Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Magicians wipes the slate clean after a standout third season

Illustration for article titled The Magicians wipes the slate clean after a standout third season
Photo: Syfy

Well, that went about as well as any of the big plans on this show. Which is to say, there were betrayals left and right, and everyone ended the episode in more danger than they’d been in at the beginning. Yes, what will happen to our dear friends Janet, Isaac, and Brian?


As far as finales go, this one is fairly mournful in tone. There’s a lot of dramatically saying goodbye, whether it was the fairy queen and Fen, or Quentin and Julia, or Quentin and Alice, or Quentin and everyone else.

Of course, these farewells go awry, with the exception of the fairy queen’s, but she’s always been a bit more assured than the rest of these folks. It’s a shame, then, that she departs the show. Candis Cayne’s queen has proven to be a good foil for the Brakebills crew, whether as a nemesis or as a reluctant ally. It’s hard to imagine where the character would have gone at this point, since she’s largely been an antagonist to the core group, and it’s probably a lot less interesting dramatically if she’s just their neighbor in Fillory. But Cayne had a knack for suggesting there was a whole lot more going on with the queen than we realized, and it’s a loss to not get to learn anything else about her.

If her actions are extreme but plausible, it’s a more meaningful character choice than whatever is going on with the Dean. His deal with the library and Irene seems like it would leave him in considerably worse shape than whatever he might have gotten out of letting the questers just accomplish their goal. Why would he ally with the library, which is controlling and deeply uninterested in letting anyone else have power? It gets him his school back, but it’s hardly what it once was. It’s possible that he has some longer game to play here, but we’re left in the moment to take his actions at face value. In the meantime, he’s left all the questers in pretty dire straits.

Speaking of odd choices, Alice was all over the place, wasn’t she? In a season of overall really strong character work, Alice has often been the one lagging behind. She’s struggled all season with grief and guilt, but too often all that meant was that she was separated from the rest of the group. Everyone this season has gotten moments to grow and be heroic, and while Alice obviously had a lot of ground to make up post-niffin life, there were times this made her a drag on the main action. If we’d spent more time with her, or seen more peaks and valleys in her attempts to regain her life, her desperate actions in the finale might have made more sense. As is, her sudden betrayal of everyone felt a little pat, a red herring of catastrophe for the group before their real enemies showed up. I’m always a fan of Olivia Taylor Dudley’s performance—she’s made Alice such an intense, specific person—but she occasionally seems stranded at the extremes of who Alice is because of where the plot needs her to be.

This has been such a strong season for the show that the finale was inevitably going to be a bit of a letdown, since it had to focus on next season set up instead of more key quest adventures. Like pulling a pitcher from a no-hitter. Er, except the reverse, since there were many hits. At any rate, there were so many highs this season that the usual setting up of conflict for a new season felt like a step back. The plot of the key quest let the show do all kinds of fascinating breaks from formula, whether it was formula-breaking standalones where Quentin and Eliot lived out their whole lives, or the group singalong. Not everything worked—Penny’s “death” fizzled, and morose New Penny is a lot less interesting to spend time with than irritable, funny Old Penny. Plus, we never got a chance to see what happened to Old Penny after he ate the cupcake in the underworld.


And now we’ve set up a new Big Bad. The Thing That Wants, or whatever we’re calling it, has captured Eliot and Quentin, and only imprisoned Alice is trying to do anything about it. Meanwhile, everyone else is trapped in some version of their Muggle lives. Margo and Eliot don’t even get to be trapped together! And Margo has bangs! Also, jeez, why did Kady’s have to be the horribly depressing one? She’s been through enough.

Regardless, it is a sign of how strong this season has been that a finale felt more like an interruption than a conclusion. The showrunners have such a clear vision for what this weird, pop culture-obsessed coming of age fantasy show can be that it’s easy to have confidence in whatever they plan for the next season.


For instance, getting the gang back together might at least force Alice to think about what’s going on in her life again. Will everyone come back with the maturity they gained this season? The Quentin of the finale is so vastly changed from the one we met in Season 1. Margo earned a kingdom, Josh earned his place in the group, Julia (maybe?) gave up godhood to save her friends. These are people becoming the adults they’re going to be, and a memory wipe leaves them all sorts of room to discover the types of people they learned to be.

Stray observations

  • Not a lot of one liners in this finale, which I think contributed to the gloomy tone.
  • Alice quietly being annoyed that no one can pronounce Calypso’s island was nice, though. It’s spelled Ogygia, so I can’t really blame them.
  • Characters I hope we haven’t seen the last of: Calypso, Prometheus, the knight, Julia’s goddess friend. Or not friend! I didn’t trust her. Everyone on this show has ulterior motives.
  • I could write a post about Margo alone, but thankfully Vanity Fair already did that. In this episode alone, she correctly identifies Calypso, Horcruxes, and Blackspire. The writers are very good at reminding us that she’s as smart as anyone else on the show. She’s earned my vote for High King.
  • Good consistency on the tacos on the Muntjac.
  • I don’t think it’s spoiling anything for future readers to say nothing in this episode happens in the books. Truly, one of the best parts of being a fan of the books and the show is how well the writers tweak the plot for TV. It still feels like the same general world, but readers can never assume they know what’s coming next.

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Lisa is a writer and editor based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.