On The Magicians Season 3 Episode 11, Josh and Julia take a trip to an alternate reality and give the series one of its wildest and most engaging episodes this season.
Taking quite a leap from the end of the last episode, we are taken on yet another key quest that plays to the splintering of time and dimension.
Leading with the newly formed understanding between the Fairy Queen and Julia, the ousted royalty of Fillory puts addressing Tick’s bounty of their heads on hold to figure out how the fairies’ ruler may be able to help them bring magic back.
That results in an unlikely team-up, guided by Julia and Josh. It’s rounded out by appearances from a sweet, endearing alternate reality Alice, the smooth and charming as hell AU Penny, both our Josh and a more (and less) cool alternate Josh, as well as the unexpected return of hedgewitch Marina.
I should make it clear that I’m already a sucker for alternate universe storylines. There’s something so satisfying about watching actors show the range of their strengths. Not to mention, imagining all the ways characterization can change with the flip of a development coin.
That's especially true when it comes to the chemistry of established relationships. Characters are complex, and alternate versions play to that.
But Season 3 Episode 11 was not only a ride on the alternate side, but it was also arguably the most cohesive and fluid episode the show has delivered this spring. And I don’t say that lightly.
“Twenty-Three” is, if my memory serves me correct, the only episode this season that has focused on a singular plot almost entirely from start to finish. That switch up, for as much I laud this show for its ability to juggle multiple plots, is part of why I gave it a perfect rating.
The gears of this episode turned like a well-oiled machine, and that was because we let characters be entirely both in the moment and place.
In short, the quest was not only about Star Wars references, character twists and surprise returns. It was about telling a single story, entirely fleshed out, from start to finish and that’s something this show doesn’t do (and so well) very often.
Another part of its success goes to its total scrambling of the Scooby-Gang equation. Instead of leaning solely on its main cast, the show plucked from its past and supporting characters to help tell its story.
Aspects of all the alternate reality characters remained similar to our original universe crew, but the slight alterations in their fates created a team that was both 50 percent less bitter and 100 percent more charming – even with a homicidal, power-hungry Quentin.
Who, by the way, was the episode’s biggest twist. Quentin taking over the role of Martin Chatwin made this an actual alternate reality. Seeing his face revealed through the moths, and seeing Jason Ralph play a much smoother version of Quentin, was fun and frightening.
Josh’s alternate version helped him score some personal development as he worked out feelings of abandonment and betrayal towards an essentially slaughtered Brakebills group.
We got a version of Josh that was a bit more "seasoned," if you will, but that darker tinge only looked great in the beginning. Ultimately, it proved that our Josh, so caring about his friends and so relentlessly eager to help, is a bigger hero than we give him credit.
Josh remains the creamer in what is otherwise a mostly straight black cup of coffee. His enthusiasm makes him a necessary presence, even if others and he don’t always realize it.
Another character got a flip on the alternate treatment: Penny. I’ve always felt that Arjun Gupta breathed new, welcomed life into the character of Penny for Syfy’s small screen adaptation.
In fact, Gupta made me continue to care and root for his character when I would have otherwise abandoned interest in similar characters.
I’m both awed and elated at Sera and John’s choice to potentially re-write Penny into something both recognizable and entirely distinctive. He will certainly add a new and appreciated flavor to the team if he ends up joining it.
There’s also the interesting development of a Julia and Penny romance. Beyond being the second most significant episodic twist, and something I had literally never thought of, I found myself not entirely averse to it.
It does have the potential to stir up some drama between him, Julia, and Kady, seeing as he’s coming back to the original timeline. And while I like good relationship tension, I’m not the biggest fan of how (screen)time-consuming love triangles can be.
Hopefully, if the show does decide to play with this, it will be both compelling and conscientious.
Speaking of Julia, if it’s acceptable to say that you’re proud of a character, I’m incredibly proud of her development this season. I’d argue that she’s arguably one of the best things this show has done.
I questioned the series decision to incorporate Julia’s rape into its own adaptation when it could have so easily removed it back in The Magicians Season 1.
But if they had, we’d never have gotten an arc that went in a direction and depth other shows rarely go.
Whether it’s Julia fixing Marina’s scars or refusing to use Alice as bait or giving her shade to a Beast-ly Quentin instead of killing him, there’s something moving about seeing a show give literal power (back) to someone who had it so brutally robbed from them.
As for Alice and Marina, two who have (one more understandably than the other) developed harder edges, seeing them respond differently to the stress and trauma of their timeline was an interesting turn.
Watching Alice be openly vulnerable reminded me how much of that side of the character I missed. It also gave me hope that she might have a decent shot at finding some happiness again. Despite how direly her AU storyline turned out.
As for Marina, I always thought she was a great villain, and in the episode, she almost was one yet again. I appreciated the show bringing her into the fold, as well as giving her some extra heart and stakes though.
It gave her character a chance to really expand and explain somewhat her harshness in the original storyline. Marina wasn’t just manipulating people. In a way, she was trying to survive.
While I enjoyed the episode it raised a couple questions for me. The first has to do with Margo and Eliot, who we saw ghost versions of. Did that mean in another universe they never came to rule Fillory? And what might that imply, if anything about their current situation and future in the original timeline?
During Josh and Penny’s conversation about lycanthropy, was Penny implying that the Josh who lived was “Dick Josh” or was he simply alluding to him becoming like “Dick Josh” if he put his friends in danger?
If it’s the former, that’s a serious twist, though I was pretty sure original Josh lived.
There’s also the very foreboding issue of what might happen to original Josh, considering what happened to alternate Josh. I’m not really sure they’ll have time to address it this season, but maybe next?
Also, to my recollection, the magical logistics of what happens when two versions of the same person exist in the same timeline for an extended period on The Magicians hasn’t been entirely explained.
But we watched Josh do it in the alternate timeline with seemingly only coincidental deadly results. So I’m seriously considering whether alternate Penny is the writers’ permanent answer to original Penny being trapped in the Underworld.
Finally, the reveal before handing over the key to Julia was very much a jaw dropper. The idea that the key unlocks something worse than the Beast seems to be in line with the “fall of the fairies” the Queen alluded to in the last episode.
But then how do we and the characters reckon with spending an entire season trying to get magic back, just to not get magic back?
If you have thoughts about The Magicians' latest episode, "Twenty-Three," 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.