A Primer on the Reality of Magic: A Series Overview of The Magicians

Posted on Jan 20, 2019

Magic is very much real in The Magicians—it’s not just the parlor trick street magicians do. There’s even a school for it: Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy.

The Magicians

The Magicians is a SyFy series that first aired on December 16, 2015. Based on Lev Grossman’s adult trilogy of the same name, it follows Quentin Coldwater and his best friend Julia Wicker as they discover their talents for magic. Quentin gets into Brakebills, and there, he meets the astute Alice, royal duo Margo and Eliot, traveler Penny, and battle magician Kady.

The show sees this ensemble go on a whimsical adventure filled with strange magic, gory consequences, and a lot of jumping between worlds as they attempt to defeat a deadly magical entity. The plot further complicates, and we see students transition from worrying about failing and dropping out of magical college to practically keeping an entire world from collapsing.

An Unapologetically Cultured Fantasy

Pop culture is one of the key elements in the storytelling of The Magicians. Fans of Harry Potter may immediately recognize that Brakebills is basically college-level Hogwarts, but with dormitories and disciplines instead of the four houses.

Another major inspiration for the books and the series is Narnia. This becomes apparent when the ensemble visits Fillory, a fantastical world depicted in a supposedly fictional set of books within the universe. It comes complete with magical creatures and humans destined for royalty.

Aside from taking major inspiration from these huge pop culture influences, the show also injects more modern references into its narrative. There are callbacks to Game of Thrones and Britney Spears, and there are musical episodes featuring songs from pop icon Taylor Swift and theater classic Les Miserables. Geeky Quentin and pop culture–savvy duo Eliot and Margo are often the vessels from which these quips are dispensed, and this is all done smoothly, not forced at the expense of the story.

With the seriousness that fantasy shows are delegated to nowadays, The Magicians prides itself in a narrative that balances cultured humor, effective storytelling, and arcane mystique.

How the Magic Works

Magic in the show’s realm behaves like mathematics (the fun sort, of course). There is a code to be cracked and manipulated, and this is done via movements known in the real-world as finger tutting. Language also plays a part in the invocation of magic as certain phrases are uttered for specific spells. This creates an identity for magic that is truly unique to the show.

The scientific approach to magic translates not just in fingers but also in the visuals. Wards, instead of simply being glowing barriers, appear as webs of mathematical equations that have to be solved with a combination of power and intellect. Magic is no longer just as simple as waving a wand and shouting a keyword.

That’s not to say that the show doesn’t have primal magic. Fillory is host to an assortment of magical creatures, including fairies and talking animals and even gods. These entities have their own forms of magic that appear in a more traditional fashion, such as transfiguration curses and shimmering mist.

All this magic manifests as fantastic visuals, but that’s just the beginning. The Magicians takes it further by crafting a gripping narrative that ties this mystical force so intimately with its characters.

Progressively Magical

While its characters are interesting, the cast also shine in their delivery of their roles, most notably Olivia Taylor-Dudley as Alice Quinn, whose portrayal of her arcane-driven character demonstrated the versatility of her role. Other than the merits, the cast also boasts a significant level of diversity. Its main ensemble of characters is played by actors of various ethnicities, including Native American, Mexican, Indian, and American.

Topics of debate are also approached progressively. The show is particularly commendable on its handling of sexuality, rape, consent, and mental health. The writers managed to incorporate these themes organically into the storyline and present positive and accountable approaches to these issues.

On a technical level, the show’s storyline also gets progressively better as it racks up on its seasons. Season 1 is notorious for being wildly uneven, with its plot lines crudely cutting into each other. However, it picks up in Season 2 with more streamlined and interconnected story lines and continues to rise in Season 3, where the show forays into other forms of storytelling and shifts in perspective that all comes together into one neatly woven grand narrative. Ultimately, the show evolves into one of the must-watch TV shows of the decade.

The Magicians is progressive in a various sense. It combines carefully planned whimsy with impressively magical visuals and innovative storytelling to create a compelling TV show that is essential to art and society. It may be a show about magic and alternate worlds, but its powerful commentary on real-world events is as real as it gets.

The Magicians is currently on its fourth season and is set to return in January 2019.


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