Quentin Coldwater is the protagonist of Lev Grossman's Magicians novels, but he doesn't usually get very far or accomplish much without the help of others. Tonight's episode of The Magicians highlights that fact by showing how important it is to have a support network in your life — and how dangerous and scary it is to live without one.
"Mendings, Major and Minor" begins with Quentin asking Dean Fogg about Julia, and as the episode goes on, it's clear that anyone who cares about Julia should be worried about her. Cast out by Marina, Julia feels like she's on an island. Pete tells her he can't help her; she's keeping up appearances with James, but continues to research magic behind his back. When she nearly sets herself and her apartment on fire with a spell she Googled, she calls Pete to bandage her wounds — and sleeps with him in exchange for intel on other hedge witches in New York.
That "agreement" doesn't work out for Julia, since those other magicians are hacks. But she balks at Pete's suggestion that they run away together to learn magic in the desert of Mali, because she loves James. Then she loses that relationship, too, when Marina wipes Julia from James' memory. Pete defends himself to a fuming Julia by pointing out that he sold her out in an effort to protect James from her, because she's "out of control." And indeed, Julia's obsession has made her the most selfish character on The Magicians.
The episode's driving story is Quentin's relationship with his father, whom we met in a dream sequence last week: Quentin goes home and learns that his father is suffering from an aggressive form of brain cancer. The elder Coldwater is looking to reconcile with his son, and is frustrated that Quentin's mysterious graduate school has kept the two of them apart. Later, when Quentin objects to his father's decision to forgo treatment, his dad pulls out a broken model airplane: a metaphor for their fractured relationship.
"Sometimes, trying to fix something only makes it worse," he tells Quentin, and it's unclear if he's talking about the toy or their relationship.
Quentin ignores his father's note and returns to Brakebills, on a mission to find a magical cure for cancer. He goes as far as trying a spell on the Physical Kids' canine mascot, Gerald, but it fails catastrophically. While being reprimanded by Dean Fogg for killing "Cancer Puppy," a typically angsty Quentin wonders aloud what the point of magic is "if we can't fix real problems." When Dean Fogg responds with "we fix what we can," Quentin returns home and magically repairs his father's model airplane right in front of him, revealing himself as a magician. It's the most touching moment in The Magicians to this point.
At Brakebills, Quentin is distracted by thoughts of his ailing father; he has trouble with simple magic during a game of welters, a magical sport-slash-board-game. When he casts a spell that threatens to destroy the welters arena, Alice helps him get it under control. Afterward, when Quentin is moping at the cottage while everyone else is celebrating his victory, it's his classmate Margo who lifts his spirits by essentially telling him — in her oddly charming manner — that misery can be a source of great magical power.
Margo and Eliot spend much of the episode vying for the chance to be mentored by Genji, a woman who is close to Alice. The alumni week business, the episode's C plot, was the only part that didn't really work on its own; it felt like a plot device to bring in grown-up mentors. In fact, Genji succeeds where Dean Fogg didn't, convincing Alice to return to Brakebills and figure out what to do with her life.
Penny gets a mentor of his own, a fellow traveler named Stanley. Stanley and his peg leg are living proof of the perils of that magical power, and the shabby-looking man advises Penny to get an anchor tattoo and stick with the safer technique of astral projection. Penny then projects himself toward a female voice screaming into his head for help; he finds a young woman chained up in a dungeon, and it turns out she's being tortured by none other than the Beast.
Stanley refuses to help, and Kady can't. At her behest, a reluctant Penny shows Quentin and Alice his sketch of an insignia he saw in his vision: a shield with two rams on it, which Quentin instantly recognizes as the seal of the gods of Fillory. It's yet another instance in which a character succeeds and makes better decisions with the help and counsel of friends, family members and mentors.