Welcome to the 21st article in our 2020 Pride Month Series! Each day in the month of June, we will be highlighting a different member of the LGBTQ+ community who we think is a great example of representation and dynamic characterization. We will focus on fictional characters, celebrities, and activists alike — the positive voices within the LGBTQ+ community and in mainstream media.
Quentin Coldwater was never ordinary. Of course, as a kid, he thought he just did not fit in very well. It wasn’t until an enchanted entrance exam to Brakebills, basically “magical Grad school,” that he found out the reason he had always felt different was that he had been a Magician the whole time. Once at Brakebills, Quentin, played by Jason Ralph, encounters a wide variety of people, places, and creatures, including a magical alternate universe, centaurs, and a colorful cast of classmates, including Alice (Olivia Taylor Dudley). Alice comes from magic, and she is pretty and just crazy enough to along with Quentin’s shenanigans. And maybe even likes him back. They connect, and date, and it seems to be going well. Except … there is Eliot (Hale Appleman).
Eliot is a little older and a little more socially adept. He is an excellent mixologist, and he is not bad with the guys either. Mix all that with a little magical trauma and you get an ill timed ménage à trois between Eliot, Quentin, and … not Alice. This causes Alice to break up with Quentin (rightfully so) but also opens up the door for something real with Eliot.
When I wrote about Eliot the first year of our Pride series, I went into detail about the televised masterpiece that is the season three episode “A Life in the Day.” During this episode, Quentin and Eliot get stuck in the past using time travel magic and end up spending a lifetime of love together. Even when they are saved (thanks, time travel), they remember everything (thank, magic). So it was always perplexing why they did not go on to be a couple the rest of the season. Well, that was explained the next season. In a flashback in the season four, episode 5, “Escape from the Happy Place,” Eliot reflects on what happened right after they remembered their life together, a scene the audience never saw. Quentin asks Eliot to give a relationship in real life a shot, citing, “We … we work. And we know it ’cause we’ve lived it. Who gets that kind of proof of concept?” But Eliot rejects him, out of fear and self sabotage masquerading as self preservation. And it is heartbreaking. So Quentin never brings it up again, hence the weird nothingness that comes from “A Life in the Day” in season three. In “Escape from the Happy Place,” Eliot has this flashback and realizes his mistake. He vows to reunite with Quentin and embark on a lifetime of happiness and love, like the one they already lived.
“Q, I’m sorry. I was afraid. And when I’m afraid, I run away. If I ever get out of here, Q, know that when I’m braver it’s ’cause I learned it from you.”
But before he can, Quentin sacrifices himself to save the world, falling victim to the unfortunately ever recurring “Bury Your Gays” trope. LGBTQIA+ characters are often underrepresented in television (and fiction as a whole), and yet they tend to be disproportionately killed off, because they are seen as expendable. Quentin, despite being the protagonist, was one of these characters. Though heroic, his death was heroic on a show that regularly deals with resurrection and the afterlife, which just seemed like pain for the sake of pain. Interviews with the showrunners and Jason Ralph himself suggest that it was simply a creative decision to kill him off, and that Ralph felt Quentin had run his course, which may well be true. But that does not give an explanation as to why after “Escape from the Happy Place,” Eliot and Quentin never spoke again, and Eliot never got to say goodbye. They set up and led the fans to believe that after much patience, a “Queliot” storyline was finally going to happen, and then they delivered a true queerbait and switch.
As a fan of the show who is queer myself, this story choice caused me to almost stop watching The Magicians entirely. For many of us, Quentin represented the fandom within the world of the show. He was queer, struggled with mental health, and was all around lost until he found a world of magic. Losing him felt like the light went out, because Quentin was the light of the show. Quentin was the heart of Brakebills, of Fillory, of The Magicians. Early on in the show, fellow classmate Margo (Summer Bishil) says to him,”We all knows it’s real, but you believe in it. And you just love it, pure and simple.”
Quentin, by evidence rather than label, was bisexual. But it was more than just that he liked both men and women. Quentin loved deeply. He loved Alice; he loved Eliot. He loved his friends. And in the end, he loved the world so greatly, he gave his life for it. And the world loved him back. Quentin Coldwater continues to be a source of warmth within the show and the fandom.
All five seasons of The Magicians are available to watch on Netflix.
Stay tuned every day in the month of June for more articles highlighting LGBTQIA+ voices. Read spotlights from earlier in the month here.