At the end of the final task of The Trials last episode, the remaining first-years morphed into geese and flew away. Turns out they flew one hell of a LONG way: all the way to Antarctica, for some specialized magic training from your über-stereotypical grumpy Russian drunk. Wouldn’t it be more interesting for the grumpy drunk to be a Thai guy? Or an Indian guy? Or a South African guy? Or really anything other than Russian or Irish? But I digress.
This Antarctic place is an exact copy of Brakebills only in the middle of a snowy wasteland. (Thank goodness, because it saves the production a lot of money on sets they didn’t have to build!) The only professor present is the aforementioned Russian hard-ass, Professor Mayakovsky (Brían F. O’Byrne), and the only clothing allowed is a sort of off-white long john combo with knock-off UGGs. The costume department must’ve gotten quite a deal when the local cricket uniform distributor held a liquidation sale, because over the next hour, they are gonna milk every second out of these ridiculous outfits.
We see only our four mains, Quentin, Alice, Penny, and Kady. The other first-years are off somewhere else doing who knows what. Our heroes’ first task is to perform a spell that hammers nails into wood perfectly straight. This is a basic spell that they already know. But there’s a twist! Mayakovsky takes away their voices! They have to learn non-verbal spell casting. (Levicorpus, anyone?) They break out into individual dorm rooms to try to work out the spell.
Penny’s frustrated. Kady walks in and tries to comfort him (silently; they lost their voices, remember?), but he brushes her off. She leaves something for him that looks like a chocolate bar. It has only Russian writing on it however, so I have no idea what this thing is or what significance it holds. Does this mean Kady’s done figuring out the spell? She’s the only one no longer struggling over it.
Quentin and Alice have rooms across the hall from each other. They exchange frustrated glances that transition into “sexy” glances, until Mayakovsky interrupts with the best line of the episode, delivered in halting, strongly Russian-accented English: “Why don’t you two… just fuck?” They get back to work.
Meanwhile, back in New York, Julia gives a statement to the cops regarding Hannah’s death and is free to go. Her sister Mackenzie (Jessica Harmon) picks her up from the police station and takes her home. Julia’s apartment is a mess; she hasn’t cleaned up in while. Her sister thinks she’s a drunk (like their father) and wants Julia to get treatment. Julia’s mother is some mucky-muck in high society and Julia being out of control would cramp Mom’s style. Mom had Dad committed to an institution when his addiction got in her way, and Julia doesn’t want the same thing to happen to her.
This raises the question: Is Julia’s dad magical? Was his addiction and concomitant madness related to his inability to cope with or understand his latent magic ability? Or is he just a regular ol’ drunk and it’s merely his addictive tendencies that have been passed on to his daughter (with her drug of choice being magic instead of alcohol)?
Back at Brakebills, Margo and Eliot are planning their 3rd annual trip to Encanto Occulto, a glorious Spring Break bacchanal in Ibiza. In walks Todd (Adam DiMarco), a dorky guy we’ve never seen before. Todd wants to go to the Encanto, but it’s invite-only, and the invitation has to come from someone who’s been before. He starts pouring on the flattery to get Margo or Eliot to extend an invitation to him. Margo shoots him down like the bitch she is.
After Todd slinks away, they’re brainstorming what gift to bring the elders who pay for the debauchery in Ibiza when Eliot remembers that he heard some TAs whispering about a spell to make magical gin. He only overheard part of the spell. He and Margo will have to do some (dreaded) library research to get the rest of the spell if they’re going to homebrew some magical gin for their gift.
In the library, they find the spell, but it’s in Arabic. (This is the first clue that something’s not quite right with this “gin” spell. Arabic speakers are not exactly known for their love of alcohol.) Neither of them knows Arabic well enough to reliably translate. But no problem, because this guy Mike (Jesse Luken) — another guy we’ve never seen before and neither have Eliot and Margo — just happens to be nearby, overhears their predicament, and knows Arabic perfectly! He and Eliot have immediate sexy chemistry. Margo instantly feels like a third wheel.
In Antarctica, Quentin and Alice complete the nail-in-board task. Prof. Mayakovsky is less than impressed.
The next scene shows presumably all the first-years getting assigned their next task. There appear to be only 11 of them left as Mayakovsky tells them, “You remain, because you passed. Barely.” Weren’t there like at least two dozen at the beginning of The Trials? If this many people get kicked out of Brakebills, why aren’t there WAY more hedge witches out there? Where do all the dropouts go?
