This episode has Quinn in a mental hospital.
Yes – that means we get all those terrible tropes we’d expect – Mentally ill people as babbling, horrifying amusements, the terrible horror of the neuro-typical character being locked up with the insane and mental health professionals who are brutal and awful.
Obviously, Quinn has been locked up in a mental institution because he believes in magic. Quinn fights back, insisting over and over again that magic is real and hardly ever succumbing to the idea that this is reality – even as the pressure mounts. I have to say, yes, the horror of it all is quite well depicted except it rests on some really ableist tropes here. It’s thatclassic being-mentally-ill-is-the-worst trope we see all too often
Quinn is helped by cryptic advice from hallucination Jane because I know nothing convinces me I’m connected to reality in a conventional fashion quite like conversing with characters from children’s books.
Quinn manages to reach out through psychic Penny by plaguing him with the horror of Taylor Swift (poor Penny). The terrible and racist depiction of Penny in Quentin’s dream world is duly called out by Penny when he encounters it’s awfulness (thankfully).
Anyway, it’s confirmed, Quinn is cursed – or this show would be taking a rapidly different direction. And who is doing the cursing? The Hedge Witches – Marina, Julia and Katy (who isn’t a hedge witch but works with them for reasons unknown).
This is all a diabolical plan by Marina to break into Brakebills to reclaim her lost memories – since she was close to graduating they couldn’t just blank several years of memories, they took them and stored them. This plot rests on the Dean needing to bring down the school’s wards in order to use some mojo to bring Quinn back to himself (this also involves more Jane crypticness and possibly Quinn learning some life lessons about living).
Of course, Julia doesn’t realise that this curse she put Quinn on could have been permanent and if it weren’t for his plot armour he may never ever have woken up and she is all duly tearful and repentant and hating herself; she doesn’t even get the semi-redemption of helping Quinn back since she can’t – she can’t just be derided by Quinn’s friends (ish. I mean, I don’t think any of them actually like him).
Marina does get her memories back and pretty much confirms that Brakesbills students are massively more powerful than Hedge witches – with her new power and memories the first thing she does is banish Julia from the Hedge Witches because she needs ALL THE SUFFERING and ALL THE GUILT apparently.
Back at the school the Dean lectures Quinn on the many many many many many many many oh-so-silly things he’s done And Quinn learns that magic “I need to be taught magic so I can decide what it is or isn’t.” Which is kind of the opposite of what he should have learned. Quinn should never ever make decisions. Ever.
So, Sparky’s cynical take on the point of this episode? This is a moral rebalancing. Last episode absolutely no-one in their right mind was on Team!Quinn. The way he treated Julia was beyond unacceptable and most of us wanted to pelt him with live armadillos until he (and, I guess, they) stopped twitching. Well we can’t have that. So now we have Julia firmly establishing herself as The Wrongness, the Hedge Witches as The Wrongness and Quinn telling her. Quinn is also pretty much recast as the victim.
I do, vaguely, hope that we will look again at what Brakebills has done to Marina and how they are definitely uber wrong there – but I wonder if the show is going to be that nuanced. Maybe Julia may find a path to redemption now she has been firmly demonised (and Brakebills seems to be absolved of just dumping her) but Marina? Hmmm.
Personal cannon: Julia goes on an epic adventure, learns magic beyond all others, promptly vanquishes the hedge witches and makes Marina beg on her knees for forgiveness (which Julia doesn't grant) then she marches on Brakebills at the head of a vast undead horde: "Oh you who refused to accept me, I have far greater lessons to teach you!". Yes this is my hope.