Dean Fogg meets with a woman on a park bench. He accuses her of always being late. She gives him a metal fly sculpture. Fogg says “they” are not at Brakebills yet. The woman tells him that they need to get there and gain some experience before “he” finds them. She says its Fogg’s responsibility to get them ready, and that right now they know nothing, especially “him.” Fogg says he’ll do what he can, and she gives him a pocket watch, “Just in case.” Fogg says he’s lost sight of “their boy.” She asks where he is.
Quentin Coldwater is in a psychiatric facility, showing some sleight of hand to his therapist. The therapist says she’s sure he’s a hit at parties. He remembers himself curled up in a corner at one such party. He says he thinks he’s ready, that he feels better. He tries to convince his therapist, but flashes back to being awkward at the party. He says he gets that as a kid you have a notion of what your life could be, but you eventually have to let that go. At the party, he catches Julia’s eye, but avoids her. He tells his therapist that he has a grad school interview on Tuesday. She recommends getting more help, but he know they can’t make him stay.
While the party continues, Quentin slinks back to his room, with his large collection of Fillory memorabilia. He reads from one of the books. I the story, Martin Chatwin leads his siblings, Rupert and Jane, through a clock and into Fillory, a “land of magic.” Jane discovers a clock tree, and they realize that Fillory needs them.
Julia goes to Quentin’s room and interrupts his reading and accuses him of avoiding talking to a girl who seemed to be interested. She lays in bed with him. She asks why he didn’t answer her calls over the weekend, and he lies and says he was at his father’s. They’re interrupted by James, Julia’s boyfriend and Quentin’s other best friend.
Julia walks Quentin to his Yale graduate school interview. They enter the house, but no one greets them. Julia screams after spotting a dead man slumped in a chair.
The woman from the bench, appearing as a paramedic, takes the body away. Before Quentin and Julia leave, the woman hands them an envelope that she says she believes the dead man left for them.
As they walk down the street, Quentin opens the envelope and finds the manuscript for Fillory and Further, a previously unheard of sixth book in the Fillory series. Quentin says there’s always been rumors, but Julia tries to talk him down and reminds him that he was supposed to be getting out of the Fillory stuff. He says it was Julia that got him into Fillory, that he learned magic to keep up with her, that it was their thing. She says it’s time to go grow up, and that she has to go meet with James. She leaves him there with the manuscript.
Quentin walks through the street at night, reading the manuscript. A page blows away, and he chases after it. Julia walks into an elevator and tries to take it to the third floor, but it goes down instead. Quentin continues following the manuscript page. Quentin walks through some bushes on a cold city night, and ends up on a school campus on a bright and sunny day. Julia walks of the elevator in a completely different looking building, but follows a sign pointing towards an exam. Quentin encounters Elliot, smoking on the sign for Brakebills. He has a card with Quentin’s name. Elliot introduces himself, then tells Quentin to follow him. He explains to Quentin that he has been granted a preliminary exam for entry into the graduate program.
Quentin is brought to a test room with other students. Dean Fogg stands in front of the Brakebills University banner, emblazoned with an insignia with the same fly that was given to him by the woman. He introduces himself and then starts the test. The words and symbols in Quentin’s book shift as he reads them. Julia tries to ask a question, but Fogg silences her.
After the test, Quentin and Julia run into each other. They’re both confused about how they got to Brakebills, but they’re silenced again by the Dean.
In a teacher’s office, Julia is told that she was just tested for magical aptitude, but failed. Julia gets upset. She says she can’t go to Yale if she knows Brakebills exists. The man she’s talking to prepares to wipe her memory, but Julia make a large cut in her own arm to try to remember.
Quentin has moved onto the practical examine. The Dean asks to see some magic, and Quentin starts performing card tricks. Fogg then demands to see some “real” magic, and begins questioning and berating Quentin until Quentin bursts and begins levitating the cards, building them into a castle without touching them. He then passes out.
Quentin approaches a clock tree. Jane Chatwin warns him not to touch it, and that playing with time is tricky magic that will only make things worse. She says it won’t stop the Beast from coming, that it’s Quentin he wants. She tells him he has to learn, that he has to step off the path or the Beast will kill everyone. Quentin wakes from the dream with the cards from Brakebills by his bedside.
