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The Magicians: Consequences of Advanced Spellcasting

“Being a magician has always been, in part, about accruing power. Power over yourself, the elements. Power over the future, the very world that exists around you. But power, as you all know, does not come cheaply.”

At the beginning of this episode Dean Fogg tells the newest class of magicians that it is very easy to lose control and, if left unchecked, magic could destroy them all. That’s good to know and all, but pretty hard advice to follow if magic has already taken your brother, or you have a fantastic gift that could land you in an active volcano without prompting, or you were turned away from the regulated magic school so you’re learning from “amateurs” on the streets, or there’s an evil moth man after you. Because of these many obstacles we find each character pushed closer and closer to the edge.

Alice gets the worst of it. We find out that Alice is super determined—she tracks down her brother, finds a spell she could use to summon him, and almost manages to save his life in a single episode. Part of her success can surprisingly be credited to Quentin. He suggests Alice team up with Margo, whose “discipline is gossip,” to find out what happened to her brother. Alice and Margo find Emily Greenstreet (can that really be her real name?), who was with him the night he died. Emily tells them that he was trying to help her after she used a spell to change her looks and it went awry (literally losing her physical self—points for firmly sticking to the theme). He tried to reverse the spell, but it was too powerful; he lost control, the magic burned up his humanity (there’s that theme again!) and he became a niffin, or pure magic. Alice decides to double-down on the faulty spell-casting and uses a super powerful and convoluted spell to de-niffify him. Before she does this, she (for some reason) shows Quentin a box people use to contain niffins, even though she really doesn’t want it used on him. Of course, the super powerful, convoluted spell goes awry, Alice almost turns into a niffin herself, and Quentin uses the niffin box to put her brother away. Now Alice is pissed at Quentin and decides to leave Brakebills for good (or, at least until the show can get her to come back, as a main character and all). Obviously Alice shouldn’t have been upset with Quentin since he was really only trying to save his life, but after seeing the lengths she took and the risks she was willing to take to find out what happened to her brother, and then seeing the very emotional and terrifying reunion, it’s easy to see her perspective. It’ll make her struggle with being at Brakebills—where she lost her brother, twice—all the more compelling.

As Alice almost loses herself literally, Julia is losing herself figuratively. The hedge witches warn her to go slow, but apparently Julia doesn’t “really do slow.” She’s got a ton of stars already and her boyfriend complains that she’s been standing him up, not answering his calls, and just being different. After a painful confrontation with Quentin it looks like she might be ready to slow down, spend more time with her boyfriend, and get back to herself. She is as honest as she can be with her boyfriend, using Adderall as a stand-in addiction for magic, and says that it’s been taking over her but she’s been attending meetings to recover. And then she slips out in the middle of the night to learn another spell. It would’ve been nice to have seen more of a change in Julia instead of being told she’d changed by her boyfriend, but it looks like we’ll have more opportunity to see her spiral more and more out of control in the coming episodes.

Finally, we’ve got Penny. He learns that he’s a traveler when he accidentally meditates himself across the world (I wish I could teleport by meditating!). Apparently, traveling is pretty much the most dangerous discipline you can get, and he better get a handle on it or else it could kill him. Dean Fogg gives him a very stern speech on the importance of taking this seriously so he can master his gift. Hopefully it took.

This episode mostly seems to serve as an education about the perils of magic, which I feel like it’s already done and done well in the first few episodes. It’s good to be reminded that magic isn’t as fun as it may seem and to add more tension to their training. At the same time, it’s strange that the beast was barely even mentioned this episode. Are any of these characters concerned about the moth man that seems to want them dead? Hopefully they’ll remember the beast and put some effort into stopping him soon, for all their sakes.

Bits and Pieces

— Julia and Quentin get into a big fight. Quentin is upset because Julia’s training with the hedge witches. Julia’s upset because Quentin didn’t tell anyone at Brakebills about her situation. The fight starts getting pretty personal when Quentin says she was only his friend because she pitied him and that she always knew he liked her. It’s cool to get a glimpse of their history in this fight; I’d love to learn more about it. But personally, I’m on Julia’s side. Quentin’s been a pretty sucky friend. Especially given that he was just calling her for help with the mind-wipe specialist last episode, proclaiming his need for magic in any capacity. You’d think after getting a glimpse of what being in Julia’s position would be like he’d be able to muster up a little empathy. But then you’d be wrong.

— Quentin and Eliot go on a mini adventure to find a missing book. Apparently they mate.

— The new magicians learn their disciplines. Alice is a physical kid, specializing in phospheromancy—light-bendy stuff. Quentin is undetermined, but he’ll be staying in the physical kids' cottage because it has extra space. I guess Eliza was right when she said there was nothing special about him. Kady is a physical kid—she uses battle magic to get into the cottage. Penny’s a traveler, which is part of the psychic discipline.

— Quentin often sings Taylor Swift in his head. He’s working on it.

— Alice is willing to cut off a finger to find her brother. That’s a girl you should want in your corner.

— Quentin and co took the entrance exam three months ago.

— Alice’s favorite song is the one from The Breakfast Club.

Dean Fogg on Penny’s gift: “You’ve been a thin layer of insouciance over an open pit of self-pity your entire life. This is not a joke. You do not have the luxury to mess around now that this is out of the bottle. You will study this, you will master this. Do you understand?”

On the books mating ritual, Hedge witch: Are they?
Eliot: Yeah, love wins.

Two and a half out of three mating magic books.


  1. This is where I confess that I think Penny is my favorite character. I honestly don't know why, given that he's something of an ass. But I'm drawn to the actor, and Penny also has the most fascinating discipline. Who wouldn't want to be able to "travel"?

  2. And one more thing -- I'm also strongly affected by Alice and pretty much everything she does, for all of the reasons you mentioned in your review. Alice is vulnerable and terrifying at the same time.

    Terrific review, Ariel.

  3. Yes, Quentin comes off as a "Nice Guy" in his interactions with Julia here. "You knew I "liked" you and not only didn't you respond in kind, you kept on being my friend. AND you kept made it clear it was a platonic friendship. How could you?" OTOH, he doses back Alice up and keep her alive, so he's not a complete jerk. My favorite characters change as the series goes on, but Penny is a great character.

  4. One thing that had me laugh out loud in this episode was the fact that Julia quickly covered up her star tattoos then James entered the room.
    How on earth is her lover not going to notice she recently acquired 5 big ugly tottoos on her forearm? How intimate are those two?

  5. Quentin is really awful to Julia. I wonder if he would have behaved differently if Elliot hadn't been there. Maybe it's a case of someone whose spent his whole life as an outcast getting a rung up the social ladder and turning on the friends who are now below him. And being determined to impress Elliot that he's better than these contemptible hedge witches.

    On a side note, I suspect part of the reason we're not really seeing Julia's transformation is that Julia was almost entirely sidelined for Book 1 of the novels and her journey to finding magic was only talked about in retrospect in Book 2.


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