Jason Ralph, Stella Maeve / Jeff Weddell, Syfy

The Magicians got awfully meta in its finale. There’s Quentin commenting on his own adventures as they happen, all the jokes about an invisible castle that people ran out of money to build, which seemed like a nod to the show’s own budget, plus the usual joking references to pop culture, like the “vaguely Tardis looking portal to Fillory” that Quentin and Julia hop in. But that’s just the type of show this is. It wants to make references to things it knows you know, then wink at you to let you know it’s in on the joke.

But midway through all the fun and games (Eliot marries a woman? Eliot marries a woman!), things take a dark, dark turn. It’s also a turn that shifts the show irrevocably away from the novels. Though if only one thing was going to stay the same, poor Penny losing his hands is an unfortunate part to keep.

The Julia plot, on the other hand, other than her going to Fillory, is pretty much exactly what happens in the book. It seemed likely last week that her sunny memories of her ritual couldn’t possibly be true, and the show handled the scene about as well as could be hoped. It’s brief enough to make it clear what’s happening, but not so long that it gets gratuitous. She even gets a moment of agency right before it begins when she saves Kady, who she genuinely seems to care about.

The downside to the big Julia betrayal twist, unfortunately, is that the show has now suggested that the two victims of sexual assault are its villains, even if Julia hasn’t gone full Dark Willow yet. The imprisoned Christopher Plover tries to suggest that there’s some internal darkness in Martin Chatwin that grows over time, but it’s not quite enough to make up for the sense that Martin wouldn’t be who he is without what Plover has done to him. Julia and Martin are both obsessed with getting revenge on their rapists, between Martin’s long, slow torture of Plover and his recreation of the man’s study and Julia’s complete indifference to Quentin’s friends, who are all injured or dying. Their trauma becomes the only thing that matters to them, and they’ll destroy worlds to get their vengeance.

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There’s no right way to respond to what those characters have gone through, obviously. And Julia’s only just gone through her experience. In some ways this fits as the final tipping point for what Julia experienced over the course of the season. She’s at a real low point, and she latches onto the one thing that makes sense to her. The messiness of that plot point isn’t a black or white situation, just a gray area that results in a not-so-great pattern. And for now it’s a one episode pattern, and Julia, as one of the show’s main characters, seems likely to get a redemption arc to bring her back to the good guys. But no one should need a redemption arc after going through a sexual assault.

This is all overshadowing what was otherwise a pretty solid finale, all things considered. Sure, it’s jam-packed with events, but it wouldn’t have made too much sense to break any of it up into a multiple episode arc. Victoria’s big rescue is a bit of a letdown, Eliot becoming High King is a little out of nowhere, and even with the big reveal about what happened during the ritual, Julia’s friends were still written off before they’d had a chance to develop into people we cared about. But all of that plays into the overall sense that what these people were doing was pretty meaningless when it was held up to the power of the Beast. There’s nothing they can do to stop him, and Josh and Victoria seem like the smart ones when they run out.

All of which leaves the show with a pretty brutal end to its first season. For all of its lighter moments and affection for Taylor Swift, this is still a show about all of the terrible things that could happen if magic were real. People are still fickle, amoral beings, power still corrupts, and your childhood dreams are best left in your childhood. This unfortunate truth mostly comes at the expense of poor Quentin, who shows the personal maturity to recognize that he might not be the hero only to have his altruistic notion crash and burn not so very long after he’s propositioned by a pretty uninspiring version of the god figure in the books that shaped his life. Plus, now he has to rescue like four people, and he’s not the best magician of the bunch.

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This season was certainly bumpy, and some things worked better than others, but overall, a pretty fascinating attempt to distill what worked about a series of books into a TV show. I’ll be looking forward to Season 2.

Stray Observations

  • Hey, Kady made it! Good for you, Kady.
  • Speaking of, who do you think’s making it out of that study alive? Alice seems most likely to be a goner, but it would be nice to see her and Quentin actually deal with their issues next season.
  • There was a nice parallel moment to the beginning of the season when Quentin has to press his palm up against stone to gain knowledge. Earlier, it led him to Alice, and this time, it leads him to Ember. It was decidedly a better result the first time.
  • This was a very serious episode, but if you thought I was going to choose any episode image besides the one with the jar of Ember spunk, you’re definitely the fool of the Witch and the Fool.
  • Thanks for watching along with me! It’s been fun.

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