangerous to be released willy nilly.
Only if you do something stupid with that knowledge, young Harriet argues. This is EXACTLY Zelda’s point, she considers Harriet sharing the information with some “untrained teenage Magicians” dangerous! Ugh, Harriet basically says, they are graduate students at Brakebills (did we know Harriet went to Brakebills?!?!), so, you know, not untrained hedges or whatever. Also, they’re her friends.
Glad you brought up school, Zelda moves on, you have enough resources here at the Library to finish your education so, no more school for you! But, but, but, “you don’t go to school just for the books, you got to make friends. try new things, drink shitty beer.” And yes, Harriet confirms, it needs to be shitty to get the full college experience.
Zelda goes all Librarian mode and recites the rule that no one or thing gets access to the Library’s materials without a Library Card. Zelda lays down the ultimatum: Harriet will not return to Brakebills; she can return to work in the Library with a temporary suspension on lending privileges and that’s that. “No” is Harriet’s response. No to her mother’s shitty deal. Harriet’s going back to school; she turns on her fantastic boots heel and marches herself right back out the way she came.
[Note: Just a quick note to say that Stephanie Nogueras absolutely nailed Marlee Matlin’s signing style with the inflections she presents in her hands and her facial cues are dead on. Together with a fairly good resemblance and this could really have been Marlee Matlin 25 years ago. Well done to her and well done to this show’s casting which also does the very best job on TV but this cameo really made me take stock and notice.]
2007. An all grown Harriet, grown as we know her (i.e., Marlee Matlin is playing the role now), enters the Library and tries to be light-hearted in the clearly awkward situation of seeing your mom for the first time in 22 years. She’d like to borrow a book … assuming the “Head Librarian” will lift her suspension. Zelda doesn’t response with words but rather, comes across the room and hugs her daughter. Shifting back to work mode, its her job she explains, she asks Harriet what book she is looking for? Principles of Conjuring Elementals.
Zelda grabs the book but can’t help but be a mom(ish) for a moment. She asks Harriet if she ever thinks about coming back to work (“No” is the reply, without hesitation) because, with the Great Blank Spot coming, they could use her help … Harriet baits the hook by replying she’d be back to work tomorrow, IF, they opened up the Library, even a little. She’s got friends who could help Zelda and the Library.
Zelda retorts that Harriet’s has a “penchant” (great word) for befriending criminals and how can Zelda be sure that its not releasing the dangerous information of the Library that causes the Great Blank Spot to begin with. Um, you can’t know that, Harriet says (um, Cassandra could know that) but you make things better by involving others and trusting them to do the right thing … Faith in other is often misplaced, Zelda replies which is true but pretty bleak.
Ultimatum Time: Are you opening up the Library or not, Harriet demands? Hard pass, Zelda says. Well then, we’re done here – Harriet grabs her thick tome and leaves.
2018, Present Time. We see a quick snippet of Victoria threatening to bail if the meta math isn’t right. Then we cut to the group crossing the Mirror Bridge and the apprehension on Harriet’s face as she prepares to re-enter the Library in 11 Earth years is palpable. The we see her telling Q and Poppy how to find the Book Chute. Then, we finally pick up on a part we haven’t seen tonight; Harriet tells Kady that if the Library has the Alexandria Cell, it’ll be in Priceless Artifact Storage, which is a very “on the nose” name for a place.
In Priceless Artifact Storage, a fruitless search for the Battery is interrupted when Kady hears someone coming. That someone is Gavin and enters carrying a briefcase which he sets down on the counter. Kady clocks Gavin out cold and take a look at the briefcase. Inside is filled with vials of the Faerie Extraction powder. We know that but Kady and Harriet don’t so they go through a quick discussion of cocaine and whom may or may not have tried it it before. Harriet takes a small bump of the powder and realizes right away she’s now got Magic flowing through her.
[Quick side Note that inside the Priceless Artifact Storage are two Super Nintendo Entertainment System controllers so, clearly the Library isn’t all bad.]
