It seems like everybody on The Magicians is broken in some way, messed up by something in their past that they did or was done to them. As we've seen before on this show, it can be dangerous for people like that to open up to others, but tonight's episode demonstrated the value of admitting that you need help from friends and family.
Picking up right where we left off with last week's cliffhanger, "Homecoming" begins with Penny breaking the surface of a fountain in the Neitherlands, which, to the chagrin of Quentin and the Physical Kids, isn't detailed in the Fillory books except as "a world between worlds." Only when Penny teleports elsewhere in the realm to escape the hostile welcome committee does he grasp the scale of the place, which holds countless fountains leading to countless worlds.
The Magicians offers a wonderfully realized version of the Neitherlands that delivers on the strangeness and desolation of the world described in the books — even if it's inspired more by ancient Greece, with its terraced amphitheaters, than Renaissance Italy. And it's exactly the kind of place that would contain "the greatest repository of knowledge, full stop," along with a prototypical librarian running one of that repository's branches. Just a pitch-perfect setting, all told.
Unfortunately, Penny can't find his way back to the earth fountain on his own, so he interrupts Quentin's sexy dream — which made me roll my eyes with its lesbian kiss, until it winked at the viewer with a quip about the Bechdel test — to reluctantly ask for his help. When Quentin explains the situation to Alice, she realizes that she may be able to enlist her mother's friend Joe, a traveler himself, in guiding Penny back home. (You'd figure that Quentin would've thought better of describing the dream to her, but nope!)
Alice takes Quentin on a trip to the Chicago suburbs, where they barge in on another relic of antiquity: Her parents are hosting a bacchanal that turns out to be a celebration of Veneralia, the ancient Roman festival marking the first day of April. Now we know why Alice is so shy and awkward. Before Alice asks her mother, Stephanie, for help, the two of them rekindle an old disagreement about her brother Charlie, and specifically, about finding out what really happened to him. While Alice was always obsessed with seeking the truth, her laid-back mother's attitude can be summed up as que sera, sera.
In order to secure her mother's help, Alice has to swallow her pride and acknowledge that her mother's feelings are just as legitimate as her own. We don't have much prior context for this relationship, but as played by Olivia Taylor Dudley and guest star Judith Hoag, it's a nice moment of reconciliation between daughter and mother. Joe turns out to be Stephanie's lover as well as her friend, in a "polyamorous triad" along with Alice's father, as if the sex stuff on The Magicians weren't weird enough already. In any case, Joe explains that Quentin and Alice can mark the Earth fountain for Penny — but they'll have to pull off some difficult "sex magic" to do it.
This is the point where I was thinking to myself that Quentin and Alice were going some great lengths to help out a classmate whom they care about begrudgingly. But the exercise pays dividends for the two of them as well. In talking out their limited sexual histories and their individual turn-ons, Alice and Quentin grow closer as a couple, and successfully activate the fountain beacon. Plus, it's fun to see two awkward, neurotic magic nerds fall in love.
Penny makes it back to this plane of existence, but not before he gets some additional help from the Neitherlands librarian. He mentions the Beast to her, and she photocopies some pages out of the book of Martin Chatwin's life. It seems that Christopher Plover isn't the Beast himself; instead, he created the malevolent being.
The Beast has also wreaked havoc on Eliot, who seems to be spiraling out of control after having to kill his boyfriend, Mike, who was possessed by the Beast. The storyline in this episode with him and Margo seems like it's going to function merely as more comic relief — "Mar-golem" certainly made me chuckle — but it ends with a sad gut punch. Eliot tries to get serious for once with his best friend, but Margo's doppelgänger ruins the mood, leaving poor Eliot to silently wallow in his depression.
Julia, like Penny and the Physical Kids, gets roped into a search for a creature that is not of this earth, as Richard brings her into the fold at Free Trader Beowulf, a group of talented magicians that primarily interacts online in a Slack-like chat client. Richard notes the state of disarray inside Julia's apartment; the messy scene tells us all we need to know about how quickly Julia and her addiction-prone personality have become enmeshed in this community. Our old friend Kady is one of the members of this tribe, and she and Julia get down to business after they get over the tension between them regarding Kady's mother's death.
Once they prove themselves to the rest of the crew, Richard lets them in on Free Trader Beowulf's mission. Julia came to know Richard as the chaplain of her rehab facility, but he, too, has a skeleton in his closet (no pun intended). Wracked with guilt, Richard is looking to summon a god to provide the power source he needs to travel back in time and right this terrible wrong.