It’s the last day of school for The Magicians Season 4.
A group of makeup artists sit in a semi-circle around a monitor and Hale Appleman, who plays Eliot, gives a lengthy goodbye hug to each one. Brittany Curran, who plays Fen, shot her final scene the day prior, and the name on her chair is now covered with pink tape that spells out “WRAPPED.” Rick Worthy, the suddenly controversial Dean Fogg, is anything but as he’s walking around the set with a smile and a wine glass filled with candy in his hand. Worthy’s dog Buddy, a burly chocolate lab, trails behind, leisurely wagging his tail and making new friends along the way. Everywhere on set the end of the semester looms large over Brakebills; the bittersweet goodbyes to close friends, the feeling of relief, a job complete, like all your exams are passed and you’re just waiting for the clock to usher in summer break, or as close as it could feel to summer break on a breezy mid-November afternoon in Vancouver.
The first question posed to Arjun Gupta is not about his character Penny, Brakebills, the Monster, Fillory, or Magic, but about his personal growth and the friendships he’s forged in shooting four seasons of the show. He discloses that members of the cast had a dance party in the hair and makeup trailer earlier in the day as an example of their “genuine” chemistry, but they’ve also been through “life stuff,” marriages, buying homes, and finding steady footing together in what can be a fickle career path.
“Because we’re all a similar age, we’ve all grown up together in a way, which does bond you,” Gupta says. “I think it does bring us together. It’s really great to hear that it’s palpable for the audience.”
The school metaphor runs its course there because the characters have hardly felt like students for some time. The rub of The Magicians is that this close-knit cast opens the new season worlds apart because of forces out of their control (those pesky writers!). In the season 3 finale, after cutting a deal with The Library to siphon off magic and ration it, Dean Fogg places Quentin (Jason Ralph), Julia (Stella Maeve), Margot (Summer Bishil), Kady (Jade Tailor), Josh (Trevor Einhorn), and Penny back into the real world in new lives with no magical abilities or memories of their previous lives as magicians. Fogg’s collusion with The Library is concerning, but he claims he did it to re-open Brakebills and protect his students. The witness protection enchantment is short lived as the Monster inhabits Eliot and finds Quentin, who’s “glamour” character, as the showrunners call it, goes by Brian. And the Monster plans to kill off “Brian’s” friends one by one. So much for a relaxing summer break.
Personal demons and monsters will always linger and have an effect on the actions of the characters in The Magicians. Co-showrunner McNamara believes the show should mirror real life in that way. This season, however, tackles a larger concept in uncovering corruption in the magic community.
“What you’re seeing is people of The Library, who I think are at heart pretty good people, but they’re perceiving the fact that they don’t have control as the problem rather than the problem is there’s always going to be chaos and it’s how you deal with chaos,” says McNamara.
He continues: “Sometimes you do something evil to fight something evil. And then you have to ask yourself, ‘Well, am I now evil?’ That’s an interesting theme that runs throughout the entire season. But The Library is definitely a growing fascist virus.”
A battle for the future of magic is brewing. And to the surprise of fans, it was Dean Fogg whose hands look awfully dirty when season 4 kicks off.
“I got quite a few ‘what the fucks,’ or ‘what the foggs,’ whatever you want to use, that night; online, emails, a couple phone calls,” Worthy says of his character’s turn in the season 3 finale. He hints that it might not be exactly how it appears, though.
“He is in the business and politicking magic,” Worthy says. “He is in a very uncomfortable alliance with the order. It doesn’t make him happy at all. At the end of season three, as he does the ultimate chess move. He’s a very complicated man.”
The other character in poor standing within the group is Alice, who begins the season locked away in the library after breaking her contract. She’s losing her mind in solitude and thinks she’s possibly killed her friends after trying to destroy the seven keys because she is of the mind that humans can’t handle magic.
“I’ve been calling this season for Alice her redemption tour,” says Olivia Taylor Dudley of her character’s arc. “She’s going on a journey to gain her friends’ love and trust back, and it’s not necessarily easy for most of them, especially Quentin. Everyone has their feelings about what she did at the end of last year. Alice still stands by it, or at least I do. Maybe Alice doesn’t, but Olivia does, because I think in her mind, she’s just a very practical, smart woman.”
