This The Magicians review contains spoilers.
The Magicians Season 4 Episode 13
No one ever accused The Magicians of being afraid to take risks. Any pat endings, and there were a couple, were completely waved aside by the sheer magnitude of what Quentin did to save the world not only from the twin unkillable gods but also from a potentially omnipotent autocrat. We finally got a payoff to Penny’s mysterious meeting at the underworld elevator, and a surprising addendum to the musical episode actually outdid the original all on its own. Plus the ending was one of the most complete conclusions this series has ever seen even though it sprinkled in several new storylines for season 5.
But before we get carried away by the poignancy of Quentin’s sacrifice, we sadly can’t overlook all of the fast forwarding that took place with many of the season-long conflicts, starting with the quick dispatching of the Monster’s sister, who took an axe to the back almost as soon as the episode began. Granted, Quentin and Alice only had enough of a magic upgrade to seal off the one bottle, but the defeat of such a powerful being after taking all season to assemble her seemed a bit rushed, no matter how much we might want our heroes to succeed.
Similarly, Everett’s manipulation of the Library to serve his own plans to become a god was a season-long arc that ended without a single display of power and with an unclear understanding of how he could have used the essence of Monster to complete his transformation without endangering himself as well. His defeat was spectacular but only as a secondary effect of Quentin’s heroic minor mending. And what are we to make of the Monster’s learned appreciation for the quiet wonder of Earth just before he’s banished to the Seam? Or Dean Fogg’s Monster confusion spell that allowed Margo to take an axe to her best friend’s stomach? These too-quick conclusions left us with momentary dissatisfaction; there’s no denying it.
Take Julia’s story arc, for example. Didn’t it seem odd that one moment she was lying in bed with the Binder hovering over her trying to get Penny to decide between making her a human or a god, and then suddenly she was talking to Quentin about the Sister’s plan to punish the old gods? Her anger at Penny for choosing selfishly, understandably, and predictably to keep her human while condemning her to a life without magic was obviously meant to be reactionary and temporary, but the whole sequence seemed choppy as she reconciled herself to being unable to help in the final mission.
How odd that it took Quentin’s death to really start things going in the right direction for The Magicians season finale! After Quentin and Josh’s hilarious journey to the realm of the old gods (which as usual was perfectly prosaic), it once again was perhaps a bit too easy to find the Seam inside the mirror world, which was practically right around the corner from where they entered. While the cooperation of the hedge witches to maintain the second incorporate bond may not have been the uprising we were predicting, the use of a minor mending spell to defeat both antagonists was beautifully conceived. The slow motion was particularly effective in communicating to the audience that, yes, this is really happening.
The executive producers of The Magicians explained the finality of Quentin’s death in a statement: “Before we began this season, we entered into a creative conversation that included the writers, executive producer and director Chris Fisher, Lev Grossman, our partners at UCP and Syfy, and Jason Ralph. The choice for Jason to leave the show was arrived at mutually, with much respect for the story, fans of the show, and a shared sense of deliberate, essential creative risk. We want The Magicians to visit strange and fascinating new places, and we know we can’t get there by treading the same garden path others have before us. So, we did the thing you’re not supposed to do — we killed the character who’s supposed to be ‘safe.’ In real life, none of us are safe.”
What a way to go! Quentin’s Dickensian journey with Penny, viewing his own fireside wake, was about as heart wrenching as things could get. With objects of significance being burned and “Take On Me” providing surprising harmonies and heightening the emotion of the scene, you couldn’t ask for a better send-off for Ralph and his character. Eliot’s late entrance, emerging from the darkness, and Quentin’s particularly pained expression upon seeing his friend back in his own body was priceless. And with “one last look” at Grover’s Corners, there was hardly a dry eye in the house. Ralph should feel proud of his curtain call.
Strangely, the epilogue scenes that set up The Magicians season 5 were no less powerful from having to follow such an important sequence as Quentin receiving his Underground metro card. Magic appears to be springing back everywhere in the world, perhaps stronger than before, and the Library wants Alice to help them reform the Order. Perhaps even more surprising was the 300-year time jump in Fillory with a Dark King having ousted Fen and Josh long ago — are Brittany Curran and Trevor Einhorn also not coming back? But the most poetic of the bunch was when Julia throws a deck of cards in the fire to mourn her lost friend and regains her magic with the same words Quentin uttered in the series premiere: “Holy shit! I’m doing this!”
As a result of such an amazing ending, the earlier flaws in The Magicians season finale are mostly overlooked. If it weren’t for the unevenness of the second half of the season, perhaps the pat endings would have been more jarring, but as it was, they almost were expected. We saw magnificent character arcs particularly for Margo and Kady this year, and although the payoff never really happened for either, the conclusion, however tragic it might be for Quentin, was satisfying overall. What The Magicians will look like without its main character is anyone’s guess, but with this ensemble cast, anything is possible.