What happens when you experience a loss you can’t come back from?
The Magicians showed up ready to apologize at Saturday’s panel, and I, optimistic sucker that I am, might just be ready to forgive them.
After a season 4 that brought our weird little show more fans and critical acclaim than ever before following episode 5’s “Escape from the Happy Place,” The Magicians crushed fans’ hearts in the finale by killing off its sweet, earnest (and now very bisexual) hero Quentin in what felt like a devastating end to a character who had had to fight through his depression for so long.
This devastation was evident in the room Saturday night as the panel got ready to start.The room was heavy with anticipation, but rather than the usual excitement that exists pre-panel, everything felt a little weighted down. There was a betrayal that needed addressing.
“There’s a lot to talk about, I know,” the moderator began when he walked up to the microphone, still alone on the stage. “BRING HIM BACK!” someone in the audience shouted, and the tension finally breaking, the room erupted in laughter and applause.
“Sometimes I get mad at the people I love,” the moderator went on, smiling, “But I never stop loving them.” And it seemed like The Magicians was determined to win back our love, too, as the panel kicked things off by buttering up its audience with a video devoted to The Magicians fans and all their talented glory. The thank you video was a lovely tribute to the magic the show’s fans have been able to create on their own through beautiful fan art, and by creating such a welcoming, caring fandom.
When the cast was brought out, the moderator asked them about each of their characters’ personal randoms. Unlike many shows where fans only create fandoms for ships, The Magicians has managed to carve out individual fandoms for each character. “I love my Alices!” Olivia Hudley said, “They always bring it with the dresses at comic con.”
“It’s so empowering to play a badass woman,” Jade Taylor said and Rick Worthy made the room laugh by interjecting, “I think everyone I meet wants to drink with me,” before winking at the audience and adding, “And I want to drink with them too.”
“We come from books and often in books you get a sense of ownership, and that can be really intimidating when you’re trying to inhabit that person,” Arjun Gupta began, adding that it’s been amazing to see people embrace how they’ve played their characters. Hale Appleman came in at the end with the most moving response saying, “I’ve had the pleasure of meeting fans at mini cons. It means a lot to me to meet the kids who maybe a few years ago didn’t have have representation of someone like me on TV. Queer kids mean a lot to me. Eliot means a lot to me. Thank you.”
The moderator went on to ask Hale about his incredible performance last season—or what he called the Hale Yeah season. “I felt like I had a clean slate which was pretty terrifying,” Hale said of trying to embody the new character of the Monster. Hale was given the direction that this Monster was “a child with a lack of empathy and impulse control. I tried to ground him in that as well as give him a need to belong.”
Olivia meanwhile spent most of last season away from her usual castmates. “I loved all the stuff in the library prison this year. I got to act with myself. I got to act with a wall. I got to act with someone on the other side of the wall.” Olivia has a lot of admiration for her character of Alice. “She’s always thinking. She’s such a complex woman.” She did have some qualms about one of her costars though. “I didn’t know I was going to be working with a real cockroach. He was great. Lovely guy. He only bit me about ten times.”
This show is one that tries to put a focus on the humanity of its women, and the actresses on the panel talked about how while they are playing Strong Female Characters, the female empowerment on The Magicians is more nuanced than on many other shows. Magic comes from pain, and the women on The Magicians are human beings taking the pain they’re experiencing and turning it into power.
“Not every single woman has to be perfect and strong every single part of the day,” Brittany Curran said, “You can have things you’re working through and still be strong. Fen is a champion of a quiet and understated strength. She befriends women who inspire her.”
When Stella Maeve was asked what makes Julia persevere despite all she’s been through she said simply, “She’s got to save the world. That’s always the through line for her. You can’t give up. You’ve got to keep going.”
Summer talked about how important Margo’s desert episode was to her, and how committed she stayed to it—even after losing ten pounds while shooting it. “It just meant so much to me that that episode was finally being made. It was one of the most exhilarating experiences I’ve ever had as an actress. I still don’t fully understand the experience. I just… I’m not like Margo. I don’t have the voice she has—I’m still finding my voice. But I still understood everything she said in the tent. I just knew it said something to me.”
Eventually though, it was time to get to the elephant in the room, and I do feel like its important to give the producers credit for having the courage and conviction to actually show up to what they were aware was going to be a difficult panel for them where they knew they would be asked to address their unpopular decisions.
When the producers were asked about the fallout from the finale and Quentin’s death, John McNamara addressed it head on by saying, “They’re grieving in a real way, not in a TV way. A lot of these conversations came about because Sera and I both lost our fathers in our twenties very suddenly. How that loss broke us, how that hurt us, and how we thought we could never come back from it. We’ve always wanted to write things that are real. I love Lev’s novels because they’re fantasy about reality. Minutes, seconds, hours are precious, and we’re all going to die some day.” He went on to say that he didn’t want to get morbid, “but the one thing that connects every one of us in this room is that at the end of this panel, we’ll all be one hour closer to death.”
The actors also talked about how it felt filming the bonfire scene commemorating Quentin’s life—specifically Olivia, Stella, and Hale, who played the characters closest to Quentin. “When you lose somebody, it’s an opportunity for growth and to find out who you really are. It felt like a very human moment for us actors. That night was really special,” Olivia said. Stella went on to say, “It didn’t feel like acting. It felt real. No acting necessary, we were just in it.”
Hale however, had the most poignant response about how Eliot will be grieving Quentin’s death. “It’s something he will be processing and reliving for a long time. I’m grateful that he got to live out an entire life with Quentin and experience a lifetime of love that he wasn’t able to experience before. It’s a tragedy losing someone so deeply connected to your heart.”
The Magicians panel closed with a sneak peak of season 5 (shown above), before diving into audience questions, some of which were hilarious (Summer Bishil got asked out by a guy in a hawaiian shirt and seemed kind of into it. Jade and Rick ended the panel by singing an incredible rendition of The Jeffersons theme song), and some of which were profound. The most magical thing about the Magicians panel was watching how often the cast and creators were moved to tears by their love for the fans, and how their own lives have been shaped and saved by the messages of the show, specifically in regards to mental health.
Sera Gamble and John told a fan that the reason that Quentin is struggling with his brain chemistry in the pilot is because they have had experience with that. Brittany Curran went on say that she herself has generalized anxiety disorder with depression, saying that it’s a real chemical imbalance and that there should be no stigma between the difference of getting help for mental health or physical health issues. “I am a happy person who’s also horribly anxious sometimes,” she said, “I’m just a weird little bundle of anxiety and happiness.”
Hale Appleman added, “There’s a specific trauma that comes with growing up queer, but when I found Eliot I found someone who was a hero despite an incredible amount of trauma— a type of heroism I haven’t seen before. So he means a lot to me for those reasons.”
Jade Taylor summed it up by saying, “The thing that I’m still learning—whether that’s because of abuse, confusion about my sexuality, whether that’s my own mental health issues—the thing that I want to convey to everybody is that there’s nothing wrong with you. That’s something I’m still having to learn myself. We’re all human. We’re all perfect.”