When I first heard about “The Magicians” I did not know what it would be. Of course, I knew it had magic and magicians, I mean, duh. What I did not know is that it would be a show about a plethora of in-depth characters and complicated story that touched on humanity, fears, strengths and evolutions of growth that we go through by facing adversity, pain and loss. The show is full of such interesting and diverse characters, I don’t know where to start. So, where does one start when attempting to express the awesomeness of this show? The beginning, I guess that is how one is supposed to begin.
Considering the diversity of the cast, it is slightly annoying to say that I have to start with one of the white male characters, but that is really where it begins. Quentin Coldwater, played by Jason Ralph is shown to us, not as the hero per se, but as a normal human who is struggling to find himself and reconcile what he feels/knows with the reality of the world around him, more often than not drowning in the attempt. We are introduced to Quentin in a psych ward, plagued by a belief in a magical world, that is consistently being beaten back by disbelievers and medication. He is damaged, he is sad, he is full of dualities. How is that not a beautiful introduction into this world? To have one of the central characters portraying insecurities that we fight against internally and externally every day. It was very interesting to have him paired with an extraordinary woman, who is as complicated as he is, though in a different matter.
Enter Alice Quinn, played by Olivia Dudley. Side note: I know Julia comes, first but trust me I have so much to go into with her, she is not forgotten nor overlooked. So, Alice is a magical fucking prodigy and is as bright, intelligent and challenging as she is magical. Here is where I go praise the writers of this character, both Lev Grossman who wrote the book and the show writers bringing her to life; they created a character who often embodies and challenges constraints socially put on women in general, but intelligent and successful women in specific. When we meet her she magically stands out, displaying her knowledge and ingenuity from the very beginning. What we learn about her is that what we initially see, is not a fraction of who she is. Instead she is hiding her full potential as not to increase further ostracization that she receives for being so adept. Basically, trying not to let her intelligence and skill become a threat to those around her. Being a love interest of Quentin is interesting, mostly because she pushes him. She demands better of him and does not readily and blindly forgive him his transgressions. That is earned back. Further she reminds him, by extension all of us, that the fears and insecurities that he faces, we all face. It is only by our work, internally and externally, can we hope to learn to swim when everyone expects us to drown. Alice has gone through this series with ups and downs, successes and failures and at the end of season 4 she is still growing. Trying to earn her own redemption.
With the thought of redemption, I have to address Kady Orloff-Diaz, played by Jade Tailor. From the very beginning she was presented as a rebel, chaotic and in many ways disloyal. Fair enough, she was all of these things, but only by necessity. At her core she wanted to be good, she wanted to do right by herself and those she loved. She definitely was not always successful. Yet, one thing no one can deny about Kady, is that she is a fighter. Through so much she grew and she thrived. Even though she still had some dangerous tendencies, she is what I like to see as the anti-hero of the group, she does it for what she thinks is right. Often you wanted to choke her from some of the things she did and the hearts she broke, but by the end of season 4 you were rooting for her. She became the leader that needed to be there, even though it was not a role she wanted. But honestly, some of the best leaders don’t want the role, but dammit are they needed for it. That is Kady.
Thinking of a leader who didn’t want the job, you get to Elliot Waugh, played by Hale Appleman. Here is why I love Elliot; he is one fucked up but lovable human being. Yet, he is kind of my spirit animal. He drinks, he smokes, he has sex freely and honestly, he can be bitingly honest, he makes no apologies for who he is, but mostly he is a fierce friend. How can one not love a man, who knows how to make a killer drink and dresses like a boss? The killer part is, that is not what makes him special, it is his depth and range of emotion and his willingness to give for his friends, even though in his childhood he was not granted such things from many of those around him. Now, I won’t get into his sexuality, even though people like to discuss it often online, because it is separate from his part in the show. It is a part of his character, but it is not used as a weapon to either prop up another white male’s masculinity, which is a trope often used, nor is his sexuality simply a comedic relief, which is another big one. Hale’s portrayal of Elliot is like watching the growth of humanity blossom within those of us who thought we had none left.
Speaking of someone who claimed not to care about humans, enter stage left, Penny, played by Arjun Gupta. We meet a Penny who wants nothing to do with anyone, highly combative and even physical, but let’s be honest, exudes a sexiness that makes you tolerate his sporadic behavior in the beginning. Now, like any toxic relationship, we needed Penny to grow or we had to leave this relationship, and there we were not disappointed. Though hostile, we find the heart beneath. We fall in love with him as he falls in love with Kady. Our hearts broke when she left him behind, we died when he died, we celebrated when we got him back even in a different version. I will be honest here; the new Penny is slightly more problematic to me. We will go over why a little later.
Another of my loves is Julia Wicker, played by Stella Maeve. Julia has had one of the most heartbreaking and traumatic journeys of all the characters. When we meet here, we think she is all put together, being Quentin’s consistent and mentally stable friend who is constantly trying to push him, to very little success. Quickly that image is tarnished, she becomes obsessed with magic after being rejected by the magical school, Breakbills (the Hogwarts of this world), to the point of behaving like a drug addict. Trading sex for magical knowledge, torturing her friend in the process of gaining more power and stealing from dangerous people to get what she wants. For very often than not, one can’t be empathic with her, until she is raped by a deity, who tricked her. The on screen assault was traumatizing for her and us. The tears and pain that gripped her, gripped us and in many ways washed her sins into a form of understanding. More so, after discovering it was because of her very talent and potential magical skills that she was cast out of Breakbills, which eventually led her on the path where her rape occurred. Here is where I love her, her path did not stop there. Did she still make mistakes? Yes, but they were human mistakes, she learned from them, she grew from them and even when she transcended them, she sacrificed all of power for the benefit of everyone.
