Disclaimer: Before we delve into a review of the beginning of season 5, we wanted to take a moment to acknowledge the hurt and anger caused by the show’s (and actor’s) decision to kill Quentin Coldwater at the end of season 4. We empathize with anyone who felt hurt/betrayed/angry at the loss of this central character and the impact he and his relationship with Eliot had for the show’s LGBTQ fans, and also for fans who (like Quentin) live with depression and mental illness. His sacrifice resulted in a lot of grief (both for the characters and us the fans) and the beginning of season 5 dedicates a lot of time to allowing his friends to process and feel the impact of his loss.
It’s safe to say that all was not well in the world of The Magicians when we last saw our favorite band of misfits gathered around a campfire in the final moments of season four. Season five picks up just one month after that tragic night and we see just how broken and fragile the world (and our heroes still are). While the fast paced adventure we’ve come to know and love from the show is still present, there is also a significant amount of time dedicated to exploring the realities of the grief caused by Quentin’s death. The Magicians writers had a big task ahead of them when season four ended, and they accomplished something special in these first three episodes.
Their ability to strike a balance between plot advancement, character development, yet also pay homage to the loss of a character that was the heart and soul of the show drives home the reminder of why we love it. Everyone deals with grief in their own way, and we see that rings true for Alice, Penny, Julia, Eliot, Margo, Kady, and even Fen and Josh. The time spent honoring Q feels genuine and allows fans the chance to grieve alongside their favorite characters while also gently moving them forward. Each character provides a different portrait of how people cope with loss and it is a testament to the actors and writers on this show that they managed to portray it in a way that felt emotionally authentic to both the audience and to the core of each character.
Summer Bishil’s Margo is still the ultimate badass full of female power (and female power slogans like “ovary up!”) fighting for her loved ones. But Margo’s tougher outer shell and short temper are what cause her to lash out on a good day, and it only gets worse when she’s grieving the loss of her friend. Her coping mechanisms put her in direct conflict with Eliot (they are FINALLY reunited!) who is handling (or not handling) this loss very differently from how she expected. Eliot has shut down. He’s regressed back to his “care-free,” hard partying, Brakebills ways so that he doesn’t have to admit that the man he loved is gone. Hale Appleman gives a beautiful performance here. He wears the brittle-thin “I’m fine” facade like a bandaid over a too-large wound, and you can feel the tumultuous storm of grief, anger, and devastation boiling just beneath the surface. Even Stella Maeve and Olivia Taylor Dudley, who haven’t often shared long scenes together in the past, work together beautifully to highlight the contrasts of Julia and Alice’s coping mechanisms and the beginning of a deeper friendship.
So what’s in store for them now that magic has returned? On Earth, the influx of magic has caused serious problems at Brakebills which forces some of our characters into very different roles. Penny (very) reluctantly steps into an unlikely position to help Dean Fogg deal with the sudden rush of new students now that magic has not just returned, but is overflowing. Kady continues to fight against The Library, helping hedge witches who still have their Reid’s mark (which prevent any casting). Julia fights to rediscover her magic, turning to Alice as they both struggle to come to terms with losing Q. And Fillory? Fillory has changed quite a bit in the 300 years since Eliot and Margo’s last visit, when Josh and Fen were left to care for the kingdom. There’s a new adversary in the form of a (very daddy) Dark King that they have to confront, along with the repercussions of abandoning (even if unwillingly or accidentally) the country, people, and friends they were responsible for.
Nothing is ever easy in the world of The Magicians, and losing their moral compass (Quentin), has put them at possibly their greatest disadvantage yet. We look forward to seeing if our favorite magicians are able to not just cope, but learn how to once again thrive in the face of such adversity.
The Magicians airs Wednesdays at 10pm on SYFY.