Episode 104, “The World in the Walls”
Sometimes the worst place to be is in your own head, alone with your thoughts and fears, which can get blown out of proportion and even consume you if you don’t stand guard. But what happens if you are trapped there, against your will, and someone else is tweaking the effects, thwarting your attempts to leave, making you doubt your own sanity…sort of like a nightmarish Truman Show? Quentin finds out that when you live in a world of magicians, be careful of making enemies, especially of your friends, and even more especially if they are running around with a manipulative Hedge Witch with a vendetta agenda.
Quentin has already admitted to his friends that if he had to go back to a world without magic, it would be his undoing, and we find out what some of that looks like in this episode, which starts with him waking up in a mental hospital, where the teachers are the staff and his friends from Brakebills are patients. Penny is now a shy orderly (possibly a former patient), Alice is a nymphomaniac who thinks she’s living an early episode from Star Trek, and Eliot is…well, he’s still Eliot, albeit a little more over the top than normal, if you can imagine that. Confused and slightly panicked at being back in an institution, Quentin is sure that this must be a dream, but he’s having a hard time convincing anyone else of that.
Q “Okay, this is obvious a dream where I realize that I’m in a dream.”
This episode quickly goes from dream to nightmare, with glimpses of truth through the illusion. It was really well done, just like those frustrating dreams where you can’t move your feet, or scream, or every time you try to move forward, an obstacle prevents your progress. And, of course, the occasional Beast moths. Yeah, that’ll make you wig out in front of the staff. The harder Quentin tries to assure the staff that he doesn’t belong here, the stronger the case becomes to keep him. They convince him that he was violent and dangerous when he was admitted, having brutally attacked his father with a knife. They also succeed in persuading him to take the meds they discover that he’s been palming with sleight of hand. I almost expected Rod Serling to make an appearance as a narrator.
Quentin tries to produce magic, but nothing comes, and he only further convinces the doctor of his insanity.
Doctor: “I know that this can seem very real, but this is not. Brakebills is the hallucination.”
Julia comes to visit Quentin in the institution, talking of her classes at Yale, and her recent engagement to James. Quentin is clearly disturbed that this doesn’t fit with his reality, and he attempts again to do some magic, but the faint fireworks isn’t seen by Julia, or anyone else in the room.
Q: “This is not happening! I’m the one that got into Brakebills! This can’t be my life”
Jules: “I want to see the fireworks, I really do.”
Q: “Wait…how did you know they were fireworks?”
Ominous music, and as he suspects all is not that it seems, he sees a glimpse of another Julia — laughing at him. He’s convinced that this is all an elaborate illusion, but he doesn’t know how to get out of it. As he walks down the hallway, he spies a bronze plaque that reads “Ellsworth Downs” — the name of the institution he’s in. But the name triggers some distant memory, and he is visited by Jane Chatwin.
Jane: “It’s very strong, this spell.”
Before she can explain, she disappears, and Q awakes to his roommate tearing up his books on Fillory, which Quentin believes contain the answer to getting out of this dream. But, he’s not allowed tape to mend the pages, and he’s sent off to music therapy, where he and other patients are encouraged to sing. Across the room, Penny begs for them not to sing “that one song.” When Quentin realizes that everything here is an illusion from his own head, he gets the idea to try and reach the real Penny, a psychic, by singing Shake It Off; a Taylor Swift song that Penny threatened him about in a previous episode.
Penny walks in — the real Penny — and tells him to stop thinking about that “stupid song.”
Quentin: “Nobody here can see you!”
Penny: “Yeah, because there’s no HERE, dumbass. I’m in your head. Now, stop thinking of that song so I can go back to sleep!”
Quentin: “I’m in trouble — Help me. This is not a dream — it’s a spell. Find me! Wake up!”
Penny wakes, and at the same moment, Julia comes out of a trance, experiencing the thrill of deep magic. With Marina’s help, she was performing the magic that held Quentin in his nightmare. Although she is thrilled with the sensation of the magic she was performing, she was also having doubts about the level of mental anguish she caused Quentin.
J: “Wow, I didn’t think that Q would fall in so deep.”
Marina: “Oh, he’s not going to die, he’s just not going to wake up.”
Marina is malicious; she really wants Quentin to remain in this Twilight Zone state. Kady is also present at their headquarters, but she is not a willing participant.
