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THE MAGICIANS Season 2: Syfy’s Crown Jewel Shines Even Brighter (Review)

THE MAGICIANS Season 2: Syfy’s Crown Jewel Shines Even Brighter (Review)

Warning: the following review contains spoilers from season one of The Magicians. We’re talking about what’s to come in season two in full detail, so don’t say we didn’t warn you!

“Destiny? It’s bulls–t.” The snarky, straight-talking twentysomething magicians we all fell in love with are back in The Magicians season two, and they’re not holding back their feelings when it comes to facing the problems with which season one left for them all. Sure, Quentin (Jason Ralph) may have discovered the magical world of Fillory from his childhood favorite book series is actually real, and his friend Eliot (Hale Appleman) was crowned High King by the time season one came to a close, but royalty isn’t going to fix any of the Brakebills students’ many, many problems going forward. In fact, gaining a crown is only going to add to the mountain of issues they’re all facing, but it also adds yet another layer of comedy to Syfy’s gloriously meta and modern take on the fantasy genre.

By the time season one drew to a close, everyone’s fate was left up in the air. Julia (Stella Maeve) decided to team up with the Beast (Charles Mesure) to get revenge on Reynard (Mackenzie Astin), the trickster Fox god who raped her. But in doing so, she prevented Quentin, Alice (Olivia Taylor Dudley), Eliot, Margo (Summer Bishil) and Penny (Arjun Gupta) from finally defeating the Beast and ending his reign of terror on Fillory, Brakebills and all the innocent lives he’s destroyed along the way. The Beast left the group for the dead, literally, as he sliced off Penny’s hands, broke Eliot and Margo’s necks and bled Alice out while Quentin could only look on in horror as his best friend Julia stole their magical knife (the only weapon that could kill the Beast). While many viewers chose to look at Julia’s actions as a betrayal of our heroes, from her perspective, she just went through a major sexual trauma and is coping by focusing on getting revenge on her rapist.

Of course, her actions did leave her friends royally screwed, and season two does take the time to explore their different perspectives on that.

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That also means The Magicians clearly won’t be losing 90 percent of the main cast for season two. It was never really a question of whether Eliot, Margo, Penny and Alice would stay dead moving into season two, but rather how they managed to survive their failed showdown with the Beast. But magical resurrections are not the perfect, be-all end-all solution, and it’s no surprise that The Magicians would never rely on such a lazy trope to tie up every loose thread of an entire storyline where other shows might. And this is where the show truly shines: There are constant reminders throughout the season two premiere and subsequent episodes about how while this show might look whimsical, the consequences are anything but.

Sure, the stakes, questions and cliffhangers raised in the final moments of the season one finale are resolved quite literally in the first minutes of the season two premiere, but the day is anything but saved for the new kings and queens of Fillory. Yes, plural. Eliot won’t be the only one struggling with the role of monarch moving forward, and the crown comes with more than just lavish castle settings and fabulous new wardrobe choices for the magicians. The magical wellspring in Fillory is all but drained, the magical god-killing knife is gone and all hope seems to be lost for our heroes heading into this sophomore run. In the wise words of Eliot: must be a Monday!

In the midst of all these disastrous emergency, let’s not forget that Eliot must also cope with the fact that he is now a married man … with a wife. This huge life change isn’t the only consequence he has to deal with now that he’s High King. The sexually fluid and free man is not only forced to be monogamous with a woman, but he also can never go home. His friends can come and go in Fillory whenever they please, but he’s stuck in a foreign place with the responsibility of an entire world on his shoulders. That’s not a great combination for an alcoholic, selfish, manic-depressive person prone to bad decisions. Season one only just scratched the surface on who Eliot is underneath his impeccable wardrobe and witty quips, and this season finally explores his character further. Seeing as how Appleman steals the show no matter what, with the writers giving him even more to chew, he’s proving to be the MVP of the whole series.

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If it sounds like The Magicians is losing the comedy and no f–ks given attitude that made it groundbreaking in its first season, that couldn’t be further from the truth. If anything, the writers have dialed up everything that worked last season and leaned in to the comedy this time around. That balance helps ground the fantastical elements, making these characters relatable even as they deal with the most unrelatable issues—especially as The Magicians moves more into Fillory in season two. Setting the show mostly in Fillory was a brilliant idea, not only for the immense well of Lev Grossman’s creation from which the writers can draw their stories, but also on a purely visual level.

The sets are beautiful and haunting, magical and foreboding. You get chills every time a new set piece is revealed, and most of the time you can’t tell whether those are good chills or bad chills. One particular shot—you’ll know it when you see it in the premiere—is so breathtaking I actually rewound, paused and took a screenshot, just so I can stare forever at the natural and magical beauty woven together so seamlessly. I’d be remiss if I didn’t give the set designers, post-production, and special effects teams their due for making this show look as amazing as it does on a weekly basis.

Whether or not you read Lev Grossman’s original book trilogy, there’s something new for everyone in its Syfy iteration because it’s not following the stories sequentially. (Just look at how the writers incorporated Julia’s origin story into the first season when her journey wasn’t fully explored until book two!) The TV show is still honoring the books, just in a different way. And honestly, who would want a straightforward adaptation that provides nothing new for book readers? That would just be boring.

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One of the highlights of the entire series comes in the first episode back, when a Fillorian test somehow ended up as a performance of Patrick Swayze’s speech from the climax of Dirty Dancing. You really can’t make this stuff up. But the emotional weight of what the first season accomplished is still there, and magnified now as everyone deals with the consequences of choices they made in the heat of the moment.

Eliot can never leave Fillory, and if his friends leave, since time passes in the realms differently he might never even see them again. Penny never gave in fully to believing all the rules and traditions of the fantasy world, so he can’t reap the benefits, even if that means cursing his hands forever. Alice and Quentin still love each other but they each made decisions that forever altered their relationship and no matter how much they want to go back, they can’t — they’re different people now with different goals and desires. Julia teamed up with the Beast to get revenge on Reynard, but if she gives in fully to their partnership, she could lose herself. Even someone who is supposed to be wise and knowledgeable like Dean Fogg (Rick Worthy) who banned battle magic from Brakebills decades earlier now needs it from the person he fired in order to save the world.

No one who deals with magic comes out unscathed, and no one has all the answers—season two really drives that point home even more so than last season. Even the gods can mess up, and they frequently do. But hey, if everyone was perfect and magic solved every problem, we wouldn’t have an obsessively addictive show, right? So brace yourselves for a season full of magical screw-ups and shit jokes, because while magic might be real, it actually kind of sucks.

4.5 out of 5 truly magical burritos:

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Images: Syfy

The Magicians season two premieres Wednesday, January 25 at 9 p.m. on Syfy.


And ICYMI, our own Alicia Lutes got downright magical with some of the cast:

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