REVIEW: The Magicians, S4E1 – A Flock of Lost Birds

After last season’s reality-shattering finale, The Magicians was tasked with picking up the pieces of its characters’ lives all over again. Thankfully, “A Flock of Lost Birds” turned what could have been a confusing and ponderous return to square into a fun and fast-paced reimagining of the already stellar series.

Identity is in the eye of the beholder.

The Library gained full control of magic last season, which they dole out as they see fit, but that didn’t stop Dean Fogg (Rick Worthy) from staging his own secret rebellion using his position as headmaster of Brakebills. “A Flock of Lost Birds” opened with a woman named Kimber D’Antoni receiving an acceptance letter that blew her right into the university’s campus and landed her smack dab in the middle of the entrance exam. When he learned that this potential student caused a shortage in the magic supply, Fogg observed her through a magical lens and quickly discovered she was Julia (Stella Maeve) under his witness protection spell. Determined not to leave her to her own devices as he had in times past, he got her admitted right under the Library’s nose with a deft bit of subterfuge. Though magic still hadn’t sparked in her by the end of the episode, the Dean’s determination to look out for her set the tone for the season and restored him to the benevolent father figure he once was. Plus, the filtering between the actress for “Kim” and the “real” Julia was surprising and interesting all at once, visually translating how knowledge changes one’s perspective entirely.

The back-and-forth visual effect was surprisingly not repeated with the rest of The Magicians, perhaps because it’s a trick that works best when used sparingly. Nevertheless, “A Flock of Birds” quickly introduced Kady (Jade Tailor), or rather her new identity of Sam Cunningham. An undercover narcotics detective in hot pursuit of a constantly escaping suspect, she soon learned that he was known as a Hedge Witch and that things exploded every time she tried to uncover more about him. A face-to-face meeting informed her that her existence was a lie and the discovery of said lie was threat to him. As if proving his words true, he handed her with his protection amulet only to get hit by a truck seconds later. She then did a little research and came up with a graphic novel titled after the episode, starring not just herself but the rest of the protagonists in disguise. It was a clever way to both get her up to speed and to call back to the Fillory and Further books that the show started with.

Speaking of Fillory, Margo (Summer Bishil) was no longer in it or acting as its High King. She woke up as a fashion editor named Janet, and refused to listen to anything that the dream vision of Ember told her about the dangerous events that have grabbed hold of the magical world – not consciously, at least. She did order an eyepatch and the entire series of novels, much to her assistant’s chagrin, so something stuck. While Janet still retained all of Margo’s signature sass, her scenes didn’t start popping until “Sam” tracked her down to reveal the contents of the novel as best she could without getting killed by the forces behind the protection spell. Bishil always sparkles when playing off the rest of the main cast, which “A Flock of Birds” took full advantage of once the girls recruited Penny (Arjun Gupta) and Josh’s (Trevor Einhorn) alter egos to their cause. Sidenote: Penny as spiritual DJ-slash-workout-guru deserved much more screen time, because it was hysterical seeing him so chill.

But perhaps the best surprise of The Magicians premiere was Marina interrupted the newly formed group in the midst of their planning session and offering her services to find the truth behind their identity crisis. Her undoing of their magical illusions was the first time we saw what the characters really looked like out in New York City before they were restored to themselves. Except Margo was not given the chance to see for herself, because Ember’s post-death projection transported her to Fillory so that she could enact change as the High King. “A Flock of Lost Birds” left its audience with the cliffhanger of how Margo will handle this jarring change of scenery, but the woman is unstoppable so the sensation was one of excitement rather than dread.

Alice always has a plan.

Meanwhile, the Library had Alice (Olivia Taylor-Dudley) locked up all episode, rendering her unable to send help to her friends or inform them of her predicament. Instead she spent her time talking with the man in the cell next door, a Diogenes fanboy named Nick who had been on a lifelong search for good people before the Library booked him. He told her about his time with his worker elves and his desire to reward good children. Santa Claus, is that you? Megyn Kelly will be furious to know you’re not white. Despite the somewhat humorous backstory, “A Flock of Birds” swiftly became serious and emotional when he promised Alice she was still good despite having hurt others. He also asked her to hold on and not give into depression like he once did, but she appeared to attempt suicide the very next scene regardless. It was highly graphic, and I appreciate that The Magicians put up a suicide prevention hotline after the fact, but Alice’s goal was not to end her own life. With a bug from outside her cell in hand and more knowledge about the Library’s layout, she got to work on finding her way out once she was healed and returned to her confinement. What I found particularly intriguing was the Head Librarian’s vested interest in Alice, as she seemed to want to turn her into a protege. Could that be a path Alice takes for the greater good?

Finally, “A Flock of Birds” provided a quick look at the whereabouts of Quentin/Brian (Jason Ralph) and his unfortunately playmate not-Eliot (Hale Appleman). After killing a nice ice cream vendor, the vessel that was once Eliot informed Brian that he was on his way to kill all the latter’s friends. Poor Brian didn’t even know who his friends were, but something tells me that he’ll figure it out soon enough. How can he stop the evil from hurting his loved ones, though, when it too is one of his loved ones? I don’t know, but I’m already desperate to find out.

The Magicians airs Wednesdays at 10/9c on Syfy.