They may not have found the Battery but they sure found a nice stop gap of temp magic. Of course, until they learn from Julia the side effects but that’s all “later on” info. As they are making their escape, the ladies run smack into Zelda. Harriet tells Kady to go on, Zelda won’t stop her. Alone, you can catch Zelda’s eyes quickly dart to the briefcase and you have to imagine, she’s not going to give that up easily. Even for her daughter.
For her part, Harriet confronts her mom about having Magicians searching all over the world for the alleged Alexandria Cell (“Sometimes a carefully chosen lie can be as valuable as the truth” is Zelda’s reply which is just stone cold savage). Question 2, what the fuck is this briefcase of magic coke? Can’t tell you and you wouldn’t want to know, Zelda replies. Also, can’t let you leave with it. Whelp. Impasse! Sensing her daughter’s next move, Zelda casts a shield wall which Harriet easily disassembles. “I don’t want to hurt you,” Zelda tells her daughter. Harriet books it to the bathroom mirror and almost makes it. At the last second, Gavin appears, grabs the briefcase and pushes her through the portal. While Harriet lays stunned she tries to get Victoria to run but its too late; Gavin picks up a garbage can and hurls it through the mirror, as Zelda screams (soundlessly), “No!” The glass shattering is the first sound we have heard in almost ten minutes and real talk – it made me jump the first time I watched the episode, jarring as it was. In slo-mo, we see jagged glass fly from mirror portals, as Harriet and Victoria duck from the carnage in the middle of the Mirror Bridge. Thus Ends Harriet’s Story. Commercials.
The Wrap Up. When we return, Penny is sitting in stunned quiet, having clearly just finished the Harriet passage. The Mirror Bridge is gone, everyone has left and Alice (“I’m not Alice,” Cassandra reminds him) won’t talk to him directly. He’s had enough and grabs all of her paper and throws it straight in the air in a fit of Penny rage. By way of reaction, Cassandra gets up from her seat and retrieves the crumpled page of Q and Poppy’s sex scene; she hands it to Penny. Sylvia reminds him that he didn’t read it very carefully before and this time, when we cut to Q and Poppy in bed, she says that they had sex because she can only go so long “before she breaks down and does something stupid.” Which is a metaphor, Penny realizes …
For Benedict! Back in the refugee camp, Penny semi-apologizes but really berates Benedict some more, telling him its cool to be mad but not cool to be stupid. Benedict comes clean pretty quickly that he buried the Depression Key. He had this idea that he and Penny could spruce up his refugee tent and make a life together. *sign* Penny, with more tact than Penny usually has, tells Benedict that he is the only one that cried when Penny “died” and that means a lot to him; also, once the Key business is settled, Sylvia is going to put Benedict in the Underworld’s map department and boy oh boy, Benedict is going to be super popular … you know, for a dead guy.
Penny puts the Depression Key in a book and places it on the Bookwyrm’s chute ledge. They begin their good byes But, but but them Sylvia closes the gate sending the book off on its journey WITHOUT PENNY INSIDE OF THE BOOK?!?! What the what? Yeah, seems like maybe Sylvia did a double cross here because some Underworld Branch thugs come in. She doesn’t offer much more than a “sorry.”
(Almost) All The Stories Connect Here: Library, Satellite Branch. We cut back in time to where Poppy and Q ran into Alice (who had just been left standing there by Zelda who had just vaguely offered her employment with the Library). Poppy leaves. Then Q leaves. Then we cut to Kady and Harriet running into Zelda (this must have been the thing the minion whispered to her which pulled Zelda away from Alice). Harriet tells Kady to go and she does and we follow her because we already saw Harriet’s side of the story. Kady runs into Q, who is waiting at the Bathroom Mirror, waiting for … something. Anyway, they hear the BookWyrm throw something up which causes them to run back to the Book Chute where the book with the Depression Key has arrived. At at least the key and the cloth it had been wrapped in (which is lightly smoking). Key secured, Q and Kady push through the Bathroom Mirror portal (Kady wants to wait for Penny but sorry, Q says, no time). Speaking of Penny, we cut back to him being led away by the Underworld Branch thugs as he just stares back at Sylvia in disbelief. I guess, maybe she wasn’t really cool with the whole dying thing, huh? And Scene.
