It shouldn’t be a surprise that our main cast of characters still don’t know who they are by the end of The Magicians season four premiere “A Flock of Lost Birds.” After all, when magic was turned off at the end of season two, the show spent the entirety of season three sending our characters on a quest to gain it back. The Magicians has always upended fantasy tropes, which is why it’s one of the most exciting and progressive shows on television right now. Season four is no different.
It opens on a familiar scene: a twenty-something female named Kimber wanders off the taken path by mistake, following a piece of paper caught by the wind. The dark tones of her surroundings open up to the green pastures and natural light of Brakebills, the magic university. But it’s not Eliot (Hale Appleman) who greets her to take her to the magical skills test, as he once did for Quentin (Jason Ralph). It’s Todd (Adam DiMarco), dressed in a three-piece nearly all white suit. Considering Todd’s always been portrayed as a bit of a bumbling annoyance, his rise in status as a greeter to new students suggests there’s already a new status quo around Brakebills, one that isn’t going away soon.
Last season, Dean Fogg (Rick Worthy) turned against his own students to team up with the Library when magic returned. The reveal felt a little arch, but that’s probably because it happened in the last couple of minutes in the season. Here, there’s more depth to Fogg than there ever has been. He’s worked behind the scenes before, but it was always in service of saving the lives of Quentin, Eliot, Margo (Summer Bishil), Alice (Olivia Taylor Dudley), Kady (Jade Tailor), and Penny (Argun Gupta). But I love how much he’s not sure he’s saving them this time.
Our main characters are out in the world with no idea who are they are. These new identities were given to them by the Library as a way for saying “hey, thanks for getting magic back, but since you were the ones to get rid of it in the first place, this is the punishment.” Margo is now Janet (a nod to her original name in the books), a top fashion magazine editor who’s seen The Devil Wears Prada a time or two. Kady is Sam, an NYPD police officer who’s stumbled on a group of hedge witches. Penny is DJ Hansel, a hip hop music artist, Josh (Trevor Einhorn) is Janet’s driver, Quentin is Brian, an English professor, and Julia (Stella Maeve) is Kimber, the girl we saw in the beginning being invited to take the Brakebills exam (more on this later). Eliot, bless him, has been possessed by the infantile monster we met at the end of season three. Alice is the only one of the group not changed, but she’s currently locked up by the Library for betraying the deal she made with the Library. She’s also the only one to know that the monster can move from host to host but her warnings to the Library are falling on deaf ears. The Library seems confident their spell work will keep the magicians safe for any threats. Only Dean Fogg seems wary of what could happen.
For a good part of this episode, we see how things are different at Brakebills. Magic may be back, but the Library controls all of it. Only the deal The Librarian made with Fogg allows the students to study it, which draws parallels to Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, with The Librarian acting as Professor Umbridge.
The rest of the episode centers on our four main female leads — Alice, Kady, Margo, and Julia. Kady, as Sam the detective, has stumbled onto a group of hedge witches, but every time she gets close to discovering magic, whatever spell the Library put on them interferes, cutting off the internet, dropping parts of buildings on them, and hitting a hedge witch with a bus. She’s able to get her hands on a medallion that protects her and discovers a comic book all about her life. This is how she finds Margo/Janet. All of our main characters are a story in this comic book called “A Flock of Lost Birds.” Either the Library is just really lazy when it comes to crafting new identities for people they steal memories from, or someone is working on their side. My guess is Dean Fogg, who seems troubled by his decision during this episode. But maybe it’s something more sinister.
Margo/Janet keeps having dreams of Ember (Dominic Burgess), one of the gods of Fillory, who calls on the High Kings of Fillory when there’s trouble afoot. He doesn’t seem to realize Margo isn’t herself, but once he does, he flings her into Fillory without restoring her memories (which seems something a god could do). Ember keeps warning Margo/Janet something’s wrong in Fillory, which will probably end up being the main plot once the magicians get their memories back.
Alice tries to negotiate her way out of Library prison, but ends up making friends with Santa Claus. Well, it’s heavily implied he’s Santa Claus, if his confession as “not-not Santa Claus” is enough to go by, but the elderly African-American in the cell next to Alice becomes her confidant while locked up. He might play a larger role, perhaps in Alice’s escape by cockroach, but Santa added some moments of levity to Alice’s scenes. This part does turn a little dark when The Librarian finds Alice bleeding out on her cell floor, but it was a ruse on Alice’s part to get a lay of the land in the infirmary. Not sure what a cockroach has to do with it all, but Alice needs to escape soon, because Eliot/Monster is on the move.
Julia/Kimber’s story is interesting. She’s not in this whole lot, but her invitation to test for Brakebills is important. In season one, Julia and Quentin, best friends since childhood, both took the test. Only Quentin got in, and Julia was left to find other ways to learn magic, eventually finding the hedge witches. Quentin tells her she was never meant to learn magic, but Julia thinks differently. It sends her down a dark path, but the real kicker comes at the end of the season one when Julia and Quentin learn they are currently living in the 39th timeline, the only one in which Julia wasn’t accepted into Brakebills. She was meant to be there all along. The fact that she’s the only one of her friends invited back proves the point even further. Plus, I think it’s a way for Dean Fogg to redeem himself a bit.
Eventually, Penny, Kady, Margo, and Josh find each other by way of the comic book, but they still don’t know who they are. Marina finds them, but isn’t aware of who they are either because they all have different appearances, their new looks only glimpsed in mirrors. And finally, we learn of Quentin’s fate, who was last seen being confronted by the monster inside Eliot. This moment is saved for the last five minutes, which works really well in maintaining suspension. The monster is taking Quentin (or, as the monster calls him, Brian-not-Brian) on a little killing spree, and tells Quentin/Brian that he’s going to kill his friends. Too bad Quentin has no idea what he’s talking about.
If anything, I wish these new identities were established a little more, but I appreciate this wasn’t resolved in this first episode. A monster’s on the loose, and the knowledge these magicians could use to save themselves are locked away.
The Magicians season 4 continues on SYFY at 8 p.m. CST Wednesday nights. Follow along here at thefilmera.com.
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