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The Magicians shouldn’t be a good TV show. The series, adapted from Lev Grossman’s popular series of adult-oriented fantasy novels, has a lot working against it. Not only is it hard to do genuine fantasy well on TV, it's even harder to do it when nearly everything onscreen inherently draws comparisons to Game of Thrones. Still, The Magicians has handily topped its solid-but-uneven first season to become one of the best shows on TV.
If you’re unfamiliar with the novels or the TV series, which launched Season 2 on Syfy last night, here’s a primer: Quentin Coldwater (Jason Ralph) is recruited to Brakebills, a literal magic school where students learn to cast spells and prepare to fight an evil monster. Eventually, he and his friends find their way into Fillory, a magical land filled with talking animals from a popular 20th century British series of novels. Sound familiar? Good, because the tropes The Magicians are working with—obvious and otherwise—are half of the point.
But while the books invest quite a bit of energy into deconstructing the fantasy novels they’re founded on (primarily Harry Potter and Narnia), the TV series focuses its energies on similar tropes of its own medium. The process of filming something often makes it concrete (and therefore, too literal), so The Magicians leans into its own sense of absurdity. In the books, it’s a huge deal that Quentin, Alice (Olivia Taylor Dudley), Eliot (Hale Appleman), Margo (Summer Bishil), and Penny (Arjun Gupta) made it to Fillory at all. On TV, they drift in and out, infecting the previously pristine, fantastic world with references to Twitter, memes, Wilson Phillips, and an extended bit from Dirty Dancing.
The New Buffy
In its commitment to infusing the fantastic with snappily delivered pop culture references, The Magicians brings to mind Buffy the Vampire Slayer more than anything else. Considering much of what happens in the genre today is unrelentingly serious, it’s refreshing to see that The Magicians knows the value of a good joke (or 10). But, like Buffy, The Magicians manages to ground all of its whimsicality in the characters’ unending misery. Alice may be god-powered and capable of crushing most magical issues with ease at the beginning of the season, but she’s still hurt by her now-ex Quentin and unable to figure out their relationship. Penny, meanwhile, regains the use of his hands after losing them in the Season 1 finale, but now they’re cursed and keep trying to kill him. You know, normal problems.
Like Buffy, The Magicians is also an excellent piece of escapism, precisely because it’s less of a straightforward battle between good and evil and more of a world where everyone is just kind of a dick sometimes. (Because really, who hasn't lost themselves to the charms of an insensitive tool once or twice?) That extends even to the show’s most powerful characters. Ember, the god of Fillory, is a callous, satyr-like creature who sets some of the season’s major plot points in motion by taking a well-positioned dump. Genre TV mainstay Charles Mesure plays primary antagonist The Beast as surprisingly compelling and lightly sympathetic, giddily unconcerned with humanity or time because he’s long since abandoned his capacity for empathy—and because of his history as a victim of child abuse. There are even shades of Sunnydale’s Mayor in Mesure's performance, especially in his scenes with reluctant collaborator Julia (Stella Maeve).
And the show’s funniest character is also now its most tragic. Hale Appleman runs away with the season as the flamboyant Eliot, whose commitment to posh hedonism conflicts with his duties as the High King of Fillory, where he has to deal with the problems of governing a magical country where no one remembers what it’s like to have to do anything. Also, Eliot, who is (mostly) gay, now has a wife, who he has been forced to marry in an arrangement that means he can never return to Earth. It may take place in a saturated, silly world, but Eliot’s predicament here feels incredibly real—and surprisingly affecting.
Diverging From the Books—In a Good Way
Spoiler alert: The characters find a way around this. Of course they do. One of the more gratifying elements of Season 2 of The Magicians is the sense that the creative team has thrown out most of their allegiance to the text novels, but also that they've figured out how to gingerly sidestep some of the leaden plot dictates of this kind of fantasy series. Is Eliot barred from fully returning to Earth? Should inter-dimensional travel be a bit more difficult? Who cares, it’s magic!
And The Magicians' version of magic is the best thing you could expect from something with the show’s budget and general sensibility. The form of hand-dancing used as the "code" for spell-casting, the simple, but disorienting natural imagery (like a bridge made of flowers), and sex scenes that recall Sense8 in their commitment to straight-up metaphysical weirdness are all palpably enjoyable. And when they're mixed in with the character work that makes the contrast between the magicians' pettiness and their epic circumstances, what emerges is a flavor that is very much the show's own.
For a distillation of that contrast, and how it makes The Magicians so successful, look at last night’s premiere, when Eliot, Margo, Quentin, and Alice are formally crowned as kings and queens of Fillory. It's a scene that has a certain gravitas, but mostly because it gives them each an opportunity to express genuine regrets and apologize for their actions in Season 1. When Margo crowns Quentin king, she takes a break from endlessly roasting him as a dweeb, the kind of person The Magicians spends much of its running time mocking. All of the goofiness wouldn’t quite work without some acknowledgement that each of the characters is committed to something, even if it's as dorky as a series of fantasy novels: “You’re honest about what you love, and underneath it all, that’s inspiring,” she says, strained with the effort of sincerity, but sincere nonetheless.
The Magicians: 10 Best Margo Quotes
Anyone who has watched Syfy's The Magiciansknows that Margo Hanson, played by Summer Bishil, has always had a way with words. Her blunt and brutally honest personality easily makes her one of the best characters on the show.
