The Magicians recap: The World in the Walls
Quentin's worst fears come to haunt him — and it's thanks to Julia
The Magicians has quickly established itself as a dual narrative, with Quentin and Julia’s fractured friendship as the catalyst for the two halves of the show’s magical world. And while these two sides of The Magicians — the structured learning of Brakebills and the underground amalgamation of hedgewitchery — occasionally intersect, Quentin and Julia are fast becoming the cornerstone from which these two worlds’ animosity will only continue to grow.
“The World in the Walls” showcases the fallout from Julia’s anger toward Quentin in “Consequences of Advanced Spellcasting,” though the episode doesn’t reveal its hand as such. Instead, “The World in the Walls” tackles the familiar TV trope of the dream-sequence mental hospital. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Star Trek, House, and many more series have all toyed with the concept — a character is led to believe everything else in the series has been a dream and that they’ve really been a patient in a psych ward all this time.
Quentin is the one facing this obstacle in “Walls,” only four episodes into his life at Brakebills, and with his past on medication, in hospitals, and more, the possible reality of this world does start to infect Quentin’s thinking. And while the show is tackling some well-trod territory, it does so in a way that feels appropriate for the series so far, with enough twists to keep the episode compelling.
Initially, he rebels against the notion that this ward is his real home. Even after running into fellow patient Eliot, Quentin tries to call this reality on its illusion when he’s brought into the doctor’s office (which is Dean Fogg’s office re-envisioned). He assumes it’s a dream, the pills hidden in his garbage and retrieved by fellow patient/janitor Penny (who, in Quentin’s mind, has a stereotypical Indian accent) are a plant by his dream to add to the fabric of a fictional world. The doctor is the same one who released Quentin from the real-world hospital in the show’s premiere, all of the windows are blocked out by an obscuring white light, and suddenly Beast-like moths are scattering around every source of light.
They attack Quentin, a vision within a vision of a world, and Quentin is looking for any sign that his suspicions are correct. When he’s settled back into the common area of the hospital, he runs into Alice, who claims she knows this world is a fake, as well, but this is not the Alice Quentin knows. She is instead an unhinged patient with an uncontrollable libido who thinks he is an alien there to save her.
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Another familiar face appears when Julia comes to visit Quentin. She’s supposedly off at Yale with James, engaged to him no less, and now Quentin does all he can to prove this world is a lie. While he could not create a miniature sun in the doctor’s office, here he’s able to shoot off fireworks from his hand, but Julia does not see them. Disheartened, Julia is about to leave, lamenting that she wishes she could have seen the fireworks, which is peculiar because Quentin never actually mentions that his spell produced fireworks. This oddity is followed by a glitch in the dream as Julia’s face twitches with a maniacal laugh, along with a farewell that indicates Julia may not be wholly manufactured by this dream state.
And Quentin’s suspicions are confirmed when Jane Chatwin appears to him within the confines of the hospital (or, alternatively, only further suggests he’s made everything up when a properly dressed English woman materializes in front him). She tells him this is in fact a spell and that the pills he’s taking are only making him forget his real life. The books by his side hold the answer to escape, but of course Quentin wakes up the next morning to find his roommate shredding the pages.
NEXT: By the power of Taylor Swift, Quentin finds new hope
Unfortunately for Quentin, looking for the key within these scraps of paper will have to wait when he’s forced to attend music therapy, where he again rebels against this world. Assuming that everyone around him stems from his mind, the spell trapping him within his own thoughts, he decides to take the lead in class by breaking out into Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off.” But Quentin isn’t just trying to have some fun in this miserable world. He’s testing its limits, noticing that this world’s Penny is just as bothered as the real world’s Penny was by Quentin’s rendition of the pop hit. As expected, it sends the janitor Penny running from the class’ take on Swift’s tune, giving Quentin an idea of how to escape — if escape is even possible.
But Quentin’s mention of wanting to reach out to the real Penny for help forces him to come face to face with another of this world’s unexpected twists. Taken back to the doctor’s office, Quentin’s father comes in, an injury on his face puzzling his son.
The doctor and Quentin’s dad show him a video of Quentin chained to a table, shouting about The Beast, which he attempted to kill. But, Quentin is told, he wasn’t attacking The Beast. He had a break during a dinner while his family celebrated his Yale acceptance, and he went after his father with a knife, thinking him to be the moth-covered monstrosity.
