Much of the first Magicians book takes place at Brakebills, the school where Quentin and company study magic for four years. The TV show hasn't spent a ton of time in the classroom thus far, but tonight's episode of The Magicians focused heavily on an important academic ritual, giving us an inside look at what an education in magic entails.
Before that, though, "Impractical Applications" picks up right where we left off last week, with Quentin realizing that Penny visited Fillory via astral projection. Penny is understandably concerned with warding off the Beast, but the malevolent force didn't appear in the Fillory books, and Quentin is forced to come to terms with the fact that Fillory may not be the happy-go-lucky fantasy realm he envisioned.
I was initially disappointed that the show so quickly tabled the Fillory discussion, but the rest of the Brakebills-centric part of the episode was so good that I ended up not minding. Everything to do with the Trials illustrated the unique, arcane aspects of teaching magic to young people, like a written exam whose proctors might have counterintuitive expectations of the test-takers. The second Trial even echoed the fifth episode's emphasis on teamwork, with a solution that evoked the parable of the long spoons.
The written word is perfectly suited to that kind of world-building, but TV shows don't often take the time to attempt it because it's harder to do in a visual medium (a medium that also happens to be more pressed for time). I also loved seeing Eliot and Margo serve as the Trials administrators; as older students who are always rolling their eyes at the silly first-years, they were born to play that role. They like to have fun, but they put on their serious faces for the final Trial, when shit gets real with secret magic.
The third Trial plays out very differently for the two pairs: Kady and Penny, who have been sleeping together for the entire show to this point, and Quentin and Alice, neither of whom has ever outwardly expressed feelings for the other person. An exercise in which people must tell each other their innermost truths would be plenty terrifying for Alice and Quentin even if they didn't simultaneously have to be naked. In fact, they only manage to remove the ropes from their hands after the midnight deadline, and it seems like the ritual brings them closer together as they are transfigured into geese and fly away from Brakebills.
On the other hand, the Trial leaves Penny and Kady at a rough juncture. Earlier in the episode, it hits Penny that Kady's never told him anything about her past. It turns out that that's because her family life is pretty messed up. As we saw in episode 3, Julia's ex-mentor, Marina, enlisted Kady to steal magical supplies and knowledge from Brakebills for Marina's crew of hedge witches. Kady was forced into this servitude when her mother, Hannah, needed Marina's help in cleaning up a heist gone wrong.
Hannah accosts Julia in Jersey City, New Jersey — which, by the way, is not an hour outside of New York City — and offers to trade some spells for a vague return. All Hannah wants, apparently, is for Julia to perform some magic with her because Hannah "[misses] the feeling." Uh-huh, sure. But the preternaturally gifted Julia blows through the notes Hannah has on hand, and that's when they decide to go for the big score: Marina's stash of spells, the ones Julia helped her steal back from Brakebills.
It doesn't quite make sense that Kady would still be stuck pilfering items from Brakebills, since the entire point of Marina using Kady as a back door onto the campus was to open a path for Marina to take back the knowledge that had been wiped from her brain when she was expelled. Then again, as we are reminded when Hannah dies a very bloody death at the hands of a protective spell Marina had apparently placed on the file cabinets, the depths of Marina's vindictiveness seem to know no bounds.