Previously on The Magicians, the Season 4 Midpoint Check-In
Season 4 saw the rise and fall of meaningful arcs across the board as the Monster God quest highlighted our heroes’ need to examine versions of themselves, parts of themselves, and even lost selves to move forward. But in the latter half of the season, that arc ended in the shocking permanent death of main protagonist Quentin Coldwater, a twist not even the cast was aware of, save Jason Ralph, until it aired. Although the showrunner interview indicates this plot was on the table from the end of Season 3, the season’s scrambled ending trajectory suggests that either this outcome only solidified toward the end of breaking Season 4 or the writers overlooked that the “game changing” scaffolding under their unexpectedly nuanced female- and LGBTQ+-forward stories could read like classic tropes such as Bury Your Queers and Rape As Character Development.
That’s not to say there wasn’t incredible work in The Magicians this season. If you’re here for the inevitable rant, and I promise it is coming, scroll past the next few paragraphs of Season 4 groundwork. In “The Serpent,” Fen gains a prophetic destiny besides being the King’s wife when a Questing Beast reveals she must depose Margo. They work out a plan so the ceremonially banished High King can go on a musical journey in “All That Hard Glossy Armor,” where avenging female spirits rise from the sand to answer her rage of “having it all means doing it all.” They provide her with materials to forge spirit-releasing pickaxes and the bottles to imprison them, and in thanks, Margo frees their captured sisters from other bottles, restoring balance to a nearby misogynistic settlement. While primarily dedicating her fierceness to saving Eliot, Margo eventually allows herself to fall in love with Josh.
When Quentin and Alice swap his present self with his past self at Breakbills South in “The 4-1-1,” Mayakovsky finally tells him that Quentin’s magical talent is Repair of Small Objects, a question posed in the series premiere. While there, Past Alice tells him he’s the best thing that ever happened to her, and he returns to the present in the middle of an awkward kiss Past Quentin talked Current Alice into, healing the frosty weirdness between them. Later in “The Secret Sea,” Quentin reclaims his love for Fillory, which helps them access the reservoir of magic under Whitespire. Similarly, Alice reclaims a crucial piece of her humanity by working with her mother to prime a locator spell and helps Librarian Zelda save her daughter Harriet from the void, confronting and accepting her dark side in the process. Even Zelda’s carefully crafted loyalty finally cracks when she reveals she was an orphan hedge witch saved by Head Librarian Everett, who is secretly hoarding magic to become a god.
This is where the arc comes off the rails. In their efforts to save Eliot without killing him, the Magicians help the Monster gather missing parts that prove to comprise his stronger twin sister. Julia’s quest to reclaim her magic takes an unnerving turn when the Monster—who, despite appearing in 14 episodes, never gets a name—kidnaps her at the end of “The 4-1-1” and forces his reassembled sister’s spirit into her immortal body. As Everett bizarrely swears he has good intentions to the very end, some in the Library move towards fascism, infecting hedge witches with blood worms and/or blocking their magic with a tattoo. It’s unclear how much of the Library is even involved, so later when the Monsters go on a killing rampage through the Library to find a path back to the Old Gods, it’s impossible to know how to feel.
Kady’s arc isn’t much better, as she dallies with letting herself die after helping Zelda retrieve Everett’s book from the Poison Room and reluctantly helps Christopher Plover escape when Dean Fogg rescues them like a one-man Ocean’s 11. Having tasted purpose through detective work in her season-opening alternate identity, she takes up the hedge witch cause. But by the end of the season, she confides in hedge leader Pete that all she wanted out of life was to be Penny’s girlfriend. Oof. Then when it seemed inevitable for Zelda to turn to Kady with their similar pasts and experiences in the Poison Room, she instead calls for Alice to help rebuild and lead the Library.
The second divine violation of Julia ends more tragically than the first when they use Margo’s axe to remove the spirit and her powers make it impossible to heal the wound without making her either fully divine or fully mortal. While Julia is unconscious, Penny 23, who barely knows her, determines she should be mortal because of their budding romance. When she wakes up furious, his abashed explanation is, “I was selfish, ok?” No, that is never a reason to take away someone else’s autonomy. By the end, Julia’s power is refreshed by her grief over Quentin, and she finds herself able to cast, minus immortality. In the harshest summary, it’s fine if a man takes away her power after a violation by a different man, because she’s still magically fertile thanks to another man. Can we please stop victimizing Julia next season? Thank you.
