Quentin, Alice, Penny, and Kady learn to work together to survive The Trials — and find out what kind of magic must be done in the nude

By Jonathon Dornbush
February 22, 2016 at 11:20 PM EST
Eike Schroter/Syfy
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While the faculty is away, the older students at Brakebills will play… with the first-years like their own personal monkeys. But there’s more to Eliot, Margo, and the rest of their class putting the Brakebills freshman class through The Trials during “Impractical Applications.” The future of these students and their magical schooling is at risk.

Fail the Trials and be wiped from the student body. Complete them all, and you transfigure into a goose. Really it seems like a lose-lose situation.

The final result for those who pass is kept a secret for much of the hour (a nice surprise for readers of the book who knew this transformative moment was coming), instead putting Quentin, Alice, Penny, and Kady through the ringer, much to the delight of Eliot and Margo. But the Trials are about more than thinning the magical herd — they exemplify what has been one of The Magicians underlying themes since day one — that there’s only so much one can do on their own without the help of others to work through life’s magical and mundane problems.

So Quentin’s hopes to find Fillory again are put on hold after Penny’s revelation that he traveled there. Quentin does name-drop the time witch the Watcher Woman, but without the books ever touching on this Beast, Quentin has little in the way of useful information there.

Without a surefire way to save himself from the Beast should they run into each other again, Penny has Kady tattoo the symbol he learned about last week to prevent himself from doing anything but astral projection. (It also gives the two a minute to bond, Kady revealing to him that her mother died young, and her dad’s a bit of a well-meaning embarrassment.) While they grow closer, Quentin is off on his own studying, only to be disturbed and kidnapped by masked figures.

These unknown assailants, one of whom is actually Margo, bring Quentin to the other students lined up and preparing to take on The Trials. Eliot is of course the ring leader, fully soaking in the limelight before sending the kids off on their first assignment — solve practically impossible spells by the morning or be kicked out.

Quentin, Penny, and a third student are teamed together, and even as the sun rises, they’ve come up with, well, nothing. But Quentin has an idea that Penny happily agrees to. Penny, hiding in a closet, projects his consciousness to the only person they assume could solve the spell, Alice.

They are correct and copy down the right answer, which impresses Eliot. He knows they cheated, though, but he’s also aware their third team member did nothing to help, so he is cast out forever.

The students are given a night off to celebrate, but Quentin hides out in his room, lamenting the whole Fillory situation. Margo comes in with champagne to try to cheer him up, incidentally revealing she too was a Fillory fan. As Quentin opens up about what happened to Penny, he bemoans the idea that the thing he’s wanted his whole life may not be what he expected.

Margo does her best to cheer him up, goading him into drinking, which, just so happens to knock him out. Yes, Margo roofies Quentin so he can be entered in the next trial.

He wakes up to find himself lost in a forest without the ability to do magic. Eliot, seated at a fancy and incongruous table (with a chandelier to really complete the scene) informs him that he requires Quentin to catch a fish. All Quentin has is a bow and a single arrow.

Not exactly an expert marksman, Quentin couldn’t spear a fish if it were the size of Jaws it seems. Luckily, he’s not alone in the forest.

Alice, with a rope, Penny, with an ax, and Kady, with a net, are all in the forest facing similarly odd challenges. Margo and Eliot are soaking in the absolute joys of making these younger magicians flail about helplessly without magic while on their own, until the quartet learn that’s the very key to this trial.

They aren’t alone. Magic takes teamwork, but so can non-magical tasks, and as the four come together, they realize each has an item another of the quartet needs. Not only that, but they all have skills applicable to another of the tasks — Quentin went to junior cowboy camp, so he can wrangle Penny’s horse, and Penny grew up in Florida, so he can catch a fish with Kady’s nest for Quentin.

The four accomplish everything and settle back into Brakebills, another round of cuts made with all of them passing. And so now the final test remains. They must bare themselves physically and emotionally to one another. And yes, that means the spell requires them to be naked in front of their fellow magicians.

For Penny and Kady, they pair up without hesitation, leaving Quentin and Alice to awkwardly disrobe and apply paint to each other. Once naked, they must, while having their hands bound with rope, reveal their innermost truth in a bit of secrets magic.