This revelation shocks Quentin back into the world around him. He becomes frozen, locked in a familiar position no matter what room he’s in, seemingly having given in to the idea that he did in fact dream up the entire reality of Brakebills. A return visit from Julia, in which she says this will all be over soon has no effect on him, either, and an unexpected sign signals she might be correct. Penny — the real Penny — appears in the world.
Finding Quentin, he shoves him after having come into contact with the racist portrayal of him in the ward. And that push brings Quentin back to life rather than giving in to the illusion around him. No one but Quentin can see Penny, who can’t go to sleep in the real world. Quentin tells him to find him wherever he is and wake him, and Penny does just that.
It’s not Penny who discovers Quentin but Kady…and that’s because she’s been in on the spell causing Quentin’s dream state. Created by Marina and Julia, the spellwork showed Julia how good high-level, cooperative magic could feel, but the reality of it is causing her to feel anything but good. Marina implies that Quentin is stuck in this fugue state for, well, ever, and the reason for doing so is more than just a little payback on Julia’s part.
Marina wants to break into Brakebills, and Quentin’s ailment is just the catalyst she needs. Kady plays her part, helping Penny, Eliot, and the others to find Quentin knocked out in a closet. All the while, Quentin is looking for a way out via Jane’s suggestion, and eventually he puts together the torn up pages to read the story of the Madness Maker, a Fillory character who drives everyone else insane and looks like a cross between a Juggalo and the Mad Hatter. Quentin must do something, but whatever answer the book holds is missing on another page.
And now, Quentin has gotten in trouble for stealing hospital keys, so his search is short lived, as he’s taken to a surgical room where he’s to be given a lobotomy. In the outside world, Dean Fogg has been alerted to Quentin’s condition, and he’s prepared to perform some complicated magic to help him. The spell, a Scarloti Web, can only be broken by the person under its pull, but those outside of the web can do something to help. Fogg employs an enchanted scorpion, which burrows its way into Quentin’s mouth and thus into the illusionary world of his mind.
In doing so, Quentin has to undo all of the wards and enchantments surrounding Brakebills, which opens it up to preying outsiders, like Julia and Marina. While remaining mum on the bigger, better magic she’s hoping to accomplish (though book fans might have an idea of what that includes), Marina does reveal to Julia why they’re breaking in.
NEXT: Is Quentin lost to Marina and Julia’s spell forever?
Marina was once a student at Brakebills, expelled so late in her career there that they had to remove every single memory of the place she had made. Those memories are stored in the dean’s office, which she breaks into while Fogg is pulled away to help Quentin.
The guilt of their actions weighs on Kady, however, who abandons watch over Quentin with the others and rushes to tell Julia what’s happening to Quentin. Whatever hold Marina has over Kady, it doesn’t prevent her from deriding the blackmailing hedgewitch, who secures her old memories.
Luckily for Kady and Julia’s collective conscience, Quentin is not lobotomized in his dream. Penny appears just in the knick of time, as does the scorpion, to shake Quentin of the illusion. He tells him none of it is real and impels him to rebel against its fake shackles. The dream world goes dark, however, and Penny is expunged back into the real world as Quentin fights on his own.
His last challenge is a showdown with the Madness Maker, where he finally remembers how to defeat him — he must not play along with the Maker’s games. Ignoring the Maker’s wishes allows Quentin to wake up where he’s treated to some brandy and a stern talking to from Fogg. (Fogg also so happened to have encountered Julia, who came back with Kady for a fleeting moment to see the consequences of her actions for herself.)
But Quentin’s time within his own mind did teach him more than just not to cross some hedgewitches on his own. He’s not at Brakebills to learn what’s right and wrong. He’s there to learn magic so he can decide what is or isn’t right for him. Although Fogg doesn’t explicitly say so, that sentiment seems to please him (he did secretly enlist all of these kids to help fight off The Beast, anyway) and he mentions he’s glad Quentin is still with them at Brakebills.
While Quentin gets to keep his real-world position at the school, Julia comes out the other side of this ordeal worse off than when it began. Marina, high off the power of her returned memories, burns all of Julia’s tattooed progress right off her skin. Her hedgewitch stars gone, Marina entirely cuts Julia off from their little coven, banishing her outside and setting her loose into a world where she has now lost magic not once, but twice, hurting her best friend in the process the second time around.
What did you think of The Magicians’ take on a well-worn formula? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter (where I’m celebrating the show’s renewal) @jmdornbush.
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.