Have I thoroughly buried the lede yet? The finale “The Seam” hits astronomical high points when the Magicians at last ambush the last Monster, and hedge witches and professional magicians across the world communally cast spells to bind them to Margo’s bottles. With Julia still powerless and Margo sidelined with Eliot, Quentin, Alice, and Penny 23 rush to a rift between reality and the antiverse called The Seam, accessible through a mirror in a dead room where any spell cast rebounds infinitely. A confrontation with Everett sets off a balletic slow-mo scramble of visual and auditory perfection set to “Cruel World” when Everett shatters the mirror and advances to claim the final bottle. After a split-second calculation, Quentin has Penny 23 drag Alice back to safety while he casts a Minor Mending spell, tossing the bottle through the rift with flawless timing. But as the mirror seals, his spell pops off the frame and explodes into anti-matter sparks obliterating both Everett and Quentin, the light reflecting off of Alice’s glasses as she screams silently. The effect is gut punching, and high marks go to everyone with a hand in this impressive, Legion-league scene’s production.
Once in the Underworld, a devastated Quentin asks Penny 40 if he acted heroically or if he finally found a way to kill himself. While Quentin superficially appeared to be a standard white male protagonist, his struggles with mental health and suicide ideation made many viewers felt seen and represented, so this is a crucial question. In answer, Penny 40 and Quentin visit a long memorial bonfire where the cast sings Ah-Ha’s “Take on Me,” complete with flashbacks, to show how Quentin couldn’t have wanted to leave such valued relationships. The goodbyes are incredibly moving, but that is a rather flip summation of how suicide ideation works, or rather, does not work. Penny 40 then gives him a Metro Card and Quentin disappears from The Magicians.
The real heartbreak and the second aspect of Quentin’s atypical protagonism is the broken promise of “Queliot.” His and Eliot’s past life together during last season’s Quest for the Seven Keys was a gift to LGBTQ+ viewers who so often find their representative plots forced, misunderstood, and ultimately ruined. Quentin and Eliot’s attempt to try again in the present was thwarted by Eliot’s fear of rejection and the Monster’s possession. But after Eliot briefly clawed his way back to the surface for Quentin, and Quentin told Poppy that he’d like to have a child one day as he had with Eliot, most viewers, and perhaps the actors themselves, excitedly took this as a message that their love would find validation in the real world.
Instead, the Monster follows his sister around like a puppy without Eliot ever surfacing again, and his growing discovery of the beauty of life begs for sympathy until the moment he’s captured. Meanwhile, the writers put Quentin and Alice back together, ostensibly to amplify the emotional resonance of witnessing Quentin’s death. Given their history, nobody needed that at the expense of an already existing and very important love. The official defense that Quentin dies to save Eliot doesn’t bear out either considering the team undertakes this secondary mission to prevent the twins from confronting the Titans. Given Quentin and Josh’s failure to reach the Titans mid-episode, this eventuality seems doubtful, and the venture costs Quentin his life while Eliot is a world away in the ER.
At first, it wasn’t clear that his death was permanent. After all, Penny died, and we ended up with twice as many Pennies. Marina 40 went to hell, but Marina 23 took her place. Even Alice came back from being a disembodied rage demon. But once official interviews surfaced after the episode’s airing, fans expressed grief and disappointment at the misuse of their trust. Not only does this leave viewers and Eliot twisting, but, with the storyline’s imposed secrecy, perhaps Hale Appleman as well. This is a delicate moment for the show. The Magicians’ bait and switch on this plot is exhausting and potentially fatal, just like similar twists on Sleepy Hollow and Penny Dreadful. Perhaps we all missed the mark and the writers never intended to put Queliot back together again, but if that’s the case, there is much to question about all of the season’s arcs. On a professional note, I must stop attracting shows that promise great things for its ceiling-smashing protagonists, then kill them and say it’s fine.
It’s not fine.
The Magicians Season 4 Wrap Up Score
The Magicians Season 4
Starring: Jason Ralph, Stella Maeve, Olivia Taylor Dudley, Hale Appleman, Arjun Gupta, Summer Bishil, Rick Worthy, Jade Tailor, Brittany Curran, Trevor Einhorn, Mageina Tovah, Sergio Osuna, Adam DiMarco, Daniel Nemes, Charles Shaughnessy, Jolene Purdy, Madisen Beaty, Spencer Daniels, Brian Markinson,