Great series that dabble in the fantasy genre are few and far in-between and when they manage to succeed (such as HBO juggernaut Game of Thrones) they tend to need to straddle the line between the fantastical (dragons!) and deep realism (sexism!swearing!political discord!). When a series manages to soar within those guidelines to be unabashedly soaked in science fiction or magical realism that don’t so much wave off naysayers with a “we’re not like those other shows” shrug but more a flirtatious wink to the audience it’s because they’ve embraced the innate silliness that comes along with a story. What’s more, they take that absurdity and bridge with it allegorical modernity – giving it a time stamp for the why’s and when’s that made it such a cultural touchstone for viewers.
The Magicians, based on the novels by Lev Grossman which premiered it’s fourth season last night is still amounting that audience due to a loyal word of mouth but it’s managed to accrue that viewership because of it’s fantastical roots. It doesn’t shy away from the gutsier storytelling elements that defy logic, nor does it undersell the trauma and mental illnesses that trail many of these characters. It also has a character named “The Great Cock,” a jailed Santa Clause, rabbits that hop between worlds like embittered carrier pigeons and sing-a-longs to Les Miserables and David Bowie. Their narrative steps are confidently boundless, shaking the status quo with every new season in a way that is fresh and focused on creating a engaging journey that allows us to both be swept away while simultaneously identifying aspects of their lives that reflect our own : Julia’s self-discovery, Margo’s reliant but reluctant step in taking on more responsibility and Quentin’s battle with self-worth all resonate because they’re issues most twenty somethings grapple with while still trying to make memories for a lifetime.
Season three was the best version of the show to date with episodes that created alternate lifetimes and storytelling structures that broke the typical mode and ended on not just one, but two egregious cliff hangers. The first was Dean Fogg’s partnership with the library to stop Quentin and co. from returning magic to their world, wiping their memories in the process after they’d spend the majority of the season risking life and limb to do so – Julia even sacrificing her status as Goddess to do so. While the pushing them apart diversion was enough to leave us anticipating the shows return, desperate to see how this ragtag group of friends would somehow make it back together, they once more shocked us with a devastating stinger as we realized Eliot in full never made it out of the castle, possessed by the monster he’d tried to kill to save Quentin’s life. They teased us with hope as he walked up to Quentin before very abruptly tearing it away.
The show has never been shy about upending expectations.
As one of the shows indisputable favorites who has two of the best dynamics in the series with Margo and Quentin, it’s not at a point yet where we should be totally fearful for Eliot’s safety and there’s so many ways to ensure drama without killing characters off but it’s difficult not to worry some that we won’t be seeing Eliot again for a very long time, if at all.
The premiere of season four picks up where we left off as all the characters are living life in their new persona’s aside from Alice who’s imprisoned by the library. It’s a fun way for the show to deviate and allow the performers to embody characters foreign from their own but it isn’t long before they’re already beginning to come together, filling in the gaps left in their memory. The problems aren’t resolved – far from it – and Quentin is still stuck with the Eliot impersonator but it’s moving at a clip that fits the shows format of never resting too long on one note. It’s energized and exciting and characters such as Kady get to take on more dominant roles while Margo’s ties to Filory are greater strengthened, even if she isn’t able to believe what she’s seeing.
The Magicians has managed to take the mind-wipe trope and invigorate it with a refreshing spin with a playfulness that is the backbone of the series. What’s hilarious is that they’re all (pointedly as you learn) playing archetypes as their alter-egos, versions of characters such as the bad ass cop and no nonsense business woman we might see in any other, lesser, series and what makes them so endlessly entertaining is our knowledge of how non-conforming these characters and their countless quirks are.
We’re only an episode on and already season four is delivering on it’s name’s promise to bring us something delectably magical. Our characters are in peril and the show always seems on the precipice of taking one too many accelerated steps as it eagerly tries to outpace itself, but where’s the adventure without the risk?