The Magicians, S03/E08: "Six Short Stories About Magic"

The Quest for the Seven Keys has hit some road bumps along the way, but a good quest is never a simple affair. Eliot and Margo have lost control over their kingdom, but Quentin and Penny are working on a plan to retrieve the next key with some unlikely allies.



A rather disheveled Eliot makes his case to a sentient wombat, that while he hates Fillory, with its smart animals and stupid humans, not to mention extremely sub-par plumbing, Fillory saved him, and he believes it is his turn to save Fillory. The uprising has, so far, not beheaded the deposed rulers. Margo looks on, tight-lipped and angry, but none the worse for wear.


Poppy’s attempt to quell Quentin’s panic attack with some spontaneous sex didn’t help much, as he resumes his worrying thoughts about the many ways they could all die. Having failed in her mission, she steps out of the bedroom and encounters Alice in the hall, ready for an awkward confrontation. Alice is apparently unconcerned about who Quentin sleeps with but is definitely concerned about the dangers he is about to face. She knows Harriet plans to break into the library, and that the spellwork involved is prohibitively difficult. Poppy suggests Alice could work out the specifics, but Alice refuses, not wanting to contribute to their recklessness.



Hard at work trying to recapture the full extent of knowledge she once held as a niffin, Alice is interrupted by a thump coming from the Fillory clock. Fen tumbles into the room. They get drunk together, and Alice tells Fen, who just learned her baby was dead, that she also has lost people recently, including a piece of herself. Alice is haunted, not by her father who she killed, but her lost niffin knowledge. Fen tells her this is a thing that still exists somewhere and does not compare to the permanent loss of a child, and she can go look for it.


Alice, inspired to continue her deeply selfish quest, stakes out a book dropoff until a traveling Librarian comes by. Unfortunately, it’s the boorish Gavin, who previously came looking for Penny’s soul. He has no interest in Library groupies, but Alice convinces him to take her case to the head Librarian. Travelers, being human hybrid creatures, can still teleport at will, but taking others with them is a magic spell that shouldn’t work without wellspring magic. To Alice’s surprise, Gavin, takes her hand and effortlessly teleports her to the Library.

She asks the Librarian for a library card so she can continue her research into extensive niffin knowledge, but is denied. The Librarian begins to make her an offer, related to the Quest for the Seven Keys, but is interrupted and walks away. At this point, Quentin and Poppy run into Alice, who they are surprised to see, since Alice seemed to have no interest in their suicidal attempts at breaking into the Library.



Drunk and devastated, Fen recuperates on the couch at the Physical cottage when Julia receives Irene McAllistair at the door. Irene has come to collect on the unnamed favor she extorted from Julia. She shows her a patch of diseased flesh on her abdomen, and explains that it is a side effect of the magic dust she shared with Julia, but that Julia hasn’t used nearly enough to have such a reaction. The cure for the condition is an intensive magical spell, which Irene can’t do without using more of the powder that caused the decay in the first place.


Fen sees a faerie next to Irene, which Julia does not. She warns Julia that the faeries are evil, and manipulate powerful humans, but Julia is confused. Penny told them that he saw strange lights around the McAllistair house and that they seemed servile, doing chores, not running things. Fen can’t imagine why they would be subservient, but is convinced, due to her own experience with faeries, that there must be a wicked motive. Julia asks Fen if she knows what slavery is, and Fen responds that slave faeries are better than the alternative, them running humans. Julia says slavery is never a good thing, and that her magic grows when she helps people. She wants to investigate the faerie’s situation and asks Fen to speak with the faerie while she casts the healing spell over Irene.


