A whole lot of plot happened in “Thirty-Nine Graves” last night. It could take a book about as long as the series’ source material to explain how we got here — but we’ve made it to Fillory. The episode was mostly irksome, but at least the show decided to toss all of its characters and subplots into the fire at once. After whole episodes of multiple characters chasing seemingly meaningless slivers of information, last night was a relief.
The mountain of stuff definitely didn’t feel rushed, but a lot had to happen before the finale next week, insofar as this episode was just a setup. “Thirty-Nine Graves” wasn’t the best episode of the series, but it was certainly the busiest. It saw some of the show’s languishing characters finally, mercifully seize their own magical destinies.
The big question leftover from last week was, how the characters might handle the fallout from their impromptu threesome — brought on by the motion potion concocted by Margo (Summer Bishil), Eliot (Hale Appleman), and Quentin (Jason Ralph). But instead of dwelling on what would have been the weaker plotline (feelings of guilt after a magical three-way), we’re off to the Neitherlands for some shenanigans.
Well, everybody except for Quentin, who is, unfortunately, left behind. This development would have been a bit too convenient (or contrived), made just so he could eventually meet up with Julia. But all is forgiven when we learn that the entire story thus far has been in a time loop created by Jane Chatwin — a.k.a. Eliza, R.I.P. — to try and find a magical way to kill the Beast. It turns out, Quentin has died in the loop 39 times already, and since Jane was brutally murdered by the beast via Mike a few episodes ago, Quentin only gets one more shot at defeating the Beast before the loop closes forever. Finally, some stakes!
It takes a serious guts for such a huge Matrix-y twist this late in the game, and bravo to The Magicians for doing what it’s always done — and just not giving a fuck whether its viewers care or not. We can’t get angry at this point, mostly because the time loop surprise allows Quentin to make peace with Julia. It’s been a long time coming. The emptiness — and darkness — of both characters was largely about the abrupt breakdown of their friendship. Ultimately, we learn the detail that Jane changed during this time loop was that Julia didn’t make it into Brakebills. But now that Quentin and Julia have found each other again, it adds a whole new level of heart that resonates deeply when they finally make it to Fillory together. It almost makes you forget about Julia’s other friends, just as quickly as they were written into the show.
“So I guess were off to see the wizard,” Quentin says to her. How right he is.
Then there are the others, bumbling about the Neitherlands without Quentin. Alice, Eliot, Margo, and Penny (Arjun Gupta) arguing with each other. This would have been a tedious slog through the library if it weren’t for the introduction of Josh Hoberman, whom we find out is one of the missing class of Brakebills students who ended stuck there too, like our gang. Josh drops some knowledge on the group about the Beast, explaining that Victoria (the girl who Penny sees in the dungeon, captive by Beast) was a traveler who convinced everyone to go to Fillory with her. It didn’t end up perfectly for them, and with no time loops left the rest of the Brakebills kids need to do the opposite.
Props to the writers for giving Margo some great organic moments in this episode, too. She’s such a flippant character that she’s the only one able to get over the threesome, and she’s also the only one who can look past her personal problems to think about the group by saving Eliot from the Neitherlands mercenaries. Eliot remains a really dumb liability even if he’s still trying to get over killing Mike. You figure that Penny does so much talking to Alice about coping with emotional stress that he might impart some of his knowledge on Eliot too.
Despite the episode’s shortcomings, and with everyone’s eyes now on Fillory, we’re in a perfect spot for the finale.