(Photo: Syfy)

How do you keep a show fresh as it heads into its third season? If you’re The Magicians, you do it by pulling the rug out from under all of your characters.

Yes, magic is still gone, and as such, all the characters find themselves somewhat adrift. Eliot and Margo struggle to keep their kingdom running without magic and under constant low-level torture from the fairies. Josh is deeply depressed, Penny is still dying, Kady is separated from everyone and miserable, and even the Dean is facing conflict from the Brakebills Board of Trustees. You see, they were all rich only because magic was sustaining their companies, and now they’ve got no magic and no money.


In short, these are dark times for everyone except the two people who have the tiniest glimmer of hope: Quentin and Julia. Everyone wants to bring magic back, but those two are the only ones who can pursue it with real optimism, because they know magic is still out there.

Their mission together in search of a god sets their friendship up to be an enduring storyline of this season. For the first two seasons, they were often at odds. But they’ve both come on such a long journey at this point that they’re ready to meet on common ground. There’s been betrayal and forgiveness on both sides, and now they’re two people who care each other and have a long, long history of emotional support to fall back on. It’s a nice emotional note for the premiere, which no doubt means something awful is going to happen to them.


But first, a quest! Eliot is the first of the crew to hit real pay dirt in his efforts to come up with any kind of solution. The Great Cock has a task for him, and his instructions even suggest that the whole team will be working together on this for, uh, a season. Look out, world, the one-eyed conqueror, the traveler, the warrior, the fool, the god-touched, the lover of tomatoes, and the torture artist are on their way. Plus Eliot.

The only person still on the outside is Alice, who has cruelly ditched Quentin in her efforts to get away from the lamprey. With the vagueness of the Cock’s instructions, there’s a decent chance she’s not going to be joining this quest—the Warrior could apply to either her or Kady, and given Eliot’s reaction, it seems like the torture artist might be a new character. This could be a potential problem, plotting-wise. It’s going to be hard to stay invested in the odd side plot if everyone else is having adventures together on a boat. On the other hand, the entire season is not going to be a bottle episode on a boat, so for now, let’s trust that whoever gets left off of this thrilling cruise will have plenty to keep them occupied.

As premieres go, this one has quite a bit going on. In its efforts to touch base with everyone, things are both a little rushed and a little stilted as each person’s problems must first be introduced before a potential solution is dangled in front of them, and then somehow by the end of the episode they’ve all got to be ready for a quest.


Still, any show that clarifies its big plot twist in coded pop culture references to Battlestar Galactica, Buffy, Harry Potter, and The Craft is worth following down any number of paths.

The Magicians is forever one of the most meta shows on TV by virtue of how many of its characters are pop culture obsessives—this is the type of program that even leaves room for the perpetual debate over whether “Once More with Feeling” or “Hush” is the best Buffy episode. It’s a fantasy show for people who love fantasy shows, and at its best it has real insight into what it means to be a person who could tell a friend they’re in trouble through Grace Park references. We all already know the delightful buzz of finding someone who knows and loves (no, really, loves) all the same pop culture, but what if that very same knowledge could save the day?

Considering no one else seems to have a concrete plan to bring back magic, it seems like it probably will. As long as no one lets slip to the desperate Dean that Julia can still do magic.


Stray observations

  • Sadly, I won’t be doing episodic coverage this season. I assume you’ll take any comments you had for me directly to Twitter, the internet’s most majestic public forum.
  • “You watched Battlestar, right?” “Of course. I love when they do terrorism allegory with mostly white people.”
  • If Penny is a magical creature masquerading as a human, who else might be?
  • Do you think the Warrior is Kady or Alice? The others (minus the torture artist, potentially) are more obvious. Eliot also clearly knows who is who.
  • Obviously, I loved the coded pop culture references dialogue. They even selected the reference points with care. Eliot and Margo would absolutely be into the things they mentioned. I will always appreciate a show that considers a person’s pop cultural tastes this carefully, and ALSO considers it to be an important part of who they are as a person. Like, for instance, Quentin binging Six Feet Under.
  • “Once More with Feeling” is great, but I agree that “Hush” has the edge.
  • In a manner I assume the show itself would appreciate, I would like to close with a shoutout to how hard they worked to incorporate a dick joke.