Fen accosts the faerie, demanding to know her name. The faerie is surprised that she can be seen, and afraid her mistress, Irene, will be angry if she doesn’t return. Seeing the faerie’s fear deflates Fen’s anger as she realizes Julia was right, and that they are slaves to the McAllistairs, but the faerie refutes this, claiming that the family keeps them safe from evil magicians. She asks Fen how she can see her kind, and Fen says a deal was made with faeries on her behalf, to which the servant replies “There are no other faeries.” She has to return to Irene’s side, but tells Fen to come to the house the following day so they can speak more, when Irene won’t be home. Her name is Skye.


Julia and Fen creep about the McAllistair home and let themselves into a locked outer building, courtesy of Julia’s lockpicking spell. Fen sees Skye, catatonic on a makeshift operating table and missing her leg. She’s shocked at the horrific tableau and asks who did this to her, but Julia already knows. She finds a bowl full of the powder that gave her temporary magical powers, and now knows it to be the ground up bones of faeries, which the McAllistairs have been exploiting, presumably for generations.


You came for me! Oh... you want the key... uh, about that

Looking for Benedict, who was last seen with the 4th key, Penny makes his way to the Underworld branch of the Library by way of becoming a book and being eaten by a dragon. He escapes notice and finds Benedict in a temporary housing camp- it seems even the Underworld is in disarray with the loss off magic. Benedict is happy to see his friend Penny, and regretfully informs him that the key in in the Library, not knowing that Penny is a Librarian and can enter the Library to look for it.

On his way back to the Underworld Library he just snuck out of, he encounters Sylvia, his seemingly-teenaged Library supervisor last seen dying in the poison room. She doesn’t blame him for leaving her and is pretty happy with her afterlife situation. She hands him some pages describing his recent activities and tells him his best chance at completing his quest and securing the key lie with the writer. This turns out to be Cassandra, cursed in Greek Myth by Apollo to know the future and but to never be believed. For some reason, Cassandra looks like a pale, grey haired Alice, with a hundred foot long braid.


Cassandra shrieks at Penny’s arrival, distressed by seeing someone she is writing about, and returns to her work, throwing pages away as she completes them. Penny reads the pages and learns what is happening with his friends, but it doesn’t seem to point him in the direction of the key. In frustration, he tosses the contents of Cassandra’s desk and demands she just tell him where it is. She picks up a single page and hands it to him- one that depicts the sex scene between Quentin and Poppy that he previously skipped over.


Poppy’s impulsive actions, such as jumping Quentin, are driven by her insecurities. This leads Penny to realize that Benedict, afraid of being alone for eternity, lied to him about the key’s location, hoping Penny would eventually give up looking and stay with him. Penny tells him he appreciates his friendship, and he knows that Benedict was the only person who cried for him, but they need the key. Once he gets it, Sylvia has agreed to help Benedict get a position in the Library map room, where he should be happy and popular.


Penny puts the key into a book and places it in the chute to be delivered to the bookwyrm. As he tries to make his goodbyes to Sylvia, she reminds him that she helped him complete his quest before slamming the book chute closed, and Penny is dragged away by Library personnel.


1952, a little girl strolling through the Library is caught by her mother, the head Librarian. She scolds the child, in sign language, for running off, concerned that her child would get lost in the other worlds where time runs differently and could come back all grown up, or maimed. The adventurous little Harriet doesn’t want to read books, she wants people to write books about her.


1985, a teenaged Harriet argues with her mother about sharing knowledge with outsiders. Harriet attends Brakebills and believes that the Library’s resources shouldn’t be hoarded from the world. The Librarian decides that Harriet shouldn’t return to the outside world, but the willful and idealistic teen says she won’t stay where she isn’t trusted. She turns her back on the Library’s restrictive policies, and on her mother.

2007, Harriet, now grown, makes a hesitant return to the library. The Librarian is glad to see her daughter, and immediately offers to help her find the book she came for, regarding conjuring of Elementals. The librarian makes a gesture, offering Harriet a place at the Library, but Harriet will only stay if they are willing to change their policies. The head Librarian, aware and in fear of the troubling times to come, is unwilling to risk spreading dangerous knowledge in case she contributes to or even causes the great blank spot- the point at which all the books in the library suddenly stop.


