My favorite thing about The Magicians is that they’re not afraid to go with unusual choices. The directorial style often changes drastically between episodes, and they don’t apologize for it. They make it their strength, because this way fans are never bored. Having a rather large cast of main characters who are often far away from each other, The Magicians has to juggle between them and find original ways to transition, a job they absolutely ace. Sometimes they divide the episodes into chapters as if in a book, sometimes it’s standard transitions, sometimes they recur to the expedients of multiverse and spacetime. For episode 3×08, we got a series of short stories that were all connected by one moment in time. Aptly titled and self-explanatory, “Six Short Stories About Magic” is a tightly-packed adventure like only The Magicians can write them.
The first short story is Penny’s. His is also the thread that runs along the entire episode, as we keep going back to Penny between stories. The episode starts with him traveling to the Underworld branch of the library, making sure he doesn’t get caught or he’ll have to serve his time there for a billion years, and running to where the dead people actually are. He needs to find Benedict to get the key, so he needs to corrupt a cop instead of filing a search paper. The dead cop only asks for Game of Thrones spoilers in exchange. Too bad Penny is not a fan; he clearly doesn’t watch the show or read the books, and he awkwardly makes up some lies to sedate the curiosity of all the dead fans who are not caught up.
Benedict is immensely happy to see Penny and thinks he is going to stay with him in the Underworld, despite the fact that Penny doesn’t have such warm feelings for him. Benedict says he doesn’t have the key, but he is willing to help out. Penny lies about enlisting him and runs away, to the Library once more. There he finds Sylvia, his underage library supervisor who died last season, and she takes Penny to Cassandra, the Trojan princess gifted with the gift of prophecy. In Greek mythology, she refused the god Apollo’s advances and he cursed her so that she would always speak the truth but nobody would believe her. The Magicians obviously made some twists on Cassandra: she is the writer of everyone’s books: she prophesizes what is going to happen in everyone’s lives. And, to make things creepier, she looks exactly like Alice. Seriously, what’s up with that?
Cassandra gives Penny the pages she’s writing, which are basically the six short stories that are taking place in the episode. One page that he refuses to read is Quentin and Poppy having sex. With this, we move onto the second story, Poppy’s. In fact, there they are, still in bed, talking about the quest and how Quentin thinks he needs to change to complete it; because the quest changes the quester, and it can only be completed by a different person, who the quester becomes by the end of it. It sounds like a lot of BS to Poppy, who retorts that maybe he needs to be brave enough to be who he is, not try to become some hero.
Alice and Victoria – the Traveler girl they asked help to – don’t think their crazy plan to build a Mirror bridge between Brakebills and the Underworld Library will work. Poppy steals Alice’s notes with the right calculations from when she was a Niffin, and Victoria is able to perform the ritual. Q, Kady, Poppy and Harriet cross over to the satellite branch of the Library to get the golden key, but Penny hasn’t found it yet, because he’s waiting for Cassandra to tell him where it is. Poppy realizes their mission is failing and she decides to bail. At the last moment, she and Quentin run into Alice.
Story number three, Alice’s! We go slightly back in time, and see the scene where the gang is arguing logistics from her point of view. Kady and Harriet try persuade her to help: she can get all the knowledge she wants from the Library, but she still refuses. At one point, Fen stumbles to Brakebills falling out of the clock. The two girls get drunk together and compare their losses. Fen frankly tells Alice that she’s being a child for pining over all the knowledge she lost from her time as a Niffin. Fen lost her daughter, Alice can still gain her precious knowledge back, it’s out there. This line was really all it took to change Alice’s mind. She summons another guy Traveler who works for the Library and he takes her there. The fact that he is able to perform a joint travel only proves that they have a huge magic battery down there somewhere. Alice meets the head librarian, and when she refuses to give her access to information, she proposes they mutually help each other.
The next story is Eliot’s, even though it lasted only a minute. He and with Margo – who I think didn’t even get to say a line, I was robbed of my favorite this episode – are currently being held on trial by their subjects in what the High King calls a peasant uprising. There really wasn’t any time to develop their storyline, but the one thing that made me emotional was Eliot saying “When I was drowning, Fillory saved me. Now it’s my turn to save Fillory.”
Fen’s story is the fifth. After helping Alice see the truth, she spends the rest of the episode in an unlikely pair with Julia. I don’t remember the two of them ever interacting before, but their dynamic worked. Irene McAllisteir shows up at the Physic Kids’ cottage to ask Julia to cure her disease since she is the only one with a spark of magic. Julia agrees, having a theory that every time she performs a good deed, her powers grow. Fen notices that Irene is followed by a fairy (yes, all of our theories were correct!) that Julia can’t see because she’s never made a deal with them. This fairy though, Skye, is different from the fairies of Fillory. She is harmless and acts like Irene’s servant. Fen wants to talk to Skye some more, but when she and Julia go see her the following day, Irene has cut Skye’s leg to make more of magic powder she made Julia inhale to get magic.
The next short story was everyone’s unexpected favorite: Harriet’s. It’s beautiful that this show cares so much about representing all kinds of minorities. No other show that I know of dedicates so much attention and screentime to a disabled character. The entirety of this sequence is soundless: this choice represents Harriet’s deafness in a truthful way. (After being amazed at the American Sign Language for ten soundless minutes, I jumped when the commercials blasted between scenes.)
We finally get some background on Harriet. Not only she was a librarian as a kid, she is the daughter of the Head Librarian.
Because her mother started being anti-democratic about the sharing of knowledge, Harriet left and became an advocate for free information. In the present, she and Kady look around the Library and find what they’re looking for, just in a different form. The battery is not what they were expecting, but a case full of vials of what we now know to be – literally – fairy dust. Kady knocks the Traveler guy unconscious to get the case and runs away, but Harriet stops to have a heartbreaking reunion with her mother, and the Traveler smashes the mirror. The bridge is effectively broken, and we don’t know what will happen to Harriet and Victoria who were in between the two mirrors.
Penny finally figures out the answer he was looking for was on the only page he didn’t bother to read: Quentin and poppy’s sex scene. He realizes Benedict lied to him and he buried the key. Penny convinces him to tell him where. Once he retrieves it, he makes sure it gets to where Quentin will find it. We finally reached the moment in time where all the stories paused. The Library’s portal-dragon burps the key, Q and Kady get it and go through the bridge. It would seem like things mostly, worked out for the good guys, right? But no. Penny is betrayed by Sylvia, and the very last scene he is dragged away by the Librarians, presumably to fulfill his sentence as one of them.
I’ve said it before and I’ve said it again. 42 minutes aren’t enough for this gem of a show. We need more, because I can’t renounce my weekly fill of High Queen Margo, and everyone on this show deserves a fair amount of screentime.
The next episode is probably going to involve a musical number, which has me incredibly excited. Tune in next week! Share your comments and theories with me at @ladymultifandom!