The title of Episode 10 of the Magicians, “Homecoming,” works on so many levels. In this episode, Julia finds her place in the magical world, Alice takes Quentin to meet her parents, and have sex. And Penny makes it out of the Neitherlands.
Lots and lots of book spoilers in this recap!
I am absurdly, disproportionately excited that we got to go to the Neitherlands. They are one of my absolute favorite things from the books, because, if I haven’t said so already, I am a total nerd for organization. The Neitherlands are man-made. A circuit board for multiverse travel. Fuck yes.
The show, of course, does not spell all this out, but this was our first trip. We’ve got time for exposition later.
The Neitherlands are also one of the few things from the Narnian Fillorian lore that actually feels like an homage, rather than “plausible deniability in court.”
From The Magicians, Chapter 17 “The Neitherlands”:
In the corner of the square Quentin saw that a sapling had broken its way up through one of the paving stones from below. It was gnarled and bent, twisted almost into the shape of a helix, but it was alive. It made him wonder what had been paved over to build the City, and what would be there if it should ever fall? Had there been woods here? Would there be again?
If you have no idea what I’m talking about, I assume that’s because you haven’t read The Chronicles of Narnia (something you should rectify immediately!) and don’t realize how thinly veiled the Fillorian disguise is. Seriously it barely waves at copyright law.
Right out of the fountain, we get to see a lot of the Neitherlands, which is an absolutely gorgeous set. I’ve always pictured the Neitherlands as a flat landscape (something about how it’s a circuit-board got stuck in my head) but I’m more than willing to accept the show’s vision of a carefully maintained, multi-level garden. One thing that was excellently portrayed is the superficial emptiness of that world; there’s no wind in the trees, no birds or bugs chirruping, and nothing but gray sky. There even appears to be multiple suns, because why not? I’m always a fan of building in redundancy.
I’m not sure if the statue in the Earth fountain is supposed to be symbolic of anything. Are the statues models of the kind of people who live in that world? If so, I’d wonder about the blocky looking one. Let’s hope there’s no vaginal birth in that world.
Penny runs into a native Neitherlander named Eve. I was so excited when we first met this character, thinking we were going to play with some fun creation myths, but alas, Eve turns out to be evil. Or at least, she seems to want to take away Penny’s button so he has to spend the episode running away from her gang while simultaneously trying to find his way back to the Earth fountain to get home.
Along the way, he finds his way into one of the libraries and meets a librarian who I am pretty sure is an escaped Kitty from Arrested Development. She doesn’t have a map of the Neitherlands to help Penny, but when he asks if Eve and her crew are working for the Beast, she gives him pages from the book that tells the story of Martin Chatwin’s life.
Ahem, well, that’s telling.
We even get a glimpse of the books themselves, which are another one of my favorite details from the series.
It’s not really clear to me why Penny doesn’t want to teleport out of the Neitherlands himself. Here’s the explanation he gives in show:
“I need to aim.”
That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. You’d think he’d be familiar enough with Brakebills to be able to aim for it. I could understand that being in a different universe would throw him off, but wouldn’t that also be true for astral projection? And he has no problem projecting into Quentin’s head. Why doesn’t he astrally project himself to Earth first to test it, and then follow with his body? There’s a logical fallacy in here somewhere.
But c’mon, we all know that the real reason is Plot Reasons, because of course Penny has to interrupt Quentin’s sex dream.
I can’t even work up a proper scoff at the objectification here, because this is so over the top it’s actually funny. His ultra-nerdy sexual fantasy is the joke. That’s so Quentin! (Although if this is the only time Alice and Julia meet face to face I will be super disappointed.)
The thing about bringing up the Bechdel test though, is that it really invites analysis to see if they actually pass it. And while the show does, no one thinks the Bechdel test is the end-all be-all of representation. It’s literally the lowest bar to cross.
The show has sidelined Kady and Margo for the last couple weeks, and while they are both back for this episode, Margo’s plot is pretty thin, and totally unrelated to the main story. It’s really not a great pattern that it’s the female characters that this keeps happening to.
Anyway, Quentin obviously wants to help Penny get out of the Neitherlands, where he’s apparently been trapped for six weeks!
