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SYFY WIRE The Magicians

The Magicians Discussion: Season 4, Episode 7 turns sidekicks into heroes

By Jessica Toomer & Alyssa Fikse

The latest episode of The Magicians completely flipped the script on what we normally think of when we hear the word "sidekick." Sure, cis heteronormative male leads are normally the heroes of every story, but not this time. Not this show.

Instead, Episode 7's "The Side Effect" drew our attention away from the "main players" of the series to highlight the action of a few secondary characters, people like Kady, who's been on a magical quest of her own, and Fenn, who's having some weird AF dreams.

We're Jessica Toomer and Alyssa Fikse, and we'll be your magical Mariska Hargitays as we investigate just what has been happening with the sidekick crew on The Magicians.


The World According To Penny

Alyssa: After this episode, I would like to go back to college and have Penny teach my lit classes, pointing out the cis heteronormative leanings of the classics. If I had a time machine and a way to manipulate reality, I would make this happen. While I was a little disappointed that we didn’t get any time with Queliot this episode, I really liked the emphasis on often overlooked characters. Which was definitely the point. I played right into their hands!

Jessica: Subtle this episode was not, but I loved the message and I loved seeing more Penny so I too was all in. I thought it was such a clever way to explain some storylines that have just been floating out in space for the past few episodes. Not only do we get to see Penny in a suit, bossing some cis white male underling around, we also get a refresher on who the “secondary” players are on this show and what they’ve been up to this season. The Magicians is always flipping the script and forcing us to rethink how we view people and situations, but this episode tossed the whole book right out the window and I AM HERE FOR IT.

Alyssa: I feel like sometimes these recaps become real love fests, but honestly, The Magicians deserves it. As much as I hate that OG Penny is separate from the group and from Kady, it has been nice to see him excelling and finding a purpose, even if it’s in the underworld and in a suit (RIP Penny’s necklace collection and wrists cuffs). One thing I like about The Magicians that was really on display in Penny’s scenes in this episode is that even when they’re trying to make a point, be it political, societal, whatever, they prefer to show, not tell. Sure, they could point out that some kinds of characters are marginalized, but instead they give them an episode focusing on that. That’s putting their money where their mouth is, and that’s rad. However, I was definitely uneasy over Penny’s next step at the end of the episode. While it would be endlessly fascinating to deal in secrets taken to the grave, not having access to the books cuts him off from his last tenuous connection to the group.

Jessica: Look, I have no qualms about these recaps turning into Magicians-themed love fests. I have enough old white guys on Twitter telling me why the things I love are stupid, so it’s nice to have a safe space here. But I disagree with you on Penny’s storyline. Besides teasing some kind of reunion with (what I’m assuming is) a familiar face now that he’s been promoted, I think his new position might mean more interaction with the group. Before, he was regulated to the dimly-lit cubicle of the Underworld, but now, he might get a chance to be topside, interacting with people, learning their secrets before they die. Let’s face it, people we like are going to die this season. Maybe this is a chance for OG Penny to reconnect with his friends before that happens, or prevent it happening altogether?

Alyssa: Oh, true. I hope in this case you are correct. Even if it ultimately ends in tragedy, I feel like Penny and Kady still have unfinished business.


Kady's Brand of Justice

Alyssa: Speaking of which, Kady’s back! And we were both wrong about what she’s been up to! I feel quite guilty about assuming that she was using her magic for selfish purposes. I should have had more faith in her. I AM SORRY, KADY. I thought it was interesting that she was working to close the cases that her cop cover self had been working. Honestly, it warmed my heart to see her being so altruistic. Season one Kady never would have, so it just shows how much she’s grown. Stop throwing awful things at her, writers! Let her solve crimes and help others in peace!

Jessica: Right?! Out of everyone, Kady was given the toughest and most rewarding alternate identity at the beginning of the season so it makes sense that her former self has stuck with her. I literally cheered when she dressed down Julia and argued that she was done being the sidekick of her own story. All the snaps for a woman who knows her worth. And, perhaps most surprising of all, I had no issue with her team-up with Pete. Y’all, has Kady been the magical Mariska Hargitay in disguise this entire time and we just didn’t know it?

Alyssa: I think everyone has been underestimating Kady since day one. I think dealing with the hedge witches is always complicated, but seeing Kady come into her own as a leader? Lord, I am here for it. We had all relegated her to sidekick status, and she deserves better. On a more interpersonal level, I like that they reinforced the idea that Kady and Julia had a real bond. It is an often ugly history, but these women have both been pushed aside and told that they didn’t cut it, and look at them now. Taking control of their narratives and not accepting no from the world. This is the sh*t I like.

Jessica: Agreed. Kady had, in my opinion, the best storyline this episode which is proof the character deserves equal screen time to the main players of this show. First, she goes on this Baba Yaga quest which is highly entertaining. Shout-out to the actress who played the woman possessed by this demon because I could not stop laughing when she told Kady she reeked of nondairy creamer and despair. Plus, it’s my own personal dream to be able to channel an evil witch whenever someone owes me money. But back to Kady, she not only makes a great detective this episode, but she makes a great revolutionary as well. She’s someone who people feel compelled to follow because she doesn’t bullsh*t her way to the top. She’s genuinely invested in the hedge witches and the struggles they face because she identifies with them. She uses her past trauma to connect with people, to inspire them. We’ve been doin' Kady dirty this whole time, fam.

