Warning: This blog post is going to be chock full of spoilers. Not just full. Chock full.
I recently discovered that Netflix had a new series available to binge: Syfy’s The Magicians. Based on the brief synopsis, it sounded like a Harry Potter knock-off, but potentially interesting, and so I clicked “Play.”
The series started pretty much as expected. Quentin Coldwater doesn’t feel like he fits in anywhere. This feeling could be correct, and it also might have something to do with the fact that he would rather read children’s literature than partake in the party occurring in his own apartment.
His best friend on whom he’s secretly had a long and unreciprocated crush is Julia (in the sequinned mini-skirt above), who is well-adjusted, has her shit together, and plans to soon attend Yale graduate school. Quentin isn’t sure where he’s going to go to graduate school, until both he and Julia are unexpectedly pulled onto a magical campus to apply for Brakebills, the magical university they didn’t know existed until they were sitting in a classroom to take a written exam for it.
Quentin is delighted to discover that he can do magic, and that he is accepted.
Julia is devastated to discover that magic is real, but she didn’t pass the examination to get into Brakebills.
At first, the series is fairly entertaining, despite the fact that the first few episodes are filled with exposition. There are some scary moments, and Julia is losing her shit, but overall, you feel that Quentin and the other first-year students have found a place where they can fit in and flourish. Except, even in the beginning, there are these forebodings of what will come, such as when Elliot tells Quentin where magic comes from.
At first, I brushed these off. Julia had to learn that she’s not necessarily perfect at everything, and the characters are a bit melodramatic and goth. I can deal. And then, episode 9 happened…
In this episode, the series takes a hard left turn, wherein those lovable ol’ collegiate kids (Quentin & co.) discover that the children’s books Quentin likes reading about a magical place called Fillmore were written by an awful man who adopted orphans, and then proceeded to drug and rape them. Specifically, Christopher Plover (the author), molested Martin Chadwick, one of the inspirations for the Fillmore book series. Christopher Plover’s sister, on the other hand, is so mortified that someone might find out that her brother is gay/molesting children, that she is very severe on the children, drugging them, hitting them, and putting them in “the silent room.” I honestly don’t even remember what this episode added to the series other than abject horror and unnecessary child abuse, but do want to point out one important aspect that seems to have been misinterpreted. Martin and his sister Jane both used to gain access to Fillmore, but lately, Fillmore has not been allowing Martin in (way to completely abandon a boy who needs magic more than anyone; I know Fillmore’s a place and not a person, but if it was a person, it would be not just a dick, but a bag of them…), and Martin has asked his sister to hunt down a magical animal to request an object (which turns out to be a button) that will allow the person in possession of it to travel to Fillmore. It is unclear how aware Jane is of what is being done to her brother, but she does as he asks. The characters in the show, and some people in the blogosphere have commented that Martin requested this button so that he could get back into Fillmore. But I don’t think that’s actually true. When Jane is successful, and shows the button to Martin, he is adamant that it should be kept secret from Plover (which Jane doesn’t understand, insinuating that she is unaware of how awful Plover truly is), and furthermore, he gives it to their younger brother, George, who it sounds like has not gone to Fillory on his own. Martin gives the button to George, and tells him to hide it so no one else can find it. So Martin doesn’t want the button for himself; he wants it for his brother. Martin has already been experiencing the abuse, and it sucks, but most important to him is that George never has to experience it, if possible. I feel like this is an important distinction, because while Martin definitely could be selfish and keep the button for himself to try to avoid the pictures and rape, he is strong enough to forego the easy way to escape his situation for the sake of someone else. This nobility also makes the scene in which Plover’s sister discovers George spying and fucking kills him that much more terrible. Martin did what he could to save his brother, only for his brother to die just as salvation seemed assured. Furthermore, when Ms. Plover hides her brother’s body, she unwittingly takes the magical button with him, thereby removing Martin’s chance of escape by means that his brother is no longer able to use.
Honestly, after the ninth episode, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue watching, to see where the story was going. The problem with the ninth episode was that it felt… wrong. Not just in the, this story included awful things happening to kids, way – in the this story seems like it might have included unnecessary awful-ness to children, in a way that will do little to nothing to contribute to the story, and if the story essentially ignores what occurred, then it’s kind of assenting to a way of glorifying the portrayal of such violence. I gave it some thought. I remembered the redeeming moment of the episode, for me, which is when Alice points out that while it may be too late to save these kids from what was done to them, they can do something to figure out how to stop the children from having to relive the awful things done to them, which is occurring every night. I read some blog posts about the episode, and the series, and found that it seemed that a lot of people seemed to really like it, and that other watchers did not seem to find the episode overly gratuitous. So I decided to continue watching the series, to see if the episode and first season was appropriately resolved.
Quentin and Co. pretty much didn’t seem fucked up by what they had witnessed. They had, like, a two-minute conversation or something, concurred with Elliott that there was no point in trying to help the children (which is like agreeing to not help Sisyphus when you had the chance; Elliott’s a fucking asshole), and skipping away to focus on saving themselves and having sex.
Now, I have no problem with sex. But The Magicians handles it all wrong. Almost everyone who has sex is so fucking serious about it, it sucks all the fun out of it. Hearing Alice and Quentin talk about having sex with each other could be shown in sex education courses to convince kids: “Don’t bother; it’s too freakin’ annoying having these conversations to justify it.”
Then, while the show refused to save the ghost children from living torture and death over and over again, it does make a very odd connection. You realize it in episode 13, where you discover that Julia was raped by a trickster god and now she’s a master magician. And the moth monster, whom everyone assumed for the unsubstantiated reason that he was a terrible person is Christopher Plover, turns out to be Martin. Thus, the disturbing connection that the show is making is that rape will cause the magician to become very powerful, which ties in to Elliott’s statement that magic comes from pain, but also just feels fucked up for the sake of being fucked up. Like, congratulations, your rape scenes are shocking and gross, and now I have come to the conclusion that everyone in charge of this show is a disgusting person. Sometimes, violence and abuse are necessary to the story being told. But in the case of this series? Both just feel tacked on. It’s not edgy, it’s not cool, it’s just sick.
So me, personally? I don’t plan on watching season 2. Have you seen this series? Were you able to watch the entire thing? Did you have the same visceral reactions I did, or do you disagree?