Julia wakes in bed next to James. She sees the scar on her arm, and begins searching the web for Brakebills.
Fogg explains to Quentin how they found him, and that he made into the program but Julia didn’t. He apologizes for Bob being dead, and that the paramedic was a kind of scout freelancer. Quentin signs up for the program, and the dean explains that the school will take care of lingering questions about where he’s going to school. Quentin leaves his pills his therapist prescribed him on the Dean’s desk.
Quentin goes to his room and finds his roommate, Penny, a very serious, intimidating, tattooed young man. The Fillory and Further manuscript is missing. Quentin and Penny begin to argue about it, but they’re interrupted by Elliot and a girl named Margo. They introduce themselves as “the Physical Kids,” capable of telekinesis, flight and similar spells. There are other groups, including nature and telepaths. A couple dour looking students walk by, and they tell Quentin it’s what’s left of the third year class. They were once 20, and are now 4, and no one quite knows why. Margo mentions something about a garden path, and Quentin is reminded of his dream.
Quentin is in class. The teacher calls on a girl named Alice to perform some magic. She makes a spherical gem glow, then melt, then turns it into an autonomous horse construct. She shyly sweeps her work away and returns to her seat. Penny is also in the class, and makes eye contact with a girl named Kady. They go back to Penny and Quentin’s room and levitate as they have sex.
Margo, Quentin, and Elliot discuss Alice’s talent, saying she probably learned from her parents, who are both magically gifted. They call her over to sit with them, but she walks away.
Quentin finds Alice studying in a café, and he apologizes for his friends. He admits that he’s jealous and terrified that he’s going to get kicked out. Alice says she got her talent by studying, that her parents are crazy people who never taught her anything.
James calls Quentin and says that Julia isn’t herself. He says he needs Quentin back to figure out what’s wrong with her. Elliot and Margo accompany Quentin to Julia’s birthday party.
Quentin and company arrive at the party. Julia goes to the bar, and blows off a guy, Pete, who tries to start up conversation. Quentin finds Julia smoking alone. She asks Quentin to tell Brakebills they were wrong about her, and that they need to test her again. He asks how she remembered, and she shows him the scar. Julia shows him a spell, shooting sparks from her fingers. She says it was hard, but she found it online. Quentin says that doesn’t mean she has the magic potential, and accuses her of just not wanting to admit that she failed at something, and that she’s hurting herself.
Julia goes to the restroom. The buttons on her shirt pop off. The shirt levitates, binding her wrists and tying her to a radiator. Pete enters and taunts Julia. She uses her fingertip spell to burn through the shirt and they burn brighter as she prepares to defend herself. Pete turns off her spell, then says he was just testing her. He says they’ve been watching her for a while now.
Quentin is studying in the library when he hears a knock at the door. He opens it and it leads into a lush meadow. Jane is there, sitting on a large stone. She tells him you don’t decide when to go to Fillory, but Fillory decides for you. She says he’s stuck firmly to the path and it’s going to kill him. She warns him that he needs to leave Brakebills, and says Brakebills is just a tool and that he needs to ask questions with answers that will help him fight. He sees a symbol carved into the stone, one he saw in a book Alice was reading. He asks what it means. Jane tells him to find out, and then presses his hand to it as it starts to glow. The mark burns his hand, and it’s still burnt into his palm when he wakes up at his desk.
Quentin finds Alice and shows her the symbol on his hand. He asks what it means, and she asks how he got it. She tells him to meet her at 10 with a book that’s in Dean Fogg’s private collection. She says the symbol means contact with the other side, part of a summoning technique. She talks him into helping.
Penny is restless in his room. He tells Kady that he hears voices, and that he has to go somewhere. She insists on going with him.
Alice and Quentin study the ritual. The symbol has disappeared from his hands. Alice says they’re trying to contact her brother, Charlie, who died at Brakebills five years ago, but no one will tell her how. She says she came to Brakebills because she’s looking for an answer. Alice discovers something when Penny and Kady walk in on them. Alice says they need 4 people to perform the ritual.
