At the end of Season 1 of Syfy Network’s, “The Magicians,” I posted a highly unfavorable review that basically stated that if Syfy wasn’t going to get it straight – this show was a bust. But, somehow, someway, Syfy got on board and actually changed up the second season, and now that it’s over, here are my reviews and follow up thoughts for Season 3. Overall, I give Season 2 an 8.6 and HIGHLY recommend it to adult science fiction fans. If Season 3 cleans it up a little – it may even be for a wider range of audience. But, for now, for the grown ups:
Well, damn: there’s actually a story and it’s actually pretty cool. Best of all, it actually has “magic” in the show. While the premise of the Magicians wasn’t “really” designed by the Season 1 directors to be about magic, this season is a whole new deal. So, what’s changed? Last season was an overtly, gratuitous and pointless smothering in sex, bisexuality, cheating relationships, and college students running around drunk or stoned (or both), at all times (oh … and some by-story about some magicians … kind of). It was the bleakest outlook on life and had little to do with the actual series. Again, I’ve said my peace on that in a previous post and won’t delve too far, here. Instead, Season 2 of the series offered a fresh new look into the world of magic, its challenges, and it finally gave the story, and the characters, room to grow.
Quentin Coldwater (Jason Ralph):
Here’s the worse written protagonist in all of history (in Season 1). This guy was wimpy, fragile, broken, and it was impossible to know if he was going left or right at any given time (until they had him go bi, which really screwed up the series). Instead of stumbling forward – he was 1 dimensional and just fell flat. This actor had so much more to offer in Season 1 than the writers crippled him with. Enter Season 2: Quentin becomes a protagonist! He’s the literal hero who is forced into a dilemma of decision making, not fully equipped for the journey yet, but who has an opportunity to get himself straight – and he does. By the end of the series, Quentin casts the final blow to save magic. Instead, he screws up the entire realm of magic and non-magic in an epic “I saw that coming but wasn’t fully prepared for it moment”, that was quintessential for a true hero’s struggle. Wow! To the Season 2 directors – kudos. You have taken this story and transformed it well. Now – will we see Quentin deal with the things that lead him into darkness mentally in the first place as he begins to emerge as a person, or will he still fall short? Frankly, I’m counting on Quentin, thanks to the push by Eliot – to finally grow up and accept his place in the universe – as an unsolicited and somewhat unwitting, hero. (Not to mention – it would be nice for he and Alice to get things fixed – IF – they can keep control of the sex and focus on a healthy relationship where BOTH children finally grow up! After all, the creativity behind their names is pretty cool … Quentin and Alice … the quintessential “Q&A” / Yin and Yang :P). And – with a Lamprey on the loose (and some other invisible creatures – Quentin possibly has a much larger role to play in Alice’s future …)
Julia Wicker (Stella Maeve):
Here was another character that Season 1 butchered – and I mean literally, through extended and needless brutal rape scenes that left me turning off the television, sick to my stomach and vomiting, butchered. Her character could not have been more disconnected and torn than in Season 1. From the strong, “don’t tear off my buttons with magic in a bathroom and try to rape me because I’m too strong,”, to the easy floozy ready to sell herself for sex, back to the traumatized rape victim, it was impossible to like, or hate, or dislike and like and hate – or um – ANYTHING! In comes Season 2: Julia’s still messed up, but they quickly get her character under control and in doing so, give this actress a chance to shine. Best part is, at the end of the series – BLAM! An awesome moment of suspense at the last minute of Season 2 that will guarantee you want to see the next season (a spark of magic against the plumbers! Down with Ben 10 … wait … sorry .. crossing series here…). Director Chris Fisher, took a great story and brought his styling to it in a way that brought out all the characters’ greatest traits – especially Julia’s! Now – will we see Julia finally come to terms with who she is? She is a hedge witch who, during one of her 39 loops, was so incredible at magic that she was ready to break the rules of what was possible as only a first level student. Is her tie into magic a result of her shade coming back through Persephone? Will she have to deal with the Fox again? When Persephone said there were consequences to killing a god, (we saw that with the death of Ember and Umber and the “god’s” reactions), did this stop Julia – or what she said to Persephone’s portrait in Hell (especially still disconnected from her Shade and not having Kady to be the jiminy in her cricket)?. Imagine if Hades had found out his son, the Fox (and I’m speculating given that it’s also Persephone’s son), had his son killed (how about his grandson)? Dang. How will Julia fit in with this new story and is Dean Fogg ready to bring her into Breakbills?