What?! I hope someone called his parents. And wait, actually, shouldn’t Quentin be going straight to Dean Fogg to let him know what happened to this missing student? I mean I know not going to adults for help is a time honored tradition in fantasy but I think he’d be really concerned! It’s common courtesy, yo.
Alice has (arguably) more sense, because she takes Quentin to get help from her parents. And honestly, seeing her crazy home life makes me sympathize with her character a hell of a lot more. Her father’s specialty is in “historical magic” (so many questions) and he’s throwing an orgy in his Roman domus. You know, parents are entitled to their sex lives, but….I could see how being exposed to this scene growing up would not be exactly healthy for a kid. No wonder Alice is so conservative.
Her mother is equally oblivious to her daughter’s needs, because she insists that Alice call her “Stephanie” instead of “Mom” and even though she is 100% correct that parents are people too, and that sometimes makes it difficult for them to live up to their responsibilities as parents, Stephanie doesn’t say that like she’s asking her daughter for compassion. She says it like it’s an excuse not to talk to her at all.
The entire visit to Alice’s childhood home is delightfully awkward and an excellent bit of (much needed) character building for her. I was able to see her awkwardness in a new light, when previously I just wanted her to stand up straight so her clothes would fit better. It was worth it just to hear her father say to Quentin “You haven’t even touched your penis!”
Alice’s mom has a friend who is a Traveler from another universe, and he knows a spell that will make the Earth fountain light up like a beacon so Penny can find it.
The problem? It’s a sex spell, which, what? What is the connection between sex/the fountain/the multiverse/a beacon of light? I can’t see the symbolism here, or the use case, and on the whole this just seems really impractical. (There are an unrealistic number of sex spells in this universe, feels like the show is trying to attract viewers with sex. Totally not necessary!)
The other problem? It requires the participants to climax at the same time. And guess who has been having trouble with that…
Even though it’s a weird note for this show to touch on, I actually really loved seeing Alice and Quentin talk about sex. (Feel free to add “in bed” to the end of every sentence from now on.) It was a very good way of building up their relationship in a healthy, respectful way. Asking for what you want is hard. Seeing Alice and Quentin navigate these conversations — and there was more than one — was realistically uncomfortable, but it was also clear that they were both genuinely committed to each other and figuring it out. Even though Quentin was initially hurt that Alice didn’t tell him she wasn’t as satisfied as he thought, the show mostly avoided having him come across as that stereotypical DudeBro who can’t bear to have his prowess questioned. Quentin is hurt because Alice didn’t share critical information with him that he needs to make her happy.
And they succeed! They come so hard they light a beacon in the Neitherworlds to lead Penny home…right into their bedroom, which I’m sure was super comfortable and not at all awkward for everyone involved.
While all this is happening, Margo, back from Ibiza, is trying to take care of Eliot, who is still self-medicating after Mike’s death. Glasses are inexplicably bursting around him, so Margo calls in a doctor to figure out if that’s Eliot’s body’s way of telling him to stop. Surprisingly, the doctor says it’s actually Margo with the problem, not Eliot. (Although I’m not sure you should trust someone who gives up Hamilton tickets for anything.)
This is where the subplot lost me, I was caught so off guard by the fact that Margo’s lifeforce is apparently being drained. Is this supposed to be significant? Wouldn’t she have symptoms, you know, that involve her, not random glass explosions?
The culprit is apparently her ex-boyfriend, who used her lifeforce to create his very own BuffyBot/Golem. (Does it even need to be pointed out how gross that is?) He’s pretty easy to cow though, so Margo and Eliot leave, taking the MarGolem with them.
The one scene worth commenting on between Margo and Eliot shows Eliot apologizing to Margo (actually the golem, but he thinks it’s Margo) which totally rubs me the wrong way. Shouldn’t she be the one apologizing to him? Margo, your best friend just started dating someone who he ended up having to straight up MURDER because he was EVIL and stabbed PENNY and WHERE WERE YOU? Why is he apologizing to you instead of the other way around?
The New Traders
Kady is also back this week, because she is Asmodeous! Holy shit I can’t believe I didn’t see that coming. (More on this in the analysis section.) It’s totally natural that they would bring her into Julia’s circle, and beyond the chance to see these two awesome women team up, it balances out the show a little.
