Five Awesome Reasons to Watch (and Love) The Magicians
By Arlene Allen
If you are like me, you were super stoked to hear that SyFy has renewed “The Magicians” for a third season. The series, based on the novels by Lev Grossman, stars actors Jason Ralph, Stella Maeve, Hale Appleman, Summer Bashil, Arjun Gupta and Olivia Taylor Dudley. This tale of young adults in a magical college and trying to rule a magical kingdom has captured and captivated viewers, pulling in an average of nearly a million viewers each week. What is it that makes this series so special? I gave it some thought and came up with a dozen reasons, but here are my top five – the ones that make this series truly stand out and make me love it so:
Spoiler alert: If you have not watched The Magicians or are not currently caught up, there may be spoilers ahead.
1) A magical college for grown ups!
I have been reading fantasy set in witch school since my elementary days, going so far as to write witch school stories myself. While Diana Wynne Jones and more recently J.K. Rowling will always be dear to me, my chances of getting into Chrestomanci’s school or Hogwarts is absolutely zero. Brakebills is definitely on the table though — with dangerous and forbidden magic, violence, sex, drug use and lots and lots of swearing – my heart calls this campus home these days. This is definitely a show for adults with adult characters, pushing SyFy’s envelope into almost “Game of Thrones” territory. Decidedly R-rated, this is a show not suitable for children so don’t let them watch unless you are comfortable explaining things like why Alice (Olivia Taylor Dudley) can’t orgasm, why Eliot (Hale Appleman) has a husband and a wife or why Quentin (Jason Ralph) is about to eat goat penis.
2) A cast of exceptionally talented and involved actors:
Quentin, Julia (Stella Maeve), Eliot, Margo (Summer Bishil), Penny (Arjun Gupta), Kady (Jade Tailor) and Alice are all difficult roles to play, as each character has more issues than National Geographic. The characters change, grow and regress off and on throughout the episodes. This crew of talented actors – coming from stage, television and feature film – is fully invested in their roles and it shows. You believe them. You don’t always like them or approve of their actions, but they are certainly understandable and relatable. I love watching raw emotion play across their faces. Jason Ralph has said, “I think we got extremely lucky. Our cast and crew are incredible. I’ve never worked with such a fantastic group of people who get along so well and care about these stories as much as I do.”
3) Strong female leads and characters
Stella Maeve, Summer Bashil, Olivia Taylor Dudley and Jade Taylor are all phenomenal in their roles and their characters are every bit as strong, if not stronger, than their male counterparts. Margo is the biggest badass of the bunch, the head boss in charge. She rules Fillory – and Eliot — with an iron fist. With hints of a shady background, Margo often goes way beyond what would be considered acceptable in a given situation and has paid a steep price for her high-handedness. Currently she is trapped in the faerie realm in search of Fen (Brittany Curran), Eliot’s pregnant wife, whom she bartered away (without Eliot’s knowledge) to save his life in a duel. Alice is the scholar and damaged soul with the weirdest parents on earth, an over-achiever pushed towards perfectionism. Alice spent the majority of this season as a niffin, a being of pure magic, with access to all of the magical knowledge in the universe. Now that she has been restored to human, she is full of rage at losing said knowledge. Julia has dealt with rejection, isolationism and rape and has come out on top while Kady had a troubled childhood which has affected her ability to love. Kady is the wild child. Supporting characters are great, too; Fen as the queen of Fillory and The Librarian (Mageina Tovah) may look all sweet and innocent, but possess spines of steel and harbor deadly secrets.
4) Expect the unexpected
The show with its many plot twists keeps viewers riveted. This leads to some rather jaw dropping sequences, where you sit back and say to yourself, “What the f*** just happened?” This season has had characters turned into rats, character deaths, Margo thrown into a dungeon, a magical bank heist (that was sooo cool), an inexplicable act of mercy (you’ve got to be kidding me, Julia) and a musical number that knocked me out of my socks. I like to call this series “full of wow.” I like not knowing what to expect each episode. Julia sparing Reynard (Mackenzie Astin) for the sake of his mother Persephone (Garcelle Beauvais) was as unexpected and shocking as an act could be. Lots of people were unhappy with what seems to be the end of Reynard’s storyline, but I have confidence they’ll be back. Nothing is meaningless in this show, certainly not gruesome, violent deaths. I have a feeling we haven’t seen the last of the goddess and her son. We also now have a “Chekov’s bullet,” a god killing version of the hollow point. I can’t wait to see where the show goes next season.
5) The portrayal of sex as natural, with no judgment attached
I recently read an article that talked about this and I reflected back on it and it’s true. Everyone accepts Eliot as gay, no questions asked, and his polyamory was taken in stride – although it was one of those plot twists we didn’t see coming. Quentin’s exploration of bisexuality was unremarked upon (although his cheating was) and Kady and Penny have cornered the market on sex-ception. They are totally hot. Julia’s rape was taken in stride; no one blamed her, no one shamed her. The gang even pulled a bank heist to pay for her abortion. Season One featured the search for a way to make Alice orgasm with Quentin supporting her and journeying with her to achieve sexual satisfaction. There’s a topic you don’t see addressed often; it usually ends up as a sitcom punchline. It was refreshing and reassuring to see the issue addressed frankly and honestly and I can imagine it helped a lot of viewers. The theme here is acceptance, no judgment involved.
I hope this exploration of the lure and charm that is “The Magicians” encourages new viewers to check out the show and already rabid fans like me to examine why the show means so much to them. Take a moment also to give kudos to an incredible cast and writing team and to SyFy for supporting such a daring and original show. Tune in this Wednesday for the Season Two finale. You know I’ll be there!