2018, Harriet conspires with Quentin, Poppy, Kady, and traveler Victoria to break into the Library. Hedge witches have seen Librarians performing magic in the wild, and it has long been rumored that the Librarians found an ancient magical battery. Victoria can travel there, but to get the others across, she will need to open a mirror bridge. The mirror bridge, similar to the one the Beast used to first enter Brakebills, requires difficult calculations and a lot of traveler blood- perhaps more than Victoria has within her. She is unwilling to risk everyone’s lives unless Alice does the calculations, but Alice is against the entire plan. Poppy steals Alice’s homework, and Victoria opens the bridge.

In the space between worlds there is a short path across nothingness bookended by two mirrors- the one they came through, and another that leads to a bathroom in the Library. Harriet, Kady, Quentin and Poppy enter, while Victoria stays in the space between, using her blood to refresh the sigils on the mirrors so the pathway doesn’t close.

Holy shit, they went through the upside down!

Harriet tells Poppy and Quentin which way to find the book drop off from the Underworld to the Neitherlands branch, which makes Quentin ask if she has been there before. They make their way, but do not find any books with a Key inside. Poppy doesn’t want to risk Victoria’s life and tries to get Quentin to leave. He eventually follows her, but on their way back, they see Alice. Alice won’t explain her presence in the Library to Quentin, and just tells him to leave her there.


Kady and Harriet look for the battery in the precious artifact storage room, but don’t find anything that could pass for such a thing. Kady hears someone coming and they hide as Gavin enters the room with a briefcase. Kady knocks him out with a trash can and steals the case, which is stocked with glass vials full of white powder. She tastes it and Harriet snorts some, instantly feeling a return of magic. Not knowing what they have, but realizing they are out of time, they make their escape, and Harriet comes face to face with her mother one more time. She tells Kady to run...

Kady takes off and runs into Quentin, who just turned his back on Alice. Poppy has already left ahead of them both, and the two of them head toward the exit mirror when they hear a sound that may have been a dragon barfing, so they double back to the book drop off and find the 4th Key. Quentin carries it out with his sleeve, and they return to Earth...


...Harriet confronts the head Librarian, her mother, asking what is in the vials, but the Librarian won’t say. She erects a magical force field to prevent Harriet from escaping with the brief case full of magic-granting dust, but Harriet easily dispels it, having just used the dust herself. She runs from her mother back to the mirror bridge, and jumps through. Victoria is in bad shape, having used so much of her own blood to keep the bridge open, and Harriet tells her to run. Gavin appears next to the Librarian in the bathroom and shatters the mirror with a trash can, which shatters both mirrors in the space between worlds- the first sound after ten minutes of near-total silence, trapping Harriet and Victoria forever.


Mirror, Mirror, on the wall...

Harriet and Victoria.

  • Oh my god, I hope Harriet and Victoria aren’t trapped forever! Last week I would have been happy to see Harriet marooned in a void, but we just watched her whole life flash before our eyes, and the Librarian is her mom, and so much has changed.
  • Victoria is so, so dead. Even if the others find a way back to that place between worlds, Victoria was already really low on blood. Sadly, Victoria is a victim of her own strength, because having two travelers on the show, especially a corporeal one, would make light work of the remainder of the quest. I don’t know if either one of them will make it out, but I give Harriet a slightly higher chance. More likely, we will have to accept that Harriet is going to spend eternity with Victoria’s dead body. Damn, that... that hurts.
  • I loved watching Harriet through the stages of her life, interacting with the Librarian, and in total silence. It was a beautifully produced sequence, nd exactly the kind of thing I want from genre tv.
  • The last time I saw such well executed silence was on the Walking Dead, when Rick was dying and left alone by Carl and Michonne, who had to go out and forage for supplies to keep them all alive.