They perform the ritual and wait. Nothing happens, and eventually Penny and Kady leave. Quentin follows soon after, and Alice finally does the same. Just then, the mirror they were all watching frosts over just enough for a smiley face to be drawn in the fog.
Julia is brought to a shady establishment. Pete flashes a star with a lock tattoo to gain entry.
Quentin, Penny, Alice, and Kady are all in class. Just before noon, all the clocks in the school freeze over. Fogg notices and begins to run. Everyone in Quentin’s class is frozen in place, only able to move their eyes. Someone wreathed in a cloud of moths that hides his face, the Beast, walks out of a mirror in the back of the room. He performs a spell with one six-fingered hand that kills the professor. Dean Fogg barges in and attacks the intruder. He get off one good shot before he’s frozen in place. The intruder pulls out Fogg’s eyes, places them on a desk and smears a smile beneath them. The Beast then crushes Fogg’s hands and bites his neck, and Fogg falls to the ground. The Beast bends over Quentin, apparently having found who he was looking for.
“The Source of Magic”
Quentin wakes up with a professor over him, asking him to describe the Beast. She asks how it got in. Other professors are questioning other students.
Pete brings Julia to an abandoned meat packing plant. He introduces her to four other would-be magicians. Pete gives Marina, another newcomer, and Julia a tour. Marina says they, those studying magic outside of school, are referred to as “hedge witches.” They’re shown a meat locker where they keep their ingredients. Marina and Julia enter, and Pete locks the door behind them.
The classroom at Brakebills is cordoned off like a crime scene. Alice tells a teacher that they were frozen by a paralysis spell. Penny says the Dean had something in his hand that disappeared later. In a flashback, we see the item to be the pocket watch the Dean had been given, which was summoned to Quentin’s hand. Quentin used it and it unfroze everyone in the room. Kady tried to fight the Beast with battle magic, but it was Alice who forced it back through the mirror, which Penny then shattered. The pocket watch crumbled in Quentin’s hand.
Professor Sunderland explains to the students that the Beast came from another world. They’re not sure where, but it shouldn’t have been able to get through the defensive spells and wards that were set up by the staff. As such, the staff will be investigating, and if they find a student responsible, that student will be expelled.
Quentin tries to talk to Alice about what happened, but they’re interrupted by Margo and Elliot.
Julia explains to Marina that they’re being hazed. She trips over a dead body in a bag.
Elliot, Margo, Alice, and Quentin go to the Physical Kids Cottage. Outside, Quentin tells Elliott about the spell that brought the Beast. Elliot says there are bad stories at Brakebills every few years, so Quentin shouldn’t take it too hard. Quentin tells him about Elliot about his depression, and says he can’t go back. Elliott offers a spell to protect against the staff reading his mind, then confesses that he killed someone when he was 14, a bully. He discovered his telekinesis by throwing the boy in front of a bus. He tells Quentin that magic doesn’t come from talent, but from pain.
Margo asks Alice about the Beast. Alice was never invited to Brakebills, she found her own way there by stealing her parents’ alumni keys. Margo says she wants to be Alice’s friend, but Alice doesn’t believe her and leaves.
Julia and Marina read through papers scattered in the meat locker. Pete casts a spell that animates the corpse. It starts chasing Julia and she runs. It tries to grab her, but ends up impaled. Pete speaks through the corpse, and implies that they haven’t looked everywhere yet. Julia searches the body bag and finds a spell for temporary warmth.
Quentin is in the café reading a Fillory book when Alice finds him. Alice believed that her brother’s spirit gave Quentin the sigil on his hand, but Quentin explains that it happened in a dream and it was given to him by Jane Chatwin. He’s starting to think Fillory is real, and that the Beast came from there. He explains that the Chatwins are real, that the creator of Fillory lived next door to them and based the characters in the books on the children.
Quentin shows Alice a video documentary about Fillory’s author, Christopher Plover. The video explains that Martin Chatwin went missing, and Jane did as well the next year. Alice says they need to hide the truth so they don’t get expelled.
