Quentin learns the limitations and power of magic — while Penny makes an unexpected journey
Magic has its limitations. It can’t fix everything — if it could, it would probably make life boring — and so sometimes all there is to do, with or without magic, is to solve the problems you can and accept the ones you cannot.
Quentin has to learn that lesson the hard way, by killing the world’s cutest puppy no less, but that lesson comes along with the news that his father has brain cancer in “Mendings, Major and Minor.” The limitations of magic, and also the very nature of it, have been the undercurrent to everything happening at Brakebills since The Magicians began, and again “Mendings” takes a unique, touching angle to look at its effects. And if that wasn’t quite enough, it seems Fillory isn’t further away than those at Brakebills may think.
Right from the start of “Mendings,” it’s refreshing to see how The Magicians establishes the relationships of its students and teachers. “I’m f—ing with you, Quentin,” Dean Fogg tells “Curly Q” as he stresses over what’s going to happen to Julia following last week’s spellwork.
Nothing much, is the answer to Quentin’s question, which puts his former best friend out of his mind as more immediate concerns come to light. No, not Alumni Week, which puts Eliot and Margo at their most competitive, but news he receives from outside Brakebills.
And it’s Alice who delivers the news. Fogg convinces her to return to school for a trial week, test it out, and if she doesn’t like it, she can sneak into seclusion again. She’s too powerful a magician to let go untrained (and likely keep out of whatever Beast-destroying plans he has in mind), and he only ever denied her an initial entrance exam to prevent her family from suffering any further loss.
Alice does return, however, with her Aunt Genji, no less, an alumna both Margo and Eliot desperately want as their mentor. Upon her arrival back to Brakebills, she and Quentin have an awkward reintroduction. She doesn’t blame him for her brother’s death, but the wounds of his passing and their recent experience with his niffin still sting.
Yet it’s Alice, the one still most evidently harboring pain of a lost loved one, who brings Quentin the news he is likely to lose someone close to him soon.
His dad, interestingly introduced last week as a hallucination in the spell-fashioned mental hospital, welcomes Quentin to his home and breaks the news. At first, he tries to make the situation sound better than it is. He wants to bury the pain, choosing not to focus on what he will lose but what he still has.
And what he still has is his son, with whom he has a strained relationship, yes, but nevertheless a son. And so long as he lives, he wants to fix the ties between them to be something strong, something Quentin will appreciate long after he’s gone.
At first, Quentin, understandably coping with the news of his father’s inevitable death, bites back at every word his father says. He takes “fix” to mean Quentin himself needs to be fixed, when all his father wants of Quentin is for him to be happy. If that means he spends his life doing card tricks, so be it. At least he’s staying true to himself.
His father eventually reveals to him just how bad his diagnosis is. He doesn’t want to sign up for any of the treatments or surgeries that might help ease the pain, because he’s been warned that the person who might come out on the other side of such procedures might not be the man Quentin remembers. So he’ll suffer and endure because sometimes trying to fix something, such as he did with his most beloved model airplane that Quentin broke at the young age of 2, only makes that thing worse.
But Quentin has magic! Magic must be good for something, and if not this, then why even bother, he wonders. So Quentin researches cures both scientific and magical, enlisting the help of his alumna mentor for some steps in the right direction. She warns him cancer is itself viewed as a spell, one so ancient they can’t cure it, particularly because it is so intrinsically tied to the person suffering. Any spell that might eat away at it would require serious energy, if it’s even possible.
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He doesn’t let any doubt stop him, however, especially after he gets a sense that he might be harboring some potentially massive power. As part of the Alumni Week celebrations, the different disciplines are competing in a series of Welters, a magical chess-like game where players capture pieces of a grid by successfully completing the spellwork it calls for.
Margo desperately wants to win to garner the mentorship of Genji, and so she takes Quentin’s fuzzy focus as a personal affront. The shock of his father’s imminent death has left him scatterbrained, unfocused, unsure of the world around him. But it’s also made him upset and angry, and so while he initially seems doomed in Welters, landing on the central, presumably most difficult tile, everyone expects him to fail. Instead, he unleashes a powerful spell that wipes the board clean of every magical complication all at once, while also literally blowing the roof off the place.
