Over the course of its three seasons, The Magicians have acquired a number of characters – both in leads and in small, yet crucial roles. As the show has evolved from knock off Harry Potter into its own, miraculously delightful and incomprehensibly absurd beast, those characters on the periphery have aided tremendously in the world building. In “Six Short Stories About Magic”, the series once again demonstrates its fearless ability to rewrite expectations, violently shoves the plot in a direction we couldn’t have seen coming, while also shining a light on those supporting players who have so long lived in the shadows of these “heroes”. Not only does it shine a light on their own plights and struggle for heroics, but also, they’re the example made of consequences in this world.
The Magicians, as I’ve gushed endlessly over, is one of the best shows currently airing in large part due to its tenacity for well earned surprises and left turns. They’re fearless in their unpredictability (much like The Good Place,one of my other favorites of the year so far) and they don’t worry about breaking convention; they embrace it for the potential it awards them. What better way to tell another heist story in a manner that introduces the magical (Alice lookalike) being who writes the books in the library than with characters we don’t get the chance to spend as much time with?
It means we get to explore Poppy’s motivations (she’s an asshole who values her life in a manner that’s destructive to others) and Penny’s singular adventure which proves to be a nice reminder of how much of a joy the character is (and how hilarious Arjun Gupta is). We see characters we don’t often view working together, a reminder that a strength in the series lies in the natural chemistry between the cast, meaning a pairing of Fen and Julia or Quentin and Kady works because every character is so meticulously built. Fen and Julia in particular are an inspired pairing, both characters who have been left behind by those they consider friends and/or loved ones, both subjected to trauma by creations made by others. Julia, due to these traumas, is increasingly empathetic while Fen has turned icy, which makes the reveal of a fairy on earth all the more fascinating. The tragedy mounts when we learn that the powder Julia inhaled last week was made out of fairy bones, a chilling revelation that spins the entire perspective on the season. This entire time we’ve grown to believe that the fairies are going to be the “big bad” of the season but, as most things are on The Magicians, it all may be more complex than we’ve imagined.
The big stand out however, is Harriet’s story, told in a manner that films from her point of view with a hearing disability. The actress who plays her, Marlee Matlin (who won an Oscar for her role in Children of a Lesser God), lives with a hearing disability as well and the way in which the show crafts an entire sequence around her grounds the impossible nature of the actions they’re taking in a real sense of reality. The showrunners’ goal was to mirror Matlin/Harriet’s experience and they mightily accomplish this with some inventive sound design.
The emotional impact is lasting as well when we realize she’s the daughter of Zelda, the head librarian of the underworld library where they’re trying to steal magical batteries from (the fairy dust mentioned above). As Harriet tries to escape, she’s stopped in a brutal sequence as she and the traveler they recruited get caught between the mirrors they were traveling through as they’re shattered, pieces of glass whipping past them in violent, soundless fury. It’s a tremendous and daring sequence, and one that more series should try and replicate.
Harriet was essentially a bystander, the traveler a product of necessity for our questers. Penny is trapped once again in the underworld, the group is further splintered and dealing with a huge blow to their journey. It’s a daunting place to be in as they scramble to pick up the pieces and a large reminder that the price for magic is high and that the people caught in the crossfire are mere casualties to a larger quest. The difference with The Magicians is that rather than treat them as just throwaway casualties (red shirts even) they’re fully defined characters who made the mistake of throwing their lot in with a group of self-destructive narcissists who are doing their best to solve an impossible problem. We feel the loss of them because they’re substantial additions to the world we’re exploring.