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The Magicians: The Serpent

“Some God of War. He only liked them when they were too weak to fight.”

Library’s become ever-more fascist, Alice splits in two, and big revelations are made, but not on-screen.

I’m going to be honest: I didn’t feel great about this episode after I watched it the first time. And then I watched it again and found I was better able to understand it and appreciate some of what it was exploring. But I still don’t feel great about it.

Here’s what I liked: the Alice on Alice conflict. From the moment she split I was excited. It’s like taking Gestalt’s empty chair technique and making it literal, and the psychology student in me was living for it. Even better, the execution was pretty great. It allowed the show to directly with Alice’s main conflict, which is that there was a part of her pre-niffin who was sheepish and kind and scared, there was a part of her post-niffin who was arrogant and dominant and selfish, and each part hates the other, blames the other for everything that’s gone wrong. But the thing is, they’re all Alice and all to blame. And she needs them both. She needs to be selfish to survive, but she needs to be cautious to avoid blowing stuff up. Both her arrogance and her fear can put everyone in danger. But she can’t lock either part of herself up and manage, and even if she could she wouldn’t be able to survive long.

It’s an interesting issue to explore, because it’s probably come up for a lot of us. It would be nice to be able to erase or at least lock up the parts of ourselves we don’t like. It’s harder to admit we’re more complicated than that and the whole of ourselves is the source of our problems and our triumphs. So we need to learn to better the parts of ourselves we don’t like, to see the good and bad in them, and, at the least, try to cope with them. But what I like best about what the show does with Alice is that she doesn’t really figure out how to do any of this. Both parts of herself work together to finish the spell, but that’s not because of any real epiphany. She (they?) just realized she didn’t have much of a choice. Alice still has a lot of growing to do. And, really, don’t we all?

While this is going on Zelda learns more about the Library—namely, that it’s devolving into a fascist regime. I didn’t appreciate this plot much the first time around. I thought Zelda finally realized the Library was corrupt after the Library kept the killer deweys in circulation and that the revelation that Everett was her mentor was revealed too late. I still somewhat feel that way. But after my rewatch I do feel more interested in the Library’s continued corruption. Throughout the season we’ve seen this grow slowly. They were meant to keep everyone safe by carefully distributing magic. But they unfairly favored trained magicians over hedges, manipulated people into the Library in exchange for magic and education, rewarded people who posted magic-monitors in their homes, the list goes on. Manipulation, indoctrination, invasion of privacy. And finally, faking a terrorist organization to create fear. The Library wants power, it will do anything to fuel that.

This whole idea of obtaining power by any means necessary isn’t new. What’s more interesting is seeing people why people might trust the Library, believe in its cause and believe that cause is just or that helping it would be a good option (Zelda, Fogg). Seeing Fogg struggle with when to cut ties with the Library, whether that would help or hurt, if that’s cowardly or selfish. Seeing Kady and Alice forced to make ethically-questionable decisions while trying to help those harmed by the Library (using Harriet’s vulnerable position as leverage). And seeing the harm that not only fear, but also apathy can have. When considering what to do about the terrorists, Kaylee Frye the Librarian asks if the terrorists are even the Library’s problem. She doesn’t care about the safety of the hedges, it’s likely few librarians do, and that makes her much more likely to go along with whatever the Library has planned regardless of the cost. And then there’s fear itself. While remembering The Monster’s destruction, The Monster insults Enyalius for going after souls too weak to fight. The same can be said for Everret. It seems Everret fears the hedges—he needs their submission to raise the Library up—and he uses fear to keep them down. And maybe this is—in part—what war is.

In Fillory, things go down with the prophecy. But also, not really. Fen doesn’t want to overthrow Margo, Margo has her eyes on Fen for all of a minute before asking (forcing) Fen to dethrone her so she can go off and find something to save Eliot. It’s all resolved pretty easily. That said, I did appreciate that Margo and Fen didn’t act out of character or that just enough information wasn’t kept from them to make things more dramatic. But I just didn’t understand why Margo had to ask Fen to dethrone her at all. The only explanation I can think of is that Margo had to leave Fillory to go to the desert, and that’s not allowed for kings. But I don’t remember being told the desert was out of the realm. And I also don’t know that leaving Fillory is still not allowed. Ember and Umber are dead and Fillory is a quasi-democracy, do the rules even apply anymore? All this confusion messed with the story’s emotional beats. Not entirely—I’m not a monster—I still felt for Margo losing the crown she worked so hard to get for the realm she cares so much for. But enough.

