Like most episode titles of The Magicians, this week’s title, “The Serpent,” has many layers. There’s the obvious reference: The Serpent is the name of a magical terrorist group that is infecting hedge witches with earworms that make them boil to death from the inside if they do magic. But then there’s the subtler reference, a nod to the notion that many “serpents” in the world aren’t an evil, external force looking to do harm, but are things that live inside us, issues or facets of ourselves or what we believe that we must confront and deal with.
Many characters wrestle with their own serpents this episode. There’s Alice, who must literally face the arrogant part of herself when she splits into two people after a prism spell goes wrong; there’s Zelda, who faces the realization that her mentor Everett is behind the supposed hedge witch terrorist group, which he created in order to foment fear and get the hedges under the Library’s thumb; there’s Fen, who is struggling against her destiny to overthrow High King Margo; and there’s even the Eliot-Monster, who is slowly unearthing the truth of who or what he actually is (we don’t know what he is yet either, though Penny 23 ends the episode saying it’s much worse than what the gang imagined).
“The Serpent” also brings us back to two major arcs of this season: the evil Eliot-Monster and the Library’s encroaching path toward totalitarianism.
Let’s start with the Library. Kady, who has become the quasi-leader of the hedges, is worried about The Serpent—the masked members of the group justify infecting/killing hedges because they think they don’t deserve to use the limited amount of magic the Library releases into the world. The crux, Kady realizes, is to end the Library’s stranglehold on ambient magic. In order to break open the taps, she reluctantly joins forces with Alice (after punching in her the face, of course).
The two, along with Kady’s new sidekick Pete, realize they need a mole in the Library to carry out their plan, and they find one in Zelda, who is still trying to rescue her daughter Harriet from the mirror realm. Alice agrees to rescue Harriet if Zelda helps them do two things: (1) gain access to the magical “pipes” the Library uses to control the flow of ambient magic, and (2) help Dean Fogg keep a list of Brakebills rejects out of the Library’s clutches.
Alice, after some travails of her own (this is where she literally has a tough talk with herself after splitting herself in two for a bit), holds up her end of the bargain and brings Harriet back from the mirror realm. Zelda is relieved to have her daughter back, but her daughter is the one who reveals to her the machinations of her mentor Everett. At the end of the episode, Zelda is at a crossroads—one where she must face the fact that the institution she loves is not as benign or high-minded as she thought.
And then there’s the Eliot-Monster. This story arc hasn’t been at the forefront since Episode 5, “Escape from the Happy Place,” where we found out Eliot was still alive but buried deep in the monster’s sub-conscious. Since then, Quentin and various members of the gang have been tracking down (and killing) gods in order to take the organ-stones inside them. “The Serpent” starts out on a similar path, with the Monster ordering Quentin to find the last stone while he kidnaps and kills a psychic in an effort to recover his forgotten past.
In order to stop evil Eliot from killing more psychics, Penny 23 agrees to enter Eliot-Monster’s head. (After almost kissing Julia! A budding romance that I’m surprised I’ve warmed up to, given my love of the Kady-Penny relationship…this is a different Penny though, and the show has done the work to make the two versions of Penny distinct.)
Inside the monster’s head, Penny 23 witnesses a suppressed memory involving a field with a stone altar, those organ-stones the gang’s been hunting, and the gods undergoing some sort of ritual. All that is well and good, but the exciting part of this scene is that the real Eliot shows up, desperate to tell Penny the truth about what the stone-organs really are. Penny ends up convulsing and bleeding from the nose in real life, but comes back to consciousness at the end of the episode to blurt out right before the end credits that the stones won’t get the monster his body back, but are “something much worse.”
The Eliot-Monster arc also crosses over to Fillory this episode. The animals are talking again, and a bunny tells Margo that her beloved Eliot is alive. Summer Bishil again kills it as Margo—her face after hearing the news is heartbreaking, and reveals both the painful joy of realizing Eliot’s alive as well as her grim determination to do whatever she must to save him. And the sacrifice for her to save Eliot is high—she tells Fen to go through with the coup, and she willingly faces lifetime banishment from Fillory in order to go find a magic man who might have the juju to save Eliot.
Her walk out of Fillory, carrying nothing but her birth box, some snacks from Josh and an iPod playing Pat Benatar’s “We Belong,” is not only my favorite scene of the show, but also one that foreshadows next week’s hotly anticipated musical episode, which will bring all 10 regular cast members together in one place for this first time in the show’s history. That’s the beauty of music! If we’re lucky, we might even find out the truth about the Eliot-Monster and his stone-organs through a jaunty song, something few shows other than The Magicians could deliver.
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