The Magicians: Fillory and Further

“You can never fully control external circumstances. They may even be actively hostile. But you can control the ones inside you.”

I started watching The Magicians not long before season three premiered. I knew nothing about it and only watched it because my mom had some vague interest in the show. After just a few episodes of not-all-that-interesting world-building and Quentin being a douche, my mom decided to call it quits. But I decided to keep going because there was something there I wanted to see more of. After the fourth episode (the Taylor Swift one) I was hooked. After each episode of season three I counted the show as one of my favorites.

I don’t think magic was the thing that really pulled me in. It was fun, sure. And so creative. But what I really liked about it was its exploration of the characters, their mental health, their inner circumstances. More than a show about learning magic and defeating monsters and ruling worlds, I think this is really a show about figuring out yourself, and how to manage yourself when the world continues to fork you over. This finale tries to give away some of the answers.

There are a few things most series finales set out to do. There’s the obvious: defeating the big bad or whatever the season’s conflict is. There’s the satisfying: tying up the loose ends. There’s the hopeful: give us a sense of what comes next for our characters. But I think most important, what makes a series feel whole, is when the finale circles back to the show’s overall themes. Together, each checklist item serves to help answer the series’ biggest questions.

Fighting the big bad is what forces our characters to confront the show’s question. This season we’ve had a lot of big bads: the convergence, the moon, the Couple and the Seed, and Seb. We also get a new/old big bad in a twist I really should have seen coming but really didn’t: Martin Chatwin. Bringing back Martin works well not only because it’s surprising and Martin was a great antagonist, but also because his presence works as a reminder of what our characters have learned. Mainly, what happens when you try to escape your pain and what you’ve become instead of confronting it. Martin never manages to find peace because he never manages to learn that lesson, continuing to work towards something that will never really give him what he needs. Seb learns the same lesson this episode, along with the importance of accepting the support of those around you instead of holding on so strongly to what’s been lost. Seb and Martin are both killed as Margo embraces another of the show’s themes: the importance of the heroic sacrifice.

Along with stopping Seb and Martin, our characters also have to build a new world using the World Seed. Problem is, because the pissed-off moon is messing up the circumstances on Earth, Fillory’s getting destroyed, and the Neitherlands is attacked by Martin and his dead army, finding an ideal spot to use the World Seed proves difficult. Thanks to some advice from Zelda, Alice realizes how they can cast on Earth. They need to control for their internal circumstances because that is all they have control over. It would seem like a pretty on the nose way to introduce a lesson if circumstances weren’t so well woven into this season. It’s a fairly simple truth, but it’s also really important and difficult to accept. Alice also mentions the importance of accepting yourself fully. Throughout the show this is something each of our characters have struggled with, especially Alice. As they make a new world they also make some new resolutions: to work on themselves and to accept themselves. Because that they can do.

That being said, I did have a couple of issues with the finale. One, I’m not sure New Fillory fit too well with the overall philosophy of the show. A huge part of The Magicians is the characters learning how to cope in a complicated and often cold and hostile world. For them to just be able to build a new one with only the good parts of the worlds they’ve lived in seems a little too simple. I don’t know if another season would have explored this further and maybe New Fillory would turn out to be different than expected, but it doesn’t work for me as it is now.

A big issue I had was Julia’s part in the finale and the season as a whole. For a character whose entire journey has been centered around her regaining agency and being empowered, this season really seemed to strip much of that away. First of all, they never reconciled Julia’s lack of choice over her goddessness. Then she becomes sidelined because of her pregnancy. A lot of what she’s done this season was either forgotten or redundant. She decided to head a quest so she could make meaning out of Quentin’s death and the magic she was given through it, and then she didn’t do much with that quest. Margo and Eliot saved the moon. She killed Seb, but he didn’t die. She said she was going to translate the seed page one episode, then the next Fen was translating it because Fen’s Fillorian. She didn’t take any part in saving Fillory this episode because she was giving birth and she wasn’t even involved in the plan before her water broke. On top of that, her pregnancy once again took away the control she had over her own body and mind. Julia was introduced to us as a foil to Quentin and almost as important if not just as important as he was, and she hasn’t had much to do lately. It’s possible this was because her actress was heavily pregnant while filming this episode, but I still feel the show could have handled this better in order to retain Julia’s autonomy.

Overall, this season didn’t do it for me the way the others did. I liked some of the episodes, but it just didn’t have the same magic that the previous seasons had. But part of the reason the show works so well is because it doesn’t really matter what’s going on episode to episode, I will always want to keep watching just to watch the characters interact. The Magicians is a show with amazing characters, funny gags, and something cool to say. It’s always trying new things. Really, that’s all I need in a television show. I wish it got another season. It will be missed.

