The Magicians: A Turn for the Gross

Image: Syfy

Genre: Supernatural/Urban Fantasy

Synopsis: Quentin’s not living the life he wants, and something about the fictional world in his favorite fantasy series has captivated him all his life. Meanwhile, his best friend Julia is ready to immerse herself in the real world, in a graduate program at Yale. Then both of them mysteriously find themselves in another University, taking an admission exam that tests their magic. Quentin passes, and Julia fails.

Quentin is admitted to the program, excited to learn magic. But he slowly realizes that there’s something dark and dangerous out there. And that practicing magic in general is risky, even life-threatening. Julia has her memory erased–but she finds a way to remember anyway. Now she’s cast out and desperate, because having seen the world of magic that was almost available to her, she wants it. Badly.

Series: First season is airing.

I’ve Watched: S1.

Verdict: I regret ever watching this show.

Note: I haven’t read the books, and know literally nothing about them except that the TV show is apparently quite different.

So. S1 ended long ago, and I’m only talking about it now. That’s because I don’t really want to talk about it. The end of the season left me kinda nauseated, and thinking about the show brings that feeling back.

I loathed the pilot episode, but some of the scenes in the series were actually quite good. This left me wondering for much of the rest of the season whether this was a good show or a bad show, and what exactly it was going for. I continued wondering right up until the last few episodes. Now, I think that the show knows what it’s doing–I just happen to really not like what it’s doing. 

Let’s start with the cons instead of the pros, and get the stuff that’s harder to talk about out of the way. There will be spoilers.

Several aspects of the show have left a bad taste in my mouth. The entire seventh episode. The show’s gay character being forced into a relationship that magically repressed his sexuality. Having the villain go bad due to child abuse, without ever taking the time to deal with his trauma. But one in particular hit me hard.

I don’t even really want to talk about–but since this is what formed my lasting impression of the show, I can’t avoid it. So here goes. Any protagonist wielding a particular weapon had to have a divine blessing. (And the manner of the divine blessing was kinda gross in its own right.) There’s a big surprise at the end where it turns out that Julia has such a blessing–and the manner in which she got it is kinda actually nauseating. I don’t know if it’s the staging or the idea that gets to me–all I know is how I reacted to it. And from a technical point of view, I can see how it was clever to set up the (gross) method of getting those kinds of blessings, then revealing that the horrible thing that happened to Julia technically counts. But it wasn’t worth it. Not even remotely. 

So I had a strong reaction towards the events in the last episode. I don’t know if it’s fair or not that this colors my impression of the entire season, but it does. Still, there were a couple of things that stood out in a good way, before this happened. For the most part, this show has been impressively uneven. It has some powerful, touching scenes, yet also full-out cringe-worthy ones.

For a while there, the juxtaposition between Quentin’s classical university training and Julia’s back alley scrambling worked well. When Quentin had another quintessential boarding-school-magical-training scene, it didn’t just stand on its own–it was also there to contrast with Julia’s story. And following Julia tracking down non-traditional pathways to educate herself when all the doors were closing in her face was one of the highlights of the story. Julia’s journey was the more interesting and unique one, before the plot turned towards divine beings and paused her downward spiral. Quentin’s more typical storyline didn’t always add much to it, but it was great when it accentuated her struggles.

There was an interesting story to be had in the dark aspects of being abandoned by the system. It brought home that Brakebills doesn’t exist to be a positive force in the world. It doesn’t care about what happens to the people it keeps out. Students and faculty alike will talk about hedge witches burning out as if it’s no big deal, even perhaps treating it like they deserve it. But it also delves into how people can still find worth outside of the traditional paths, through the struggle to accomplish the same things might be harder if there isn’t a system in place to guide you through your education.

So there were some interesting things in the story, when the show stayed away from melodrama, or boarding school hijinks, or anything remotely sexual. But man, this journey was not worth it. Looking back, I should have trusted my instincts when it came to the pilot episode, and walked away.