The first-year students are put through The Trials, a series of unconventional tests that must be passed to stay at Brakebills.
Penny, Quentin, Alice, and Kady are in the Physical Kids Cottage, and Quentin is sure that Penny was in Fillory; Quentin is caught up in the story elements that relate to what Penny saw, but Penny knows Fillory only as a child's story. Penny can't control his travelling, and he could find himself there again. Penny asks what the books say about The Beast; Quentin says the Beast isn't there, the story is mostly about the Chatwin kids.
Julia visits the second hedge witch group she visited earlier, but the attendant won't talk to her. Another woman notices her as Julia storms out. Outside, the attendant says he's afraid of Marina, but he gives her the address of another group outside the city, an hour away by train.
In Penny's room, Kady is tattooing the anchor symbol to Penny's arm. She learned to tattoo in high school, in the 'burbs; he asks about her past, she says her mother died young, and her dad sells weed, but he loves her. He says he still hears the girl from the dungeon, but no sign of the Beast, he hopes with the anchor he won't go Travelling there, and the Beast won't bother him.
Julia is in an alley somewhere, looking for someplace; she tries a door, where there is an eviction notice. She runs into the woman from earlier, Hannah, who shows her the stars on her arm: she's another hedge witch.
Quentin is in the Cottage at night, and hears creepy sounds; he hunts around, and we see hooded figures moving about in the background. He is accosted by masked, hooded figures who put a hood on his head, make scary sounds to him, and lead him outside. They remove their masks, and his hood, they are upper-class students, and he is led to an area with a few dozen other students. Another masked figure appears, removes its mask, it's Eliot, and he addresses the first years; the upper classes will be doing "The Trials" to test the first-years on their abilities. Fail, and you flunk out. And this isn't Harvard, this is serious.
The first-year students get their first trial; they are in teams, three to a table in the common room. Quentin is teamed with Penny and another student, Rick. They are told there was a set of spells encrypted by monks long ago, each team must decode and cast their spell in time. Eliot: "FYI, this test is pretty much impossible. Begin!"
Julia and Hannah are in a diner, and Hannah is saying how hedge witches weren't all that ambitious, but were a family, "the first family I felt I belonged in". She knows that Marina has treated others like she treated Julia, but Julia has a chance to really do worthwhile things. She shows Julia a collection of spells on her phone, and asks Julia to work with her.
Hannah shows Julia her lab, a former car repair shop. They work together on the spells on Hannah's phone, and Hannah recognizes how strong Julia is. Hannah says they should explore and find new spells; Julia says Marina has a ton of stuff, from Marina's memories.
At The Trial, Quentin's team is getting nowhere. Eliot had said it was practically impossible, Penny says a genius could solve it, so Quentin thinks they have to cheat, though Rick wants nothing to do with it.
Hannah and Julia are outside the bodega, examining the security; the wards are more than they can handle. Julia comes up with an approach that evades the wards and should allow them grab the file cabinets. But she needs to get a "hook" inside, Pete wouldn't do it, but Hannah knows "someone".
Quentin takes Penny to the supply closet. Alice is a genius, so she may have solved it, could Penny read her mind? No, but Penny does astral projection and invisibly reads over her shoulder to read her answer. He writes it down. Later, Eliot is looking on as their team does the spell; it works, "too bad I know you cheated... congratulations." Quentin and Penny have passed, on to the next test; Rick is seen no more.
At a restaurant, Julia and Hannah are waiting for someone, "not a hedge witch exactly, her and I have some history." Kady arrives, and says "Mom, you shouldn't be here." Kady is her daughter. They clearly have a strained relationship, Hannah has been out of touch, but says she's better now. Julia and Hannah are making a new safe house, away from Marina; Julia gives Kady a paper with a protection spell she invented to make a house invisible. Kady says Marina will never let her go: Hannah tried something big and couldn't handle it, and two people died, and Marina cleaned it all up, so now Marina can demand anything of Kady. She's having none of this; she leaves, but takes the spell. Julia figures that it's better not to work with Hannah.
Kady empties a backpack of stuff onto Marina's desk, one of which is Julia's protection spell; when Marina asks, Kady says she found it in an old textbook. Marina presses her on becoming one of Professor March's assistants; but she looks suspiciously at Kady.
In Quentin's bedroom, with a party going on downstairs, Margo walks in with some bottles of champagne, they drink and she suggests Quentin celebrate, he passed the first test, but Quentin's not happy. He's realizing he's wanted Fillory all his life, and now he thinks it's real, and not nice; he spends a moment explaining how Penny Travelled there. She also loved those books. But Quentin is worried it's not like the story: The Beast seems to be from Fillory. Margo advises he enjoy the world he's in. He agrees, but as he gets up he realizes he's drunk or..."Margo, did you roofie me?"