The Librarian

  • I already liked Mageina Tovah, and loved her Librarian, but she really outdid herself in this episode. This is the kind of thing you put out for award consideration. I can’t speak to the accuracy of her American Sign Language, but there was a real beauty to the movement, showing the grace of a spellcaster using sign language, and I love the way her hands reset to their akimbo position every time she was done talking.
  • This might seem quaint, or even charming... but I see a woman ready to cast at a moment’s notice. It’s like a black-hat cowboy in a western always walking around with his hands on his pistols. However, it is also charming.
  • The expressiveness in her face when she’s speaking to her mischievous child, her impetuous teen, her determined adult daughter- the love and concern and fear, and then the heartbreak when she realizes her daughter’s final fate. Watch this scene a few times and really take it in. This was a gift.
  • That said, the Librarian, or the Library, at the least, is apparently part of the Faerie bone grinding system. This kind of wanton, wholesale exploitation really shines a light on the Faerie Queen’s distrust of humans, which I fully expected, but not to this degree. I thought a few faeries were tricked into servitude, or outright enslaved, but beyond the McAllistairs, the Library seems to have a much larger supply of the horrific magic substitute.
  • The Librarian began to offer Alice a chance at a Library card, asking her if she knows about the Quest for the Seven Keys. Considering her steadfast belief that magical knowledge should be kept safe from the uninitiated, including even students at Brakebills, I’m inclined to think she was going to ask Alice to sabotage the quest. I am sure Alice would take that deal- it gets her closer to knowledge and magic for herself, which she thinks she can handle better than anyone else.


  • The flashback portion of the intro made a point of showing us that Sylvia was Penny’s supervisor, not some teen intern, so we shouldn’t be too surprised she forced Penny to stay behind to fulfill his Library contract. it’s more surprising she helped him get the key in the first place, since the Library is likely against restoring magic.
  • I wish I could remember who I said it to so I could tell them how wrong I was- a while back I said Penny was the worst, beyond redemption, and he has redeemed himself so completely I no longer even think he needed much redeeming. That is the kind of character development that makes this one of the best shows on television. Same goes for Harriet and the Librarian, whose conversations throughout Harriet’s progressing lifetime, while her mother didn’t age, were deeply enlightening.
  • Penny still doesn’t know why Benedict likes him so much, and he doesn’t much care for all the hugging, but when he realizes the mapmaker had the key all along, he confronts him with kindness and appreciation, something they both needed.


  • I am surprised that the “great blank spot”, the time where all the life-books in the library suddenly go blank- wasn’t caused by the loss of magic itself. When magic went away, I thought that was going to be it.
  • I hope there’s a good reason that Cassandra- THE Cassandra- looks exactly like Alice. I have a feeling that reason is going to be “She wasn’t busy that day but we are already paying her, so...”
  • I’m pretty sure that’s the reason, but it was also fun seeing her do something different, and I’m not going to get pissy about the show saving money. This show does more with a tight budget than the big three networks do with ten times the money.
  • In the flashback to the first time Penny discovered that each person has their own book, we see that Eliot has two volumes. Go, Eliot!
  • I love Quentin, I love how much he cares, but I really thought having a lifetime under his belt would have matured him a little more, and tempered his fears.
  • Also, Quentin is the Fool, not the Hero. He knows this. I wish he would stop referring to it as “his” quest.
  • Poppy was, surprisingly, not the cause for everything going horribly awry.
  • Sometime after last week’s episode I saw the word written as “Bookworm,” and I almost doubted myself. I instantly envisioned it as Bookwyrm when Poppy said it, but I thought whoever wrote it as worm might know something I don’t. It is clearly labeled “Bookwyrm” on the wall in the Library.

That should do for now. This really was a fantastic episode, one of the best episodes of what is shaping up to be the best season of Magicians. I hope everyone enjoyed the show and maybe got a little something from the recap. Please don’t hesitate to join the discussion below, and I’ll see you next week!

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