With its two-hour premiere behind it, there’s only so much more time The Magicians can spend establishing Quentin’s depression turned fish-out-of-water desperation, or Julia’s downward spiral into black market magic. Episodes like “Consequences of Advance Spellcasting” are all about building out the supporting players, and Brakebills’ Sorting-like process of assigning its pupils to their disciplines gives the show the perfect opportunity to do so.
In keeping with its oversimplified, but still accurate, status as the grown-ups’ Harry Potter, Brakebills’ sorting process isn’t as simple as a magical hat ordering eleven-year-olds where to sit in the dining hall. This world’s magicians have extremely specific specialties that are difficult to eke out, and the faculty sometimes get them wrong — or in Quentin’s case, can’t find them at all. He’s ordered to the Physical Kids’ frat cottage along with light-bending Alice, simply because they have enough space.
Once they — or more accurately, Alice — zap their way into a locked cottage in a bit of light hazing, Quentin and Alice are welcomed into the fold by upperclassman mentors Eliot and Margo. (Katy, too, is a Physical Kid, but she doesn’t bust down the door until much later…and doesn’t merit a welcome party of her own, apparently.) But their booze-soaked initiation is about as cute and cuddly as this episode gets, because Alice has decided to forge ahead with her plan to not just find out what happened to her dead brother, but resurrect him, dead professor and blinded dean be damned.
Here’s where we finally learn more about Alice besides the fact that she’s both pretty and naturally gifted. Alice doesn’t share Quentin’s, or Julia’s, ferocious love of magic, largely because she grew up taking it for granted — and seeing firsthand that it neither fixes people nor automatically brings them joy. But that doesn’t make her more mature than either of them, because just like her peers, she wants what’s just out of her reach: her brother, the only genuine emotional connection she’s ever had.
When Margo points them in the direction of Emily Greenstreet, a former classmate who voluntarily went “full Muggle,” we learn that Charlie sounds an awful lot like Alice, only even more naïve. Emily once had an affair with a professor, you see, and tried to make herself more beautiful with magic when said professor broke it off. After the spell went horribly and predictably awry, Charlie attempted to make things right on his own; talent for magic seems to run in the family. Except when magicians can’t control the powers they’re attempting to challenge, sometimes the power overtakes them instead — and that’s exactly what happened to Charlie, who became a creature of pure magical energy known as a niffin.
What happens next is both a standard ghost story beat and illuminating for Alice’s character. Underneath all those disavowals of magic, it turns out, is an arrogance that she’s still able to make it do what she wants, no matter what the evidence in front of her is clearly spelling (ha, ha) out. So she and a lovestruck Quentin go forward with summoning him, even after Charlie’s spirit pulls two innocent students into Brakebills’ resident suicide fountain. And when Charlie turns out to be more magic than person, as she was warned he would be, Alice teeters on the edge of going down the exact same path. Before we, or even she, can figure out what she’s trying to do, Quentin traps Charlie’s spirit in an enchanted box.
Alice blames Quentin because it’s easier than blaming herself, or even admitting that the pipe dream that brought her to Brakebills in the first place was just that. So she simply packs her bags and leaves, though she’ll almost certainly be back next week.
The episode’s remaining plot lines either make explicit what we already know (the confrontation between Quentin and Julia, staged on the thin pretext of retrieving the book that Katy stole for the hedge witches) or lay out important exposition for later on (Penny’s discovery that he’s not just a psychic, but a “traveler,” with the potential to transport himself into other worlds. Hmmm, wonder which one he’ll go to?). They’re still intriguing, though; Julia’s subplot ends with Quentin outing himself as a full-blown Nice Guy who not-so-secretly sees Julia’s Brakebills rejection as justified punishment for not reciprocating his feelings for her, and Dean Fogg’s diagnosis of Penny as “a thin layer of insouciance over an open pit of self-pity” makes his personality seem less tiresome and more pathetic.
Both Penny and Alice benefit from the wandering focus of “Consequences,” largely because both are significantly altered versions of their characters in the books. With explanations for Alice’s determination and Penny’s aggression, not to mention fallibility to match those of the series’ main protagonists, The Magicians emerges with a stronger ensemble for later episodes, in which the Fillory subplot will presumably emerge from dormancy.