Finally, there was The Monster stuff. There, we almost get information about Julia’s “transition”, but then we don’t; Alice finds the binder but doesn’t open it up. And then we almost get information about The Monster’s plan, but then we don’t; Eliot tells Penny 23 the plan off-screen, Penny 23’s just about to tell Julia and Quentin the plan when the show ends. It all kind of feels cheap, especially the final cliffhanger. The Magicians has ended episodes—entire seasons—in cliffhangers before without it feeling cheap. But something about the multitude of not-reveals, the show looking away at just the right moment, and ending the episode almost mid-scene was too much. I wish the episode ended right after Margo’s last moment instead. Seeing her walk out to the desert listening to 80s music would be a fitting lead-in to the musical in the desert. And it would’ve felt way less cheap.

Bits and Pieces

-- Kady got to use her mad punching skills, which elevates any episode. Sucks for Alice, though.

-- Zelda gets a back-story! She was a hedge, her mom died, she was found in an ally. Zelda’s right, it does sound dramatic.

-- It was great seeing Harriet and getting her back, but I wish she and Marlee Matlin had more to do than just struggle to communicate with Alice while Alice deals with her stuff and share new plot information. Hopefully she’ll be on again.

-- I feel (maybe unreasonably) defensive of Julia. Zelda says she trusts Kady because she was able to try to understand the woman responsible for Penny 40s death (which must be Julia, right?). But that wasn’t really Julia’s fault, both Kady and Penny 40 agreed to help take down Reynard, Julia never asked Penny 40 to go down to the poison room, and it’s not her fault Reynard was evil and raped her and killed most everyone else. And, even so, both Julia and Kady summoned OLU in the first place. It just felt victim-blamey to me and I didn’t appreciate it from Zelda (I wouldn’t from anyone). End of rant.

-- Speaking of Julia, I found it interesting seeing how quickly she offered to shift the focus from her god problems to The Monster problems. Her story has been moving along pretty slowly (probably because if she powered up she would be hard to keep on the show) and maybe this an in-show reason why. Her issues always fall second to The Monster or even the Library issues, because those are life and death.

-- I also liked seeing Penny 23 advocate for Julia (suggesting they try to research the binder while working on The Monster stuff) and Julia advocate for Penny 23 (trying to keep him from putting himself in danger with The Monster, etc.). And they almost kissed! But The Monster cock-blocked them. Maybe now that he’s alive they’ll have that dinner he promised her.

-- Margo found out Eliot’s alive! And immediately had sex with Josh. Fen’s facial expressions were amazing.

The Monster: “Are you aware that there is big money for psychics who are in actually big giant fakers?” I actually did know that, Monster! John Oliver just did a whole segment about it.

Ru, Queen of West Loria: “During the feast you will order the castle doors open where upon my men will enter and chop off—”
Fen: “Enjoy the dessert course.”
Ru: “Did you really think I was gonna say that?”
Fen: “Hoped.”

Margo, about Fen: “That balso-toed bitch!”

Margo: “Wait! I curse Fen’s name, but if I were you I’d listen to her! And wait! Be nice to her! Your grandkid’s grandkids will fear me!”

Three out of four fascist libraries.

Edit: Thanks to Percysowner and late-ish night reflections I now understand that Margo needed to be dethroned so the Fillory-hating people of The Foremost would agree meet with her.
Edit Two: Thanks to Turbinesmind I now know Zelda was talking about herself when she referred to the person responsible for Penny 40s death. Sorry guys, I sucked at this episode.


  1. Margo had to be dethroned in order to help save Eliot. She had invited The Foremost to the banquet because he has a weapon that will drive a demon out of a body. At the banquet, Tick told her that The Foremost would NEVER come to this type of banquet because he HATES Fillory. He won't even talk to any citizen of Fillory. So Margot couldn't be High King and couldn't even be a Fillorian citizen if she wants whatever will drive the Monster from Elliot's body. Which is why she told Fen to dethrone her. Fen would probably never have done it on her own and Margo is willing to sacrifice herself to save Elliot and to protect Fillory, as the prophecy said.

  2. Thanks Percysowner! I actually just figured this out while I was trying to go to sleep and was going to attach an edit to the review to reflect that. Now it all makes so much more sense! I'm not sure why I hadn't connected that all to begin with but I'm glad I got it sorted.

  3. Zelda wasn't talking about Julia when she talked to Kady about trying to understand the person responsible for Penny 40's death. She was talking about herself because Zelda chose not to help Penny get the information he needed to help Julia and Kady find a way to kill Reynard. They can get books into the poison room so they can definitely get them out Zelda just chose not to divulge that information to Penny 40.

  4. "Balsa-toed b!tch" referring to Fen's wooden toes, thanks to the Fairy Queen

  5. Thanks turbinesmind and anonymous. I edited the review and looked up the meaning of the word "balsa".


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