‘The Magicians’ Season Four, Episode One Review: “A Flock of Lost Birds”
Our intrepid gang of misfit magicians is back! Season four of SYFY’s The Magicians aired on Wednesday, January 23, launching the first season of the show to completely depart from their source material (Lev Grossman’s trilogy). It is fitting then, as they start on this new adventure, that the gang gets a fresh start of their own – in the forms of new identities, memories, (and seen through the occasional reflection) bodies.
Taking off from the cliffhanger that ended an absolutely stellar season three, Alice is locked in Library jail, Margo, Penny, Josh, Kady, Quentin, and Julia have had their memories and identities wiped in a sort of Wizard Witness Protection, and the Monster has possessed Eliot and is trying to track them down and murder them in retaliation for their attempt on his life. Oh, and The Library has control of all magic, which they dole out at their miserly discretion. So all in all, things are going great.
Photo Credit: Image Courtesy of SyFy
Because it’s The Magicians, and they can never pass up the chance for some cheeky meta commentary, each of our mind (and body) wiped magicians have been given a new, sometimes broad, genre for their character arcs. Kady/Sam now exists as an undercover cop a la your typical crime procedural, Margo/Janet is now the Miranda Priestly-esque center of her own Devil Wears Prada, Josh/Isaac is a sad sack Uber driver, and Penny has become a hilarious Anti-Penny in the form of vaping, Taylor Swift loving, DJ Hansel. Quentin/Brian is a bookish professor, and also the first one tracked down by the Monster and has now become the timid, shell shocked companion it was craving while it continues its killing spree.
The Eliot Monster and Quentin/Brian get the least amount of screen time, merely setting the stage for what is sure to become a major storyline throughout the rest of the season. Hale Appleman is absolutely transformed as the Monster, giving the sort of superb performance that lets you know Eliot is not home right now. (And might never be home again.) Because the Monster storyline is mostly being saved for later, that meant we got the rare treat of an episode driven by Kady (now Sam). “Cast” as a detective in this new life, she stumbles upon a hedge witch and later, after some sleuthing, a comic book detailing her and the others’ fake lives (titled “A Flock of Lost Birds” which is also the name of the episode), and is the first to realize they aren’t who they think they are. It was a delight to see Jade Tailor as Kady/Sam drive the story and take charge. And perhaps, Dean Fogg who cast this protection spell on them, wanted her to be the one to figure it out – after all, why make one of them a detective if you don’t want them to solve the mystery?
Speaking of Dean Fogg, he is giving Julia/Kimber the chance at Brakebills she never got (in another fun meta sequence mirroring Quentin’s letter and discovery of Brakebills, right down to Todd dressed in Eliot’s exact outfit waiting for her arrival) out of guilt for what happened to her when he rejected her in her other life. Curiously, she is incapable of doing magic; whether that is because of the spell she’s under or because she used it all up remaking the seven keys that Alice destroyed in the season three finale remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, Margo/Janet keeps getting messages from an Ember projection about an impending, but as of yet unknown, apocalyptic peril for Fillory that as High King she needs to stop. Margo/Janet is the most similar to her pre-memory wipe self. She is the boss bitch of her magazine, she brings back her fabulously accessorize her eye patch, and she knows how to flawlessly deliver an F-bomb. Ultimately, the Ember Projection zaps her to Fillory to solve the problem, leaving her stranded and memory-less in the middle of the Fillorian woods. But, it’s Margo, and if there is one thing we know about her, it is that she is going to handle her shit and look stunning while doing it.
And finally, this brings us to Alice and the Order of Librarians. Alice is the only one of the original group to retain all of her memories, but unfortunately for her, she is locked in Library Jail for breaking her promise to them. Her hidden companion in the next cell turns out to be Santa of all people who tells Alice what she has been desperately needing to hear – that she is still a “good” person. I personally disagree with this, because 1. No one in the world of The Magicians is actually good, that’s part of the point of the show. It follows a group of spoiled, disaffected assholes and watches them be forced to grow up and become better. And 2. Alice is *Jean-Ralphio voice* the woooooooooorst. But regardless, his words bolster her enough to start puzzling out her means of escape…..via hiding a large cockroach in her mouth. Olivia Taylor Dudley does some really great, for lack of a better word, “mouth” acting in this scene. Without overdoing it, she makes the audience uncomfortably aware that there is a large, disgusting bug in her mouth that she is trying to keep hidden while the head librarian waxes on a very long monologue. It’s also satisfying to see Alice experience guilt and fear over her actions and decisions from the last season. She’s no longer a sociopathic niffin, or a power-hungry and still pretty sociopathic post-niffin, she’s focused on trying to save her friends from the Monster. It’s possible this season will have a redemptive arc for Alice, if she manages to break out of Library Jail.
Overall, it is the start of a fun, twisted, dark, meta, tongue-in-cheek, new chapter for The Magicians, which basically, is everything we’ve come to expect from the show. We may be heading into Lev Grossman-less waters, but I feel confident about the shenanigans that showrunners Sera Gamble and John McNamara have in store for season four.
The Magicians airs Wednesdays at 9pm on SYFY.