We left off last episode with Penny and Kady showing Quentin and Alice the shield icon that Penny saw on the wall of the dungeon that he astrally projected to. Quentin says he thinks Penny went to Fillory and, in his fan-boy excitement, asks Penny if there were any talking animals there. Penny reminds him a chained-up woman was there, along with The Beast, so cut with the kids’ book bullshit.
After Penny leaves, Quentin mopes, and I’m not sure why. Because Penny didn’t get excited about Fillory? Is Quentin an 11-year-old trapped in a 21-year-old’s body? Does he not realize the seriousness of the situation? A woman is chained up in a dungeon by The Beast and has been for years, Quentin! Get your head out of your ass.
Julia returns to the Archie Gang hedge witch club and accuses them of looking stupid on purpose the first time she visited. She thinks Marina put them up to it. It turns out she’s right. Archie doesn’t want Julia in the club (he doesn’t want a war with Marina), but he gives her the location of a third hedge witch club an hour out of town. A woman follows her from the Archie gang’s hideout to the alley outside the new hedge witch hideout (which has an eviction notice tacked to it), which means she tailed Julia for an hour – on the train, even! – and only got caught at the end of the tail. Julia’s not the most perceptive person. If I’d had the kind of month she’s had, I’d be paranoid as hell.
Quentin’s alone reading in the living room at night. He hears a creepy noise and gets up to investigate, when he is set upon by people wearing gaudy masks and wielding knives. He’s taken outside by his kidnappers, where he finds out (a) he was kidnapped by Margo and an extra; and (b) all the other first-years are in the same boat. This is some sort of initiation rite imposed by the upperclassmen, led by Eliot. If they don’t pass, they’re out of Brakebills.
For Task #1, the first-years are divided into teams of 3 or 4. Quentin is with Penny and some guy we’ve never seen before. Let’s just call him Douche Wizard. Douche Wizard sees he’s on a team with Quentin and immediately concludes the team is “immensely handicapped.” Eliot introduces the “practically impossible” task: they have until 9 a.m. to decrypt a spell and cast it.
Julia and her new stalker friend have a drink. Stalker Gal is a hedge witch who knows Marina and has seemingly also been cast out of Club Hedge Witch. She’s got some spells she’ll give Julia. All she wants in exchange is for Julia to let her do the spells with her, because she misses it. This seems fishy to me.
Anyway, they go back to Julia’s safe house, which looks like a car mechanic’s garage, and run through all the spells. Julia craves more. She’s a like junkie looking for her next fix. She lied to her boyfriend that she was going to NA meetings for an Adderall addiction, but that lie wasn’t far from the truth. She is addicted – to spells. She’s after the Mother Lode of spells from Marina’s memory of Brakebills that Julia helped Marina steal.
Midway through the initiation test at Brakebills, Team Quentin/Penny/Douche-Wizard is no closer to solving the task. Quentin recalls that Eliot said it was “impossible.” So he concludes that the correct strategy is to cheat. I love that he gives a shout-out to Star Trek with the line “We’ve been Kobayashi Maru’d!” Douche-Wizard wants no part of a cheating plan, but Penny’s all in.
Meeting in the janitor’s closet, Quentin asks if Penny would be able to read Alice’s mind (Alice being the Hermione Granger of the first-year class and most likely the only one capable of solving the task). Penny says no, but he has a better idea. Thus begins one of the funniest scenes of the season, with Penny looking over Alice’s shoulder at her exam blue book via astral projection, while she’s feeling super weirded out and paranoid about nothing she can put her finger on. (And again, Arjun Gupta gets the great comedic scene of the episode. He’s single-handedly keeping this show from being a complete hate-watch.)
Eliot comes to check Team Quentin/Penny/Douche-Wizard’s work. The spell works perfectly. Eliot says he knows they cheated, but he nevertheless congratulates Quentin and Penny and says, “On to the second task.” Penny asks, “Well what about Douche-Wizard?” But Douche-Wizard has disappeared. “Thinning the herd,” sighs Eliot.
Julia and Stalker Gal case Club Hedge Witch from their car. Stalker Gal holds a nifty little blue glass in front of her eye that reveals the wards protecting the building. It looks nigh on impossible to break in and steal Marina’s filing cabinet. But Julia has a plan that involves extra-dimensional travel.
Later, they are planning their heist when in walks Kady! She’s Stalker Gal’s daughter! The plot thickens! Wait, isn’t Kady supposed to be in an exam at Brakebills right now with all the other first-years? How did she just walk out of the task and leave her team in the lurch? I have the feeling this scene was originally going to be in some other episode.
They tell Kady they’re going to start their own Club Hedge Witch, safe from Marina, and they prove that by giving her their plans for a protection spell that can make a safe house invisible.