Anyway, the next task is mind control. They’re assigned bugs to practice on. Quentin and Alice object, saying it’s unethical. Mayakovsky tells them they’re either the controller or the controlled.
In placing a millipede on Penny’s arm, Mayakovsky sees the tattoo Penny got to prevent him from traveling uncontrollably. The professor calls him into his office, where he tells Penny the tattoo is “like telling an eagle not to soar” and that he should remove it. Mayakovsky then pulls out the most sinister sewing tool you’ve ever seen and approaches Penny’s tattoo with it. And god bless Penny, he just lets Mayakovsky mutilate his arm (with some very funny facial expressions of extreme pain).
Then, while Mayakovsky sits at his desk tossing back vodka, Penny practices traveling, popping in and out, reporting where he’s been: his hometown in Florida (“Boring!” scolds Mayakovsky); a desert in Afghanistan (“Again!” orders the professor); a volcano (“Which you survived! Gold star!”).
Quentin and Alice, meanwhile, haven’t been able to complete the mind-control task. So now they get some personal tutoring from Mayakovsky. They have to work together to mind-control a swarm of fireflies through an obstacle course of electrified bug-zapping rings. But there are electrodes wired from the rings to Alice and Quentin’s temples: whenever a bug gets zapped, they do too. (A little extra incentive to get the task done.) They manage to get one firefly through the rings, and in his excitement, Quentin “accidentally” gropes Alice’s breasts. (You know, how you do…) It’s a seriously eye-rolly moment.
They eventually get the whole swarm of bugs through the rings, and they’re right pleased with themselves. Mayakovsky is, as usual, underwhelmed. “Where is the joy? The fun?” he asks. “Why are you both determined to be so fucking bland?” Hallelujah, Mayakovsky! We viewers have been wondering the same thing since Episode 1.
Penny goes to Kady and tells her he almost died today (in the volcano), and this near-death experience made him realize he didn’t want to die without knowing Kady for who she really is. She agrees to let down the wards around her mind and let him in. He psychically reads her and now knows the whole story with her mom. “She’s the only person you love in the world,” Penny realizes.
“Not anymore,” replies Kady.
This could be interpreted two ways: (1) Kady is saying she doesn’t love her mother anymore; or (2) her mother is no longer the only person Kady loves in the world. I’m choosing to interpret it the second way, but I recognize that it goes against Kady’s admission during the 3rd trial last episode that everything with Penny was a lie for her. Perhaps Penny’s confession of love kick-started a reciprocal love for him that Kady only just realized.
Penny suggests that they get Marina some really kick-ass magic in order to buy Kady out for good. He says he’s seen something that fits the bill in Mayakovsky’s office. Kady’s on board.
We return to Brakebills and the seemingly pointless Margo/Eliot B plot. Eliot has been having tons of sexy fun time with his new buddy Mike. Margo’s pissed, because while they were banging each other, she had to build the gin still practically by herself – with help from the dorky Todd, who is still angling to get invited to Ibiza.
They fire up the still and black smoke fills the jug where the gin is supposed to collect. Margo uncorks it, ready to try out their creation. The smoke escapes and materializes into an Aladdin-type guy with a really creepy smile (Lee Majdoub), who only speaks Arabic. Eliot realizes the spell wasn’t to conjure gin, but rather to conjure a djinn, a.k.a. a genie. He’s excited by the prospect of giving this way-better gift to the Encanto Occulto elders, until the djinn bows to Margo, says something in Arabic and promptly attacks Mike.
Alice and Quentin are instructed to meet Mayakovsky in the entryway of the building. He tells them to remove their clothes. Really? For the second time in as many episodes? What is this show’s obsession with getting really unsexy characters naked?
He puts them outside and locks the door. We’re in Antarctica, remember. Granted, it’s summer there, but this is 5:00 p.m., and it looks like they’re locked out for the night.
What follows is the most WTF sequence this show has yet seen. We next see Quentin and Alice coming in (still naked) from the cold and putting on some robes, stammering about how it was so cold out there with no fur, but then it was nice with fur…. Intercut with this scene are: shots of two foxes romping in the snow; Quentin and Alice (in human form) laying down naked in the snow, kissing; more shots of them as foxes; them inside kissing; them having sex (in human form) in the snow; more fox rollicking…. It’s a confusing mess. They apparently already had sex outside in the snow, but they did it as freezing-cold humans, not furry foxes. And even though we just saw that they had sex already, they stop kissing inside and Quentin asks, “Is this going to be weird?” as if they haven’t had sex yet. This whole sequence was very poorly thought out and makes no sense.
