What I’m Watching: The Magicians

by Alyssa

The Magicians TV series is an adaptation of the 2009 novel, The Magicians by Lev Grossman. Full confession though, the first time I attempted to watch the series, I didn’t get very far. The marketing of the series presented it in a more light-hearted way than what I saw during the actual viewing experience. As a result, I did not pay as much attention to the fine nuances of the first episodes and quickly lost interest once the initial questions were answered. After participating in the rabidly enthusiastic panel at New York Comic Con in 2016, it became evident that I had done myself a major disservice by only casually watching the first couple of episodes.  I have since re-watched the series from episode one. I am reporting on my second watching. I have not read the book, nor do i feel it is a requirement to watching the series. What is a required is to put the computer/phone away and just watch the show, paying attention to the well-crafted plot details.

“Waiting for my powers to manifest” was a common phrase among my close friends when I was growing up. The very first Magicians show presents us with the possibility that magic resides in some of us and doesn’t become apparent until such people are taught how to use it. It’s a new look at the classic theme popularized in the X-Men by Lee & Kirby in the early 60’s. It speaks to the geek sub-culture.

On the surface, The Magicians has a young adult premise based off of traditional plot lines: a kid discovers that he has powers, is recruited to a special school, and fights evil with fellow students. But despite the similarities to a Harry-Potter-style plot line, and despite the similarities to a Harry Potter-style plot line, The Magicians is not a show for younger viewers. It is very graphic and is geared toward an older audience with mature language and themes.

THE MAGICIANS — Season:2 — Pictured: Jason Ralph as Quentin — (Photo by: Jason Bell/Syfy)

While The Magicians first appeals to the desire to be special, it keeps the viewer’s interest by having authentic material that represents real issues they might face in their own lives. Rejection, depression, and repressed memories are all topics touched upon while telling the larger story. The opening episode of the series focus on the students testing to get into the graduate program at Breakbill’s University, the school for magicians. The ensemble cast of first year students are on the surface typical characterization of misfits, but as we see, each has their own detailed backstory. It becomes clear that the characters are well thought out, with very personal motivations propelling their actions.

The overarching conflict comes into being due to a spell cast by the main characters Quinton (Jason Ralph) and Alice (Olivia Taylor Dudley) in the first episode of season 1.The antagonist intrudes upon their spell from a series of books called Fillory and Further. This series of books only exist within the world of The Magicians, therefore we only know about them by Quinton’s descriptions in the show. This conflict draws the group of students further and further into the show’s mythical world of Fillory. We, the watchers, are left trying to puzzle out a book within a book, along with the majority of the characters (who haven’t read the Fillory book either).  It’s actually quite an ingenious plot twist.  Think of it this of it this way: it’s like never having read the Lord of the Rings books and being told about the trilogy by a character in another book.

Quentin Coldwater  summed up his character in episode 13, “Every book, every movie, it’s about one special guy, the chosen. In real life for every one guy there are a billion people who aren’t. Almost none of us are the one.”  And yet, we the audience have the sense that he will be the one to unravel the mystery, if not be the hero. That’s the wonderful thing about this show: each character has their own ‘truth’ and while we make early judgments about how those characters will develop, the reality is so much more complex than we could ever imagine, even in the first few episodes of the show.

John McNamara, Executive Producer has promised a complete season two with a well thought out ending, in the style of an Agatha Christie novel. I, for one, am just really curious to see how they’re resolve the major battle of the final show in season one. The first episode of season 2 airs on January 25th!  Season one is on Netflix.
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Alyssa bought her first comic at age 7 & was hooked. She has collected comics most of her life. Recently she has branched out to comic art and books. She goes to as many con's as she can & enjoys the long form story telling of TV and dark chocolate and wine, can't forget wine, oh, but then there's dark beer. Let's just go all in & say she's a foodie, and can always be enticed with new & fun foods.