The Magicians Season 4 Episode 7: The Side Effect-Recap and Review
Don’t judge a book by its cover and other life lessons brought to you courtesy of Penny 40 on this week’s episode of The Magicians titled The Side Effect.
Courtesy of Syfy A fascinating look at the inner workings of the Library brought us one insight after another. Just as in any work place there are nice guys, snooty bitches, and conceited fuck boys(I’m making assumptions but you know you were thinking it too). The Library has their fair share of these unattractive work colleagues they are just colored with a little more sepia. What Penny 40’s reality looks like, what he worked on in a daily basis, and who he oversaw were nice touches, and they helped remind us the Library wasn’t all bad. With people like Penny 40 on the employee list there is still a chance it could be turned around. Watching Penny 40 interact with his new home and life reminded us why we loved this sarcastic, hard-edged Penny. There is also a fair amount of scolding that occurs reminding us that as in life there are many shades. Shades of emotions, shades of evil, shades of people and they all have value.
What made this view of the Library so interesting is The Order discussed loss of freedom and life as casually as where to get their lunch. It was jarring to hear such an overtly fascist group talk openly about control, but voicing minor complaints about privacy concerns. Shout out to Jewel Staite who made a brief appearance this week as Ms. Cyrus to voice that concern. She has evolved from her Firefly days to perfectly capture a jaded cog in the wheel. Her middle management decisions tell the story far better than the ham-handed expository that comes later in the episode. Apathy, fear of loss, comfort in the status quo, and knowledge have mixed into a nasty souffle. This is the true lesson of The Side Effect, “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” The Library did not go into this intending on killing people or controlling their lives but with the intention of saving the world. It doesn’t make their behavior any less abhorrent, just more understandable.
Finally, Kady’s absence has been explained. She has not been able to shake the responsibilities of her witness protection identity. Always a bit of a crusader with a chip on her shoulder this decision rang true for her. She has always felt like an outsider in the group and by solving crimes she is able to effect real change and forge a purpose all her own. Her time with the hedges provided a nice symmetry to The Orders meetings with Zelda.
The parallels to marginalized members of society IRL are obvious. Kady at one point might as well have just turned directly to the camera and announced this is the white male privilege condemnation part of the show. For some reason, her interaction with the underground hedges lacked the punch it should have had. After all, these people are literally dying, and willing to kill for their cause and yet it felt like a side plot. If that was the point, kudos to the writers because it all was perfunctory. It should not have been less than, though. The hedge terrorists blew up an entire Library last week that may very well have had complete innocents caught in the crossfire, but in our new world of constant school shootings we have become callous to violence, especially violence by or against the marginalized.
Her arch with the hedge witches, hopefully, will become more weighty, as she is uniquely equipped to float between the two worlds. Her speech to the hedges that they need to fight against the oppressors and not among themselves are words that hopefully she can adhere too. She has always had a self destructive streak, and now more than ever she holds a lot of power even if she doesn’t realize it yet.
While terms like “white male protagonism” are hysterical(I snorted), the whole lesson is needless on The Magicians. This has always been a show not afraid to push boundaries by showing exactly what the new normal is. Pan sexuality, men and women of color as heroes, mental illness, survivors guilt, sexual assault, and drug use are all presented in completely realistic and commonplace fashion. That’s why they were so remarkable. It could easily be argued that Quentin, the token cis white guy, has never been the lead character, but rather it could be Margo who Summer Bishil, a woman of many ethnic colors, breathes life into or, pansexual
Eliot(Hale Appleman) with his vulnerable heart yet legendary zeal for life.
Way too much talking and not enough action has led to a lull. Library bombs aside, it became increasingly hard to give a shit, as Margo would say. Birth right lizards, Russian fairy tale Baba Yaga holding bags, mirror worlds, and ladies in green hoods felt like window dressing. No matter how many times Penny 40 tried to explain their importance it didn’t add any to the overall quest. When Kady preaches to Pete AKA Lovelady(eyeroll) that if you have to tell everyone how great you are, you probably aren’t all that great, I wondered if the writers listened to their own words. Leading viewers by the nose to come to conclusions about Kady and Fen felt as much an intrusion on our free will as the Librarians meddling. If they are important characters with skills that will become necessary to the greater goals that will happen organically. A slew of extra characters were thrown at us, between Bailey the Russian witch channeling landlord and Pete it was hard to know what to focus on.
Fen’s future telling ability will come in handy moving forward as it is the only element driving the story forward this week. If it wasn’t for her visions there really would be no sense of purpose or wonder. Her girl power team up with Margo next week will be a fun one to watch. The only other item of note is poor Zelda. She may or may not be seeing her daughter Harriet(Marlee Matlin) or getting duped by some Silent Hill-like mirror baddie. She also is clearly struggling with guilt. Her plot beats this week were successful because they were true to her character and she could deliver them in several settings that were all interesting.
The Library is always fun to visit if not to stay, the brew pubs struggle with designer hops was fun, and the mirror Library was a thing of nightmares. She is Alice’s tragic spirit animal. She makes rash decisions because she believes she knows best how to protect people but they almost always have the opposite effect. It is no accident that her tracking spells have the unpleasant side effect of killing hedges. Another good intention gone wrong. She is finally on the side of right, even if that right side has a duplicitous Dean Fogg.
This episode although wildly enjoyable for its “stick it to the man vibe”, demonstrated a quickly forming problem with The Magicians. Nothing happened. I get the entire lesson of tonight was to pay attention to everyone and everything. Just because they seem secondary to the greater plot they are important, but nothing seems all that important now. Amidst all the self-indulgent verbal patting themselves on the back the writers did, the quest was lost. Without the Monster or Eliot to drive urgency, the pace faltered. It’s been a growing problem for a while.
The season seems to be floundering a bit. Just an aimless stroll towards inevitability with pit stops at Quik Trip to get Cool Ranch Doritos and a bleeding stone or two. A scavenger hunt with no time limit and no other competitors. The Magicians needs to get on the fast track, or at least a faster track in a hurry or this marathon car ride to Orlando will get lost in too many giant balls of yarn and road side pie stands. I am intrigued by Penny and his closing words at least. Who he’s surprised to see in the Underworld and how his promotion will play out should be interesting. Likely his death-bed confessions will find a way to bring our Penny(40) back to our world. Til next week!
As the Television Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre tv. I grew up with old school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. When I not watching and writing about my favorite movies and series, I’m introducing my family to the wonderful world of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. My only regret there is not enough time in the day to watch everything.