Fantastic places: Season 5 of 'The Magicians' continues to enchant audiences

« Back to News

Joshua Amy / TV Media
Olivia Dudley stars in "The Magicians"

Olivia Dudley stars in "The Magicians"

Many of us grew up with our noses buried in books about magical worlds, stories that carried us away to Narnia, introduced us to Middle Earth or compelled us to check the mailbox for a letter from Hogwarts (some of us had more active imaginations than others). As we get older, our imaginations slow down, and we put those magical worlds back on our bookshelves. But for the characters in Syfy's "The Magicians," the fantastical places that filled their childhood storybooks turn out to be more real and dangerous than they ever imagined.

Now in its fifth season -- a new episode airs Wednesday, March 11, on Syfy -- "The Magicians" tells the story of Quentin Coldwater, played by Jason Ralph ("Those People," 2015), a bookish graduate student who discovers not only that magic is real, but that he possesses an aptitude for harnessing its power. He and his childhood friend, Julia Wicker (Stella Maeve, "Chicago P.D."), apply to the Brakebills University for Magical Pedagogy, where he is accepted but she is turned away. Set upon different paths, Quentin learns to control magic in the protected halls of academia, while a dejected Julia must turn to sketchier means to attain her power.

Alongside Quentin, other Brakebills students include the magic wunderkind Alice Quinn, portrayed by Olivia Dudley ("The Vatican Tapes," 2015); the hedonistic Eliot Waugh, played by Hale Appleman ("Teeth," 2007); Quentin's roommate and interdimensional traveler, Penny Adiyodi, played by Arjun Gupta ("Nurse Jackie"); and the charismatic Margo Hanson, portrayed by Summer Bishil ("The Last Airbender," 2010). This ragtag group of heroes must learn to master the incredibly difficult art of magic; a misspoken phrase, misplaced gesture or misjudged proximity to water could have deadly results.

The age of the series' protagonists allows "The Magicians" to dive into adult topics like mental illness, substance abuse, and sexual assault. Quentin's character spends much of the series wrestling with clinical depression, often retreating into the worlds of fantasy novels and video games. Though he discovers that his favorite series of books is based on a real place (the Narnia stand-in, Fillory), the fantastic realization isn't treated as some magic cure for a lifelong struggle with mental health.

Over the course of the first four seasons, Quentin, Alice, Julia, Penny, Eliot and Margo have fought to save both our world and Fillory from an evil entity known as the Beast. In a twist that came as a shock to fans -- and we're getting into major spoiler territory here -- the fourth season finale culminated in Quentin sacrificing himself to save his friends and stop a world-ending calamity. This heroic gesture is complicated by Quentin's struggles with his mental health, and the character was forced to question his own intentions.

Stella Maeve in "The Magicians"

Stella Maeve in "The Magicians"

Killing off a lead character is a risky gamble for any show and is often seen as a death knell for a series in decline. But "The Magicians" has the benefit of a cast of strong characters who have each carried entire story arcs. Dudley's powerful portrayal of Alice has positioned her as the de facto leader of a group of characters who could easily stand on their own. Whether the show will continue without Quentin remains to be seen, as Syfy has yet to announce plans for a sixth season.

"The Magicians" is adapted from the critically acclaimed series of novels of the same name by Lev Grossman. There is often a certain amount of baggage tied to film and television adaptations of popular book series. Surely you've heard variations of the infamous line "but the books are better." In the case of "The Magicians," it really depends on the school of thought that you subscribe to. For those I'll refer to as "literary purists," who believe an adaptation must treat the source material as gospel, "The Magicians" fails the test of a faithful adaptation. In the other camp, let's call them the "interpretively flexible," this adaptation has successfully translated Grossman's words onto the screen, while also finding its own distinct identity.

In an interview with Vox, Grossman voiced mixed feelings about seeing his work adapted to the screen. "When it came to collaborating, to passing this story that I'd written on to other creators, it was definitely unnerving," he said. He noted that, while the experience was an exciting one, "it was also a real gut-check feeling where I had to tell myself, 'It's time to let go, and to let other people find different kinds of meanings in this story, which you're used to thinking of as your own.'"

The meaning that showrunners Sera Gamble and John McNamara have derived from the series has certainly garnered praise. Season 1 of "The Magicians" piqued the interest of critics and fans alike, despite the familiar premise of a magical coming-of-age story. However, the direction the series took with this premise over the subsequent seasons won over skeptics and cemented its darkly comic voice as one of the defining qualities of the show. Balancing the two sides of drama and comedy, "The Magicians" acknowledges the somewhat absurd aspects of its lore with a dry wit that gleefully dances the perilous line between self-seriousness and self-parody.

Immerse yourself in a fantastical world of magic and dangerous forces in a new episode of "The Magicians," airing Wednesday, March 11, on Syfy.