Alice attempts to contact her brother yet again — luckily no one loses their eyes this time

By Jonathon Dornbush
February 02, 2016 at 02:35 AM EST
Carole Segal/Syfy
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There is a cost for every action, and magic comes with quite the price tag on The Magicians. “Consequences of Advanced Spellcasting” is quite literally about what its title suggests, but it’s also about the consequences that arise for Quentin and Julia as they lead magical lives down their chosen paths.

For Julia, that path means reconciling her secret life with the one she’s been living up until this point with James. And for Quentin, staying at Brakebills forces him to lead a life away from Julia and forge out on his own, though the path he follows in “Advanced Spellcasting” is one very much driven by those around him, primarily Alice.

What could have been teased out as a season-long mystery comes to a head earlier than expected, as Alice makes some surprising progress in her quest to discover the mystery of her brother Charlie’s death. But before she does, Alice continues to play along as if she’s come to Brakebills for the same reason all the other students have — to learn to control their powers.

Without a magical hat to sort them, Brakebills tests each of its students individually to determine their magical area of expertise. For most, the tests are relatively easy — Alice impresses the professors immediately and becomes a Physical Kid for her phosphoromancy (ability to bend light), and Penny is, understandably, sent to live with the psychics.

Quentin, however, is an absolute enigma to Professor Sunderland. No test teases out what he’s adept at, so he’s sent, undetermined, to live with the Physical Kids because they happen to have space. But at their cottage, Alice and Quentin find themselves faced with another test: getting past the locked, enchanted front door.

Luckily, Quentin uses his memories of burning ants as a kid, much to Alice’s disgust, as a catalyst. She bends the sun’s rays, burning a hole through the door and ensuring the two have a place indoors to sleep for the night.

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Quentin fits right in, already being close to Eliot and Margo, while Alice remains wary of her surroundings (and a lightweight drinker, as her first hours in the house prove). Even among the revelry, she’s consumed with figuring out another way to learn the truth of her brother, so they venture out to find Charlie’s deceased spirit, leading them to Brakebills’ enchanted main fountain.

Supposedly bottomless, they find nothing when they first arrive, but as they turn their backs, a hand slowly rises from the fountain and…gives them the finger. Even the dead at Brakebills are as moody as the students.

Whether Quentin and Alice awakened something in the fountain, that hand has more than a bad temper in store for the school. It pulls two kids into the pool’s depths, and though the faculty assures the students they’re recovering in the infirmary, this “garden-variety haunting” is enough to make the fountain off limits until the spirit is addressed. That spirit isn’t confined to the fountain, though, it seems as Alice enters her room to find it full of glass horses identical to the one she made on the first day of classes — a spell taught to her by Charlie.

Unfortunately, Eliot pulls Quentin away for a small diversion that threatens the partying future of the Physical Kids’ cottage. (More on that in a bit.) So left to her own devices, Alice eventually, though begrudgingly, extends the smallest of olive branches to Margo and asks for her help. The school gossip actually knows little about the circumstances surrounding Charlie’s death, but she does know about a girl, Emily, who was so distraught after his death that she left Brakebills and quit magic entirely.

NEXT: Don’t you forget about the niffin

Given a job and a place to live in the city, Margo and Alice track her down on the quest for answers. Although understandably reticent to reopen to that particular chapter in her life, Emily offers to tell Alice what happened to her brother.

Emily had fallen in love with a married professor, who eventually put an end to their affair. She wanted to make him love her again, so she attempted to perform magic to make herself prettier (a fool’s errand, it seems, in this world of spellcasting). Her attempts left her face disfigured, and Emily was so horrified that she considered jumping into the fountain. Charlie, living in the cottage at the same time, chased after her, talking her down from jumping. He even attempted some complicated magic to fix her face, but all of his untested spellwork caused the magic to consume him until nothing remained but the magic itself. Charlie became a niffin, a being of pure magical energy, and the whole ordeal caused Emily to shun the magical world for good.

That story gives Alice an answer as to what happened to her brother, but it leaves hanging the question of what resides at the fountain. Quentin returns from his excursion with Eliot to find Alice determining ways to bring Charlie back. She had planned to use a niffin box and trap him, but then she could never have her brother back. And as it’s the real reason she’s come to Brakebills, she moves forward with her plan, even without Quentin’s help.

He accompanies her to the fountain where she calls out to her brother’s spirit. It has to be done with something personal, so she sings to him the song he sang to her on the many dark nights she had as a child — “Don’t You (Forget About Me).” Quentin is thrown off by The Breakfast Club of it all, but the song works, as Charlie, or something that looks like Charlie, rises in a puff of smoke behind the fountain.

