The Magicians may have aged up its characters by a few years compared to the novels that the TV series is based on, but as we saw on tonight's episode, that doesn't mean the heroes on the show are any less emotionally stunted.
The first season's 11th episode is called "Remedial Battle Magic," and that's what the Physical Kids (plus Penny) are hastily attempting to learn as they get ready to travel to Fillory. The plan is to obtain a knife that is fabled to be powerful enough to kill a god, and use it to murder the Beast — although they'll have to figure out how to survive long enough to pull it off.
The Magicians has positioned the Beast as the season's big-bad since the pilot, but it's only recently that the show has demonstrated why he's concerned with killing the Brakebills students. The Beast wants to control all the ways in and out of Fillory so he can maintain power over the land. If anyone else can get into Fillory, they could pose a threat to the Beast's rule.
Two episodes ago, we saw the terrible situation that created the Beast, although the man behind the being remains unclear — the gang still believes it's Christopher Plover, although there was some evidence last week that it may actually be Martin Chatwin. Either way, Fillory served as an escape for the Beast, and now he wants to keep it all to himself. His next brutal stroke is to pursue travelers like Joe, the lover that Alice's parents share, and Stanley, Penny's mentor. Oh, and Penny too, of course. These special magicians can flit between worlds at will, so the Beast must hunt them all down.
Adults like Stanley and Dean Fogg have been lecturing Penny about the risks of possessing traveling powers for a long time, but "Remedial Battle Magic" proved the truth of those warnings in a way that mere words never could. Joe and Stanley both kill themselves to get the Beast's voice out of their head (and to prevent him from using them for his nefarious plans). I've been just as annoyed by Penny's dickish behavior as Quentin, but this episode alone turned him into a sympathetic character. You realize what a burden it is to be Penny when Professor Sunderland offers him some caring real talk in the infirmary, telling him that traveling is both a gift and a curse.
After recovering, Penny agrees to learn battle magic and go to Fillory, but only if the group promises to rescue the young woman that the Beast has imprisoned; there's plenty of empathy under that gruff exterior of his. By this point, the Physical Kids have visited Kady at Julia's apartment. The trick Kady teaches them involves literally toying with their own emotions: bottling them up so they can focus all of their energy into battle magic, since these first-year magic students are generally incapable of pulling it off otherwise. The trick works, as the gang learns to fire magic missiles, set up shields around themselves and set objects on fire. But when they keep their emotions bottled up for too long, it has disastrous consequences.
Eliot reached out to Margo last week when he was in dire need of a heart-to-heart talk, and was spurned by Mar-golem. This time around, he ignores her pleas for them to be honest with each other, and instead continues his scary pattern of substance abuse. So when Margo expresses her concerns to Quentin after the two of them have helped a plastered Eliot into bed, it brings together these two people who want to help their friend — and somehow the three of them end up having a threesome, which Alice discovers the next morning. (This happens in the books as well, but I felt like the show's setup for it failed to make it seem like a reasonable outcome in the situation.)
Meanwhile, the Free Trader Beowulf folks are also working to find their way toward a powerful magical being, although they're looking to summon a god instead of kill something. Richard suggests that they seek out magical creatures living undercover in New York City, since they would be old enough to remember when gods and humans actually interacted with each other.
I have to say, The Magicians really goes out of its way to show us a New York that's nothing but seedy underbelly. It's kind of like the way things were in the 1970s and '80s, in the days of The Warriors — before the city cleaned the graffiti off subway cars and the porn shops out of Times Square. Julia and Kady visit a run-down apartment building before following a new lead in some kind of underground tunnel infrastructure, and none of it looks remotely inviting.
In that dark subterranean place, Julia finds an image of what appears to be the Virgin Mary, and later prays to a small plaster statue of her and the baby Jesus. Julia's a special magician — "god-touched," as Richard explains it — and a goddess indeed answers Julia's prayers by appearing in her apartment. Now she just has to make an offering by finding one of the goddess's long-running servants, who happens to live near the Brooklyn Bridge. Curiouser and curiouser.