RELATED: The Magicians: D&D Moral Alignments of the Main Characters
The fact that she never holds her tongue and always says what she's thinking often yields hilarious one-liners and insults. Over the show's 5 seasons, the former High King of Fillory has provided some of the show's most iconic lines, and since the series recently concluded, here is a look back at the 10 Best Margo Quotes.
10 "Ovary Up."
The line was first said by Margo in the episode "A Life in the Day" to Tick, the leader of the Fillorian high council, in response to his obviously nervous behavior after he stealing a substance to help defeat the Fairy Queen.
The phrase became a recurring one in the show's fifth and final season, with Elliot even repeating it back at Margo in a later episode.
9 “You are not gonna c**k out on me.”
In the episode "Twenty-Three", We see Julia and Josh travel to the 23rd timeline. While they're there, Julia and that timeline's Marina end up in the Brakebills Library where they come across two ghost versions of Margo and Elliot and receive a flashback depicting how they died.
The line was actually said by Margo-23 to Elliot-23, following up with "I would have said p***y but let's be honest which one is stronger?", after the latter voices his concerns regarding his own ability to perform a spell. It's interesting that while alternate timeline versions of characters usually differ, alternate versions of Margo have the same amount of personality, even if that line was quickly followed by their tragic and gruesome deaths.
8 “Don't accuse me of catching feelings, alright. It's insulting.”
When Fen begins to insinuate that Margo could potentially truly like Josh, Margo quickly stops her and insists that their relationship didn't extend beyond sex.
RELATED: The Magicians: Every Main Character Ranked According To Intelligence
Since she seemingly has built a brand around her caring only about herself (and Elliot), the idea that she could have romantic feelings for someone else offends, and frankly, scares her.
7 “I chose to be High Queen. And I have had to fight for every shred of authority. And no offense, but you can’t understand because it was handed to you.”
Margo says this like to Elliot after he suggests that they hand the kingdom to the Fairy Queen. She still has to remind him that although they have similar positions, they don't have similar hardships.
As a woman ruling in Fillory, she already has a lot more to deal with than he does and simply giving over ownership of the kingdom is not a luxury she can afford when she's fought so hard to protect it.
6 “We’re stuck in some epic fantasy that likes to behead heroes halfway through season one.”
The show often gets meta with its jokes and references and this is a great example of this. After Quentin says that they need a new plan and Elliot suggests that they'll somehow figure a way out like they usually do, Margo feels the need to remind them that they're out of their depth.
While Margo is often the braver members of the crew, this scene gave us a look at her in a rare moment of fear and hopelessness.
5 “So this is what the patriarchy smells like? It's not the freshest.”
As a full-fledged feminist, Margo isn't afraid to call out the blatant sexism all around her in Fillory. In the episode, "Cheat Day", Elliot backtracks on the original plan to execute the prisoner being kept in the dungeon who attempted to assassinate him, Margo tries to overrule him.
RELATED: The Magicians: 10 Differences Between The SyFy Show And The Book Series
She is then told by Tick that as Queen, while she may voice her opinions, the final decision belongs to the king which prompts her to say this line.
4 "I'm a King. Not a goddamned princess. A King."
In the episode "All That Hard, Glossy Armor", Margo finds herself on a quest trying to find weapons that she believes can free Elliot from the grip of the monster. After wandering in the desert for a while, out of thirst she spies a spec of water on the back of her destiny lizard.
Out of separation, she licks it and it causes her to hallucinate. Later in the episode, we hear her say this line to Elliot, a product of the hallucination while struggling to hold on to her last bit of sanity and self-worth.
3 "I'm about ready to go full '07 Britney."
This line of dialogue is one of many hilarious allusions from a conversation between her in Elliot in which they communicate using only pop-culture code in order to avoid being spied on by the Fairy Queen. The scene features references to Battlestar Galactica, Gossip Girl, X-Men, Game of Thrones, and Buffy.
They only way the viewer is able to understand is thanks to the subtitles shown at the bottom of the screen. It, according to the subtitles, roughly translated to "I am prepared to beat her to death with an umbrella, if necessary," in reference to the Fairy Queen.
2 "I guess I always thought someday we were gonna bang."
Margo reacts differently to things than most people, so it's no surprise that this is the first thing she says after receiving a messenger bunny from Earth saying that Penny died after Julia and Kady failed to save him from his magical cancer in time in the episode prior. The moment is only made funnier by Penny saying "Me too, girl. Me too." from the Astral plane.
1 "F**k Tinkerb*tch."
Margo has a complicated history with fairies, specifically the Fairy Queen since she spent the majority of the show's 3rd season for the High King.
So when she, Quentin and Elliot piece together that the fairies may not actually be the bad guys, she gets understandably annoyed, feeling completely fed up with dealing with them and their games, giving us one of the funniest insults from the show.
NEXT: The 10 Craziest Things To Happen On The Magicians
NextOnce Upon A Time: Each Main Character's Most Iconic SceneAbout The Author
Wesley Bell is a writer based out of Silver Spring, MD. He has a passion for film, art, music and all other forms of artistic expression. When he is not spending his time writing, he enjoys watching tv and movies.
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