Content Warning: This Review Discusses Spoilers, Themes of Sexual Assault, And Suicide as depicted on the show
In this week’s episode, “The Girl Who Told Time”, we get a closer look at the alternate timelines which Jane Chatwin created. We’ve slain the Beast, but what did we lose in the battle to get here?
In case you had forgotten right about now, we get a quick reminder this episode that in another reality, one where Jane aka the Watcherwoman hadn’t fucked with the timeline, Julia would have been at Brakebills. A Knowledge student. Fast forward to the successfully Beast-free present reality, and Julia’s still stuck in a cell beneath Brakebills for trying to sacrifice Quentin to a man-eating god, but Foggs is letting her go. He’s one of the few people who has memory of the 39 iterations of reality that came before this one, and has faith Julia will be put to rights.
Kady’s not so happy about Julia being released. Before she can leave to go after her, Kady and Penny get whisked away to the Library of the Neitherlands. Work time. Penny’s job application has been processed, and it’s time for him to start tracking down overdue library books worldwide if he wants to cast again. Kady’s along for the ride to help with his “transition”, but what she needs isn’t at the library either. A book on how to kill a trickster god.
Over in Fillory, Eliot’s wedding preparations are underway and Quentin is three-months deep into a bottle of wine. Overwhelmed by Eliot’s Groomzilla rampage, Margo insists Quentin take over her job of Eliot’s “Button” boy. His wedding errands bring him back to Brakebills, and to Josh, who just so happens to be in the middle of a magical pot brownie bake sale. Partaking in one before he and Josh hit the road, Quentin trips into a different world, where who should he see other than Julia’s Shade. She’s trapped, and needs help, but the drugs wear off before Quentin can get anything further out of her.
Quentin seeks out real world Julia and together they start researching Shades. Catch is, info on Shades is about as elusive as how-to books on killing rapist gods. Luckily for them, they bump into a Brakebills bro who just happens to know that Fogg knows a certain someone obsessed with Shades. Problem solved, right? Except that person turns out to be none other than Alice, and not just any Alice. Alice from another reality. One where she faced the Beast and emerged the sole survivor of all of her friends. But Julia has a plan: a Tesla-inspired spell that should let them bridge the gap between worlds for a short period of time.
Penny’s new job as library book bounty hunter brings him to parody BuzzFeed, where one of the article writer’s has been holding onto her book for the last ten years. Kady and the writer talk a bit using ASL. Turns out that the clickbait listicles have been hiding coded spells for Magicians this whole time. Kady has about given up on searching for the god-killing book she needs, but the BuzzFeed woman insists there isn’t a book the Library doesn’t have. Are they hiding it? Penny returns to the Library with the book, but it’s been hexed. It possesses a Librarian, but rather than letting himself be controlled into unlocking a door, the man kills himself.
In shock, Penny demands to know what’s behind the door. His answer: The Poison Room. A collection of magical books so dangerous, their contents hold the power to destroy worlds. Penny and Kady return to fake-BuzzFeed only to find the offices have been cleared out. But there’s a gift for them. A thank you card with the call number for “The Art of Killing Gods”.
We have bigger problems than napkin fabrics going on at Castle Whitespire. Eliot’s freaked out that his Fillorian approval ratings aren’t doing so hot, plus the FU Fighter assassin he’s been keeping in his dungeon is still decidedly murder-y. Margo comes up with a little plan to have Josh cook up a love potion and sneak it into the FU Fighter base. Voila, everyone’s happy. Except Fen, who’s started seeing fairies everywhere. Cornered, Margo’s forced to fess up. Yeah, she might’ve just sold Fen and Eliot’s unborn kid to the fairies. But it was for the good of the kingdom. Right?
Foggs and Julia have the alternate reality spell all set up, but Quentin’s only got two minutes to contact other-world Alice before the spell will go haywire and fry them all. Turns out this Alice is just as overwhelmed to see Quentin as he is to see her. In her world, the Beast ripped him apart, Shade and all. That’s why she’s been so obsessed with Shades. She’s been looking for his all this time, but she still hasn’t figured it out. All Alice knows is that Shades reside in the land of the dead, and in order to access them, you have to talk to an Ancient One.
Time is up, and the connection breaks, leaving Quentin alone once more. But not without him getting to say a more proper goodbye. Once Julia and Quentin put their minds to it, it doesn’t take long for them to discover what the Ancient Ones really are.
We’re finally getting a taste of the alternate reality shit the show writers have been teasing us with for so long, and I’m not disappointed.
In these last several episodes, the ramifications of the Watcherwoman’s time fuckery has been a bit lost amidst all the melodrama and evil-god killing. It was about time we brought ourselves back down to ground and remembered that there are nearly forty fucking timelines out there where things went real different, and presumably really fucking bad. There’s another timeline out there where Julia never became a strung-out Hedge Witch, never got raped and impregnated by an evil trickster god, and never had her Shade severed from her. For a moment, it’s really put into perspective just how incredibly tragic this all is. This timeline wasn’t something that Julia chose. It was forced on her.
And then other-world Alice pops in, and you remember why Jane did all this in the first place. They die. All of them. In any other reality, any of them with the Beast in it, the entire Brakebills gang dies. And if Julia was meant to be a Brakebills protege, that means her too.
But this is the first time we have these timelines put into perspective. The timelines were created by Jane Chatwin in a vain attempt to create a reality with the best outcome. With the Beast dead and most of our heroes preferably alive. Not that Jane’s around to reset it again, even if she wanted to. But we’re living in a part of the timeline now where the bad shit went down. Alice squared off with the Beast, and his defeat cost Alice her life.
But time hasn’t stopped in the other realities. We get a peek into a version of the world that just so happens to be the polar opposite of everything that has happened here. Everyone dies. Only Alice survives, traumatized and alone. The Beast lives. And life goes on, for other-world Alice as much as it does for this-world Quentin. In the Tesla-spell scene, we get to see the true aftermath of the Beast’s havoc. The two traumatized survivors, Alice and Quentin, face to face only for a beat in time but reunited in their grief for the loss of one another.
I want more of this. More alternate timelines, more messiness. This is what’s interesting to me. The core of this show, from the start, has always seemed to address trauma, but under this unique lens of parallel universes. It’s a look at trauma and adulthood which says, there is no “better” outcome. Whichever way you slice it, someone loses. Almost like the world righting itself to its proper state of fucked-up. Maybe that’s the whole reason Reynard emerged in this timeline in the first place. In order to make the Beast’s defeat happen, Jane Chatwin blocked Julia out of Brakebills. Without a Beast to fight, Julia went in search of a goddess. What she found instead was a monster.
What would the world be without a Beast, after all?