Alyssa: We have. I really hope that this leads to an expansion of her role. I would truly be bummed if this episode was a one-off in terms of focus. If it is, then I will be the one reeking of nondairy creamer and despair. Speaking of underestimated women, let’s talk a little bit about Fenn.


Lucid Dreaming

Alyssa: Eliot’s queen has often been seen as just that — an extension of Eliot. But with Eliot currently MIA and in the Not-So-Happy Place, I liked that we got another look at who Fenn is when she’s on her own. Our girl is smart! Out there lucid dreaming like a pro. If I’m being honest, I don’t always love side quests to Fillory if that’s not where the main action is going on, but the development of Fenn is a worthy aside.

Jessica: I also enjoyed Fenn’s 15 minutes this episode. The character is a comedic goldmine and anytime she shares the screen with Margo, I end up peeing myself. But I think these premonitions hint at a larger Fillory plot to come which I’m also excited for. As much as I love seeing Margo rule with an iron fist, Fillory has always felt disconnected from the larger storyline in a way that sometimes makes me dread whenever the writers take us there. There is so much action and immediate danger happening in the real world, problems in Fillory feel somehow less in comparison. Perhaps Fenn’s dreams signal things are ramping up there or, even more interesting, that the problems in Fillory are directly connected to the problems in the real world.

Alyssa: Yes! For a magical world, Fillory often feels pretty low stakes? Even if it’s “the end of Fillory as we know it,” I tend to shrug. But, with the absence/rationing of Magic, I think you’re right that it’s going to tie into the real world and the Library’s stranglehold a bit more. Side note: they’re still trying to make Margo and Josh happen. I just don’t know if these two are compatible. Josh is good and kind, but I don’t know if he has the thick skin that a relationship with Margo would require. While she definitely needs someone who doesn’t mind being a beta in the relationship, I think that Josh is just going to end up hurt and Margo will be endlessly frustrated.

Jessica: Josh doesn’t have the stomach to be boyfriend material for our High King. He’s suited to f*ckboy status only, and you can fight me on that, Magicians writers!


A Mother's Quest

Jessica: And now we come to possibly my least favorite plot point of this entire season: The Librarian’s struggle. Look, I know that some of these people aren’t inherently evil, but I did not need an episode dedicated to showing how conflicted and well-meaning Zelda is. Do I feel bad for her (possibly) dead daughter? Yes. Do I feel bad for Zelda herself when her plan of tracking the group through magic coins that begin killing hedge witches goes awry? Not really. For me, Zelda is a classic case of someone who’s dug their own grave and is now having a hard time laying down in it. But maybe that’s too harsh? Is she redeemable?

Alyssa: While I agree that the Library is not my favorite part of the season, I thought this episode was really illuminating about what their actual agenda is. While we’ve seen them sort of like faceless villains before this, finding out that they see themselves solely as scholars and not as killers was interesting. They have killed an awful lot of people to shun the Killer title. But I feel like that’s how it always starts. No regime sets out to mindlessly kill. They end up embracing that kind of thing to enforce their version of order, and that’s when things go awry. Any time you’re looking to force people into seeing things your way, people are going to get hurt, or in this case, murdered. Another side note: Jewel Staite! My Firefly loving heart squealed at her giggling over Santa. Such a Kaylee response.

Jessica: Same. God, I miss that quirky mechanic! But you’re right, it was interesting to see how the hierarchy of The Library works. And to see Zelda betray her colleagues to help Alice. I know she’s been invested in her redemption story but I was surprised she took things that far. Of course, it seems Zelda is in need of Alice’s help now that her daughter is trapped in some kind of nightmarish mirror world, but still, props to Zelda for having the balls to lie to these people who, I’m sure, could make her life very difficult. She knows what The Library is capable of better than anyone. I can’t see this turning out well for her.

Alyssa: I agree, I think Zelda’s story is going to end in tragedy. She was all in on the Library’s agenda until it didn’t suit her personally, so something tells me that they are not going to take her betrayal well. I think that her interest in Alice is complicated like you said. Initially, I think she saw herself in Alice’s ambition, but that has definitely taken a turn now that she needs help to save Harriet. Now Alice is a means to an end, not a new face for magic.


What’s Next?

Jessica: Honestly, I’m more confused than ever as to how this show will tie up so many loose ends. I have all the faith in the world that it can, because this is the damn Magicians we’re talking about, but now with Kady’s revolution, Penny’s mysterious promotion, Fenn’s premonitions, Alice’s quest to save her friend, and Queliot still fighting their way back to each other, there are a bunch of storylines that need to be woven together. I’m most interested in who Penny saw when he graduated from desk duty in the Underworld. Do you think it was someone the show killed off in a previous season? And when is Margo’s birthright lizard going to speak dammit?

Alyssa: They didn’t save that lizard for nothing! Let him speak! And I 1000% agree: The Magicians has a ton of spinning plates in the air right now. As far as who Penny met in the Underworld, I honestly can’t think of anyone dead who would be that meaningful for him to meet again? If this last episode proved anything it’s that there is a whole host of things happening off screen during the main thread, so I’m worried that someone important bit the magical bullet while we were focused on our “sidekicks.” Knowing The Magicians, it will be the last person we expect.

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