The Magicians Season 5 Review: Sorrow With Grace
Margo’s (Summer Bishil) rage could still terrify even a werewolf, Eliot (Hale Appleman) still drinks enough to fill a magic reservoir, and Alice (Olivia Taylor Dudley) can still create an impossible spell. The kindness of Julia (Stella Maeve) can still save worlds. Penny 23 (Arjun Gupta) is still sweeter than the original, while Kady (Jade Tailor) remains sharp and pungent. But Quentin (Jason Ralph) is still gone.
Last season, magicians made the bold choice to kill off Quentin Coldwater, the oft-assumed main character in this fantasy journey. But over the past four seasons, magicians worked hard to prove that a white man who gets powers and goes to a magical school or through a portal to a magical world doesn’t have to be the leader of that kind of story.
Yet this decision was not without controversy. Quentin was killed after he and Eliot expressed their romantic relationship, but before they could explore it in the current timeline, creating another heartbroken queer love story that ended in death. In a world where “bury your gays” is a common TV trope, that understandably hurts many viewers.
Heartbreak may have changed some viewers’ relationship with the show, but it hasn’t. magicians. The show is always fun between magic crisis after magic crisis. magicians has always been about trauma, grief, and pain, and Season 4 continues that journey in a cathartic and touching way as the characters process Quentin’s death. Whether an individual viewer will want to watch will likely depend on how they’ve come to feel about his death. As Julia says in Season 3, “When things happen, they leave a mark. Knowing how to deal with them takes time.”
For me, his death worked. I wish Quentin had finally died later, after he and Eliot had the chance to actually be together. But his death made sense thematically and structurally; although I was surprised, I did not feel cheated. The idea that Quentin would die saving his friends had been planted ever since the story started toying with the idea of what it meant to be a Chosen One. The Chosen One is a common fantasy trope – one that magicians always tried to reconfigure and explode. That he died in the middle of the story instead of the end was shocking – it was like what Alfred Hitchcock did in horror with Marion’s death in psychology. But magicians‘ Using pain and trauma to tell his story is exactly what he’s always done.
Because magicians was never about happy endings. I’ve previously written about how the series explores mental health and how magic can become a physical representation of depression and other mental health issues. On magicians, when you get magic, things get worse. And what’s more like depression than getting exactly what you want and the power to do almost anything while feeling empty and helpless?
This season, Julia finds magic again because they lost Quentin, and magic comes from pain. Her newfound magic becomes like survivor’s guilt – yet another trauma for the show to explore. She feels like she has to find something to do with her magic that will be worth Quentin’s death, but of course, nothing ever will be.
I always expect Quentin to be around every corner or pop up in more than one memory. Just like heartbreak, season 5 of magicians gives the impression that he could appear at any time – in golems, shrouds and dreams. And, just like grief, it hurts when it doesn’t.
The first three episodes of the season are very much like the immediate pangs of heartbreak. The characters keep trying, trying, trying to feel better when they just don’t. Margo and Eliot interact with a real brick wall in Fillory, but they and the other characters also hit a metaphorical one. They must decide whether to crash into their grief or let it go and run the other way. When something goes well and a character comes back unscathed, it was such a relief that I could have laughed. When another decides to remember Quentin’s truth instead of lying or ignoring the pain, it was a revelation.
Because it is magicians, I’m sure the relief will be short-lived. These Grace pieces are a good reminder that life goes on, and the show should too.
magicians Season 5 premieres January 15 on Syfy.
Rae Nudson is a Chicago-based writer and critic whose writing has appeared in Squire, The cupand Hazlitt, among other publications. She is working on a book about how women use makeup to help define their roles in society. You can follow her on Twitter @rclnudson.
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