On The Magicians Season 3 Episode 8, the writers dabble in something stranger than fiction, scrambling (or unscrambling) the storylines and fates of several characters.
While past episodes have felt more character focused, "Six Short Stories About Magic" was definitely plot driven, which took some of the magic out of it for me. That's not to say it wasn't good. In fact, the episode playing with its structure was one of the coolest things its done all season.
It was, of course, a very meta writing decision, but as we know, that's part of this show's distinct identity, so it definitely worked for me.
The episode begins with Penny visiting the Underworld, where we learn that Benedict is in fact dead. He's also very upset that Penny doesn't seem to be there for him.
I assumed he was hiding the key based on his reaction, which, by the way, was not a cool move. But Penny coming back to thank Benedict for caring about his death was sickeningly sweet, as was Penny's shaking and moving to get Benedict in The Library.
A result of Benedict's lie was that Penny ran into his old boss Silvia who seemed eager to help until she literally backstabbed him. The show did a pretty good job of making us believe Silvia was entirely on Penny's side, in my opinion. I certainly believed it more than Benedict's fib.
What she did with Penny though feels a bit bigger than her ultimate betrayal. First, we met the person who actually writes each of our books, and they look exactly like Alice. I know they said they weren't her, but I'm not entirely sure I believe that.
If it is her though, the question remains: how did she get there. Perhaps she's a version of one of the Alice's from another one of the many beast timelines?
And until we saw her, I had completely forgotten about how The Library's "people books" could reveal what was happening to the characters. Or I guess it didn't really cross my mind as an issue because, as Penny pointed out, there are six billion people in the world.
I appreciated the show acknowledging the convenience of Penny being the lone story currently written, even if I don't entirely trust the science or magic on it.
Do these books get written based on perceived universal importance or is it just random? How many books was this Alice look-a-like writing when she was spelled for her to prioritize the Brakebills kids?
For as much as I love the Brakebills crew and understand they are currently busy saving the world, aren't there somewhat other really important people and things to be writing about?
In any case, this discovery sets up how the rest of the episode unfolds—as a series of short stories. It felt very Stranger Than Fiction, and I really enjoyed that (though I'm a sucker for meta and wall breaking).
As Penny reads, we see in a somewhat confusing series of events Quentin and Poppy fail to find a key Penny hasn't yet delivered, before they run into Alice who shouldn't even be there. Quentin is, understandably, upset but Poppy isn't interested in their drama and bounces.
I was excited to see that Poppy really is just a flighty, self-serving character who wants to get things done until it gets too dangerous. I was concerned that she was going to be the person that Alice ultimately was.
Speaking of, I should have guessed when she went missing earlier—and Poppy was able to steal her mirror bridge math—that something was up. It was clear foreshadowing. I guess I didn't expect for the real Alice to be such a brazen manipulator.
Desperate yes, but not quite whatever this is for some reason.
As that trio was having their weird moment, Kady and Harriet were having an even weirder—and somewhat cooler—one. I'd have to say that my favorite "short story" was Harriet's, hands down.
Not only was I elated that they cut the sound to be true to the way Harriet experiences the world (this is her story after all), but that plot twist with her being Zelda's daughter was good. And it didn't just hit us straight out; it unfolded slowly.
I think they could have spent a bit more time helping us understand why Zelda and Harriet bumped heads so much. They did press the idea that Harriet experienced much more of the world in a tangible, human way while her mother lived through the books.
But I would have liked to see the moments for Harriet out in the real world that had her change her mind from her mother's way of thinking. At least to the point where she'd literally die in a standoff against her mother.
By the way, I'm not sure why that fellow Librarian shattered the mirror bridge. Was he just angry or did he think that was the only supply of fairy dust out there?
Which leads us to the big fairy reveal. The connection between the Earth-bound fairies and Fillory's fairies wasn't made entirely clear, but I'm assuming the magical beings experienced a population dip, which is why they are terraforming.
I'm also assuming that dip was due to other magical creatures murdering them for the power of their bodies. Which is... heavy. Julia and Fen's entire storyline this episode was unexpectedly heavy without being overtly so.
I enjoyed the two women's back and forth about the dynamics of power and how important it is to acknowledge above blanketing an entire population as "one thing." Power and who has it is most tightly linked to things like discrimination and violence.
Sky's slavery, her sawed-off leg—it makes it easier to see why the fairies would hate the children of Earth so much. They may have been doing some pretty awful things to magical creatures.
But it's still not clear why Sky wouldn't know about her own people as those same people are literally taking over Fillory, or why The Librarians would kill two people—Harriet and Victoria—in order to protect a briefcase when there's an entire race out there that can provide more.
Finally, there was Eliot and Margo who we didn't see a lot of, but of what we saw, it was not a good look. Their kingdom hates them and wants them dead.
Overall, I'm not entirely sure the multiple running storylines thing worked. Not as in they shouldn't have done it, but keeping clear track of everything that was going on was somewhat difficult to me. I feel like I'll have to watch again to make sure I connect all the dots properly.
I'll also admit in the chaos of everything, I wasn't entirely sure if Alice gave Penny up in exchange for what she wanted from The Library. If that is the case, Quentin—and the others—are going to have an even more serious reason not to trust.
This episode had some noteworthy jokes like Fen's "old ball and cock" mixed idiom. It was yet another reminder that our characters are strangers in a strange land.
Penny's exchange of Game of Thrones spoilers for information about Benedict's whereabouts was also hilarious.
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I also like Penny getting grossed out about Poppy and Quentin's sex scene. I feel like that's something we don't acknowledge in the theory of "someone is always watching us, planning out our lives."
If you have thoughts about The Magicians' latest episode, "Six short Stories About Magic," comment below! And if you haven't caught up, you can watch The Magicians online.
Abbey White is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.