If you’ve been eagerly awaiting to delve into side stories, you’ll be pleased to learn that The Magicians has your back in this week’s episode, “The Side Effect”, which delves into cliffhangers old and new by exploring the life of Penny 40 (who is destined to remain in the Underworld branch of the Library) as he appreciates the mysteries surrounding his old friends along with characters we haven’t seen in quite some time such as Harriet (Marlee Martin) – the woman who sacrificed everything last season to create a mirror bridge to help solve the season-wide quest for seven keys – Fen (Brittany Curran) and Kady.
This recap contains spoilers.
Beginning with a familiar face, “The Side Effect” gives us a glimpse at Penny 40’s new life – or should I say Underworld Penny, as he gave up his proper place in the current timeline to give Penny 23 another chance at life – as he reads over personal books to be shelved in the Library proper. Dialogue reveals that the Library has an interesting method of shelving the books of the living, ranging from “Disappointing Prodigies” and “Well-Meaning Failures” to “Star-Crossed Lovers” and “Side Characters in Epic Quests”, effectively bringing us to the theme of this week’s episode.
Before we can get too far, Underworld Penny brings up a valid point for books and television stories alike – just because you’ve read something doesn’t mean you automatically know who or what is important in a similar narrative, wherein he suggests that the Librarian-in-Training that he is speaking to, Derek, has a case of “White Male Protagonism” which keeps him trapped inside his own POV – a trait that is unacceptable in Librarians. It can be remedied, however, if Derek simply reads the books, as they will offer him a different point of view, revealing that the most important characters and plotlines don’t always follow expectations.
To prove his point, Underworld Penny provides examples – filling us in on what happened when Alice escaped from the library. A brief debate ensued on the merits of keeping her alive, to which Zelda claimed that Librarians are scholars, not murderers. Though Alice may have been a threat, she may not always be – only time (and her book) will tell, wherein we learn that Zelda’s attempts to keep Alice safe (by keeping her prisoner) were made because she sees her missing daughter Harriet in Alice’s destructive and knowledge-hungry mannerisms. Thoughts of Harriet are accompanied by sounds of breaking glass and muffled speech, showing us Harriet’s presumed death still plagues Zelda.
Branching off, Underworld Penny brings things back into focus – the job of a Librarian in the Underworld branch is not to judge (or interfere with) the living, but rather to appreciate their lives for what they are, thereby bringing Margo and her unresolved birthright box to the forefront only to delve into Fen’s storyline, who claims to have projected muteness upon the talking animals of FIllory.
Derek, who continues to read too far into things and make assumptions is given another lesson in Kady, who seemed to disappear after the Dewey coin heist, but has actually been living out her alter-identity’s life as a detective in order to save others, hoping to escape her role as a “sidekick” in the magicians’ narrative now that Penny 40 is gone.
Before Kady is able to make any real headway on Sam Cunningham’s open case files, she’s confronted by the Baba Yaga, the spirit of a vengeful Slavic witch that her new landlord, Bailey, channels when she needs tenants to pay rent. “Rent” happens to be a collection of strange, seemingly unattainable items, offering fans of Lev Grossman’s novels a surprise – Lovelady, a questionable traveling merchant that sells magical wares to Brakebills students – makes his first appearance in the show, and it turns out to be a reoccurring character – Pete (David Call), a friend of Marina’s.
As multiple threads begin to unravel, Underworld Penny ensures Derek that glimpses unveiled so far all have a purpose, stemming from revisions made to Alice’s book before she escaped the library, which brings us back to Zelda, who is on a mission to find and protect the lost magician. While Zelda lies to members of the Order to keep Alice safe, Kady and Pete embark on a journey for items to pay her rent – a Bag of Holding and Webster’s Weeping Healer. As their journey unfolds, we’re given glimpses of a strange plague that’s claiming the lives of hedge witches, which serves as an apt transition to Fillory, where we learn that Fen has been having prophetic dreams.
Before we can learn more about Fen’s strange new power, we’re taken back to Zelda’s story, where, after a fallout with Dean Fogg, telltale ringing and a trail of blood lead her to a mirror in her office where she sees an image of Harriet, who pleads for help before the mirror shatters. Broken shards and blood spatter serve as a transition to Marina’s apartment, where Pete is nervously preparing a mojito to calm his nerves before he meets with the Baba Yaga (a condition of his bargain with Kady, as she has quite the reputation, according to Pete), only to collapse – a strange rash spreading up his tattooed arm (speckled with stars, the agreed upon imagery of the hedge witch).
Kady calls on the help of Pete’s friend Gordy, a magical veterinarian, who helps uncover the cause of the curse – a contaminated Dewey – revealing to the viewer that the plan concocted by the Librarians at the beginning of the episode is in play. In an attempt to find Alice, a plan was formed to contaminate Deweys with trackers – cobalt, in this case – hoping that one would eventually find her. Trouble is, the trackers are interfering with hedge witch magic, causing deadly side affects.
A brief interlude to Penny reveals that Zelda is unaware of the contaminated trackers plaguing the hedge witches, as she’s occupied with thoughts of Harriet. Believing her to be alive and trapped in the Mirror Realm, she calls upon an arch-enemy – the head of the Order and man who broke the mirror bridge, sending Harriet to her “death” last season.
Meanwhile, in Fillory, we’re filled in on what happened after the Lady Pike incident – or so it seems. When beet juice is poured on the lizard in Margo’s birthright box only to go up in flames, Fen realizes she is dreaming and attempts to control the outcome thanks to lucid dreaming techniques taught to her by Josh earlier in the episode. Noticing a hooded-green figure in a dream, she chases them only to wake before the birthright lizard is burned, only to assert herself and demand that they across the bridge to Cornia’s Land, following in the footsteps of the mysterious figure.
Back in Marina’s apartment, Gordy is able to save Pete by removing his personal wards, which causes Kady to take a stand to inform other hedge witches of the contaminated Deweys. While Kady rallies the hedges that she has come into contact with, the loose ends of the plot come together.
As Kady’s redemption arc unfolds, Zelda’s wish is granted, allowing her to travel with the Order into the Mirror Realm – an alternate (and eerie) version of the Library. One in which shadow bodies flit through the shelves and flakes of snow and debris rain down in darkness, leading Zelda to a fleeting image of Harriet, which turns out to be a monster in disguise. Forced to leave the Mirror Realm, Zelda struggles to control her emotions, wherein the episode is brought full circle – the circulation of contaminated Deweys began as a result of Modesto.
Zelda, who remains focused on her goal of saving Harriet, turns to Alice (who sought out Dean Fogg to help Sheila – a fledgling magician stolen by the Order at the close of last week’s episode), bringing the episode to an abrupt close back in the Underworld branch of the library, where Derek has given up on the interconnected storylines, only to be filled in on the importance of those labelled sidekicks.
A new plot is in motion – one in which every character and every event matters. And the Librarian-in-Training? He was a test for Penny, whose attention to detail led to a promotion. From now on, he’ll be in charge of Secrets of the Grave.