It’ll take some time for Alice to get back in Quentin’s good graces. Says Ralph of Quentin’s complex relationship with Alice: “They’re always going to be in each others lives and so throughout a lot of the season, we’re not granted the luxury of sitting down and having conversations. It’s a little bit of a life or death, save the world kind of thing. So, there is a lot of tension about what wasn’t said and what we can’t say, we won’t have time to say, and we don’t want to say, how it’s kind of easier to stay in this new land where we’re just mad at each other.”
Quentin also finds his relationship with magic in a state of flux. The notion of magic as this romantic beacon of hope for Quentin is gone, but a more practical, whole person has emerged.
“There was a kind of world out there where things worked out for people like him,” Ralph says. “Then he got there and it was the opposite of what he was told it would be, opposite of what he needed it to be. So when his crutches failed him, he had to find a way to stand on his own. He’s using the tools around him but is not dependent on them necessarily anymore and he’s ready to tackle the world head on.”
Julia’s reset is equally existential. In the season 3 finale, she sacrificed her powers to recreate the keys after Alice attempted to destroy them. It stripped Julia of her god-like powers and left her in this state of limbo — she can’t die but she can’t perform magic, either. Her glamour character is placed in Brakebills under close watch by Dean Fogg. “The writers described it to me as a weird purgatory,” says Maeve. “I think she’s trying to figure that out throughout the season. She sort of like ‘What am I doing?’, ‘What does this mean?’, and ‘What is my purpose?.’” (You can read more about her journey in season 4 here)
Margot’s new identity perfectly complements Bishil’s interpretation of the character. She plays Janet, a high-powered fashion magazine editor and Bosslady with a capital ‘B.’ “[Margot/Janet] is still a change maker, even though she doesn’t know that magic is real,” Bishil says. “She hasn’t confronted these scenarios, she’s still just as driven to take down the old guard as Margo is. It shows that Margo doesn’t need magic to be extraordinary.”
Kady is Sam Cunningham, a narcotics officer in the Seattle P.D., who’s the catalyst for the “glamour” characters realizing something magical, and dangerous, is coming their way. Says Tailor of Kady inhabiting the life of Officer Cunningham: “It really impacted Kady to be in this alternate persona of somebody that is just as strong as she is but in a very different way, who really knows who she is and what she stands for. I think Kady really holds onto that and ends up fighting for that herself.”
Penny is the most far removed from his original life. He’s now DJ Hansel, a zen, globetrotting superstar Gupta described as: “That kind of person who’s very loose and free, very free in his body which is different from Penny. Actually it was really fun.”
Like Alice, Fen still has her memories intact. She’s still the High King of Fillory, unaware that her friends have been placed in different lives until Margot/Janet returns to Fillory. “When you first see Fen at the beginning of this season, she’s in a meeting with her High Counsel and she’s really worried about Fillory,” Curran says.
And as for Josh… he’s now Isaac the Uber driver. “He is a five star driver, always has waters, will definitely give you gum,” Einhorn jokes.
Appleman, who shot an emotional final scene for season 4 just moments before, walks into the interview room visibly drained; it’s Eliot who literally has to carry around this demon in season 4. Eliot as we know him does show up during the season, but mostly as a mirage in Margot’s head. He is The Monster, and The Monster has a hit list, a revenge mission to pick off the gods who saw him as a defective god.
“He’s bringing them to their untimely ends,” Appleman says. “The Monster is the dark shadow of your inner child who’s been abandoned and has no one to turn to. He’s alone in this world but for one, single special relationship. For thousands of years he’s been locked in this dungeon castle and there’s been one human life to take care of him. He’s a danger to everyone around him but he doesn’t necessarily know that.
While his castmates, in the downtime between interviews, waxed poetic about how being part of the show changed their lives, Appleman points out that even Monsters can experience growth on The Magicians. “[The Monster] starts to gain a little human empathy through acknowledging the experiences he has through this human body and starts to question his own purpose.”
It’ll be 13 episodes before we know if magic will be fully restored, who survives the season, if Monsters can learn empathy, or what version of these characters will return when class is back in session. Just as this story was set to publish, Syfy announced that The Magicians season 5 is officially confirmed. The students will be back at Brakebills for another year, but for now, they’ve earned some much deserved R&R. The sun is setting on the soundstage as we exit into the parking lot when Rick Worthy returns with Buddy. We say goodbye to the Dean of Brakebills and his star pupil. “OK,” Worthy belts out in his Dean Fogg voice. “Class dismissed!”
The Magicians Season 4 premieres January 23rd on Syfy. You can keep up with the latest trailers and news here.
Chris Longo is the deputy editor and print editor of Den of Geek. You can find him on Twitter @east_coastbias.