This week’s episode of The Magicians, “The Side Effect” is one that brings us back in time a bit, as well as propels the story forward. And no, it’s not through our typical lens. We don’t follow Julia (Stella Maeve), Quentin (Jason Ralph), Alice (Olivia Taylor Dudley), or Margo (Summer Bishil) this week. Instead, we see the story through the lens of those we may sometimes consider side characters: Kady (Jade Tailor), Zelda (Mageina Tovah), and Fen (Brittany Curran). The episode is framed through a discussion Penny-40 (Arjun Gupta) has with a new librarian – Derek. Penny-40 hopes to reframe Derek’s case of “white male protagonism” but forcing him to approach the story from the view of the side characters.
After weeks of wondering what’s up with our girl Kady, we finally have answers and Kady is given the biggest storyline of the episode. Despite the fact that Kady has been missing from the screen, she hasn’t been missing from the story. In fact, she has been living alongside the others in the apartment the whole time. Unlike the others, Kady is having trouble leaving behind her fake life of Sam the detective. She still cares about the cases she left unsolved.
Kady’s energy shifts with the appearance of her landlady, a woman possessed by a witch called the Baba Yaga. The Baba Yaga requires specific items as payment for rent and Kady has to find them. At a hedge witch hideout, Kady reconnects with Pete, a former friend of Marina’s from season’s past. Pete offers to help Kady in exchange for a chance to meet the Baba Yaga. Together, the two of them search the black market and come up with one of the necessary objects. It is also here though that we see the young hedge witch who blew up the Modesto library last week.
While searching for the final object, a doll whose tears are healing, Kady and Pete come across a dead hedge witch, seemingly dead by no cause. It isn’t until Pete, after taking a Dewey from the dead guy, falls unconscious, that we learn of the connection. Trackers placed on the Dewey coins by the Library do not interact well with some hedge witch spells, causing their deaths. Armed with this knowledge, Kady collects a group of hedge witches and rallies behind them. The girl from the black market informs Kady about a leaking pipe in Modesto. And so, we learn that this entire storyline took place before last week’s episode.
Zelda’s storyline takes us even further back in time, back to when Alice first escaped from the library. Here, we learn that the trackers were placed on the Dewey coins specifically for the purpose of finding Alice while the Librarians wait for her book to be completed. On its completion, it reads that Alice lived a magic-less life after escaping the library. This, of course, is not true. Alice changed her ending in the revision room. Zelda doesn’t take this story as the truth and sets out to fact check. When she learns that Alice isn’t where her book says she should be, she hides the truth from her fellow librarians.
In an effort to find Alice, Zelda seeks out Dean Fogg, who is notably unhelpful. At Brakebills, however, Zelda seems to see her daughter Harriet in a mirror that shatters when she tries to touch it. Believing that her daughter might still be alive, Zelda enlists traveler Gavin’s help in reaching the mirror realm. Going to the mirror realm is a total bust. Zelda doesn’t find her daughter, only monsters imitating her.
By the end of the episode, Zelda has reached a low. Things get worse when she receives the news from fellow head Librarian Everett that the Modesto branch was blown up. Everett also explains that the trackers on the Deweys have been accidentally killing hedges. While he doesn’t view this as a bad thing, Zelda feels terrible about it. Later on, when Alice goes to Dean Fogg, Zelda is waiting for her. She needs Alice’s help.
While Zelda and Kady’s storylines this week backtrack on the rest of the plot, Fen’s quickly catches up to where we last left off in Fillory. But of course, we are now seeing it from Fen’s perspective. At some point around the time that the animals of Fillory went mute, Fen started receiving prophetic dreams. For example, she knew that Josh’s soufflé was going to fall! She also predicted that the beet juice Margo and Josh (Trevor Einhorn) produced would set Margo’s birthright lizard on fire. Luckily, Fen prevented the later from happening in real life.
After learning from Josh about lucid dreaming, Fen decides to explore her dream. It is in her dream that Fen comes across a mysterious woman in a cloak. She follows this woman but never gets to see her face. After waking, Fen tells her friends of what she’s seen. Not being used to giving these speeches, she stumbles a bit, but then declares that she is going to search for this woman.
This week’s episode ends with Penny-40, just as it started with him. The tables flip, however, when we learn that Derek was actually Penny’s boss’ boss undercover. It was a test that Penny passed with flying colors. Derek promotes Penny-40; he is now responsible for “secrets taken to the grave”. The episode ends with Penny greeting someone who has recently died.
While I’m a huge fan of Margo and Julia (and growing softer to the idea of Quentin), it was a nice change of pace to view the story through a different lens. One of the things that The Magicians does so well is to create an ensemble of interesting and unique characters that are each important and carry weight. This week’s episode shows us exactly just how much weight. At the end of this week’s episode, we hear a telling line from Penny. He tells us how Zelda’s actions will forever change the Library, Kady’s will change all of magic, and Fen Fillory. This line could easily have been a throwaway line, but I think we were teased with what is to come.
The Library might be a completely different place come the end of the season. The relationship between hedge witches and Magicians might change as well. This relationship has always been tense, but not without intrigue. Meanwhile, will Fen be the first Fillorian to make a difference in the land historically shaped by the children of Earth?
While the storyline of the Monster is interesting and certainly compelling enough to drive the story, eventually it will be resolved. The Monster will either get his body back, or he won’t. More than likely that storyline will just exist this season. This week’s episode, however, sets up changes in the very societies the show itself is set in. While the so-called “main characters” are dealing with this season’s Big Bad, it’s the side characters who are shaping the future of the show. And that’s pretty darn cool.