Thoughts. What can you say about a show that drops out its entire sound component for 9+ minutes and makes you read subtitles as characters passionately emote through ASL? What do you say? You say, that’s how The Magicians rolls. This show has always been bold and had a “I double dog dare” you edge to it but they have really taken off the gloves this season in terms of groundbreaking ways to tell their story; things I have never seen on TV before.
The “A Life in the Day” episode with that Quentin and Eliot unbroken montage of a Fillorian life lived out in just a few minutes of screen time, the back half wordless save for the music track playing over the scene. Margo, talking to the sentient Muntjac about having the right to choose to lay or not with the Pirates ship. And tonight, after 2 seasons of Harriet clearly having an ax to grind against the Library, we learned the why, the what, then when and the where of her story. But the show didn’t just tell us, no. The show demanded we fucking pay attention – it said, this character, who doesn’t hear, has a story and so you can put down your goddamn phones for 9 minutes and turn off off your ears and engage with the person in front of you.
And, Harriet’s story is a compelling one. Always coming off as a bit duplicitous, maybe definitely having a secret agenda, we learned tonight that Harriet has been Harriet her entire life – a thirst for experience and knowledge that she cannot accept is arbitrarily regulated by a regulatory body as aloof and unaccountable as the Library. She’s been consistent and unwavering in her opinion for years, decades and so, even if you don’t agree with her (Alice and Zelda raise good points on the inherent danger of too much information in the hands of the masses), you have to RESPECT her position because its not malleable or cause to change with whim. No, Harriet was forged in the Library that became her arch-nemesis and she has a single mindedness towards achieving her aims.
Question – what becomes of her and Victoria? When the Mirror Bridge blow, Harriet had Faerie Coke Magic running through her and so I am betting she was able to somehow concoct her and Victoria out of that neither region. (mild spoilers — you won’t find out next week).
Other Questions. As much as this episode built towards the amazing scene between Marlee Matlin and Mageina Tovah (who plays Zelda), they were not the only interesting thing to come up tonight. No, in some ways, their story was the most compelling but mystery wise – not the most important by a long shot. No, that honor belongs to Penny (and Sylvia) and Cassandra/Alice.
The less important item – why did Sylvia sell Penny out; was her hand forced or was she bitter about dying in the Poison Room when he didn’t. I don’t think we’ve heard the last of this thread but I am very curioys to see what her motivation was.
But Sylvia aside, the Cassandra/Alice is the MOST puzzling aspect of tonight’s episode. So much writing, so many futures to be hold. But, how does Alice wind up millenia in the past and how does she become Cassandra OR, is Cassandra some ancient ancestor of hers – in the Cassandra mythology, she had twin children with Agamemnon but legend has it that they were killed when Cassandra was killed. If she is Alice or, rather, was at a time Alice, do this relate to Zelda and her employment offer – all we learned was that it was going to involve the Quest for the Seven Golden Keys. This seems likely.
Also, we spent a lot of time above talking through the mythological story of Cassandra and the madness that befalls due to no one believing her true prophecies but I am more curious about the hair/rope we see and how it resembles the thread used by Theseus in the Minotaur story. If this is a hint at something, it makes you wonder, is Alice/ Cassandra Theseus in that story OR, is she the Minotaur. That’s what I am left pondering as I bring this opus to a close.
Last thoughts: on Twitter, (i) Olivia Dudley (Alice) said that the handwritten title cards introducing each story were actually written by her (she says it took about 50,000 tries for legibility … I assume she was exaggerating) and (ii) when I asked about his first impression after readng this script and learning about the silent section, Arjun Gupta (Penny) remarked to me, he was “completely thrilled and excited.”
If you don’t live tweet this show with me, you’re missing out – we get down to some fun things.
Join me next week when we will be having a Josh Hoberman-driven good time and singing LOTS of songs. Another great episode coming your way.