NEXT: Meet, and say goodbye to, Cancer puppy.
It’s only with an assist from Alice that Quentin’s able to quell the spell, though they win the game in the process. The whole ordeal gets him thinking though, particularly after a downer of a pep talk from Margo. As Eliot told him previously, magic is born from the loss, grief, and general sadness of life. It’s one of the world’s great ironies, but as it stands for them, magic doesn’t come from the power of love.
Despite this great tragedy, or rather, the strength of tragedy itself, Quentin feels empowered in his fight to help his father. If he could pull off a spell like that, perhaps he can cure his dad, too. He decides to test this theory out on… Cancer Puppy, an unnaturally adorable 150-year dog enchanted to always look like a puppy who, as the title implies, has cancer.
Quentin and Eliot prepare a spell he found, only to kill Cancer Puppy. The monsters. Fogg is as upset as any of us would be that this newfound national treasure has been killed in Quentin’s efforts to save his father. Not even the world’s most powerful magicians can accomplish such a task, and Fogg has to explain to Quentin that magic can’t fix everything. So, they fix what they can.
Quentin can’t fix his dad. He wants to fix cancer, a problem any child of a parent with cancer would do anything to solve. So, he fixes what he can.
Returning to his dad’s home, Quentin pulls him into the dining room. Taking his broken model plane, Quentin mends it with magic in front of his father. No memory wipe needed, of course, considering what’s to come, so Quentin risks a little bit of magic flying out into the world for the sake of his father’s happiness. He can know his son has found what he loves, and in an episode filled with magical chess, astral projection, and much more, this beautiful human moment between father and son is one of the series’ best yet.
Quentin isn’t done grieving. He hasn’t even lost his father fully yet, but he’s already learning how to deal with the idea and with his own limitations. He returns to Brakebills happy to have Alice, someone who can understand loss, back at school. And he may be getting what he wished the magical world would provide him — a noble quest, as Eliot phrases it earlier in the episode.
Penny and Kady come to Quentin and Alice with a symbol. As part of Alumni Week, Penny receives mentorship from a fellow traveler, whose advice to Penny is to not be one. Instead, focus on astral projection he argues, so that he never has to worry about physically hurting himself.
Penny tests that idea out, responding to the calls of a girl crying out for help he’s heard all episode. He ends up in a dank dungeon, able to pass through walls where he finds a girl chained up. And the Beast, speaking in his otherwise delightful British accent, comes strolling in, the object of her fear. He doesn’t just taunt his captured soul, though, he sees Quentin there even when the girl cannot.
And that girl was Victoria, a Brakebills student who disappeared as part of that mysterious third year class several years ago. Penny remembers what he can of the place, drawing out a symbol that Kady makes him bring to Alice and Quentin. It’s Quentin who recognizes it. Pulling out one of his Fillory books, he shows an identical symbol. Penny didn’t just project himself — he projected himself to another world. Fillory, to be precise.
On the Other Side of the Hedge
Julia, cast out from Marina’s crew, refuses to leave the magical world in her past. It’s part of who she is, and she’s willing to do whatever she can to reclaim it, even if that means cheating on James.
After desperately trying and failing a spell via Google, she calls Pete over to help mend her injuries. And all his talk of jumping to the rescue of a beautiful girl gives Julia an idea. She starts making out with him, and agrees, essentially, to trade sex for intel about other hedgewitches in the city.
Pete has clearly had a thing for Julia all along, so his reticence dissipates almost immediately as the two consummate the deal in the apartment where James sat just a few hours earlier. But the new group Pete tells her about is woefully underpowered, and she demands proper compensation per the terms of their agreement. Pete is smitten, though, finding it hard to believe she still loves James after the way she’s acted. He even offers to run away with her to the Mali desert where there’s rumored powerful magic, as nothing in New York even comes close to Marina’s teachings.
Julia refuses, even threatening to tell James about this side of her life. But she never gets the chance. Julia has been wiped from his memory, as she disastrously finds out while approaching him in a diner. Marina and Pete couldn’t let this underworld of magic be revealed to anyone, and as Marina has proven hurting Julia is an easy task, she does so again with this new mindwipe.
They say it’s to save her, but now with no boyfriend, and no magic, Julia has nothing left to lose in a quest for more power.