Kady spills the beans on Mom (whose name we learn is Hannah): there was some heist a while back that Hannah planned, but things got away from her and two people died in the venture. Marina “cleaned things up,” whatever that means, and the payment was that Kady had to start being Marina’s bitch and stealing stuff for her. So now we know the backstory behind Marina and Kady’s relationship, but this story still doesn’t make any sense. Ongoing blackmail/extortion schemes require leverage of some kind; you pay to prevent something from happening or being revealed. But if two people already died, where’s the leverage Marina has over Hannah and Kady? Kady doesn’t even like her mom, so why would she care what Marina would do to her?
Kady takes the Invisible-Safe-House spell and begins to storm out. Julia tries to stop her taking it, but Hannah intervenes and says Kady needs it. Kady takes it straight to Marina. So do they plan for Marina to use the spell? Like did they build in a back door they could use to circumvent the security spell they created? That would be pretty brilliant. But this plot thread dies, at least in this episode.
But after Kady leaves, Julia says she’s through with Hannah on this plan. She’ll get Marina’s spells on her own. She does promise to share with Hannah when she’s gotten them, though.
Kady tells Marina she found the security spell in an old textbook. Marina dimisses it as “underwhelming” and asks how Professor March’s research is going. Kady says she’s tried, but he won’t take on first-year assistants. Marina tells her to try again. It would be nice if we knew who this Professor March is and why Marina cares about his research. I don’t think we’ve even seen or heard of this character before.
Margo and Quentin have another heart-to-heart! The second in as many episodes! This time we learn that Margo was also a huge fan of the Fillory books. Quentin tells her about Penny traveling there and The Beast being there and how it has shattered his world that Fillory might not be the squeaky-clean and *Magical!* place he’s always believed it was. She tells him to get over it and focus on the world he’s living in. Then he tries to stand and realizes she’s roofied him.
He wakes up in the forest, next to a stream. Eliot sits at a table set for High Tea and demands Quentin catch him a fish, using a bow and one single arrow. We pan across the forest and see similar scenes of first-years attempting various tasks that have been set them by their upperclassmen task masters. Margo tells Penny to bring her a white horse and gives him an axe with which to do it.
As he’s fruitlessly tracking his prey, he sees Kady run by with a butterfly net. He stops her. She’s hysterical and after breaking his nose (!) breaks down crying on his shoulder, saying she needs Brakebills; she has nothing else. He asks her what she’s supposed to be catching in her net. She tells him a pheasant. He realizes they all have the wrong tools, and that to be successful, they’ll have to find the students with the correct tools and trade off tasks with each other. I’m sure it’s purely a coincidence that the four first-years we’ve met so far (our main characters) have exactly the right tools between them to accomplish their tasks.
Kady chops down a tree for Alice using Penny’s axe. Quentin uses Alice’s rope to lasso Penny’s horse. Alice uses Quentin’s bow to shoot Kady’s pheasant. Penny uses Kady’s net to catch Quentin’s fish. Cooperation! Yay!
Hannah breaks into Julia’s safe house and catches Julia about to fail at whatever spell she’s attempting. Hannah says they need to perform the spell together in order for it to succeed. Cooperation! Yay! (Do I sense a theme here?) They team up and it works! They transport all three of Marina’s filing cabinets to Julia’s safe house.
After checking for wards with the little blue glass thingy, they open a drawer and pull out some files. The pages are all blank except for one that says “Nice try.” Hannah starts bleeding from the eyes and then blood starts spurting out of her from every orifice. She warns Julia to run away, that Marina is coming, and then she dies in a soup of her own blood.
Task #3 at Brakebills involves “secrets magic”. This means you have to tie yourself up to another person and reveal your “innermost personhood” or whatever to them. Oh, and you have to be naked, because this is cable TV, and we’re edgy, goddamnit! The pairs are Penny/Kady and Quentin/Alice.
Oh, it turns out we’re not that edgy on cable TV, because neither Quentin nor Alice is naked. Guess there was a “no nudity” clause in their contracts. They still manage to pass the test, though, even though the midnight deadline has come and gone. Alice’s secret is that she’s a way more powerful magician than she’s been letting on; she holds back in order to fit in. Quentin confesses that he’s always running away from life, even at Brakebills, and that he hates himself (no surprise there). Penny tells Kady he’s falling in love with her. Kady stomps on his heart by confessing that she’s been using him this whole time to help her steal shit.
Then all the first-years morph into geese and fly into the night sky.
The Bottom Line
One of the better episodes to date. Aside from some plausibility problems with the whole Marina/Hannah/Kady thing (and Kady going AWOL from Brakebills in the middle of a crucial exam that she needs to pass to stay there), there weren’t too many WTF moments. I really enjoyed the cheating scene, and the fact that the Kobayashi Maru was mentioned makes me like this show a wee bit more this week.