What does a show which follows 20 something magicians going to a secret school for magical learning do when the big plot development of the season is the loss – or rather – removal, of magic? It launches itself headfirst into doubling down on the fantastical. More so than ever before, SyFy’s The Magicians feels strictly fantasy and that’s the best decision the show could’ve made for this season. It’s always been a show that has deserved more love than it has received, and the excellent premiere that spans both earth and Fillory, bridging characters plot points without ever actually bringing the characters all together.
We pick up a few months after the season two premiere with everything essentially the same. Julia and Quentin are working on trying to find the source of the formers magic, to little avail. Quentin is pushing the fact however, because he needs the hope and the idea of magic as a lifeline. Meanwhile, Margo and Eliot are dealing with trying to rule in a land that has essentially had the power turned off. That, with the threat of the ominous Fairy Queen looming, with her spies everywhere, makes it an increasingly hostile place to live. Penny is still battling cancer and serving his sentence in the library while Kady holds out hope and Alice runs for her life as a mysterious force hunts her, enraged by something she did while she was still a niffin.
In the premiere of season three we cover a lot of territory and no one character feels short changed. Instead, it feels like after all of this time, we understand these people more than ever, as stubborn, petty and damaged as they are. Part of that reason is how they’ve delegated time to each cast member, making sure not one is more in focus than the other, striking up pairing with lived in chemistry, even if they don’t entirely touch the chemistry of the entire group working together.
Margo and Eliot is an obvious duo, as they’ve long been established as old friends and confidants, but what is different this time around is how both are dealing with the same situation but with very different threats hovering overhead. Sure, Eliot has the weight of an entire world on his shoulders, but Margo has to deal with the Fairy Queen being able to spy on her at all times, through who own eye that was stole from her as common pencea last year, and having to be more capable than Eliot even when he is the one that acquires the most credit. He’s even the one who wins the chance to set forth on an “epic” quest.
Kady and Penny are similarly complementary to one another, the one romantic pairing yet on the show that felt earned and compatible (unlike Quentin and Alice – though I definitely thought the show was pushing towards a Kady and Julia hook up for a while there). However, their main storyline is trying to figure out a way to save Penny from his fate, one that Penny seems much more at peace at than Kady does.
It’s the team up, both expected and not, of Julia and Quentin, that wins the most points. The two have long been the two, opposing “leads” of the series, as Quentin was allowed to go on grand adventures and see wonderful things due to chance and despite his mediocrity while Julia, also due to luck of the draw, found herself addicted to magic, raped by a conniving, trickster God, separated from her soul and forced to allow the God who assaulted her to escape, free of retribution. She suffers from PTSD, he from depression, making for what could be read as a somber pair. However, they are the liveliest aspect of the episode because they’re in the position of having nothing left to lose. They have hope, and that’s enough to charge them forward and push them to meet a partying God who may be able to introduce them to another God who may be able to turn the power back on.
It helps that Jason Ralph and Stella Maeve have such an easy chemistry shared between them that it makes the more laid back scenes between the two, the ones where they’re screwing with gods and trying to piss them off all the more charming. The fact that they’re being depicted solely as friends doesn’t hurt either.
One of the most integral aspects to the shows continued success has been its purposeful switch of introducing Quentin as our “hero” before stripping that all away. Quentin, as he puts it himself, in the premier, is the sidekick. He may anchor the narratives and introduce key elements but he isn’t the smartest character or the strongest or bravest. He is our emotional tether and him being the heart to Julia’s sheer power, Alice’s brilliance, Penny’s dalliances with death and Margot and Eliot’s rulership grounds the show in a way he as the hero didn’t. He offers perspective and it’s a significant one. It’s a significant point of view that allows the premiere to elevate itself, as good as it already is.
There’s so much to love about the premier and it all boils down to how confident the series and showrunners have become. There’s some beautiful imagery here – the scene where Julia and Quentin’s faces are illuminated by neon lights a highlight – and an embrace of the more “genre” elements of the story. This is especially true when Eliot, trying to save his kingdom, comes across a creature named, ahem, “The Cock” (it will be a high point of your viewing experience I swear it). It’s a demonstration of how the show managed to meld genres so seamlessly together. It’s outrageous, shockingly funny and also moves the plot forward in one singular scene.
And it’s that last point that makes the series, and especially this episode, such a special one to follow. It understands the complexities of genre and that a story that’s engaging and interesting and constantly keeping its viewers on their toes needs to be more than just one thing and, it needs a deep well of understanding of characters: their motives, their want and their wishes. The Magicians understands this without faltering at this point and while no one thread is resolved by episode end, we’re primed and ready for a grandiose adventure which will bring with it absurdist mayhem, thrilling action, poignant drama and swooning romance. It’s as entertaining as any “prestige” show currently airing, and it seems to be having more fun.