“Can I start over?” Julia Wicker asked in the pilot, upon being told that she wasn’t a good fit for Brakebills. It seems like in the season 4 premiere, she finally got that chance to start over.
Indeed, there were so many delicious parallels to catch that gave us throwbacks to the very first episode of the series.
Dean Fogg has rebooted the game; in a way, turned back the clock for the 41st time. Everybody at Brakebills is playing by the usual script as we witness a girl named Kimber D’Antoni follow around her flying acceptance letter until she stumbles on the campus premises like Quentin did in the pilot. We knew from past seasons that Todd enjoys playing the part of Eliot, but he fails despite wearing Eliot’s vest and ends up awkwardly coughing on his cigarette, without any of El’s cockiness and ease as he welcomes Kim to Brakebills.
Professor Lipsen and Dean Fogg complain about lack of magic supply the Library allows them. Kim doesn’t seem to be doing too well on her test, and this scene is where we get our first plot twist. We had seen in the previous season finale and in multiple promos that our protagonists were now different people, but we hadn’t been warned they also wore different skins. Kim is Julia, and looking at her gives Fogg a bit of a headache. My question while watching at this point was whether or not Fogg knew or if he was fooled by his own spell. It was subtly answered later.
Sam, a brilliant Seattle PD cop who really is Kady, runs into hedges and has a weird impulse to leave. Fogg’s spell wants them to stay away from anything magical, to protect them and to prevent them from learning the truth about themselves. But Sam’s curiosity is too strong; during her research, weird things keep happening, and when she confronts the hedge she was chasing, the glamour’s safety mechanism bounces off. As he’s telling Sam that she’s wearing a strong glamour and that his medallion offers protection from it, he is hit by a truck.
Janet, a bitchy editor at a fashion magazine, wakes up in her office and opens a door to another world just like Quentin did in the pilot when young Jane Chatwin visited him in his dream to warn him. Janet, who is actually Margo, also receives a warning from Ember that there are dangerous things in Fillory for the High King to fix. The conversation is hilarious as the god is under the impression that Margo is a very handsome male, and Janet has no idea what is going on, and even wonders if she’s at Jeff Goldblum’s house for a moment.
Sam wears the hedge’s medallion and is finally able to do some research. She discovers an obscure graphic novel called Flock of Lost Birds, hence the episode’s title. Back in her office, Janet bosses around her assistant Sophie, asking for an eye patch as her (fairy) eye makes her see weird colors, and demanding Sophie to buy Fillory and Further for her, but the assistant seems to have trouble with that simple purchase. Fogg’s spell was incredibly thorough and successful in keeping them away from magic or anything that might remotely connect them to who they were. I thought it was sweet that Janet had this urge to read the Fillory books, considering that Margo was such a big fan. The irony isn’t lost on me that Janet is the original name for Margo’s character in The Magicians books by Lev Grossman. As Janet goes around wearing the eye patch with every little ounce of confidence as Margo did, Sam finds her and shows her the comic book that seems to be the story of their (fake) lives. Incidentally, this is another parallel to the pilot when Q also found out the Fillory books are real and – only later he’ll figure out—he’s a character in them. Things literally blow up around Sam and Janet as the truth comes out.
In the Library, Alice despairs in her cell. The Head Librarian tries to win her favor by bringing her bacon and approved reading, Kakfa’s Metamorphosis– a fun little foreshadowing about the insect Alice is going to swallow later. Her next-door cellmate, Santa, tells her about the time he tried to escape, and next thing we see, Alice has cut her wrists and is lying on the floor in pools of blood. It was kind of graphic and I did not like the way this suicide attempt was handed lightly, even if I understand Alice’s aim was to get out of the cell to escape, not to die and the writers were never intending to show a suicide.
Zelda falls for it. She thinks Alice is depressed and attempted suicide out of guilt for what happened to her friends. She tells Alice that she has singled her out for rehabilitation, not punishment and that she cares because she sees her great potential.
Kim struggles with magic at Brakebills, and even suggests she might be a Squib (it’s always fun to see the characters freely use Harry Potter terms). Fogg wants Kim to stay, and he tells her about Julia. There is so much guilt in his eyes – that she healed in season 3 – and it’s clear he feels that every bad thing that happened to Julia was a consequence of him not letting her study at Brakebills in the pilot. He believes he failed his responsibility to protect her in the past so he will not let her out of his sight this time around. I wonder if it is just guilt that prompted him to choose for Julia’s new identity to go to Brakebills – and none of the others – or the fact that she is still in some ways a goddess and might come in handy.
Sam and Janet get Hansel the DJ (Penny) and Isaac the Uber driver (Josh), but they aren’t able to locate Quentin or Eliot. Marina finds them, not because she knows who they are – as I hoped she would – just because she’s friends with the hedge whose medallion they’re using. She tries to cast the spell away, but the glamour is too strong and they all pass out. We had all predicted Marina!23 would be the first magical person to reach out to the protagonists, and we were right.
Meanwhile, Brian, a nerdy English professor that would be our Quentin Coldwater is haunted by the monster possessing Eliot who wants company as he flays people for fun. Brian quickly figures out the sick nature of the creature’s need and learns to play the game and to indulge him.
Ember sends Janet to Fillory and the episode closes on her screaming in fear about being transported alone to an unknown forest in the middle of the night.
Two things aren’t clear to me: one, Fogg’s spell is flawless but he could have been more careful and not have based everybody’s identity off characters from the same comic book. Two, if the glamour was so strong, how did the monster find Quentin?
In their fourth year, the writers felt confident enough in delivering a season opener that wasn’t overwhelming. Having already seen the following episode, I can say with certainty the audience would’ve much better appreciated the first if it came together with the second, but that choice belongs to the network. Viewers are in the dark about the problem in Fillory, and the episode just felt like half of a whole to me. The premiere moved fast, considering we had to basically be introduced to six new characters, but weirdly, I didn’t seem to notice or mind while I was watching it. Definitely not their best season premiere, but a solid episode that does its job. Showrunners Sera Gamble and John McNamara have little to fear, as it was just announced yesterday that the show is renewed for a fifth season, to the joy of all fans.
Follow the new season along with me in my weekly reviews and come chat with me on Twitter at @ladymultifandom! And if you want to go on a walk down the memory lane, check out my reviews of The Magicians season 3.