Back in the dream, Quentin is able to steal some Scotch™ tape to repair the torn Fillory pages, certain that the answer to his freedom lies within. After assembling several pages, he finds a passage about a magician in Fillory who could drive others insane, creating puzzles with no solution and games whose rules changed for no reason: The Madness-maker. His given name: Ellsworth Downs, the same name of the institution he’s in now. In the book, Jane figured out how to break his curse….but that part of the page is somewhere among the shredded pile on his bed, and Quentin’s memory of the story is not coming to him.
Now awake and back at Brakebills, Penny goes to the Cottage, looking for Q. Kady enters the house and leads them to a closet where she claims that he passed out during the party the night before. She passes her hands over his body to revive him, but nothing happens.
Kady: “This is bad”
Penny: ”How bad?”
Eliot: ”Like, ‘we need to tell the Dean’ bad”
Dean Fogg explains that Quentin is under the Scarlotti Web spell, and to bring him back, they need to summon the matarese, an evil bug spirit of the underworld. But even this magic will bring him only halfway back; they need Penny to travel back into the dream and guide Quentin back to the real world. Dean Fogg enchants a robotic scorpion, which then crawls into Quentin’s mouth and down his throat.
To summon the Matarese, they must lower all of the protective wards around the school, which was Marina’s purpose of placing this spell on Quentin in the first place: to get them to lower their shields. She is waiting at the edge of the school grounds with Julia, who is still in the dark about Marina’s plan. As the protective wards are lifted, they have a clear opening to enter the campus to carry out Marina’s carefully-planned heist.
Marina (as the shields are lifted): “Ah. Dean Fogg, following the playbook. Welcome back to Brakebills. Let’s go steal their s—.”
Marina is an ex-student of Brakebills, and she’s out for revenge. She was expelled three months before her graduation, stripped of her abilities, her knowledge removed, but not her memory — something about being there too long. Seems to me that they could do well with a strong Obliviate charm. We don’t learn the reason why she was expunged from Brakebills, but I’m pretty sure it has something to do with her overtly sadistic tendencies.
Penny enters the dream to find Quentin bound to a surgery table and a bloodied version of Quentin’s father preparing to perform a trans-orbital lobotomy on Quentin. That’s a technical term for “jab a long pointy metal thing through his eye and scramble his brain.” Talk about bad dreams; this one is one of the worst. Penny convinces Quentin that the hospital and the other people are not real, and that he must shut it down. The scorpion, no longer mechanical, exits Quentin’s mouth. The people in the dream disappear; however, they are still in the hospital — something isn’t right. Suddenly, the lights go off, the room goes black, and Penny finds himself back in the Dean’s office, with Quentin still unconscious on the couch.
Kady, who knows of Marina’s plan, leaves the Dean’s office when she realizes that Quentin is in serious trouble. She confronts Julia, who is standing watch in the hallway for Marina. Kady tells Julia that Quentin will never wake up, and convinces her to go and reverse the spell. Julia goes to help Quentin, and Dean Fogg knows immediately that Julia didn’t do this by herself.
Quentin is now alone in a black room, standing in a circle of vertical light beams, when Jane Chatwin appears.
Quentin: “Just tell me what to do.”
Jane: “You make the web you’re in. You are the spider and the fly, just like…(she nods toward Ellsworth, who has just appeared with a chess board).
After some leading questions from Jane Chatwin, Quentin realizes that the Madness-maker only played the games he would win, preventing him from actually living and learning. His release from the dream comes when he decides to stop playing it safe, like Ellsworth, and start living. He wakes, spitting out the metal scorpion, and in the commotion that follows, Julia disappears from the room. Marina has summoned her to the edge of the Brakebills grounds, just as the wards are restored.
Quentin is in big trouble for not telling them about Julia’s failed memory wipe, and for going with Eliot to retrieve the book from the Hedge Witches without backup. As Dean Fogg lectures him about the dangers of magic, Quentin, with a renewed sense of purpose, sticks up for himself:
Q: “I don’t need to be taught what magic is or isn’t. I need to be taught magic. So that I can decide what it is, or isn’t…for me.”
Fogg: “That was almost well put.”
Marina has her box back, which means that she has regained all of the knowledge that they striped her of when she was expelled. She punishes Julia for trying to help Quentin at the school by burning red X’s through her earned star tattoos, the equivalent of an ultimate court martial. She then banishes Julia to the street, telling her that she has no idea what “cut off from magic” really means.
As the episode closes, Julia is alone, without access to either Brakebills or the Hedge Witches. Kady is still at Brakebills, and based on Marina’s comment, is unable to reveal anything about them, whether it’s by enchantment or other coercion remains to be seen.
The Magicians airs Mondays at 9/8c on Syfy.