Eliot Waugh (Hale Appleman):
There is not enough I can say as to the transition of this character from season 1 to 2. Being so much more skilled than the role of a drug abusing tramp with an emo complex, Hale Appleman was very poorly used in the first season as nothing more than a poorly written comic sidekick. By Season 2, he is the King of Filory and his genius in a variety of acting skills comes out. While the directors maintain his bisexuality, they don’t include grotesquely overdone and in bad taste scenes to get the point across. Through some good filming and story telling – we get the point. While still a little too much to be a show for “the whole family”, his role has vastly improved. I’m not sure how far to take Eliot – except as part of the group trying to save magic. His role has transformed so well into that of a king that he’s matured and become something of a hero himself. Is he ready to face his past? Is he ready to walk away from it all? And … as we know, his child is still with the Faeries – and that opens up a new opportunity altogether (well … it will have to, since the Faeries are clearly ticked off about magic being lost and ready to seize/kill all of Filory to fix everything)!
And, as I said before, the most important ‘fix’ in season 2 is that “the Magicians”, actually has “magic” in it, and the story line centers around “magic.” If we wanted a show about out of control college students, USA Networks, Fox, and others have plenty of room to offer that. Meanwhile, the story line for the magicians is face-paced, inventive, and crosses so many genres of mythology, fairy tales, legend, and so on that it became more fun to watch as the season moved along. I attribute a LOT this success to the return of director James Conway and addition of Chris Fisher.
The additional character transitions and inclusions were phenomenal. Penny, Margo, and Kady were all given as much leeway with acting as before, but with better dialogue and story. Alice Quinn was a huge change – and I mean huge. They took the self-indulgent princess who was impossible to sympathize with as a ‘shy girl’, and instead of toying with which direction her character should go, threw her completely into the realm of uber-nasty neffin-sims! This brought resolve to the character that leaves room for growth! And, we got a lot of almost everyone else. Some were missing, new characters were brought in, and the story line was simplified. No longer was it the main story + breakbills + julia + hedge witches + renegade gods + everything else … it was condensed to the main story where julia’s sideline finally became integrated (and all the subset stories could more easily be tossed in without confusion). Season 1 cliffhangers (like Penny losing his hands), were not just well resolved, they were brilliantly carried throughout the entire second season as a vital part of the story (which, if I were to analyze this, I would take Mayakovsky’s work that he was having Penny doing as a Mr. Miagi wax-on / wax-off Danielson training that Penny wouldn’t have realized until he finally confronted Mayakovsky). Marlee Matlin (Harriet), was a great actress to bring in as she was funny and helped drive the story well. That’s the kind of pop-in expose I’d expect from a series that wants to run a long time, (like Star Trek, Dr. Who, Game of Thrones, and other long-running science fiction series).
The importance of the library and the “Master Magicians” has been further expanded. We also know that Mayakovsky plays a bigger role in everything – and is probably one of those ‘Master Magicians.’ What is still open is the contract the librarians somewhat ‘tricked’ Penny into. We learned at the very end that Ember “played” the river guardian to get him to screw with Penny. The librarians, who have been keeping Penny’s book moving around with the time loops (and would therefore be keeping a close eye on its contents), would know this. So … they played Penny, too – unless the idea is that he is on his way to being a master magician and season 3 will be the start of him, “growing up”, and there’s more to it? Of course, the library played another important role. At the beginning of Season 1, Professor Sunderland told Dean Fogg that he knew what was coming and had to get everyone prepared. It was assumed that meant the Beast. But, with all 20 pages missing in everyone’s book – that more likely meant the end of magic (aka, the library was no longer recording and didn’t know how anyone’s story ended, thus the blank pages that everyone in any high position would have known). Dean Fogg was also aware of all 39 time loops, and was preparing the school for the return of magic. He is clearly a master magician – and there is clearly a book that goes beyond those blank, 20 pages. There are still magicians in Filory, in the library, and in some of the hidden dimensions we haven’t seen yet!