Of all these characters, Margo Hanson, played by Summer Bishil is the love of my fandom regarding this show. Even at the beginning when she was basically just a mean girl, hella petty and snide, she had so many great qualities and a brain to boost that I could not help but love her. Bishil’s portrayal of her is such a natural fit that I am not sure if it is acting, because it is just so flawless. Similar to Elliot, whom she is best friends with, she makes no apologies for who she is. She admits when she messed up, tries to make it right and endeavors not to do it again. When I see her, she embodies a boldness that I think every woman should have. She does not endeavor to be equal, because her ambitions are higher than that, she demands respect. Margo has one of the more interesting character arcs, because she starts as a mean girl and ends as a king. Throughout the series she is consistently challenging the patriarchy, embracing her sexuality, using language that would normal be used to degrade to push others. I don’t know how many times I think I heard her say something along the lines of “tit up” to embrace female strength instead of allowing it to be viewed as a weakness, but challenges others to step up to a woman’s level. I love the development of her characters, dispelling common tropes that surround females, she is not a damsel, her success is neither tied to nor diminished by a male counterpart and she is not afraid to fight, especially in stilettos. Margo is my warrior and I love her.
After all this adulation of the individual cast members, here is the entirety of it. “The Magicians” is not just a magical story, it is a human one. It is filled with ups and downs, diverse characters and challenges for them to overcome. Their stories lead into and through the pitfalls of growing up and self-discovery that we all go through. Is the show without flaws? No, so let us go to the major one for me and the two moments that touched my heart, including the ending of season 4. Remember when I said I would get back to problematic new Penny, well here it is. New Penny joined us after original Penny died, coming from an alternate time line, and this one was in love with Julia and not Kady. Though this caused tension between the characters, that is not where it got problematic. There were some touching moments between Julia and Penny, that made you wish they got together, particularly when Julia had to go through a full body anointment by someone who believed in her, heart and soul, and Penny was the guy. It was after this that I found the most problematic. Julia became a goddess and basically broke herself in order to save magic and by extension, her friends. In this, she got stuck between human existence and her divinity. There was an opportunity for her to decide to recapture that divinity or go to being human. Before she could make that decision, she became ill, almost to the point of death, the only chance to save her was for her to go one way or another. Instead of being able to decide for herself, the writers had Penny decide for her. He decided to make her human. In this moment, I kinda hated Penny. First because it was a moment when a man got to decide a woman’s fate and to make it worse, he decided to pull her back to his level rather than letting her rise further. That has so many issues that makes me seriously consider what the hell the writers were thinking. Julia was not just human, she was no longer a magician, knowing how having magic was such a part of who she was and one of her greatest wishes, her being stripped of her magic because his decision, was doubly a smack to the face. As a viewer, I was angry. As a fan, I was disappointed. I will be fair to them though she got her magic back at the end of season 4, there was no guarantee of that and it was only because magic is born from pain. This was something we learned from Margo in season 1. The fact that a woman’s pain spurs magic is of such a dual nature that I cannot decide if it angers me or if it is a testament to the power we wield even in our grief. That would be something I would love to talk to the writers about.
Though this rubbed me the wrong way, it does not tarnish this show to the point of rejection for me, one reason is because of the love that we spent an entire episode watching begin, grow and separate. In season 3, Quentin and Elliot are sent back in time and throughout the episode we watched them fall in love, have a family and watched Quentin’s heart break as he buried Elliot after a lifetime together. After completing that quest is completed, they are sent back through time as if they never left and only a faint memory initially at what happened, but the love was there. Here we groaned externally watching Elliot push Quentin away, even after that proof of concept that they worked. More heartbreaking when in season 4, Elliot is confronted with that and admits he was afraid, but he loved him still. It was our ‘peaches and plums’ that brought us back to life. Yet, because of this emotional investment into their love possibility, season 4 ended with one of the most touching moments of the series. Quentin dies.
I know there is some dissent on the internet about Quentin’s death at the end of season 4. Here is where things might get a little confrontation and though I do not mean to offend, it may be a little jarring to your thought process, but I continue. Though Quentin’s death was heartbreaking, and his friend’s memorial to him was more so, in that moment his death was almost necessary. It was powerful, noble and was a culmination of that character’s journey. People have claimed anger because of his self-sacrifice, but I did not hear of such an outcry when Alice died, doing the same. When Penny, knowing he could die, still walked into a poison filled room to get them the information they needed to prevail. Nor when Julia, gave her power away, even when it might kill her. It really seems like people are upset that the white male “lead” was killed off. Which is a killer concept because there was foreshadowing to his death when they dedicated an entire episode dispelling the idea that the hero/significant character was the white male. Quite pointedly highlighting that the white male hero was an antiquated trope and that the other members, who were diverse and complex, were just as significant and even in many ways create a bigger effect on the world at large than this one man. Quentin died in sacrifice. He died honorably. He died and our hearts broke, but that is not the end of this story. It is going to begin again very soon. January 2020 to be slightly more accurate. I am excited to see where we go from here. I am excited to see how they all grow. I am excited and I hope you are too. See you magical souls soon.