REVIEW: The Magicians, S4E7 – The Side Effect

The Magicians taught viewers a lesson about ‘white male protagonism’ by taking Quentin and Not Eliot out of the story for a week in “The Side Effect.” The moral that the heroes of a tale aren’t always who our biases have led us to expect was delivered by the one character who audiences would least expect, Penny-40 (Arjun Gupta).

Kady’s all that and a bag of holding.

“The Side Effect” opened on a serious lecture between Penny and the Library’s new hire, a young white man who had just got done filing away most of The Magicians‘ books as Side Characters in Epic Quests. He sat down with the employee to explain how these so-called minor characters were major players in their own right: from the recently-missing Kady (Jade Tailor) sparking a hedge witch revolt and Fen (Brittany Curran) understanding her prophetic dreams to the Librarian Zelda covering for Alice (Olivia Taylor Dudley), each of the vignettes presented in this hour is bound to have a larger role in the season’s overarching battles against both the monster and the Library.

The episode actually took place concurrently with the last few, so Kady’s activities were happening as Quentin and Julia bed the stone and Fen’s dreams were occurring while Margo and Josh dealt with the talking animal crisis, for example.  In fact, Kady’s revolt-in-the-making was the strongest storyline of the night as it properly contextualized both the bold choice she made in taking ownership of Marina’s house as well as the motivations behind the explosion at the Modesto Library. Her quest to gather the necessary materials to appease her Baba-Yaga landlord took us back to the early seasons of The Magicians, and probably delighted Dungeons & Dragons fans everywhere, but the most important part was that she was finally finding her purpose in the story and in her own life. At one point she told Julia (Stella Maeve) that she was only part of their lives because of Penny, but even Penny in his Librarian afterlife values her for much more than that. Hopefully we’ll get a chance to see her new role among the hedge witches play out in the weeks following “The Side Effect,” especially as her mother served as the perfect motivator.

Zelda’s story was also quite touching, mostly because it used Harriet’s death – or possible entrapment in the mirror world – from last season as the tool with which to shake the once unflappable Librarian’s faith. Between her vivid and hearing loss-inducing visions of her daughter and her instinctive need to protect Alice from being recaptured or killed, it was no wonder that Zelda’s crisis of conscience led her directly to Henry Fogg (Rick Worthy). She was more desperate than ever after her tracking device scheme, which was meant to buy Alice some time, ended up killing several witches and leading the Library to desire even more devious methods of forcing their hands. Though he rejected her earlier petitions for help, but the end of the episode he was ready to connect her with Alice in order to prevent the deaths of more hedge witches – something that’s certain to connect her story to Kady’s sooner or later. If there’s any murky part of her plot in “The Side Effect,” it’s the question of whether or not Harriet is dead. As much as I loved her character, it’s been a year since the incident and it seems strange for this to be the first time her mother has questioned the situation.

Dream on, sweet Fen.

Finally, Fen’s dreams contributed to Margo’s (Summer Bishil) crusade by first revealing the antidote necessary to cure them and then preventing the High King from using on her lizard to accidentally blow it up. But while said dreams proved useful, their mysterious origin was eating away at her. So Josh (Trevor Einhorn) suggested that she practice lucid dreaming, which led to her chasing after a lady in green while she slept. Upon waking, she knew where to go in order to track her down, but we’ll have to wait another week for The Magicians to explain how the prophecies will connect to everything else. One thing it did do rather humorously was point out how bizarre and annoying the Margo and Josh tiff must look to everyone else.

The biggest twist in “The Side Effect” was the reveal that Penny’s lesson to his white guy colleague about diversity of perspective was actually a test from the higher-ups themselves, resulting in his promotion to Secrets Taken To The Grave. No clue how that will play out, but seeing as he’s been keeping tabs on his friends from the afterlife he will presumably still have an important role to play in the the story at large. After all, if The Magicians has taught us nothing else, it’s that “this story belongs to a lot more people than you think.”

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