And, even though the poison room’s poisonous, we know that ‘authorized’ persons can enter – so there’s an easy way to heal Penny in Season 3. What we don’t know is why the librarian lied about killing a god. Were they trying to stop the 20 pages from going blank, or were they okay with moving their books into the poison room and keeping themselves in the library dimension and letting everyone else get screwed? Hmmm .. .intrigue!
And, finally, what about the mobster girl? Does her story end in the poison room? I highly doubt it. David Reed wrote that episode and has been involved in some of the best episodes in the series – so I think there’s more to it; a lot more.
The ‘Beast’s’ story was also well written out. While a continued nuisance, a lighter side of his persona, still as dark as ever, was brought out. The beast was given depth and meaning in a whole new way. By the end of the series, it left you wondering if, even though his methods were insane and flawed (which we knew to be a result of the abuse he underwent as a child), he had the right idea given Ember was a loon! In fact, I would not be opposed to seeing Anthony Marble return as the Beast to further expand the story. We know the “Fox” isn’t done – because his son is dead and Kady was really upset at Julia because not killing the Fox left her in a bad, bad place for potential vengeance.
The visuals and directing were well done and creative. The audio was emotionally driving and the humor was very well placed. Whether it’s a dragon who hates millennials (the single best use of a dragon on screen that I’ve ever seen, including the collection of a button for treasure and sarcasm about eating people left around after 24 hours: outstanding work by David Reed, Chris Fisher, and Christina Strain (and please, quote this to Syfy because they deserve this))., or a tooth extraction spell that doesn’t come with pain relief, the story keeps on rolling with the punches. The emotional drama is also well placed. For Julia to see the face of her rapist victimizer on the soul of someone who saved her emotionally was a moment of discomfort and discontent, that for only a brief moment and with only minimal visuals and excellent acting, was very revealing. It took little videography to tell an enormous amount of detail and that is the sign of an excellent artist.
Another kudos – Ember’s narrating the opening of Season 2 and putting himself at the center of all that has happened. It reveals a lot of tie-ins, but also gives us something more – things that Ember could not have foreseen or expected (like the beast’s drinking from the wellspring). A very subtle, if not outstanding, addition to this series and what is possible in a world of magic!
Finally – one more important credit to Season 2 over Season 1 was the cutback of gratuitous violence although – it was a little bit of a wash. While Julia’s rape went on and on and on and on and we got to relive some of those unpleasant flashbacks in Season 2, the murder of the Senator was so fast that a little blood on Kady’s hands was not as effective as say, the Senator’s wife’s ear in a box. No – I don’t want them to go back to Season 1 (which was as bad as the “Epic Movie” mockery of the Lion Witch and the Wardrobe with the lion raping the kids … and yeah – Season 1 felt EXACTLY that uncomfortable) – but that’s a balance that needs some work. Maybe with time – the directors and writers, having done so much this season, can go the extra distance?
Well, there always has to be a bad – and The Magicians still has a ways to go. Syfy has been trying to up the ante with sexier, adult television to draw in new crowds. Sadly, the network just lost sight of what made it popular in the first place: “science fiction.” From an unparalleled failure in programming (movie repeats, difficult to follow seasons, etc.), to some really stupid shows (izombie, wynona earp, etc.), Syfy threw itself to the wolves. Shows like Eureka were nowhere to be seen and the BBC took Dr. Who and star trek fans. No wonder Syfy has been struggling?! But, its new advertising pushes for being a more family friendly network trying to attract children, families, and multi-cultural values. Yet, the Magicians goes too far with its implications in sex still (again, I’m not offended or opposed – but it is what it is). It toned it down enough that it was easy to watch, but I wouldn’t put a kid in front of it – not yet. Season 3 may have potential – but that has yet to be seen.