Quentin wakes up, a bit dizzy, in a forest by a stream. He tries to scry where he is, and it doesn't work. Nearby is Eliot at a set table, who says magic doesn't work here. Eliot points out how the stream has all those little fishes, and requires Quentin get him one; he points out a bow and arrow nearby. This is the next test. He shoots an arrow, misses, and Eliot is gone too.
Elsewhere in the forest, Kady is running with a butterfly net, hunting something. She passes Alice, tying ropes to trees. A horse trots through the forest, past a set table where Margo tells Penny "bring him to me", and points out an axe on the ground next to him.
Julia is alone in Hannah's lab, with a symbol on the floor, working a big spell. The symbol glows. Hannah comes in and says Julia wasn't in control, she needs help. Hannah knows Julia made mistakes, like her, and they should work together.
In the forest, Kady and Penny cross paths; she is rushing around, saying she has to catch the bird. She is more agitated about this than usual, to him the school is not worth it, but she says she can't afford to get kicked out. She says this at Brakebills all she has, it's life or death for her. He comforts her as she cries. She says she's supposed to use the net to catch a pheasant; he, an axe to catch a horse. "This is crazy." They go to find the others.
Quentin is still trying to shoot a fish, as Alice, Penny, and Kady find him. Penny says "It's not about magic, it's about talking to each other." Penny says he grew up in Florida, so he knows how to get the fish, and takes Kady's net. But he needs the horse. Quentin picks up Alice's ropes, and says "Junior Cowboy Camp." Kady says "Pheasant", and Alice picks up the bow and arrow, and says "Tree", she needs to cut down a tree. Kady picks up the axe. They each solve their respective problems. Margo and Eliot applaud, do a spell, and they are back at the Cottage.
Inside, Margo is telling the first-years says they've realized they are being taught to be "arch and ironic about magic", but the next test is serious. Eliot says they much bare themselves in the presence of another adept, and reveal their "utmost truth". It must be done by midnight.
In the lab, Julia and Hannah work the spell together, much energy is raised, and in the bodega they see magic building up. Marina sees the lights flashing and earth quaking, and sees her file cabinets shaking. She casts a spell at the file cabinets, just as they disappear from the bodega, and crash to the floor in Julia's lab.
In the Cottage, Kady and Penny are saying the instructions say it's a two-person spell, both must succeed to unlock it, starting with ropes binding the hands. Quentin is wondering if this test is just some silly thing, to get them to reveal some blackmail object or something. Alice is looking at a book, and it's a real ritual of secrets magic, there's no trick or cheat.
At night, Penny and Kady are outside, naked, applying paint and ropes to each other, and starting the ritual.
Julia and Hannah examine the file cabinets, Hannah says there are no wards. They open one, and Hannah gets out Marina's file, which just has a paper saying "Nice Try". Hannah says "No", as blood drips from her eyes and nose; she tells Julia to run, then collapses, and dies covered in blood, after saying "Marina is coming."
Quentin and Alice are on the roof, at night, starting the spell. They take off their clothes, not entirely comfortable together, apply the paint, tie their hands, and share secrets. Quentin says he's been institutionalized more than once.
Penny and Kady share secrets: Penny is scared to say, he's falling in love with her. She says she's a liar, she flirted with him the first day because he was useful, they stole a lot of stuff together, she's been using him the entire time, it's all a lie. Once she finishes, the ropes fall from both of them, and Penny looks like he's having some sort of attack.
Alice and Quentin are partly dressed again, and they are counting the seconds to midnight. At the midnight bell, they sit down and talk. Alice says she didn't see this coming. Quentin says she's the best; she says she tries hard not to be, she's already very unpopular, it's be worse if they knew how good she really was. Quentin says that Julia said he couldn't run away hard enough (and at this moment the ropes fall from his hands), even in this wonderful place he still runs away. Her ropes are gone also. Quentin seems struck by some attack, like Penny's, his limbs are changing, he collapses, falls off the roof out of sight... and a goose flaps awkwardly up, away, and joins a dozen other geese in the air.
- Jason Ralph as Quentin Coldwater
- Stella Maeve as Julia Wicker
- Olivia Taylor Dudley as Alice Quinn
- Arjun Gupta as Penny
- Hale Appleman as Eliot Waugh
- Summer Bishil as Margo Hanson
- Sachin Sahel as Surendra
- Ingrid Nilson as Camille
- Amitai Mamortsein as Rick
- Oliver Mahoro Smith as Ralphie
- Robert McEachern as Angry Barfly