I’ll admit it: I was a naysayer.
I had been a big fan of Lev Grossman’s book series —reading all three in rapid succession. The genius of Grossman’s books were in the surprise: you were expected a certain kind of story (Harry Potter for adults, perhaps) and were rewarded with twists and darkness and a brilliant cohesion.
And now, just about a week out from the season 2 premiere, I can admit that the show operated much in the same way.
The first few episodes struggled to find their footing. Quentin’s persona of depressed/horny sadboy, which had been annoying but somehow relatable in the books, began as just annoying on the show. Seeing a handsome boy constantly moan about what a Nerd he was and how hard it was for him to get laid induced a few eye rolls at first when Twitter has predisposed me to immediately hold a grudge against the type of person who constantly moans about what a Nerd they are and how hard it is for them to get laid. The tone of the show was inconsistent, oscillating between pure fantasy and self-referential snark and even when its characters succeeded with genuinely hilarious lines, or when the show created a invented a fun plot diversion, I was resentful of all the ways it didn’t exactly cohere to the book.
But goddammit did The Magicians on SyFy stick the landing. Without spoiling the major and worthwhile plot twits (and I say that as someone who is generally pro-spoiler), I’ll simply say the show pulled it off brilliantly, and the snarky-teen-drama meta comments that I had been resentful of early in the show’s run became glorious and bittersweet in light of the show’s realized tragedy. I am personally astonished Margo and her amazing one-liners haven’t already become iconic.
Fantasy is difficult to do on television. Budgets are constrained and nothing undercuts attempts at pathos like obvious green screens or questionable masks. (A brief aside: seeing Cursed Child in London was one of the greatest theater-going experiences of my life, but my boyfriend and I still giggle a little remembering the less-than-terrifying Voldemort makeup—and the actor’s less-than-intimidating potbelly through the robes.) But Syfy manages to pull off an entire Narnia-like world without bringing you out of it, due in part to some great editing and an appropriate amount of pop culture lampshading.
I will go on the record as against gratuitous depictions of sexual violence against women. But I will also go on the record as defending a pivotal and tragic scene in the final episode of The Magicians as more than a plot-devise or an excuse for a woman to come into her power. That’s an old trope. But Julia didn’t need to the rape to come into her own power. She already had that. The Magicians provided an incredibly diverse array of depictions of ways in which women can use their sexuality: freely, like Margo or Alice’s mom, selectively, like Alice, and strategically, like Julia and Kady. They are damaged and the show does not shy away from that damage or its consequences. And when Julia goes through an incredibly traumatic experience, the show does not shy away from exploring that trauma in a meaningful way.
Okay, spoilers over.
When I began watching The Magicians, I sort of felt as though I was the only one. It didn’t have a lot of buzz, no one was live-Tweeting—it was as though I found this cool, strange toy but had no one around to play with. I see that changing slowly, but for my sake, I hope it changes faster. The Magicians is a show that will be most fun when it’s watched like a team sport, for people to bounce your crushes off (Eliot in eyeliner please), to repeat funny lines with (“If you would just shut up for about two seconds, this dream would pass the Bechdel test”), and to grab when the show gets dark very, very suddenly.
It was just added to Netflix so you have plenty of time to binge season 1 before the season 2 premiere on January 25. Go in with an open mind, and be sure to invite me to your inevitable Taylor Swift sing-a-long party.