When we last left The Magicians, Kady (Jade Tailor) and Penny (Arjun Gupta) were getting closer of their goal of obtaining The Art of Killing Gods from the Library’s poison room, while Julia (Stella Maeve) and Quentin (Jason Ralph) finally found the missing ingredient needed to bring Alice (Olivia Taylor Dudley) back to life: her shade.
Begging Mayakovsky (guest star Brían F. O’Byrne) to share his magical battery seems to be of no use at first, but then Quentin gets in a few well-placed jabs that shake the drunken lout to his core and reveal more of Quentin’s own journey as a character. He points out that he has stepped out into the world and faced his demons, something he needed to do in the first season. The subtlety of Quentin’s growth over the last year is one of the show’s greatest triumphs; it’s all the more realistic because it’s happened under the audience’s nose.
Julia shines in this storyline too, in a heartbreaking scene where she once more shows that she’s willing to give up her humanity for her best friend’s happiness – a friend who in turn is willing to sacrifice his happiness to ensure that Julia keeps her humanity. The shade separation ritual is fraught but full of hope, though of course Alice’s niffin appears in all her angry glory and shatters the illusion that this process will be easy. I don’t know what the special effects budget is for The Magicians, but it was put to good use in the simple yet spectacular sequence of Alice merging with her shade.
It’s also a rare case of the show letting us see the results of an action immediately instead of leaving us on a cliffhanger for the following week. And, as is wont to happen in difficult situations such as these, Alice is none too happy about the resurrection even after she is free of her niffin. Perhaps more surprising than that is Eliot’s (Hale Appleman) understated reaction of understanding when he realizes his chance at returning to Fillory was traded away for Alice’s life. No matter how vain or vapid he may have seemed at first, the man still has a heart of gold.
Far be it from the new-and-improved Quentin to let his personal troubles stop him from helping Eliot get back home, so the two boys head out in search of a portal in the form of a grandfather clock… And wind up face to face with one of the rams of Fillory, Umber. Eliot was meant to entertain Fillory, not fix it, but his determination to help the kingdom regardless speaks to his character. In the end, it’s that selfless love for his new home that moves Umber into letting Eliot take the clock and travel back to Fillory.
Speaking of Fillory, Josh Hoberman (guest star Trevor Einhorn) is left as its current High King and it is quite an adventure. With him in charge, the beavers get dental insurance and the talking rats are promoted to translators for the enchanted court members in the form of rats. Not a bad way to start one’s reign, right? Josh is not a character I normally pay attention to, but when the stakes are high he provides excellent comic relief. Thankfully he also gets to participate in the plot too, as Margot (Summer Bishil) tasks him with getting her out of the faerie world once she finds Fen.
Alice isn’t the only unhappy camper in the aftermath of Shadepalooza, as Kady is still smarting from Julia’s earlier betrayal. Julia’s logical argument still contains traces of genuine emotion. She needs someone to keep her in line, but she loves Kady regardless. The girls agree to work together again, focusing on the next phase of their plan to get rid of Reynard: his son John Gaines (guest star Christopher Gorham), who seems more than willing to stand against his father and perhaps even learn magic to do so.
The other part of their plan rests on the shoulders of Penny’s new coworker Sylvia (guest star Roan Curtis), who has her own Kanye-related reasons for making it into the poison room. She needs to avoid a cataclysmic “badness” that is meant to happen in a few weeks, and she’s certainly not going to place her fate in anyone else’s hands. Though she’s only appeared in two episodes or so, she’s already a fleshed out character with a life of her own and it’s a shame that it seems her journey ends in a deadly room full of books.
John’s wife also dies, murdered offscreen by Reynard (Mackenzie Astin) in a bid for John’s soul. Despite this, the show has done a good job of circumventing the Women In Refrigerators trope, though Alice’s death and resurrection are as much about Quentin as they are about Alice herself. At least this particular murder relates back to Julia, as well. She is struggling but succeeding to hold on to who she was before her ordeal, so can John do the same? Unfortunately he chose the quicker path, forcing Kady to perform the power-collecting ritual by killing him.
With Penny in the infirmary, Julia and Kady have one shot to end Reynard. They get him in their sights by working together and the season-long mission is about to find its completion, when Our Lady Underground arrives to plead for his life. The mercy argument is a tried and true one in hero tales, but often falls short when faced with monsters such as Reynard. How can there be another way to deal with men like that? Kady is there to posit that side of the argument, but perhaps the whole point is that heroism is making the right choice in the face of every obstacle. Our Lady Underground agrees, seeing as she rewards Julia with the return of her shade. But has she lost Kady’s friendship in the process?