On Tuesday, Syfy announced that The Magicians would end its run with the conclusion of its current season, Season 5. The series, based on Lev Grossman's trilogy of novels The Magicians, The Magician King, and The Magician's Land, has been a fan-favorite over its run so its cancellation naturally prompted an outpouring of sadness and disappointment. After all, no one likes saying goodbye to the characters they love. Yet, while The Magicians is going to be missed by fans, the television landscape in general is soon going to be without one of the finest portrayals of some of the real life issues and struggles people face, including mental health, trauma, and grief.
Frequently described as grown-up riff on Harry Potter, The Magicians centers around a group of college-age students who attend Brakebills University, a secret college for magicians. During their time at Brakebills, they also discover that the magical realm from a series of children's books -- Fillory -- is real, leading them to become their kings and queens but also discover that magic and fantasy aren't always what they're cracked up to be. While the group attempts to deal with the challenges and travails of the magical world and what it means to reality, they also find themselves dealing with their own traumas and horrors as they make the journey into adulthood.
It's that journey and those traumas that have been a central element of the series from the get-go, allowing the show to use the fantastic to dig deep into subjects that are often too difficult or taboo to approach -- or at least approach in a competent, compassionate way. From the beginning we're told what may be the most important thing to understand about the show: "Magic doesn't come from talent. It come from pain" and the show's central character Quentin Coldwater (Jason Ralph) certainly embodies that. Early on, we learn that Quentin suffers from serious depression and has had suicidal ideation. He also comes to believe in magic, but instead of the series using his enrollment in Brakebills to offer an escape from his mental health issues or a cure, the series continues to explore Quentin's struggles and condition. Over the course of the first season and, indeed, the whole series, viewers see Quentin have good days, bad days, good fortune and bad and even when things are arguably going well for him, his illness is still a constant companion, as it were. His struggles don't disappear just because good things happen, just as bad things happening don't necessarily spell disaster. It's a striking and human portrayal of something that millions of people live with every day and shown in a way that offers a dose of the truth: depression isn't something you can easily solve and it's okay to not always be okay.
Even Quentin's stunning death in the Season 4 finale speaks to the raw honestly of the struggle that depression can bring. Even though he sacrifices himself to save his friends, Quentin himself has doubts about his death as he transitions to the afterlife, wondering if he really went out a hero or if he finally lost his fight with depression and found a way to end himself. It's heartbreaking, but thought-provoking and something that only The Magicians could pull off.
There's also the way the show addresses various forms of trauma that is unlike most of what we see on television. In Season 1 Julia (Stella Maeve) ends up on a different magical path than her friend, Quentin that culminates in her being horrifically raped by a trickster god. While the scene is a brutal, difficult, and even gruesome moment, the show manages to take that moment and over the course of the subsequent seasons craft a journey for Julia that shows the pain, the struggle, and the good and bad of healing without falling into entertainment's more "comfortable" tropes for addressing sexual assault. Julia is neither a "victim" nor a "survivor" in the superficial sense. She's a human being who has been hurt but heals in ways that are incredibly brave and also deeply flawed. She transforms, but in a way that is true to who she is at her core. To be blunt, she is more than her trauma.5comments
The show is also tackling another difficult experience through the lens of magic in a way that is powerful in the real world: grief. Quentin's death at the end of Season 4 has been a driving force for the show's now-final season with each of the core characters having to work their way through the loss while also dealing with the additional fallout of the sudden return of magic after its Season 4 return. For each of the characters, it's not a straight line in dealing with loss and, like Quentin's struggle with mental health, the show does an amazing job of showing how grief is something that you carry with you and work on all the time. There's no easy fix, no simple solution, no elegant moving on.
Ultimately, through its honest depictions of mental health, trauma, grief and so much more -- we didn't even get into the stunning hour of television that was Season 3's "A Life in the Day" or the way the show turned the fallout of childhood sexual assault into a literal monster in Season 1, or any of Alice's (Olivia Taylor Dudley) insecurity -- The Magicians offered viewers a rich, compelling fantasy series that also didn't shy away from the pain and grime of the real world and, in the process, created a place where people could see their own lives and challenges reflected. It's something that the television landscape will be a lot less magical and real without.