Last night’s episode of The Magicians dismantled the idea of side characters and warned us - just like in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s famous Ted Talk - of the danger of a single story. OG Penny opens up the episode by warning us that we think we may the know the story but “the most important characters aren’t who you’d expect.” We may write Kady, Penny and Fen off as “side characters in epic quests” but they have their own narratives, histories and pathways to discover. Once again, The Magicians proves itself as a groundbreaking show by deflating our seemingly irreplaceable "main" characters such as Quentin, Alice and Julia.
Of course, we can’t unsee the racial dynamics and implications of OG Penny’s speech. The Magicians is ultimately seen as Quentin’s story in many ways. He is the volunteer tomato. He is the Fillory fanatic. He is the epic quest pioneer. He is also a relatively basic white man. The Magicians bites back with this episode, calling out that viewpoint as tired and inaccurate. The white guy isn’t always the center of the story. If we zoomed out of that story, we would see the Kady Gonzalezes and Zelda Schiffs of the world. In this episode, Magicians takes the time to zoom out, all the while narrated by OG Penny. Who, by the way, has become WAY more chill since he died. We start with Kady.
Kady storms back into the apartment and tells Julia exactly like it is. She lets Julia know that they have a complicated relationship, but ultimately they are only in the same circle because of Penny. Julia protests this undeniable truth, but it falls on deaf ears. As a viewer, although Kady’s level of sass is on 10, I completely agree. She doesn’t relate to the somewhat snobby Brakebills crowd. Kady is from a different world and a different class status. Kady tells Julia it’s time for her to forge her own path. In an attempt to pay the Baba Yaga for their fabulous stolen apartment, she teams up with the hedge witches from the first season. While being her badass self, Kady discovers that the deweys (magical currency) are killing hedge witches.
That leads us to Zelda.
Zelda is mourning the loss of her daughter, Harriet. Even though Zelda is a bureaucrat and pain in the ass, she is also a human being going through a great loss. Perhaps without realizing it, Zelda has put all her energy into finding and saving Alice because she sees her as a second daughter. Or the daughter she doesn’t have anymore. She comes up with an idea to put tracking spells on the deweys in order to find Alice. In the meantime, Zelda ends up seeing Harriet through the mirror and it's apparent that Harriet is injured, She convinces the library traveler to come with her to the mirror realm in order to save Harriet. Instead, she finds a nightmarish version of her daughter.
Meanwhile, Kady gives a speech to the hedge witches that sparks a revolution. Kady begins to take on the mission that Harriet left unfinished: destroy the tyrannical library. Her speech sparks the destruction of the Mondesto branch. This is some radical shit. However, if we only paid attention to Quentin’s or Julia’s story, we wouldn’t have been enlisted into Kady’s revolutionary charge.
Then, we have Fillory. In the last episode, when Margo is attempting to talk to her birthright bearded dragon, Fen seems almost struck dumb. I remember watching that episode and thinking: wow, this character isn’t going anywhere. Of course, The Magicians checks me immediately. We find out that Fen has been having prophetic dreams. As we wonder about the mysteries of the dream realm, OG Penny directs us to one of the last scenes in the story, between Zelda and Alice.
Zelda implores Alice for her help to find Harriet. OG Penny tells us that this interaction along with Fen’s prediction and Kady’s mutiny will change the course of magic forever. Whoa. So it’s not the white guy who saved magic? Who would have thought?
The Magicians cautions us from putting characters, and people, into boxes of what they can and cannot do. Instead, the show reminds us that everyone is complex, multitudinous and uniquely significant to the future of our world.