Reviewing my favorite books turned movies/TV shows one at a time
The Magicians caught my eye on Netflix earlier this summer because MAGIC. It originally aired on SyFy in the winter of 2016 and has steadily gained popularity, becoming the #1 watched show on the network at the end of its second season. Based off the book trilogy by Lev Grossman, The Magicians has quickly become a favorite of mine.
Season 1 sets the stage, introducing the audience to the characters, the magical world and creatures, and the big bad our protagonists work all season to defeat. The visual effects are stunning, the acting believable, and it is full of pop culture references. If you enjoyed Harry Potter or the Chronicles of Narnia as a kid, I highly recommend you watch this show as it combines my favorite elements from those series and adapts them for adults.
Quentin Coldwater (Jason Ralph): The entire show is really based around two characters, Quentin and Julia. Quentin is a depressed, lost young man, looking for more in the world when he is first introduced. Obsessed with the book series Fillory & Further, Quentin believes magic exists somewhere. As a result, he finds himself isolated from society. In fact, the series opens with Quentin institutionalized for suicidal thoughts. I really like Quentin and Jason Ralph’s portrayal of him. He’s quirky and quick witted, sometimes causing me to snicker a few minutes after he delivers a one-liner SO dry you wonder if it was meant as a joke or not. The evolution of his character is really one of the main focuses of this season.
Julia Wicker (Stella Maeve): The series opens with Quentin and Julia. They are best friends, BUT Julia does not share Quentin’s love of magic anymore. She gave it up as she’s become an adult. Her frustration with Quentin is clear in their opening scenes. Yet when Quentin is admitted to a magical college and Julia is turned away, she doesn’t take it well. In fact, as the viewer, I kind of hated her. And that’s being nice. Julia’s character devolves and spirals as she becomes addicted to magic and any knowledge she can gain.
Alice Quinn (Olivia Taylor Dudley): While not a main character, Alice is an important one. She first appears in one of Quentin’s classes. Honestly her first appearance reminded me a little of Hermione’s introduction in Harry Potter. She’s book smart and the professors know it. She’s not the first in her family to enter the magical college though. Her elder brother died there, and it is her need to find out what happened to him that sets the season’s plot in motion.
Kady Orloff-Diaz (Jade Tailor): I like Kady. She is a no-nonsense, give-it-to-me straight kind of girl. At first, I didn’t expect her to have a large role, yet her character’s arc ties Quentin’s and Julia’s storylines together. Jade Tailor is phenomenal as Kady, saying more with her body language than she does with words.
William “Penny” Adiyodi (Arjun Gupta): At first, I really didn’t like Penny. He was a jerk (and that’s being nice). However, the tough guy persona doesn’t last long. Arjun Gupta brings an element to Penny that I’m not sure another actor could. He quickly has become my favorite in the series.
Eliot Waugh (Hale Appleman): A second year student who is first introduced showing Quentin around campus, Eliot is a flamboyant Magician. He is more concerned with partying and living life to the fullest. Yet he misses nothing. He notices details that others miss. Hale Appleman is perfect in this role! Handsome and charming, he kept me guessing on whether I should trust him or keep him at arms length as the season progressed.
Margo Hanson (Summer Bishil): While Summer Bishil delivers a great performance as Margo, I really don’t care for the character. Of all the characters in the series, she is the least developed. Margo is Eliot’s friend, attached at his hip, and the “mean girl” of the school. It may just be me, but I’ve never liked mean girls.
Brakebills, Hedge Witches, and the Beast
The first season of The Magicians introduces viewers to the magical world that is around us every day (at least according to the writers). I love this blend of fantasy and urban, and I always have. It takes everyday mundane things and blends them with the magic Quentin is learning. My only complaint is that I felt lost at times as we are thrown into this world where magic exists with little explanation. However I feel this may be a ploy by the writers as we learn things as Quentin learns them. If that’s the case, bravo! You succeeded 😀
Brakebills University is like Hogwarts for grown-ups. Seriously! At least that’s the vibe I got watching the show. There are different courses that the students take that teach them different aspects of magic: from magical history to defensive magic. It has it all. In episode 3 “Consequences of Advanced Spellcasting,” the new Magicians are sorted into their specialties which is a little reminiscent to the sorting hat except they are tested to find their strengths. I really liked these scenes as it explored the strengths (and weaknesses) of Quentin, Alice, Penny, and Kady.
With Julia being rejected from Brakebills and her memory subsequently erased (though that didn’t take), she spirals quickly in the real world, constantly looking for her next magical fix. This catches the attention of a group of hedge witches in the city. These hedge witches are unlike the magicians as they are not classically trained. At most, what they can do would be compared to a parlor trick when put up against a magician. Yet Julia jumps at the chance to join them and learn more. However this seedy group is like the equivalent to a group of junkies. Magic is life for them and they will stop at nothing to get more.
And then there is the Beast, a mysterious and very powerful man introduced in the first episode. Not much is revealed about this character until near the end of the season. He pretty much pops in sporadically throughout the season, creates chaos, does some killing, and then disappears again. Instead most of the appeal of this character is in the reaction of the other characters to him. Quentin, Alice, Penny, and Kady spend a majority of the season researching the Beast and how to defeat him. My biggest complaint though is how predictable the Beast’s role plays out in the season.
Best Episode: The Writing Room (S1: E9)
In “The Writing Room,” Quentin, Alice, Penny, and Eliot travel to England in search of a magical button that Jane gave Martin so he could enter Fillory. This leads the group to Plover’s estate (Plover is the author of Fillory and Further) and an epic haunting. I loved the twists in this episode. Of all the episodes, this is the one I couldn’t predict the outcome.
The Predictable Finale
My biggest complaint the entire season is how predictable the plot points were. The things that should have been shock & awe surprise twists were just blah for me. I predicted almost every big plot point: who the Beast was, Jane Chatwin’s role, Quentin and Alice, Julia’s betrayal. That was a letdown to me.
HOWEVER the finale is epic. I love how it is narrated from Quentin’s point of view, as if he is writing another Fillory book. All the characters (with the exception of Kady) are present and the final showdown with the Beast is forthcoming. I hate cliffhangers, but this one is done well. This is perhaps Jason Ralph’s best episode. He is conflicted with his feelings for Alice, his need to go to Fillory, the showdown with the Beast which he feels is his destiny, and the end of the time loops that Jane Chatwin started.
How it Stands Up to the Book
SO I have a confession to make. I didn’t realize that this series was based off a book until halfway through the first season. I haven’t read the book yet. I have bought the entire series though and cannot wait to dive in while I wait for season 3 to premiere. I’ll update my thoughts about how this stacks up to the book after I read it. If you’ve read it, I’d love to know your thoughts!
Have you read or watched The Magicians? What did you think about the magical world? Was it predictable to you? Share below