To anyone who isn’t Alice, this being before them is quite clearly not fully her brother. Shocks of electric blue flames course through its body, and his voice echoes with an otherworldly darkness. But Alice still rushes to his side, only to be grabbed by this facsimile of her brother, which feeds off her magical energy.

Quentin attempts to use the niffin box on Charlie, only to be thwarted by the niffin, which begins choking him. Alice, thrown but not wavering from her mission, begins a lengthy series of spellcasting, shifting the niffin’s attention as it flings Quentin away. (This is the second time poor Quentin has been thrown through the air.) Alice’s spells do little to affect the niffin, and Quentin, believing Alic will die, makes a dash for the niffin box and successfully binds Charlie to it (the catch there being, of course, that niffins are then stuck in the box).

Rather than the relief Quentin expects her to show, Alice is furious that he’s ruined her attempts to save her brother. With nothing left for her at Brakebills, Alice leaves, slamming the Physical Kids’ door behind her, but likely not for good.

And though Alice is more than ready to abandon her spot at Brakebills, Julia is doing all she can to prove she deserves the enrollment the school denied her. She’s hopelessly devoted to her career as a hedge witch, even to the detriment of the rest of her life. James notices she continues to be distant around him. As they pick out apartments for their time at Yale, she can barely give him an acknowledging nod.

NEXT: Penny takes an unexpected trip

She’s torn on how to strike a balance, and Marina offers some advice, though it may not be what Julia expected. Marina tells her that she’s treating James like a safety net in case this magical pursuit fails. She isn’t fully committing to it, and without doing so, she’ll never be able to accomplish the most advanced spellcasting.

Julia is tested again by her outside life when Quentin unexpectedly appears at Marina’s bodega. He and Eliot have come on the hunt for a missing book. (It may seem like a small thing, but as Eliot warns, books are not throwaway items at Brakebills. They’re hunting it down for the sake of the Physical Kids’ continued reign as a premier party spot on campus.)

The two have found the book via its partner, the literal volume two to the missing volume one. Yes, these enchanted books are connected and mobile enough to sense each other’s presence, so even when the hedge witches lie that they don’t have the book, the volumes find one another. And then proceed to engage in what is a rare occasion on cable TV — or any TV really — as the two books begin to have sex.

The reunion between Julia and Quentin is much less joyous but perhaps even more emotional. Quentin and Eliot make to leave without so much as a quick catch-up, but Julia follows them out to confront Quentin. She came to realize that he never followed her request to ask the school to take her back. He continues to tell her to accept that it’s okay for her not to be a magician like him, but she shoots that idea down. Magic is at her core, just as it is Quentin’s, and she’s not going to give it up anytime soon.

The two leave, their friendship more in shambles than ever before, particularly after Quentin confronts her about knowing how he truly felt about her. He wants what he believes is best for her to ensure she doesn’t get hurt, but the only thing hurting her at the moment is Quentin’s treatment.

So Julia continues to dive down the rabbit hole, lying to James that she’s been acting so oddly because she began taking Adderall recently. She’s been going to Narcotics Anonymous (a quick spell transforms a keychain into a chip), and for the moment the two are back in good shape. But the call of magic proves too strong, and a late night text to return to the bodega is too powerful to deny.

(ASIDE: Book fans be sure to chime in in the comments, but obviously Julia’s presence brings quite a different flavor to the show’s telling of the first book’s events. Personally, I think it’s creating one of the show’s strongest performances in Stella Maeve’s Julia. Even though her plot at this point can occasionally feel too knowingly like the B-plot in the context of a given episode, Maeve has perhaps best captured the melancholy of the book, showcasing that this particular pursuit of magic isn’t the glamorous one many hopeful magicians still waiting from their owl from Hogwarts would expect. END ASIDE)

The show opened itself to even more possibilities in “Advanced Spellcasting,” with Penny’s story, as the begrudging psychic (who cannot stand Quentin singing Taylor Swift inside his head), learns he’s no simple mindreader. He’s a traveler, the rarest discipline, which, if honed correctly, can even let Penny travel to other words (cough Fillory cough). Dean Fogg — back in action but with a pair of gloves and shades to hide his replaced but scarred eyes — and Sunderland reveal this to Penny as he accidentally travels around the world. (Katie, for reference, is also a Physical Kid.)

Fogg clearly wants these powers nurtured for whatever plans he has in store to confront the Beast, bringing more into focus the role Penny will have to play in the inevitable battle. Hopefully Quentin’s professors can determine something a little more practical than “undetermined” for him as well.

Episode Recaps

Based on Lev Grossman’s book trilogy, this fantasy Syfy series follows the adventures of students at Brakebills University, a graduate school specializing in magic.
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  • TV Show
seasons
  • 4
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Premiere
  • 12/16/15
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