Now I’m appreciating the Margo/Eliot plotline, because I need a break from dreary, bland, unsexy sex with Alice and Quentin. At Brakebills, Mike has disappeared and so has the djinn. Todd knows Arabic and explains that before he attacked Mike, the djinn told Margo her wish would be done. Because she summoned the djinn, it can read her mind and will only obey her. Eliot demands to know what she did to Mike. She says she wished he’d go back to where he came from. Todd guesses this might be the library, where they first met him.
In the library, they find Mike giving oral pleasure to a doorknob. Eliot orders Margo to cork the djinn, which she does. Mike is suddenly back to normal. Todd wonders why Mike was pleasuring a doorknob. Margo hilariously confides that her entire wish was “that Mike would go back to where he came from and suck on some other knob.”
Penny brings Kady a small bag containing whatever it was he was going to swipe from Mayakovsky’s office for her. They exchange some lines that, for the life of me, I can’t decipher. Something about them flying out of there? Like are they planning on going on the run? I really wish they didn’t mumble! Anyway, Penny leaves, and Kady turns to enter her dorm room, only to find… Mayakovsky.
He knows everything. He read her mind when she lowered her wards for Penny. He informs her that her mother is dead and that she’s now free of Marina – but now Brakebills knows everything she’s done. Mayakovsky warns her not to go back there, because the punishment would be “extreme.” He knows that she and Penny plan to fly out tonight (okay, that clears up those mumbled lines earlier), but he tells her that Penny needs to stay at Brakebills to learn to control his dangerous traveling gift, or it might kill him one day.
All through this scene, I’m distracted by the set design: on the back wall, there’s an electric “wood-burning” stove! Like the kind of cheesy thing you might find in the games room of a seniors’ home. A magic castle in Antarctica is heated with fake wood stoves from Canadian Tire? How did the producers approve this???
When Penny returns to Kady’s dorm room shortly thereafter, he finds her gone and a note that reads only: “Forgive me.”
Then we get a completely ridiculous and unnecessary shot of Kady going out the front door into the snow, with only her cricket uniform and a fur cloak. Is she planning on walking from Antarctica to New York? Without this scene, I would just imagine her transforming into a goose again and leaving the way she came. With this scene, I only have lots of unanswered questions, mostly centering on why the production wasted half a day prepping and shooting this stupid shot.
Margo’s ready to leave for Ibiza. Eliot informs her he’s not going, because it’s not Mike’s thing. Margo’s upset because Ibiza is hers and Eliot’s thing. Eliot assures her there will be other Ibizas in their future; she’s not losing him. Margo yells for Todd and tells him to pack a swimsuit. Todd is super-thrilled. Eliot passes the Margo baton to Todd, telling him to make sure she hydrates, wears sunscreen, and waxes.
Quentin and Alice are in her dorm room about to have sex — again — and they’re still wearing those ridiculous long johns! Is there seriously anything LESS sexy to wear than white full-body waffle-knit?!? No. No, there is not.
Back in NYC (at Mike’s apartment? Who knows?) Eliot and Mike are asleep in bed. Mike wakes up and goes to the refrigerator. Eliot stirs and calls to him, “Come back to bed.” As he closes the fridge door, Mike spies a giant blue moth flying around the kitchen. It lands on a mirror and in the mirror we see Mike’s eyes glow blue as he replies, “Be right there.”
A ha! There WAS a point to this seemingly frivolous plotline! So is Mike an agent of The Beast? Has he been right from the start, or only since the moth showed up? Is he conscious of his alliance with The Beast, or is he under the Imperious Curse? Is he The Beast himself? Why is he targeting Eliot?
Instead of ending on that “Oh shit!” moment like we should have, we are forced to watch a lifeless scene where the first-years leave Antarctica via a portal between Mayakovsky’s office and the Brakebills grounds. Nothing interesting here.
The Bottom Line
This episode was a mixed bag. The Penny/Kady stuff was interesting, or at least plot-advancing, we got some juicy backstory on Julia, and the Margo/Eliot plotline not only served as much-needed comic relief, but also delivered the big shocking reveal at the end. (Or what should have been the end, if this episode had been edited properly.)
But we were also subjected to painfully dull Quentin and Alice, having painfully dull, unsexy sex, not to mention a very weird and muddled fox/human sex(?) montage, which was confusing and executed quite poorly.