Season 4 might have started with an introductory episode 1 and a transitional episode 2, but the show is living proof that third time’s the charm.
Episode 3, quite aptly titled “The Bad News Bear”, brings the show back to the unapologetically whimsical vibe that sets The Magicians apart from any other fantasy series. Where other shows try to take themselves too seriously, Gamble and McNamara’s gem never tries to pretend to be something it’s not. A story about magic that features weird things that do not need any explanation other than what the genre concedes.
This episode opens with the much-awaited very first meeting of two iconic characters, sass queens in their own right, Margo and Marina. Marina being Marina has sensed danger and is fleeing the apartment, but she does pause for a moment to give Margo some helpful tips.
It killed me that Margo started striding towards Eliot when she entered the room, not knowing he’s the monster Marina warned her about. He even smiles at her. But Q has to stop Margo from running towards her best friend. The monster – that the fandom has collectively decided to call Jennifer because of this promotional video– gives his expository origin story and confesses why he wants revenge on the gods. They forced him inside Blackspire and took something from him. Unfortunately for the protagonists, his revenge is more of a vengeance. He plans on killing the gang – they also tried to kill him after all – and devises ways it will hurt the most. As he starts torturing Josh, Margo blurts out that she can give him a god, Bacchus. I was extremely surprised she used the words “If you let them live, all of them” rather than “us”. As the most deliciously self-centered character, Margo surely has gone a long way if she unconsciously did not include herself in a simple pronoun.
Josh unwittingly volunteers to help the Monster poison his good friend Bacchus; they go to Fillory with Margo, but not before warning the others not to trust Marina. The others bargain with the hedge witch not to turn them in to the McAllisters, promising a bigger sum than their ransom, but they have to get those coins, or “deweys”, first.
Dean Fogg finally visits Alice in her Library cell. He reminds her the Library has all of their books, implying that escaping wouldn’t be effective because they’d still be able to find her right away. Alice and Santa decide to steal the books and run away through the chimney in Zelda’s office, but Alice can’t find her book. Hers and her friends’ were moved to the revision room and she can’t afford to leave without them, so she stays. An interesting detail that I’m not sure everybody noticed is that the slip of paper on the Library shelf that mentioned all the books that were moved had everybody’s names, but Eliot’s had a “Vol. –“ next to it. We don’t know the number because the cinematography cleverly hid it under Alice’s finger, but it’ll be interesting to find out later on. Is it #1 implying Eliot, or #2 implying Jennifer, or even something else? Alice is still trapped, but it’s good to know she has a friend in Santa, who will hopefully make himself useful later. His parting words to her are “you’re still on my ‘nice’ list.”
Julia confronts Fogg again and convinces him to cast her a locating spell to find the others. When Q opens the door to Marina’s apartment and finds his friend there, he hugs her and asks where she was. Her answer is a meta-television moment that makes light of the genitality of the show: “Enrolled at Brakebills, she said, fully aware of the irony.” Julia, Quentin, Kady, and Penny now need to figure out how to get a Library’s unlimited black card to cast a cloaking spell and pay Marina. Stealing wouldn’t work, so they have to make a forgery. Penny proposes to call his very good friend Frankie who’s a master of forgery and always has incredibly good luck. A funny moment occurs – one that shows just how well-planned this show is, with next to zero plot holes: they have their fake-identity phones, not their real ones.
Frankie agrees to help them and they all go on their separate missions. Q needs to win a game of Push to get a dewey. Cards were always is specialty from before Brakebills, and I love how his talent keeps getting incorporated. In a long sequence that was just too-well made, with excellent visual and sound effects that kept the audience – and Penny – on their seats the entire time, Q wins the coin. The winning card that he conjured was the Queen of Hearts, and it looked very much like Alice, glasses and all.
Now they just need to borrow a black card to use as a template. Kady and Penny are on it. They have a nice heart-to-heart where Kady confesses she’s getting tired of people not listening to her. She doesn’t trust Marina!23 (Marina!40 killed Kady’s mother, after all) and doesn’t like this plan, but she’s going along with it anyway. Penny!23 understands her, he comes from a place where all his friends are dead. I appreciated this moment they had. It wasn’t romantic and Kady wasn’t portrayed as pining after a Penny who is only getting to know her, and she wasn’t distracted in the least by their conversation, she stayed on task. This version of Penny is a better Penny after everything he’s gone through in Timeline 23: he doesn’t like petty revenge, he’s not individualistic as Penny!40 could be in season 1. They do agree on getting more than they decided with the others though, as a bonus in case of emergency. Even as a team player, Kady feels the need to go back to her old ways and go rogue. It was a strange dynamic, but an interesting one, seeing her paired up with a different Penny. It’s strange to see him be the voice of reason, but I like that we’re at a blank slate with those two characters that were once so close.
Once the card is forged, and somebody can go to a bank branch to request it be charged, somebody else needs to hold the Bad Luck Bear so that the others can get all the good luck. Julia volunteers as she’s unkillable even without her magic, but her goddess status messes with the luck in the bear. Quentin is the only one left, and he’s forced to go through ridiculous amounts of bad luck as Kady and Penny’s incognito mission is successful, despite a couple of hiccups when Q momentarily and absentmindedly drops the bear as he receives a message from his mother. Only later, he’ll discover that his father died, his cancer activated again after magic came back.
In Fillory, Josh chickens out before poisoning Bacchus. Margo then threatens to kill hundreds of people if he doesn’t. She’s not being a team player now, because it would’ve been easier to just use the god-killing bullet on the Monster, but she refuses because that would also kill Eliot, and she would not have that. She tries to persuade the Monster to leave Eliot and find a different vessel, but he likes it because they all care so much about El and it’s torturing them.
In the end, the Monster kills Bacchus: “Why am I a monster and you a god?” He cannot remember what the gods took from him; he remembers all of them but not even his own name.
I am now wondering what’s going to happen when he meets Julia. She was not a goddess yet when he was imprisoned, but she’s one all the same. Is he going to want to kill her, or to ally with her in a shockingly unexpected twist? She was also repeatedly hurt by some gods, after all.
Kady volunteers to dispose of the Bad Luck Bear, and I thought that last sequence was suspicious. Even if we don’t see that play out on the screen, I believe she turned the bear into one of the coins she gives Marina and transferred all the luck to herself. A moment after the exchange, Marina is grabbed by off-screen hands, and Kady is offered a puppy, which she accepts. When everybody regroups and is ready for the cloaking spell, she announces Marina’s apartment is now hers.
What a good episode! Full of twists and turns, full of unanswered questions. I also very much appreciated the protagonists grappling with their fake/real identities and wondering if life was just easier when it was a lie.
If you have anything you’d like to share or theories that you wish to discuss, please reach out to me on Twitter at @ladymultifandom or leave a comment here!