REVIEW: The Magicians, S3E11 – Twenty-Three

The Magicians was full of deep cuts last night in “Twenty-Three,” which pulled together various storylines from the last few seasons. At the start of the episode, Eliot (Hale Appleman), Margo (Summer Bishil), Quentin (Jason Ralph) and Alice (Olivia Taylor-Dudley) are all on Fillory’s most wanted list thanks to Tick. The only royal that isn’t being hunted is Josh (Trevor Einhorn), and he barely counts. Since Julia (Stella Maeve) and the Fairy Queen are now on good terms, the others send him back to Earth and figure out how to get the sixth key.

Dare I ship it?

Henry Fogg (Rick Worthy) is impressed with Julia’s (Stella Maeve) growing magic, whose selflessness has only increased her powers, and she happily hands Brakebills back to him now that the McAllistairs have been defeated – save for Irene who’s out there somewhere alone. This is nothing more than a footnote in “Twenty-Three.” but it underscores just how far she’s come from the young woman who would stop at nothing to learn magic. Regardless, her meeting with Josh is interrupted when another Josh from Timeline 23 pulls them into a Tesla Flexion to ask how the defeat the Beast without magic. Not only do we get a great Star Wars: A New Hope shoutout, but it sounds like that Beast has one of the keys they don’t. Despite Julia planning to loop Quentin in, the key decides to send them to Timeline 23… Where Marina is still still alive.

Before Josh and Julia can get too far into their planning, they are roofied. Turns out that the Beast just wants Julia, and Marina is going to hand her right over. Instead, Julia proves her God-level power in order to make an alliance, even if poor Josh remains a hostage. Julia understandably doesn’t want to tell Marina about her fate in The Magicians timeline, but the tension between them makes for a rich story. And it only gets more interesting when they go to see more of Timeline 23’s characters, like a Fogg who self-medicates with opiates. Watching half of Margo explode through Eliot’s eyes while they try to cast a spell to stop the Beast is particularly painful. But perhaps the most surprising twist is that Penny (Arjun Gupta) and Julia were in love in this timeline 23, which is tragic even as Marina hilariously points out that romantic comedy behavior gets you arrested in other timelines.

Revisiting old horrors in a new timeline is a real nightmare.

Josh, meanwhile, is having a real bummer of a day because he realizes how much of a jerk his alternate self is. Their little tiff seems to be resolved with the exchange of a jacket, but then the Beast decides to show up and spoil the fun by murdering Josh-23 in the blink of an eye. Worst of all, the Beast in this timeline is now Quentin despite the fact that he’s supposed to be dead. When they go to find Alice, they learn she made a deal with the devil to bring back a Shadeless Quentin. He wanted to take over everything, stole Ember’s power and then lost magic for everyone else by killing a God.

Alice has a knife to kill the Beast, and Julia has enough power to wield it but refuses to sacrifice anyone in the process. She then proceeds to share her painful past with Marina, telling her how the other version of her died because of Julia’s callous plan to use her as bait. The only person she will sacrifice is Quentin, because he’s too far gone even if he’s still himself inside. Much like with the earlier Alice scenario, “Twenty-Three” does a great job of acknowledging how bad things can happen from good intentions, and how even when everyone is to blame no one really is.

One aspect I especially loved was how sweetly Julia treated Penny, despite their romance not being a part of her own history. Whether she’s ever thought about him in that way or not, it’s clear that someone truly loving her touched her as if the experience were real in her world. But she’s not the only one who shines this week, as Alice-23 willingly throws herself before the Beast in an attempt to save her friends. Their relationship hasn’t been one of my favorites throughout The Magicians run, but it’s especially poignant here once Julia gives her shade to Quentin just so he can see what he’s done to the woman he loves.

Quentin warns Julia that instead of letting magic back into the world, she will let in something much worse. That’s a pretty disheartening thing to learn two episodes before the finale, but thankfully the future isn’t set in stone and these guys are nothing if not agents of change. On a final note: the fact that Penny (and Marina?!) chooses to return with Julia  is going to make for quite an exciting mess of emotions when Kady sees him again.

The Magicians airs on Wednesdays at 9/8c on SYFY.