Bits and Pieces

-- Some tied up loose ends: Santa sent Alice the seed page, Penny 23 got his powers back via baby, Plum figured out her powers, and Fogg made it out of the Etheric Realm.

-- Eliot’s finally with a well-adjusted guy who really cares about him and probably isn’t secretly evil. Good for him. I assume he’ll be reunited with Margo soon. In my head, Julia and Penny 23 traveled to New Fillory and now they’ll be able to bring people there and back.

-- Hymen’s back to being an astral projecting peeping tom. I guess we should be happy for him?

-- This show is horrible to animals! At least they’ll be no more cat torture on screen!

-- Julia wanted to make baby’s middle name Quentin. Because of course. I love that Penny 23 called her HQ.

-- New Fillory still has opium in the air, has a field of crispy bacon, trees that grow pizzas, and I believe a field of knives?

-- Zelda has been transferred to the Underworld Branch. Maybe she can get it up and running again.

-- The show’s last episode description: “Christmas arrives early.”

Fen, on the seed: “Way easier to get in than out.”
Zelda: “Like so many things in life.” Fen deserves more appreciation for storing the seed … down there. It was bigger and pricklier than I thought.

Josh: “Sorry I was really stoned the last time I did this but time to discuss your shortcut. Margo?”
Margo: “Yeah, there isn’t one. What do you want me to say? Somebody had to egg up and do this, and I am Margo the Destroyer.”
Eliot: “I didn’t name you that just so you…”
Margo: “Could get destroyed while destroying.”
Eliot: “Yeah.”
Margo: “Yeah, I’m not wild about it either, but this thing’s gotta get done, so…”
Eliot: “We’ll all go.”
Josh: “Yes, we’ll all go.”
Margo: “Stop. If I learned one thing from Quentin – one – is sometimes you sacrifice for those you love. I’m doing this so you two can live, so don’t you dare follow me.”

Santa: “Oh hey, Alice.”
Alice: “Did I sleep until December?”
Santa: “I couldn’t resist giving out a few more gifts while I’m here. Given your quest-heavy lifestyle, there’s no guarantee any of you will live to see Christmas. Sit, have a cookie.”

Alice: “I know something that might help.”
Kady: “You cracked the code on moon circumstances?”
Alice: “Nope.”
Margo: “Then what the hell is your plan.”
Alice: “My plan is I am going to accept exactly everything I am right now.”
Margo: “Instagram that nonsense later girl.”
Alice: “Every single good and shitty part, and especially the shit. I suggest we all do it. We have to acknowledge it in order to adjust for it in your casting. Internal circumstances is the one thing we can control. One hand is plenty. I’m ready.”

Margo: “You guys know our lives about to get even weirder in some insane way we can’t possibly predict.”
All: “Yes.”
Josh: “I find that somehow perversely comforting.”
Alice: “So do I, and that’s how I know it’s our story.”

The Magicians was certainly an interesting journey that I look forward to rewatching an unreasonable amount of times. I’m really going to miss these characters. Thanks to the readers for bearing with me as I figure out how to do this. Maybe the pain of the show ending will cause us all to discover our magician powers.

5 comments:

Billie Doux said...

Ariel, thank you so much for reviewing this entire series in the last two years. You did a terrific job, and I'm grateful.

I love this show, too. It is unique, and the ending did get to me. I'm really sorry that we won't get to see these characters figuring out a brand new world, but it was an interesting and optimistic place to leave them.

Nate said...

This season did have, I believe, a top 5 episode, though. That would be "Oops...I Did it Again", the Groundhog Day style episode. I thought it was up there with their best.

Juliette said...

I love this show so much. I would watch Elliot read the phone book, Margot is my spirit animal and it's such a rare thing now, which is a show that can bring lightness and humour alongside drama and tragedy. I'm still, and probably forever will be, upset it got cancelled :(

Josie Kafka said...

Ariel, congratulations on finishing your reviews!

I didn't start watching this show until late last year, and I'm sad to see it go, even as I'm fairly pleased with the final episode. Throughout, your reviews have been a pleasure to read.

Tim said...


I started watching when The Magicians first aired with no real expectations (Harry Potter Goes To College, right?) but by the end of that first episode I was hooked completely.

Since then it has been one of my favourite shows:

The humour, darkness, absurdity and originality of the plots.
Flawed, interesting characters who I would love to have as friends.
Genuinely never knowing what may happen in any given episode.
The singing.
All these things and more ...

Thanks for the reviews, Ariel.

This show will truly be missed.