REVIEW: The Magicians, S3E8 – Six Short Stories About Magic

“Six Short Stories About Magic” separates itself from other episodes of The Magicians from the start, dividing each character’s role into its own chapter without losing sight of the fact that they’re all forming part of the same book. But is this a Choose Your Own Adventure story or can there only ever be one tragic ending?

We start with Penny’s (Arjun Gupta) visit to the Underworld, where he resorts to making up Game of Thrones spoilers to bribe the dead. The scene would have been humorous enough with a character who knows what they’re talking about, but watching Penny struggle with who wears what dope outfit and how many dragons they have is downright hilarious. His fish-out-of-water routine gets even better (and more painful) when he finds Benedict, whose desperate desire to secure a friend in the afterlife is stymied by Penny’s total lack of social skills. Upon learning that Benedict’s key was taken by the Library, Penny abandons him and plans to infiltrate the place himself.

Ever the observer.

However, he runs into his old boss Sylvia, who says she knows a better way to save the day. Instead of helping him sneak back in, she takes him to the mythical see Cassandra, who is the spitting image of Alice and is currently writing out the tale of The Magicians‘ quest to restore magic. “Six Short Stories About Magic” uses this plot device to great effect, zipping from one character to the next every time Penny reads a new page. The first chapter he’s sucked into is the one that horrifies him most, as it involves Quentin (Jason Ralph) and Poppy having sex. Is that even relevant? Turns out it’s the most relevant bit in the whole episode.

Poppy’s (guest star Felicia Day) plan to sex the anxiety right out of Quentin has failed, but she’s still gung-ho about joining him on his mission because her self-interest dictates the return of magic. She runs into Alice outside Quentin’s room, and the first of several times repeating the same scene occurs. But rather than going through time loops or any other sci-fi trick that The Magicians has tried before, “Six Short Stories About Magic” is merely adding the context of a different person’s point of view with each repetition. For now, the important thing about Alice’s warning is that Poppy decides to steal her notebook of Niffin knowledge in order to build the Mirror Bridge into the Library.

The issue is that no matter how well Harriet and Kady (Jade Tailor) have thought things through, it’s all for naught without the key that Penny can’t get ahold of. So when Poppy and Quentin search through the book chute and come up empty, she cuts bait and runs before they’re all trapped or die, but Quentin is rooted in place by the sight of Alice. It’s a good thing the next page Penny reads belongs to her, so that we quickly learn what she’s up to.

Alice (Olivia Taylor Dudley) remains stubbornly determined not to help her friends despite her own warning to Poppy, but then she runs into Fen (Brittany Curran) and commiserates over their losses. Suddenly her pain is put into perspective: Fen’s daughter is permanently gone while the knowledge that Alice lost is still out there. This revelation sends her to the Library itself, where she offers to trade what she remembers of her time as a Niffin for access to their information. But The Librarian (the ever-haunting Mageina Tovah) would rather she help block the quest for the seven keys, which explains why Quentin saw her before.

Penny momentarily happens upon Eliot (Hale Appleman) and Margo’s (Summer Bishil) trial, which is not going well, but then quickly moves onto Fen’s chapter. She drowns her sorrows post-Alice until Irene comes to collect on the favor Julia (Stella Maeve) owes her. Due to her deal with the faeries, Fen can tell there is one hiding behind Irene and quickly informs Julia. Worried they may be slaves, Julia convinces Fen to investigate them further at Irene’s house. While she’s technically correct that helping people helps her spark of magic grow, it also speaks to her selfless nature which always seeks the solution that benefits everyone – even pesky faeries. Fen manages to befriend the one named Sky despite her aversion to the creatures responsible for her daughter’s death, but when she and Julia return the next day, they find Sky’s leg has been cut off. This leads to the horrible realization that the powder used to restore Julia’s magic is literally made out of faeries.

Mommy dearest.

Harriet’s (guest star Marlee Matlin) tale is the most unexpected, and perhaps the most interesting for that very same reason. We are plunged back into the silent world of 1952, when she was a small child in the Library. The Librarian speaks to her in sign language, and we find out she’s Harriet’s mother. Fast forward to 1985, and her daughter wishes to open up the Library to the public so that everyone can share knowledge, but the Librarian won’t back down. In 2007, a grown up Harriet comes to check out a book for the first time in years, but their sweet reunion is marred by the Librarian’s dedication to doing her job and final refusal to open up the Library. The entire sequence feels all the more poignant because we are hearing the world as Harriet would, with muffled sounds and words that require sign language to be interpreted.

In the present, she and Kady seek the mythical battery in the Priceless Artifact Storage only to uncover a briefcase full of magical vials instead. If we connect the dots, we can assume the magic contained here is the same one Irene had – obtained by spilling fairy blood. Perhaps those creatures have a reason to hate humans, after all. While The Librarian tries to stop her daughter with logic and pleas, her coworker has other plans and destroys the Mirror Bridge that Harriet and Victoria are on. It seems our beloved Harriet might be a goner, but if The Magicians has taught us anything, it’s that death is not the end. Hopefully that’s the case here too.

Penny has had enough after that tragic conclusion, and throws the book out in a rage. But the first page stays with him, and Quentin’s romp with Poppy reminds him that people can only go so long feeling alone and worthless before they do something stupid. So the story comes full circle, as it turns out that Benedict lied about the key in the first place to keep Penny around. A few kind words and a Library map room later, Penny has the key. But Sylvia sends it off without him, essentially trapping in servitude for all eternity.