Content Warning: this review discusses spoilers, character death, and themes of sexual assault as depicted on the show
Killing Reynard? Bringing Alice back to life? Everything we’ve been waiting for this season is happening in “Ramifications” (02×12). But, they just might massacre a character or two in order to do it. Figuratively. Also, literally.
So, with Alice’s Shade trapped in Julia’s big, soulless chesthole, she and Quentin travel to Antarctica to visit an old friend. Help me Obi-Wan Mayakovsky. You’re my only hope. He’s the only magician powerful enough to work the spell it would take to splice Niffin Alice back with her Shade. Guilt tripping the man about his indirect involvement in Alice’s death doesn’t hurt either. They get Niffin Alice into a cage, they do the hokey-pokey and they turn themselves about (not really), and then BOOM! Naked, but very much alive Alice is reborn! Also, she’s a grump. Apparently she’s peeved at Quentin for cutting her magical Niffin adventures short.
For the remainder of this episode, you shall see Alice darting about Mayakovsky’s halls, hunching over stacks of papers as though she were on to the next incandescent lightbulb.
Meanwhile, Penny and Sylvia are playing Mission: Impossible over at the Library of the Neitherlands. Sylvia found the back door to the Poison Room. Turns out its just another magic portal fountain somewhere in the Neitherlands.
Using Penny’s Traveller skills, they find it in a hop, skip, and a jump. Sylvia’s raring to jump in, but it’s not for the reason you think. Apparently, Sylvia stumbled onto a big secret the Librarians are trying to keep hush-hush. The books of anyone who is currently alive are all missing their last twenty pages. Their endings are missing, and the Librarians don’t know why. Just that whatever causes it, it’s coming. And soon.
With Eliot banished back to Earth and Margo running amok in fairyland trying to find Fen, Castle Whitespire has turned into stoner central. That’s right, with the Brakebills gang gone, that leaves Josh as the last remaining Child of Earth. Which makes him High King. Doesn’t take long for things to get real. Margo appears to Josh while he’s magically stoned and demands he get her the fuck out of fairyland.
One small catch. Prince S turns up, and he’s none to happy that his father’s disappeared without explanation. Doesn’t help to be told that his father’s actually just a rat now. The Lorians slit a bunch of guards’ throats, while Josh and the advisers run for cover. Guess Josh decides now is as good a time as ever, because he up and drinks the magic potion and poofs out of existence and into the fairy realm to save Margo and Fen. And leave his advisers to die, probably. Very heroic.
Now that Alice is taken care of, Julia and Kady reunite forces to take Reynard the fuck down. They have Senator Gaines (aka John) now on their side, but demigod though he may be, John’s going to need a bit of training before he can take on Reynard. His training montage gets, eh, a little cut short though. Upon returning to his office, he bumps into Reynard, who has a little gift for him. How pretty! It’s his wife’s ear.
Guess Reynard has known this whole time about John teaming up with the Brakebills gang. And yeah, this is more of a Se7en situation. What you see in the box is what you get. Devastated, John decides enough is enough. He’s not waiting any longer. He brainwashes Kady into killing him and performing a ritual that will harness his powers so she and Julia can use them to off Reynard. No pressure.
Meanwhile Eliot’s tracked down Quentin only to find out, whoops! Quentin and Julia traded in the Fillory button to the magic sewer dragon for tickets to the Underworld. Now they’re out of a ride back to Fillory. Only, not all hope may be lost. Magical sewer dragon lady said there was still one portal left to Fillory they could use. The first one. Aka, the very Narnian-esque grandfather clock the Chatwins used to travel to Fillory in the first Fillory and Further book. They track down the clock to the home of an avid Fillory collector, only to find it’s none other than fucking Umber himself. He’s been hiding out in Vancouver ever since the Beast scared him off from Fillory, the coward.
After a lot of talk, Quentin and Eliot aren’t able to convince Umber to come back and fix Fillory, the world he created. But they do get him to give them the clock. They’ve got their ticket to fantasy land back. But if Umber’s not coming back, and his brother Ember seems intent on fucking the place up purely for his own entertainment… what are they going to do to fix it?
Back in the Poison Room, turns out everything is — you guessed it — poison. Penny and Sylvia have very limited time to find what they’re looking for before they evolve into a mass of talking boils. Penny grabs the god-killing book, but Sylvia won’t come with. She’s found her book, and read to the end of it. She doesn’t make it out of the Poison Room. And if Penny stays to save her, he dies too. Looks like he’s got no choice but to Apparate his ass out of there, where he promptly collapses on the Brakebills clubhouse floor.
