From The Writers' Room Featuring The Witch Who Came In From the Cold

Max Gladstone on writing The Witch Who Came In From The Cold S2E11: “Absent Friends”

What do you do when everything falls apart?

The big fight at the end of episode 8 seemed, at first, a grand unraveling—and it was a critical strategic failure, to be fair, playing the Ice’s stockpiled Hosts into the hands of the Flame. But from our characters’ point of view, it was a generative sort of catastrophe. Josh and Edith, eternal outsiders, discovered real proof of the existence of magic, and reacted in very different ways—Josh felt betrayed, while Edith found new possibilities for her work, and made a critical breakthrough in her mole hunt. The revelation of magic was less a crack in a loadbearing timber, than a crack in the ice. But a thaw can be false—and as of the end of episode 10, our heroes are in a very bad place indeed.

Gabe’s arrested. Tanya’s attempt to long-con Zerena played out about as well as Nadia warned her it might. But in story, as in life, the world doesn’t always wait for central characters to act. Josh, who’s spent the last two seasons learning Gabe’s motives and methods, and slowly growing suspicious of both, finds himself in Gabe’s own shoes—the only officer of CIA Prague Station possessed of all the facts about the magical cold war behind the secular conflict. He must protect the CIA’s interests, and his friends, while staggering through a battlefield whose rules he doesn’t fully understand—while Frank Pritchard walks ahead of him, heedless, into danger.

I loved writing Frank’s sections of this episode. He has such a different voice from the younger characters: richer with history, bare of self-doubt. He might have been out of the field for a long time, but he remembers the swing of it: the prickling of danger, the thrill of the hunt. (His canine costar doesn’t hurt, either!) But those strengths make him even more vulnerable than Josh was when he stumbled into the magic world. Josh is skeptical of his own knowledge, of his own safety. This keeps him from reaching his potential in the field, but it also means that when he stumbles out of his depth, he realizes it fast. He doesn’t assume he knows what’s going on in anyone’s head—not even his own. Frank, by contrast, knows enough to be terrifically effective in the field, but he has such a detailed sense of the world he lives in that he’s lost some of the flexibility needed to tell when his mental models have left out important pieces of the puzzle.

Magic, say.

So Josh and Tanya and Nadia and Frank all stare at the mess the Flame has made of Prague’s secret worlds, and face the failures that have got them to this point. And then they choose to go forward.

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