The pot smoking magician: “Josh”. It was okay at first, then drug on (no pun intended), and then got stupid. Sure, they integrated it into “seeing other worlds”, which helped with some of the important transitions in the story, but was only funny when trying to escape from Lorians. Otherwise, the scene with the hardcore rap and throwing down the chairs was just – dumb. *sigh* I guess they’re still trying to fill everyone’s tastes. At least it was only one episode.
The shade story was weak. There were some unspoken elements you could understand/infer and it required a higher level of quality viewer to get it, but even then, it felt more like a filler story to “piece” Alice back together again (which spoofs on the wonderland story and all the king’s men). Now, if the shade story is expanded with Julia and why she has magic – and a way to keep the Fox at bay from Kady – that has potential!
The Lorians were also pretty weakly thrown in there. I’m not saying it wasn’t managed okay overall, but suddenly, wands and alchemic symbology was introduced, new magics brought up and … *poof* Eliot’s gay attractions, a goofy joke made on Prince “Es” (although funny and well done), and a chance for Margot to just be slutty. It did more to hinder what could be vs. what was. A huge amount of potential with no follow through. Season 3, maybe?
Umber’s “cuba” was funny at first – but integrating it into the story as a way to cross-trap Umber was rushed and could have been handled a lot better. I think for everything they were trying to accomplish, this, and killing Umber and Ember, was a huge mistake. Ember had so much more to offer. And, the end of Season 1 was about questioning if the little cakes had been brought, and the end of Season 2 delivered them (an ingenious handling of multiple season tie-ins). The end of Season 3 could keep that theme running in a unique and innovative way that hasn’t been done in a series and would be an innovative and fun approach. Besides, it was a disaster to the story where mommy and daddy gods throw universal scale temper tantrums if their kids are killed vs. Ember not figuring out Umber wasn’t dead because mommy and daddy didn’t unleash their fury on the beast! Although – this would still work if mommy and daddy ‘assumed’ things and those two weren’t dead and magic could be saved, because it would explain persephone not getting the death of her grandchild and the ignorance of umber’s parents not getting his ‘faked’ death?
The “trap” in Quentin’s back, that remained an open portal, left too many questions. Since the others didn’t fill their traps with a neffin, do they still have their super powered monsters? What’s the deal with a permanent tattoo and empty trap if no one uses them (which could still be salvaged as a very interesting twist on the death of umber and ember if it so happens that they are trapped vs. dead – or a way to deal with the lamprey, etc.!!).
The bank heist. Don’t misunderstand – funny stuff. I loved them being able to start over again against the battle mage and the conspiracy that banks have battle mages. However, the wall of weapons was cool, yet sorely underutilized. The entire episode was funny and I’d watch it again, but it was really unnecessary. They could have done more to either 1. follow it up, or 2. drag out ramifications, or 3, fill in other story gaps.
I’m sorry to say this, and I really mean it – but not bringing back Amanda Tapping as a director was one of the best decisions they could have made. I was hugely disappointed in her rape scene handling in the first season. She might be good for USA Networks, Lifetime channel, or as a science fiction actor – but as a director, she is not ready. The same holds true for writer Leah Fong. Leaving her off the credits brought much needed class back to the series. So – ugly enough to have to bring it back up here, in Season 2, I’m afraid.
The audience! Whoa! This is the second time I’ll attack the audience. While Season 1’s audience remained low, it’s drop off in Season 2 was evidentiary of the type of crappy crowds that the first season drew. Once the Magician’s stopped broadcasting itself as a drugs, sex, and rock and roll story to an actual fantasy with real story and meaning – the idiots dropped out. And, while I’m sure that hurt ratings – yay for the actual “science fiction” fans who expect more! Now, if Syfy stays strong – they’ll keep the idiots out. If they get desperate, we’ll go back to crap. This season was not just a band-aid to Season 1, but the healing transition that could make Season 3, great. The question is, will Syfy hang in there with this series to attract the right crowd?
For those who haven’t seen Season 1 – Season 2 could stand alone – but not to the effectiveness it ‘should’ have. You’d have to watch Season 1 (available on Netflix), but I forewarn you – it was just a really bad experiment in Harry Potter meets MTV’s jackass. So – that aside – if you can either ignore Season 1, or endure it – Season 2 is otherwise, worth the wait.