Julia forges a magic bullet out of John’s demigod juices, and she and Kady conjure up a plan to lure Reynard to them. Turns out what Reynard has really been after this whole time? Our Lady Underground, aka Persephone. Some shit went down between them, and now whenever some poor saps like Julia, Kady, and the Freetraders try to summon her, Reynard crashes the party and “punishes” them. Trying to get her attention. Charming. They whip up a storm system big enough to look like Persephone is ascending from the Underworld. Sure enough, Reynard takes the bait. Julia’s got the god-killing gun leveled at his head, when, guess who else decides to show up. Our Lady Underground. In the flesh.
She pleads with Julia to spare Reynard’s life. He is her son, and that’s why he’s been “lashing out” — if it deserves to be called that — all these years. Plus, she’s been aware of his raping and pillaging this whole time, apparently. Because she abandoned him on Earth. Reynard and Kady are both frozen, so they get no say in the matter. But Persephone persuades Julia to spare Reynard’s life, then promptly whisks his ass away to the Underworld.
Julia’s pittance? Her Shade. I guess Our Lady Underground feels a soul is due compensation for taking away her justice.
Two HUGE bombs have just been dropped on our heads. 1) Alice is alive. 2) We got our “showdown” with Reynard. So, why does none of that feel satisfying?
Strangely, every single interaction with every other iteration of Alice in the last season has felt more genuine and powerful than getting Alice back “for real”. We’ve been working how hard towards this, for an entire season? Just to get a naked, super angsty real Alice pop into existence five minutes into the episode?
It feels undeserved. I supposed you could claim this whole season has been a build up to the moment, but this is the kind of shit you end on. Instead, we watch Quentin and grumpy Alice dance around each other the entire episode. What was the point of getting rid of Niffin Alice if we’re not really getting rid of Niffin Alice? Not that I was expecting Alice to be head over heels for Quentin after getting ripped apart by magic, or even slightly in the realm of “okay”. But… minus the possible bloodthirst and ungodly amounts of magical power… what’s changed, exactly?
As for the Reynard situation. Don’t get me started.
First of all, John’s death? Wow. Out of left field. One second, the guy’s wife is dead. The next, he’s using his god-juices to brainwash Kady into killing him? I guess the takeaway here is supposed to be that his motive was revenge. That he was willing to do anything to get back at Reynard for murdering his wife. But he couldn’t have stuck out the magic practice just a little bit longer?
In terms of character development, I don’t feel we were really at a place yet to justify that kind of rash decision making. Before her severed ear was being presented to John in a cute little box, we had literally only seen him and his wife together once before. It was when he accidentally god-brainwashed her. Don’t get me wrong. I feel for the guy. But forgive me if I wasn’t really seeing the train of motivation there.
Also, let’s talk about the fact that The Magicians writers didn’t flinch away from depicting Julia’s assault, but suddenly when gutstabbing John is on the table, they decide to pull the Hitchcock method out of their toolkit? We seem to be backpedaling here.
It only gets better. Can you guess why? It’s all for naught. Julia and Kady get their shot to kill Reynard, and what does Julia do? She flubs it?! Because suddenly Persephone decided to show her ass and claim Reynard as her son?
This move is all kinds of wrong, and it feels… just so ignorant. For Julia to have lost so much, even with the lack of a Shade, I do not buy that she just gives Reynard mercy. Of course Reynard has a mother. All rapists have mothers. That doesn’t make them, oh, I don’t know. Not rapists?
It might be another story if Persephone had stepped in and been like, “Whoa there. Honey, you’ve done enough. He’s my responsibility, let me punish him.” Nope. Persephone isn’t dragging him down to the River Styx to wash his mouth out with soap. She’s literally just giving Reynard what he’s apparently wanted this entire time. She’s taking him home.
Yet we’re meant to believe that Julia is content with all this.
This is a massive injustice to her character. What’s worse, it takes what I had hoped to be a beautiful arc that addressed sexual assault, trauma, and recovery in a very real and nuanced way and completely fucks it. To me, without any further context, this scene literally represents what is wrong with the way sexual assault and its survivors are understood by society today. If Persephone knew Reynard was going around raping women to try and “get her attention”, that’s when she should have stepped in. When Reynard was raping Julia.Not when Julia had the barrel of a gun trained at Reynard’s head.
The only thing Persephone could have done to even try to rectify this cruelty was to tear him limb to limb herself. That would be true justice. Although Julia might deserve the revenge, it would keep her soul clean. Persephone would pay the price for permitting her son to rape and murder, and claim that responsibility finally. And Reynard would be out of the picture.
I’m not sure how The Magicians recovers from this. Setting aside the disappointment with Alice and the bizarrely anticlimactic death of John, as it stands, this is nothing more nor less than character massacre.
“Ramifications” ends with Eliot asking Quentin, “What’s next?” before the Fillory clock. And indeed, I’d like to ask the show writers that very same question.