Bookburners S02E03: Mistakes Were Made
by Brian Francis Slattery
4 out of 5
When We Last Left Our Heroes…: Braving the wild and surreal landscape of Team Four’s offices, the team recovered an instruction manual of sorts for the Orb. Asanti and Frances decide to investigate it further.
Case of the Week: A series of increasingly strange events at a conference – that just happens to be the annual Thaumaturgical Symposium.
How It Went: The episode drops us straight into the middle of an argument between Asanti and Father Menchú – about, as you might be able to guess, the use of magic. Menchú is as wary as ever, Asanti ever more firmly convinced that magic can be used for good. She mentions that she and Liam have been hearing “rumors that the balance is shifting. That bigger things are coming.” and while it’s some obvious foreshadowing, I have to say that it’s effective: a chill went down my spine. If The Hand and those demons were small potatoes, what the hell (pun possibly intended) comes next?
But before we get to all of that, we’ve got episodes to go (at least I imagine that we do) – and so we come to today’s adventure: a three-day conference! Of magic and magical research! In Russia (this year)! Frances brings Asanti the invite, joking that they probably didn’t know she’d started working for the Society and so would Asanti like to go? Unsurprisingly, the answer is yes – so she and Liam come as Frances’ guests and off they go to rural Russia (a few hours southeast of Moscow).
Their arrival at the conference is a thing of absurdity and delight: Slattery delivers just the right amount of reality and bureaucracy even in the face of this being a conference entitled the Thaumaturgical Symposium. The conference organizer, a guy called Kapos, is not a fan of the Vatican but he’s willing to let them enter the conference if they sign two tremendously complicated waivers/contracts/agreements. There is a sense of attempting to impose a kind of order upon something totally chaotic and of course that’d happen in the lobby of, like, a Holiday Inn Express.
As it turns out, very few people in the magical community are fans of the Vatican and its not-so-secret secret Society. When Asanti attempts to chat with a Professor who’d given a talk about disappearing places, he gives her a pretty cold rebuff and then asks if she’s working for the right people. The minute that line was delivered, I thought “uh oh”, and Asanti then tells him she doesn’t know if she is. Later, after the adventure is over, she and Menchú have an even more serious reprise of the argument that opened the episode and I have to wonder if this is going to come to a serious head sooner than later. I can see several ways in which the whole gang fractures… I’m just curious to know which one will come about.
Anyway, back to our conference, where weird stuff starts happening – an image on a slide seems to come to life and frightens the speaker & his audience, the elevators start acting “hungry”, projectors start melting down, etc. It sounds like exactly what you’d expect would happen if you were imagining some creepy shit going down during a Thaumaturgical Symposium. Liam attempts to bully Kapos into telling him what’s going on and then, in a nice show of maturity, changes tactics and instead offers Team Three’s assistance – and it turns out, Kapos made a kind of deal with the devil a few years into the conference’s life: after the conference was attacked by trolls in Norway, he agreed to let six gremlins attend the conference for free in exchange for their protection. This started out as a good deal, but gremlins being gremlins, they are also the ones who cause all the minor havoc during the conference’s span.
The gremlins here are a great twist on the traditional concept of a gremlin: they’re ashy gray and either humanoid or a weird eyeless mouth+ears+hands shaped thing – and yet they have a sense of real life to them. They’re not just monsters; the one is even attempting to gain tenure wherever it teaches. They just happen to also be monsters, leading one to believe that perhaps that professor was right and the Vatican isn’t as much of the good guy as Asanti et al have been led to believe. We already saw a bit of that, frankly, in Season One – you know, with the whole exorcism torture and stuff.
Speaking of, that story got out into the world. Asanti has a moment with the professor again, where he mentions that he’d heard tell about demons in the Vatican. He then tells Asanti a rumor about Team Four – a mysterious village that saved some hikers in the Tatra Mountains in the mid-1800s. It’s barely a wisp of a tale and yet it seems like it could have something to do with the missing (excommunicated, not killed – so the story goes, anyway) Team Four. It’s clear now, incidentally, that the major arc of this season is going to involve finding Team Four – but I can’t yet figure out if that’s a good thing or not.
To conclude, the rest of the team is called to the conference after the gremlins realize that Kapos and his team have asked for Liam and Asanti to help. They whoop up on the gremlins in the lobby and while the hotel has demanded that they never return, everybody’s still alive and – thanks to a little more bureaucracy, the gremlins will be held to a strict code of conduct in future years. Because, hey – isn’t that what makes the world go round?
- Sal, in the car on the way to the conference, as she and Grace bicker and Menchú sighs: “We really are his children sometimes.”
- I myself was particularly tickled by the idea of magic being able to create the “otherworlds we see in mythology” – because it’s fun to believe that these worlds could exist just next to ours. It’s also a big theme in my own writing, so – that was cool.
- There’s a sense that the magical world extends faaaaaar beyond what we’ve seen so far. Even the Market Arcanum didn’t expand my sense of magic in this universe like this episode did. Makes me wonder what else is out there…
Brian Francis Slattery is the author of Spaceman Blues, Liberation, Lost Everything, and The Family Hightower. Lost Everything won the Philip K. Dick Award in 2012. He’s the arts and culture editor for the New Haven Independent, an editor for the New Haven Review, and a freelance editor for a few not-so-secret public policy think tanks. He also plays music constantly with a few different groups in a bunch of different genres. He has settled with his family just outside of New Haven and admits that elevation above sea level was one of the factors he took into account. For one week out of every year, he enjoys living completely without electricity.