The Magicians season 4 has already proven that, once again, magic is back, bitches. In a big way.
And in what felt like a bit of real magic, news broke that The Magicians had been renewed for a fifth season on the very day I interviewed executive producer and creator Sera Gamble about the new season.
Of course, there’s a couple of major problems as I wrote in my recent review of the new season. Most importantly, our main cast is having a personality crisis in which they’ve magically become characters from a graphic novel and Eliot has been possessed by The Monster At The End Of The World and is a very real Big Bad.
Let’s just say I had a plethora of questions for Sera.
(SPOILER WARNING: Contains spoilers for the season 4 premiere and minor spoilers for other events in the upcoming season)
First and foremost congratulations on the fifth season, I’m so excited! How did you come up with their personas? Were there specific reasons you chose the personas you did for them?
It’s interesting, your first look at the new personas is at the end of the previous season in… act 6 of the final episode. John [McNamara] went through the script with me and we split up the acts and he wrote that part. We never even talked about it. We were just like, “They have personas.”
We didn’t even do the glamour thing where they look different on the outside… until episode one of this season… I would say John did a lot of that kind of calculus alone facing a blank page. When he handed me the first draft for us to work on together he said, “Just so you know, I don’t think Kady’s new identity is a junkie, I think she’s a narc.”
That was a major discovery for how we could break the story for everyone, just playing with expectations of how different or how similar they might be.
Will they retain anything from their new personas if there’s a shift out…
If they ever come back to the characters they were playing for the previous several seasons?
(I love when Sera teases me)
I can’t spoil it exactly, but I will say this as a guiding principle of the show and the philosophy the writers have. We don’t like… where something huge happens and then it just gets erased. Where people move on as though it didn’t happen. We are interested in, over time, having these characters grow and change… in seeing them in situations that are very much informed… by the stuff they’ve been through that you’ve gotten to watch.
It’s a beautiful thing about making TV right now that wasn’t so much the case when I started over a decade ago. I started writing one-hour TV in a time when most shows were aiming for a very modular, closed-ended, procedural kind of model. You could do 22 of them in a season. You have a little character stuff but a lot that got fixed by the end of the episode and sort of reset for the next episode.
I have nothing against that model, it’s beautiful because it’s something that is very repeatable and allows you to tell a lot of different kinds of stories within your formula. But the nice thing about a show like The Magicians which is a smaller number of episodes each season, we can really come up with something crazy and just do it and let it reset the entire board.
Because we are really a character-driven epic fantasy, we can throw all the pieces in the air, see where they fall, and just go from there.
We’ve heard Margo is gonna have a challenging season. Can you talk a bit more about that?
Has she had an unchallenging season? All of them are always challenged. I think… Margo having a challenging season is really good news for the audience because it means that Summer Bishil is doing a lot of amazing work this season. She’s always been fantastic, but she’s extra fantastic in season 4.
One of the defining things about Margo’s life, for Margo, is that she is part of the team called “Margo and Eliot”. Their relationship transcends definition. The fact that Eliot’s body has been taken by this possessing monster is pretty much the most brutal thing we could have done to her. It is a huge storytelling opportunity in that, if you are part of a pair and that is something that defines a huge amount of your identity, then you are really gonna be pushed to experience the world in a different way if that’s ripped away from you.
Even the writers were like, “But we really want to see them together in scenes, how can we make it happen?” We were feeling that loss so extremely.
As far as the monster… he’s trying to get something back that was taken from him. Is there something you can tell us about that? In the beginning, is you don’t know what his motivation is. Obviously, I am sure that will open up.
There are hints. But it is the mystery of the season. The mystery is compounded by the fact that this monster doesn’t have full access to those memories. Whatever happened to him, one of the results is that he was damaged and that his memory isn’t complete. So he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know, he just knows it’s important. Which is incredibly frustrating for him.
A question about Penny. I know we’ve got Penny 23, but is the other Penny really and truly gone? Have we moved on from him?
Is he gone? He is dead and in the underworld, where he is continuing with his zillion year contract with the library. Is he gone from the show? No. You will see him again this season. His story continues. This is a little bit of a spoiler but I will admit I was the person in the room who was like, “I really want to see a scene where they talk to each other. How can we do that in a non-cheesy way that really feels earned?”
I have to say the answer the room came up with, that will be in an episode in the middle of the season, was really clever. I liked it because it doesn’t make life easier for anyone and it doesn’t answer the unanswerable, but… I don’t think I’m the only person in the world who just wanted to see Arjun Gupta acting opposite Arjun Gupta as the two different Pennys. So you will get to see that this season.
What surprised you the most this season in crafting the season?
I am surprised every day when I walk into the writer’s room because the writers are crazy people who come up with insanely entertaining ideas every day. I never know if it’s gonna be like, “and then he shits in the wellspring,” or “it’s this kind of pregnancy,” which is a thing that might come up at some point. That’s come up before.
I will say, I think for this season, this thing happened organically in season 3. We had this run of episodes that were very high concept and took apart structure in an interesting way. We would do one from Penny’s point of view, and then we would do one where we lived an entire lifetime in one act in the middle of an episode in which a lot of other stuff was happening. That’s a testament to each writer on our staff just coming in with great ideas.
Where John and I and Henry [Alonso Meyers] come in is we don’t stand in the way of the crazy. We don’t say “Well the last one was insane so this one has to be normal.” We’re cool with doing a run of crazy. We’re cognizant that what we love about season 3 didn’t come about because we tried, it came about because we followed our gut instinct. So we didn’t want to come into season 4 attempting to replicate a run of episodes like that. We wanted to apply the same kind of operating structure to the room and see what happened.
So what surprised me was these episodes, I like them for a different reason. Some of them are very high concept and kind of wacky, but I feel like they go to emotional depths that the show has only just now earned. I feel like there are unexpected moments of emotion inside episodes that are deep and speak directly to how our various characters have and haven’t matured over the years. I would say season 4 is probably the most emotionally deep season we’ve done so far.
So now you have this time to create a fifth season. I was just wondering if you had a chance to tailor any of season 4 on the if come on season 5.
We always do, but I will say that in Magicians tradition this season finale blows some shit up.
We always take the hero and dangle them over the ledge, we just dangle them over the ledge at the end of every season. I actually think the riskiest storytelling move we’ve ever done happens at the end of season 4.
So we’ll see what happens next.