Professor Fogg being blind isn’t the end of the world – but it’s dragging this story along in the wrong way. He has huge potential and could be more intricately involved (and should be given all the knowledge and intricacies of his character), but so far, isn’t. I do think this is a shame in what the story could really explore!
The muggle slip conundrum! Okay, did anyone else hear that during the bank heist? Margot called non magic users “muggles.” Here’s the issue: Muggles belong to Harry Potter, and assuredly, Harry Potter fans tuned in during season 1 and tuned right back out after the butcher job they did. According to Wikipedia (and who knows if it’s all true or not), but muggles has been used in other shows now. So – are we going to see more of the magical world in a magical world context ‘like’ potter? More familiar characters? Or, was this just a writer’s slip while beating themselves over the head with a thesaurus regarding the word, “non magic users”, like they foolishly said a thousand times in Magical Beasts and Where to Find Them, to the detriment of that movie? Of course … this isn’t the only Harry Potter reference … so … what ARE they doing? Hmmm … Maybe I’m overthinking it?
The Senator (Fox’s son). Here was a great opportunity to do more – and so much was missed. They brought in a major character and then, without so much as a goodbye, just flashed him away in a scene where we were supposed to believe that Kady did the work Julia would have been better suited to do without the guilt and suffering. It was a little messy in the writing and in the long term ramifications. It was almost just a ‘convenience’ to give Kady something more interesting than being Penny’s “friend with benefits.” Sorry to say – but this was a lost opportunity, too (not to mention that it also conflicts with the whole ‘ramifications’ for killing a God, when the Senator was also Persephone’s grandson).
So, I can think of a lot more to say – but I’ll leave it there for now. I wanted to do a follow up review after Season 1 since Season 2 deserved recognition for where it went – and left us with some cool possibilities. I would rate Season 2 as follows:
Character Development: Excellent. 8.5 (Not perfect – lots of open holes to be filled)
Graphics: Visually well done. 9.5 (Not perfect, yet … but dang close)
Music/Audio: Good. 8 (some of the audio was in need of work, but excellent soundtrack especially the hardcore 4 getting together to fight the baddies – awesome).
Story Line: Finally – getting better. 7.5 (a little lower for still going too fast and not seeing some story lines through and missing a few opportunities – like bringing up that Julia was seen kidnapping the Congressman and then the sudden “oh, he told the media some excuse and fixed it”, which was a crappy way to write it out. Not sure if this was the writers, directors, or miscommunication – but it was bad – and I think the show’s producers knew it, too.). Now, if they can keep steering this story along like they are and keep some of the hardcore sex down until it reaches HBO / Game of Thrones crap level – I’ll keep watching.
Action, Magic, Directing! Well done. 8.5 (Not that it didn’t deserve higher. So many different directors and a continuity between episodes that didn’t feel segregated was pretty impressive. Yet, some of the overuse of the college dorm was monotonous (while little or nothing important happened there, the only valuable scene was the “Tada” being the same place that Julia’s shade found herself in hell (for those who noticed), but then was dropped without any further follow through). More high quality directing that integrates with a more complex story line and this series has me forever.
The audience! +1 back for Syfy (averaging a 9 into the score). While it was Syfy’s fault for screwing this up in the first place, putting what they did on the air in Season 1, in Season 2, it sounds like they listened to their REAL viewers (not that I know that actually happened – but it feels that way).
The comeback! +1 back for Syfy (averaging another 9 into the score)! Although Syfy doesn’t “necessarily” deserve this – it’s more NBC Universal’s fault for trying to please the Millennial group than Syfy’s. The lost touch with their real audience / fan base during Season 1 was restored during Season 2. If they can learn from this – maybe Syfy can be great again! (wait … where else have we heard that lately? … hmmm ….).
Overall: 8.6. And, that’s not a bad score – especially from me. Next season, I’ll be much harder on them because I’m going to expect more – but again – only time will tell!
Thanks for Reading.
“You have 24 hours to return to the portal.” “Or …?” “I sit patiently; waiting for you to come back. No. I eat you. I’m a f*cking dragon, what do you expect?” – The Magicians.