Bookburners S02E08: Present Infinity
by Brian Francis Slattery
5 out of 5
When We Last Left Our Heroes…: Fighting an ifrit – and realizing that there’s more to magic than any of them realized – in Canada. Meanwhile, the quest to fix the Orb continues.
Case of the Week: With a new lead, Team Three takes the Orb out into the field to try and find Team Four – where/whenever they might be.
How It Went: Oh man. Things really got cookin’ this week with an episode that not only provided one of the tightest and most jam-packed plots since Season One but some of the best nightmare fuel that I’ve experienced anywhere in quite a while.
We open on Asanti at home – with, yes, her husband… and her kids and her grandkids. Okay seriously did I miss something somewhere, maybe even last season, about Asanti being a grandmother? Regardless, this dinner scene is interrupted by a call from Izquierdo – that professor from the conference in Russia. She calls him back later to discover that he’s located, he thinks, Team Four. Or, well, triangulated where he thinks Team Four would ostensibly be. It’s a little town in the Tatra mountains – and Asanti, naturally, rushes this information back to Team Three.
After a pretty brief discussion, they decide to take the Orb out to a deserted island in the Mediterranean about halfway between Italy and Tunisia. The idea is to use the Orb as a device, instead of a map – something that could, if their research serves, basically take them outside of time. They’re doing it out here, Bikini Atoll style, to minimize any potential damage to the world and I have to say, I was a little surprised that they got to this point with relatively little pushback. The argument, it would seem, is that the Orb is a mechanical tool that itself uses magic but they aren’t using magic – or at least that’s the flimsy excuse they convince themselves/each other of.
They turn on the Orb and immediately things take a turn for the bonkers. Time, as they predicted, both slows down and speeds up, compresses and expands. They are suddenly looking at both all times and, by extension, no particular time at all – which is a pretty cool mindtrip that Slattery has a blast illustrating for readers. They’re all moving a little slowly, as though through water – the fourth dimension and all, I guess – but Grace can burn to reach normal speed, which is a cool twist. As they’re all exploring this, things seem pretty wild and wonderful. But then, like watching hundreds of episodes of Doctor Who should’ve trained me to expect, there are monsters here. These horrible ribbon-creatures attack them and they see a big ol’ horn cresting the horizon – and it’s only thanks to a little help from Grace and some quick thinking on Frances’ part that they get out of there alive.
They head back to the Vatican, wondering about a few things, such as: could Team Four survive in that Everywhen? Probably, if they were prepped, right? So, it’s decided: let’s all go to Poland and try to find them!
Menchú, unsurprisingly, is not on board with this plan. He arrives in the Archives and kicks everybody else out but Asanti. The two have a pretty brutal conversation, although it’s kinder than the antagonism of the last few episodes. Asanti definitely has the upper hand, though: she’s worried about the rising tide of magic and can’t quite figure out why Menchú can’t see that a deeper understanding of magic can only help them. He finally bows to her argument but not before extracting a favor and making it clear that he’s 100% against this.
Because he’s such a good guy, however, he makes an honest case before Fox and Angiuli. Another moment of interruption here: did I miss a moment of politicking in a recent episode? This scene felt like Fox and Angiuli had an equal share in determining what the Society’s overall course of action would be – so are they co-captains or something? Did Angiuli ever get confirmed for real? And where was Sansonne? Regardless, both Fox and Angiuli are reluctant to allow Team Three to head to Poland – but Menchú convinces them it’s worth it and puts both himself and the Team on the line.
In Poland, everybody is a little on edge as they try to find the appropriate spot to activate the Orb. When they finally turn it on, it’s relieving to see this… bubble, I guess, in the distance. They set off towards it but are, again, waylaid by more nightmare monsters from outside of time: giants, one-armed toothbeasts, big beetles. Just ridiculously scary stuff, all the more frightening because of the lack of anything concrete about them: they are unbound by the rules of our universe, you know? Things look bad for the Team but then they’re saved by these knights! On hippogriff-esque owl-horses!
The knights take them to the bubble, which is a little village of sorts – and the members of Team Four are there. Or, well, mostly there: they’ve all maybe gone a little cracked in the head. Team Three has an immensely frustrating conversation with these dudes, most of whom are happy to speak in near-riddles about the infinite present and the way that living outside of time really changes the way you look at things. They’re good-hearted though and want to help – and reveal, in the course of their conversation, that they believed magic to be on the rise as well. But they misjudged the timing and so locked themselves away. A helpful – and younger-looking (the rest have all gotten a bit washed out from being locked in this time-bubble outside of time but this guy pops back into our world now and then) – Team Four member called Vito helps parse things a little bit: basically, they found that the infinite present is as close as they can get to a manifestation of God. It’s some Star Trek: The Final Frontier-style stuff and Team Three is like “…uh huhhh, ooookay…”
Vito also offers his assistance in the future, if he can, and helps the team get back to our present. They return to the Archives and Menchú is like, “okay, well, that was a bust, huh?” and everyone else is like “excuse me?” What ensues is an incredibly powerful scene and one of the absolute best for the series so far, giving all of the members of the team (including Frances! yay new kid!) a moment to shine. It’s the kind of scene that wins your show awards for best ensemble. The Team points out that they did get information from Team Four: that a magicpocalypse is coming (and they might’ve even seen a glimpse of it, in the infinite future-past-present of the Everywhen). Menchú starts in on his “we can’t use magic” thing again when Grace just absolutely snaps. She not only tells Frances about her candle, she basically reams Menchú out for being a scaredy-cat hypocrite, explaining that not only is she inherently magical (and the “it’s him keeping me this way” line provoked an actual out-loud “oh shit” from me) but two members of the team have been possessed and it’s clear that magic has to be worked with, not ignored, because whether they like it or not it’s here and working with them.
But when she turns to Asanti, asking her to make the first priority of their new-found Orb powers ending Grace’s candle spell… Asanti also demurs. Grace, vulnerable and caught off-guard, storms out. Sal goes after her and there’s a nice moment between the two of them where we get to see just how strong their friendship has become, as Sal offers up her home and hospitality and Grace accepts it. Remember how, when the show started, Grace was not a Sal fan? This shift was not only great in the context of the story but it was a nice moment to reflect on the development over a season and a half of these characters. Grace sleeping, actually sleeping as opposed to candle-sleeping, at Sal’s is the sort of quiet moment you’d expect from the end of an episode of a show like Mad Men – and I love Bookburners showing us that it can do that sort of moment just as well as it can the magical ass-kicking.
- Alternate shout-out instead of Doctor Who when discussing the monsters outside of time: the Langoliers, from one of Stephen King’s great early-career short stories.
- Appreciated seeing Sal’s New York no-bullshit attitude again, with her regular complaints about calling it the “Everywhen”.
- Grace’s sharpness was foreshadowed, for me, when she ruthlessly dispatches concerns about the boatsman who took them out for the first test: “Just pay him. Nobody will believe his story anyway.” I dunno, something about that was just icy cold and tipped me off to her being a little on edge, for some reason.
- I really can’t get over the way the dialogue just sizzled in this episode. Sorkin-esque at times, you might say – or at least it had that same energy. Damn, I can’t wait for the rest of the season.
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.