A file opens in Sunderland’s office. It’s a map of the campus with a red dot glowing on it.
Penny explains to Kady that there’s one voice in his head that comes through clear and taught him magic. It was that voice, his only friend, which led him to the spell Alice and Quentin were performing. He thinks it was the Beast tricking him all along. He wants to leave, but Kady convinces him to do something stupid before he goes.
Marina and Julia start gathering the ingredients they need for the spell. Julia tells her about Brakebills and failing the exam. They need animal fat, but find no meat. Then they remember the corpse.
Kady opens a drawer with a secret compartment and pulls something out. She also grabs a crystal on a rope and a book. Kady keeps trying to talk Penny out of leaving. Alice and Quentin find them, and then Sunderland finds all four of them. She has Alice’s book, which she found buried in the woods.
Sunderland interrogates all four students separately. She says there is residue all over the book, including a summoning that they believe opened the door to the Beast. Penny agrees to tell Sunderland what happened. Penny and Kady leave, and Sunderland sends Alice away, then calls on Quentin.
Elliot finds Quentin, who is in the process of returning his books. The school is calling in a “specialist.” Quentin is trying to convince himself being forced to forget about magic is for the best. Elliot says he’s heard the specialists are very good.
Quentin calls Julia, but gets her voice mail. He leaves her a message apologizing for how he behaved at her birthday party. Meanwhile, Julia carves up the corpse in the freezer. Quentin explains that he got expelled from Brakebills and feels lost. Marina and Julia cast the temporary warmth spell. The voice mail cuts off, and Quentin deletes it.
Quentin finds Penny and pushes him, but Penny punches him down and walks away. Quentin remembers the battle magic Kady used, and tries using it on Penny. The spell bounces off of Penny back at Quentin, who is sent flying through the air. Sunderland breaks them up, and sends them both to the infirmary.
Julia uses scissors to unscrew the freezer door from its hinges. Pete says she had to learn that not everything can be solved with magic. Julia says she’s done proving herself to Pete. Marina says that it was her Julia was proving herself to, and rolls up her sleeve to reveal tattoos designating her level 50. Marina says she’s discovered how much she likes Julia. Marina says she’s willing to teach the right people everything she knows. She has connections with the right people in the right places, including Brakebills.
At the infirmary, the nurse works some painful healing magic on Quentin. Penny pulls the crystal ward Kady gave him out of his pocket.
Marina and Pete are in a car waiting to meet with someone, who is apparently running late. Kady shows up. She apologizes for losing the pendant, but hands over the book. Marina hands her a new list of items to obtain this week, then sends Kady away.
Quentin takes the pendant while Penny sleeps. Quentin enters a room where he is supposed to meet with the specialist, and is greeted by the scout freelancer/paramedic from his botched grad school interview. She introduces herself as Eliza, and explains that she was at the interview pretending to be a paramedic to help Quentin get to Brakebills. She also tells him that she is the specialist that’s been called in. Quentin asks why Eliza gave him the Fillory and Further manuscript. She says she thought that he’d appreciate it. Quentin prepares for the mind wipe spell, but Eliza just says she’s pleased with how good of a liar he is. Quentin asks why he’s here. Eliza knows Quentin dreamed of Fillory before the attack, like a warning, and Eliza says she did as well, and saw into the Beast’s eyes. She says there is no destiny, and that she’s just another inadequate magician who has lost people, and that he will too if he doesn’t get stronger. Then she says she was pleased to find the protective pendent in his pocket, which she now has in her hand. She tells him he’ll be given another chance at Brakebills, and that he shouldn’t waste it by staying on the garden path.
Marina returns to their shady magic clubhouse as Julia is getting her first star tattoo.
Eliza creeps through a hospital and finds Dean Fogg, laid up in bed with his eyes, and throat bandaged, and his hands in machines. Eliza says she’ll find a way to heal his eyes and hands. Fogg says its Eliza’s problem that she should solve it, that Quentin and Penny aren’t built for it. He tells her to find a way back and to kill the Beast, but she says she can’t.
Quentin returns to Brakebills, and finds Margo and Elliot outside the physical kids’ cottage. They welcome him back.