The fourth episode of The Magicians moves the plot forward in some interesting and important ways, but I didn't like much of how it gets to its conclusion.
"The World in the Walls" is an episode marked by misdirection, stringing the audience along with one red herring after another. It begins with Quentin waking up in a mental institution; we know from the series' first scene that he spent some time in such a facility. When his Brakebills classmates show up, including a Penny who speaks with an Indian accent, we realize it's not a flashback but a dream sequence. The first hint that Quentin is under a spell — rather than in the midst of a nightmare — comes when Julia visits him and taunts him.
"Laughing at you? What kind of a friend would do that?" Julia says, flipping the script on Quentin, and it appears that she's pulling the strings in an effort to get back at him for the way he's been treating her. But it's not until we're more than halfway through the episode that we see confirmation of this, with Marina nonchalantly telling Julia that her goal was to "fuck him up, hard," not just to mess with him like Julia intended.
Maybe it's because I rarely enjoy hallucinations and dream sequences, unless they're executed with the kind of verve and vision seen in The Leftovers' "International Assassin." But I felt like this one simply lasted too long, with Quentin banging his head against, well, the inside of his own head for almost the entire episode. Like Quentin himself, I'm already getting tired of Jane Chatwin's cryptic messages. Between interventions from the real Penny, pages from a Fillory and Further book, and an upside-down chessboard, everything moved too slowly for my tastes. (I did at least get a kick out of the "Shake It Off" dance sequence, an inspired follow-through on a seemingly throwaway line from the previous episode.)
As it turns out, Marina also has a score to settle with Brakebills. She orchestrated all this just so she could sneak back onto the campus to retrieve the knowledge of magic that was erased from her mind when the school expelled her. This is a plot turn akin to something out of a latter-season 24 episode, but I digress: She and Julia make it back to the hedge witches' hideout in Manhattan, at which point she torches Julia like a special agent burning an informant. As we've seen before, Marina is all-in on magic, and she demands the same level of commitment from everyone else. Julia strays from the path, showing some lingering loyalty to Quentin, and it costs her dearly.
"You think Brakebills cut you off from magic?" Marina sneers. "You don't know 'cut off.' But baby, you will."
From here, Julia may find a way to get herself back in Marina's good graces and earn back those stars. Or maybe the show will skip ahead in Julia's storyline from the books, where she eventually leaves the hedge witch scene behind. (That feels a bit premature at this point, though.) Either way, this looks to be a turning point in her magical education.
Four episodes in, it feels strange that we've seen more examples of Julia learning and performing magic than of Quentin and his Brakebills classmates doing so. "The World in the Walls" thankfully gives Penny a much-needed dose of humanity with his important role in helping Quentin wake up. But Alice, who left Brakebills after failing to bring her brother back, is nowhere to be found in this episode. Here's hoping we see how they all develop as first-year students.