NEXT: The whole truth and nothing but the (naked) truth.

Alice, quite the growing fan of alcohol, brought some for her and Quentin to make the experience less of a weird hurdle to overcome, but they can’t quite settle on truths strong enough to undo their ropes.

Until they reach the deadline and assume they’ll be kicked out, that is. Alice reveals she’s been holding back all this time as a magician. She’s more powerful perhaps than even she knows, but she’s already unpopular that she didn’t want to do anything that would guarantee she dies alone. That does the trick for her, just as Quentin begins to unload about how he realizes Julia was right. He always runs away. He’s still running, despite having literal magic in his life, because he still hates the person he is.

And so his ropes fall off, only to be followed by convulsions of pain on Quentin’s part. Alice disappears, and Quentin falls off the roof they were performing the ritual on, only to rise back into the sky… as a goose. He joins a whole flock of geese, other students who succeeded as they fly away into the night.

Penny and Kady also lose their rope handcuffs but at a much greater price. Penny’s truth is that he’s falling in love with her. Kady’s revelation? She’s been lying to and using Penny this whole time. Ashamed of herself, Kady flees, leaving Penny to goose out all on his own.

Why did Kady’s secrets come to the surface now? Well, for that, lets turn to the hedgewitchery of the world.

Julia remains desperate for magic. She heads back to the old bar she visited as a secondary hedgewitch hideout, hoping to figure out if Marina is behind this coven denying her existence. Exasperated and willing to threaten their safety for what she wants, Julia is eventually given what she’s seeking.

In addition to learning of Marina’s manipulation, the bartender gives her the address of another hedgewitch group to visit. But when she arrives to their hideout, she finds eviction notices and not a soul in sight. Well, except for the woman who followed her all the way from the bar.

This woman, Hannah, shows off her hedgewitch tattoos and reminisces about the old days of the scene when she was just starting out. Hedgewitchery used to provide her with a family, a safe place, but now people like Marina have made sharing magic a difficult task. All this woman wants, at first, is to do some magic with Julia. She misses the thrill and high of cooperative magic, but the duo quickly run through the gamut of her new spells back at Julia’s makeshift hedgewitch home.

But Marina now has her time at Brakebills back, and with it the memories of an untold number of spells. So the two devise a plan to somehow steal those spells right out from under Marina’s extremely warded-up hedgewitch school.

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Hannah has an idea, an inside woman that could help, and that person comes as a shock to Julia — Kady. Yes, Kady is actually Hannah’s daughter, but clearly Kady’s lie about her mother to Penny stems from the precarious state of their relationship. Kady reveals Hannah was leading a heist that got two others killed, and Marina cleaned up her mess… for a price. So Kady became essentially an indentured servant to Marina’s every whim, required to do whatever the lead hedgewitch demands for fear of what will happen to her own mother.

So Kady refuses to help, and Julia is so thrown she decides to try stealing Marina’s memories on her own. Eventually Hannah comes back to her and pleads to help. The spell she’s doing requires another person, anyway, and Julia might get herself killed otherwise.

But it’s not Julia who’s in trouble when the two finally perform the spell. Their combined magic actually makes it through Marina’s wards but it comes with so many tells — the entire room shakes, lights flicker, general mayhem ensues — that Marina can tell what’s at stake. So she replaces her file cabinets full of spells, which the duo does actually steal, with blank pages.

Not only that, she unleashes some dark magic that causes Hannah to begin profusely bleeding from her eyes. The blood flows until she begins shaking, falls to the floor, and slumps over in death. Julia tries to call the police, but as they answer, she’s left silent, unsure how to precisely explain what just happened to a couple of non-magical policemen.

The Magicians has been building up the power of cooperation in the magical world week after week, and “Impractical Applications” showcases the best and the worst that can come from working together. For Quentin and the gang at Brakebills, even without magic, cooperating provided the only solution to the obstacles in their way. Julia and Hannah tempted the fates of collaborative magic and it ended in doom for one of them. And there’s no telling how many more may meet a similar fate as the Beast approaches.

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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