Synopsis of 1×03: Alice’s obsession with finding out what happened to her brother Charlie leads to some new revelations and some potentially dangerous consequences.
Ever since she arrived at Brakebills – and she took it upon herself to ensure she’d get there in the first place – Alice has been focused on one single, solitary goal: figure out what happened to her brother Charlie. Her whole world seemed to revolve around her older brother. He was a good guy. He taught her spells and magic well before she came of age to learn herself. And then he was just suddenly gone. It’s weighed heavily on her. It’s the reason she dragged the others into trying to resurrect him and in turn ended up being the reason the Beast came into their world in the first place.
You’d think that would maybe curb her enthusiasm a bit but it doesn’t.
She manages to drag Quentin right back into her obsession. They try another spell to track and make contact with spirits which doesn’t really pan out. It takes them to a fountain on campus where a good twenty-five or so people have committed suicide. But no Charlie. As they are walking away, though, a hand comes out of the water and flips them off. Shortly after something comes through the fountain and attacks two students.
Is it Charlie? Alice isn’t sure but when she sees a glass animal left behind for her she’s convinced it’s him. He taught her that spell and she thinks he’s trying to reach out to her. Alice tells Quentin that sometimes spirits are confused. If it’s Charlie he might not know what he’s doing. They go off together into the city to try and find out more about what happened to him so they can better communicate.
They find a girl, Emily, who had been one of Charlie’s classmates previously. She tells them what actually happened to Charlie. She tells them that she fell in love with one of her professors and ultimately scarred herself trying to win him back after he ended their affair. Charlie tried to help her but he lost control of the magic. He was consumed by it and became what is called a “niffin” – a being of pure magic. The whole thing made Emily leave behind the world of magic.
The story really just seems to spur on Alice’s desire to reach her brother. She concocts some plan to use a “niffin box” to trap this being she believes is Charlie. Quentin follows her as she tries to make contact with Charlie at night by the fountain but the creature they come across may look like Charlie but it doesn’t act like him. It attacks them both and Quentin ultimately has to defeat it to save them both. The box is destroyed and the spirit is gone, ruining Alice’s chances to save Charlie.
This is the primary focus of the episode but there are other things going on as well.
Penny actually gets quite a bit of screen time this episode, too. One of the big moments for the students at the beginning of the episode is a series of tests meant to identify their powers so they can be slotted into the appropriate school. Alice and Kady are identified as physical magic users, Quentin is undefined at present, and Penny winds up with the psychics. Considering his whole deal with hearing voices (and a great scene where he almost attacks Quentin for singing Taylor Swift in his head), this comes as no surprise.
But Penny’s not happy about it.
He doesn’t buy into the hippie feelings vibe of the physical school. He wants to shut the voices out. But it turns out Penny isn’t just psychic but also a traveler – someone whose abilities let him travel around the world and potentially into new worlds. Sunderland and Dean Fogg – alive and well still with a pair of fake eyes and prosthetic hands – go after him because, as we learned episode, he’s important. They need him. So they can’t really let him disappear or shirk his responsibilities in learning to use his magic.
Julia also gets a bit more development this episode. James – her boyfriend and Quentin’s friend – comes back and voices his concerns that something is going on with her. He misses her. And Julia tries – and fails – to balance her need to learn magic with maintaining her real life. She also winds up in a confrontation with Quentin briefly. After a book goes missing during one of the Physical Kids’ parties, Eliot and Quenton track the enchanted second volume of the book to the hedge witches’ hideout where the books are reunited and Quentin and Julia argue again about whether or not she has any claim to magic at all.
This is a fantastic episode for one important reason: Quentin takes the sidelines.
Sure, he’s our main character. In the books he’s effectively the reader’s self-insert character because he’s very much like every kid who grew up reading Harry Potter, watching the Narnia movies, and so forth. But this episode lets a few of the other characters get some well deserved time in the spotlight. This show is much more of an ensemble series than the books were. We’re getting to know Julia at the same time we’re getting to know Quentin, Penny, Alice, and the rest. We’re not just focusing on Quentin’s issues and dilemmas but everyone’s as they grow into their powers and the show progresses.
It’s all very exciting. Of all the shows on television right now, this is the one I miss from week to week. And it’s because of all this: the storytelling, the characters, and the pacing. It’s just great. I can’t get enough.