If the first season of Syfy’s The Magicians was about our heroes learning how to master magic, the second season proved they can’t control crap and everyone is doomed. On the heels of the amazing finale, we chatted with some of the stars about what the hell happened this season, and what’s around the corner. Spoilers: No one knows.
All Photos Courtesy Syfy
“I actually have no fucking clue, I have no idea,” Arjun Gupta (Penny) said. “In my wildest dreams I wouldn’t have anticipated most of this season. I was constantly, ‘Um, where are we going?'”
One of the biggest themes this season was loss of control — no surprise, since Ember ruled Fillory as a god of chaos. Even before the higher gods cut off humanity’s access to magic (in response to Ember and Umber being killed), every major character had their autonomy taken away from them. Eliot was trapped in Fillory to serve as High King. Margo was unable to back out of her deal with the Fairy Queen to turn over Eliot’s unborn baby. Julia struggled to rid herself of a half-god baby, which was conceived via rape. Penny signed an eternal servitude contract with the Librarians. Then you’ve got Alice, who gained and lost control so many times the actress basically ended up playing four different characters.
In the season’s most shocking episode, Alice died and was transformed into a Niffin. But, surprise, instead of being allowed to roam free, she got trapped inside of Quentin. Olivia Taylor Dudley (Alice) said those scenes were her favourites to shoot — mostly because she liked torturing Jason Ralph (Quentin) by poking him repeatedly or walking circles around him before they’d start shooting, in order to make him uneasy. Soon after being freed to explore the cosmos, Alice was trapped again in her human body. And then… she had to eat really cold bacon.
"I love the bacon scene in the books, it's one of my favourite scenes and I was so happy we were able to do it in the show," Dudley said, describing a scene in the season finale where Alice reconnects with Quentin over a plate of bacon. "[But] the bacon was disgusting. It was cold. [The props department] found good quality meat and cooked it right, but the reality of shooting is you've got to sit for 30 minutes while they set things up.
"And we had to touch each other's bacon fingers. It was a weird thing to shoot, but a really lovely scene," she added.
Even though the characters spent the season losing control, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, every one of them learned to play the cards they were dealt and matured as a result. The best example would have to be Eliot, who experienced some major growth this season. It's hard to believe this was the same guy who was getting high while he and his friends were escaping danger in the Neitherlands. Hale Appleman (Eliot) said he especially loved how Eliot was able to reconcile some of the more unpleasant memories of his past through his role as royalty, like being an addict or growing up on a farm. Plus, he even got to swashbuckle.
"There's a latent hero within Eliot, and he's starting to find those parts of himself as they slowly emerge," Appleman said. "I think that he has a lot more growing to do, and we'll watch him continue to emerge as the heroic figure."
As encouraging as Eliot's journey has been, he doesn't end up the biggest hero by the end of the season. That honour goes to Julia, who is revealed to be the only person with magic in the entire world. Her road to heroism hasn't been easy. She started as a rejected Brakebills student turned Hedge-Witch who suffered at the hands of the trickster god, Reynard, only to spend the entire season trying to get revenge for what he did to her (she inevitably chose forgiveness).
"It's kind of nice to see the person we've beat up the most over the past two seasons regain her strength and she's the vessel, so it's like, 'Yay we can be on team Julia,' instead of being beaten down by all these life problems," Stella Maeve (Julia) said.
Julia definitely had the most complicated and depressing storyline of the season, and it was one they typically handled rather well -- especially the topic of abortion, which isn't often discussed on television due to backlash from more conservative viewers. Although Julia's unborn child wasn't fully human, making the controversy a bit more in the grey area, the show still presented her choice of abortion as a viable and pragmatic option. Maeve, who said she's pro-choice, shared how difficult it was to approach that topic, since it's such a divisive one. But she's glad the audience seemed to respond positively to it.
"When [the script] landed in my lap, it really hit hard with me and was hard to wrap my head around," Maeve said. "I believe it's every women's choice, I don't believe there's a right or a wrong. I believe for each situation and each person, it's up to them to do what they want with their bodies."
Another controversy has been Eliot's wife, Fen. While the actress is talented and has an impressive singing voice, some viewers were upset that Eliot's homosexuality was seemingly erased so he could fulfil his duty. When asked about Elliot's marriage to Fen, Appleman noted that Eliot does care about Fen but she doesn't take away from Eliot's queer identity. He said Eliot is a sexually fluid character who prefers, but isn't only attracted to, men. Plus, the show is righting the ship, giving Eliot a future husband (played by Leonard Roberts, who Appleman said he loves working with) for the retconish loophole that is Fillory's plural marriage law.
"I would never deny that Eliot is largely a homosexual," Appleman said. "I want to do nothing to undermine that Eliot is a queer character and a hero at that. That's important to me, that's important to the fandom, that's important to the legacy that [author] Lev Grossman created."
The Magicians has been renewed for season three, but the actors are unsure where things go from here. There are some plot lines in the books that haven't been explored, like Julia's ascendance to godhood, but others are uncharted territory. Much of Penny's story, for example, has been created for the show, since Penny largely disappears from the books during his Librarian training. Kady is entirely a show creation, designed to be a female substitute for Josh, who's on the show less frequently.
Gupta said Penny and Kady's evolving relationship has been his favourite part of the season, and he hopes to see it further explored in season three. I reminded him that Kady's secretly conspiring with Harriet (Marlee Matlin) to save Penny's life, betraying him in the process, and asked how that will affect things moving forward.
"I don't know, I really don't. I don't know how it would play out. Now there's more masks that are continually being placed between them, as they're trying to strip away masks and be with each other," Gupta said. "There might just be too much crap between them to have that conversation. Maybe her choices and [Penny's] choices have set them up in a situation where they're never going to be able to connect with deep intimacy."
When asked what they'd like to see in season three, most of the actors shared one idea in common: They hope things slow down a bit. Season two was incredibly fast, so the characters didn't have a lot of time to just sit down and talk about their feelings. But given the fact that most of them don't have powers any more, sitting around and talking might be the only thing they can do.
Apart from that, Appleman plans to go on king's quests, Hale thinks Julia should become a goddess, and Dudley just wants Alice and Quentin to kiss and make up. Unfortunately, season two ended up with Alice being chased by a pissed-off Lamprey. Dudley said she didn't know if this meant an actual lamprey -- as she described it, "a slug with a bunch of giant teeth" -- but it certainly would make for exciting television next season. Who knows, she could end up as a lamprey pie. Still, better than cold bacon.