Of course, first Julia and Kady have to work through their beef with each other, or Kady’s beef with Julia, anyway. I don’t blame Kady for not particularly wanting to work with the woman who was with her mother when she died, and who did contribute to the circumstances of her death, even if she didn’t cause it. But Kady decides that it’s more important to her to get to do whatever ill-advised scheme Richard has cooking, so she sets that aside, and she and Julia set themselves to master the spellbinder. (GET IT? Because it’s a BINDER full of SPELLS.)
I was actually surprised by how little chemistry the actresses had once they started being friendly. They are both capable of powerful performances independently, but nothing really jumped out at me in their scenes together. They weren’t bad scenes by any measure, but I was so hyped for a bombshell, it felt like a let down.
So, they work their way through the spellbook, warming up to each other a little, and eventually manage to reverse entropy on a Jenga tower. (Although isn’t that supposed to be really hard? Quentin was really impressed that Mayakovsky could do that in the books.)
Then we learn what Richard and the others are working on: they apparently want to summon a god.
I’m sure this will end well, because history is filled with stories of gods who were totally happy to be called up and always willing to do whatever it was they were summoned for.
Adaptation and Impact
So, we’ve finally met them, and it would appear that the Free Traders of the show are pretty different than those of the books.
Part of the difference goes back to the pacing issues with Julia’s storyline: in the books, Julia has already burned out on magic, and is on her way to recovery before she’s introduced to the safe houses, where the Free Traders find her. (Or reveal themselves to her, anyway, since she had become a part of their non-magical online community as part of her recovery.) After a ridiculously gated magical screening process, Julia finds her way to their mansion in France.
Part of the power of that moment is Julia truly finding her place in the world. The Free Traders of the books are Julia’s equals, but more importantly, they are her friends. Finally, Julia doesn’t have to struggle anymore to get her hands on magic, they teach her freely, they power-level her, they help her. This is her reward for relentless pursuing magic.
That sense of relief is mostly absent on the show. We haven’t seen enough of her fall to be happy for her, and too, Richard kind of being a dick muddies the positive feelings we might otherwise have for this group. The insane levels of intellectual snobbery are also missing, although I’m a little relieved about that because it saves me from having to feel inadequate by comparison. I’m not bought into these New Traders yet.
Despite that, it was kind of fun to see Julia greet these people by their online handles! Richard is Failstaff, and Kady, as I said earlier, is Asmo. (Although where is Pouncey Silverkitten?) It’s nice to see Julia spend time with people she seems to like, although we’re going to have to linger with them for a few episodes before I can let go of the feeling that this is all going to hell immediately. (I mean, we know this is going to hell of course, but like, hopefully not next week.)
I’m totally on board with Kady being Asmo, even if I do have to recalibrate my thoughts on her time at Brakebills. Again, creating more overlap between Julia and Quentin can only be good, and Kady was well on her way to being one of my favorite characters anyway. In the books, Asmo becomes Julia’s best friend, and Julia describes her as understanding her feelings with “telepathic completeness.” I really hope the show invests in their friendship.
Beyond the characters themselves, the way Richard presents their mission is a bit different than the books. In the books, the mission of the Free Traders is to find a magical singularity, the kind of magic that doesn’t have diminishing returns. They have their own reasons for wanting that, but they approach it in an academic manner. They talk about it as a power grid that they can tap into. The show, by contrast, has Richard telling Julia that they are not so much searching for as asking for divine power. This is just semantics, but by framing that power as a gift from the gods rather than a tool that could be used by anyone, it overemphasizes a discordant religious note.
Much more startling are the changes the show has made to the Neitherlands, and Penny’s role there. First of all, time in the Neitherlands running faster than it does on Earth is clearly a design flaw, and someone should file a bug.
Secondly, limiting Penny’s teleportation powers is just…odd. In the books, the ability to travel to the Neitherlands is Penny’s Discipline. And once he gets there, he can’t actually use any of the fountains to travel out. (At least not without the button!) Penny doesn’t know the reason for this, but I have always believed it’s because the Neitherlands were Penny’s destiny.
The show does seed this another way, by having the librarian recognize Penny. But limiting his teleportation powers was clearly just done for dramatic effect in this episode, and I honestly don’t think it worked. It was fun to watch Penny stumble around the Neitherlands, but there was no doubt he was going to get out, his friends clearly saw no urgency there, and the whole sex spell was so contrived it made me groan out loud — and not in the good way!