The Magicians has pulled off wild and fantastical twists all season long.
From a disco ball distraction in the middle of a tense heist to a musical number pre-battle to the death, the Syfy show isn’t afraid to pull the rug out from under its audience’s feet. And the final moments of the second season finale did just that — not only did Quentin, Julia, Eliot, and Margo take on and kill two gods, but their doing so led to the magical wellspring that powers magic being turned off in punishment, by Ember and Umber’s angry parents. And just like that, our titular magicians are no more — save one. The final moments of the hour saw Julia confide in her best friend Quentin that she can still do some magic, a small spell he’d once dubbed a “party trick.”
Elsewhere in Fillory, Margo and Eliot were dealing with the consequences of their actions when the fairies Margo had originally made a deal with earlier in the season to save her best friend’s life came back, ready to extort their price: the entire kingdom.
With so much going down in the final moments of the season-concluding hour, EW spoke to executive producers Sera Gamble and John McNamara to get a little insight into just how much peril the characters are in.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When did you know you were going to turn off the wellspring?
SERA GAMBLE: It was one of the first things we figured out at the beginning of season 2. You’ve got to have an end point in mind when you start breaking a season. That’s the way we usually do it. We haven’t really tried it the other way yet, where you start and don’t know where you’re going. [Laughs] We knew that Ember was the key to the whole thing and that we were going to hide him in plain sight for most of the season.
Speaking of Ember, how did you figure out that not only is he responsible for all these things, but that he’d narrate it at the beginning of the episode?
GAMBLE: Well, you know, we’ve been threatening you with the wellspring as an issue all season long. It’s the gun you see in Act 1 in a certain way. We knew the wellspring had to die an undignified death. As for Ember narrating our recap for episode 13, that is entirely John’s credit. He actually pitched that idea at the end of season 1, when we were figuring out the structure of that season finale. Obviously, we ended up going with Quentin narrating his Fillory books. But there was a very, very early draft where Ember was taking credit for everything. It didn’t quite work at the time, but we were just so tickled by the idea we were looking for the earliest opportunity to bring that recap back. It’s just so pleasurable to write all of the events from his point of view.
And he’s a very whimsical character.
JOHN McNAMARA: He’s whimsical tilting toward nihilistically evil. He’s not evil in the sense that he’s constantly planning things for the increase in his own power for the destruction of others. He’s whimsically evil because when he’s bored he just ends things. It’s about, in a way, our opinion of how it is there can be gods or a god who just lets such terrible things happen. Storytelling in its earliest form was always about the question of, “Why are the gods doing this to me?” So we wanted to address that and I think the wonderfully satisfying, unsatisfying answer is, “Because they’re bored.” We are just their toys.
Towards the end of the season we also had Reynard and Our Lady of Underground, as well as Ember and Umber. Why did you want to really go into the gods of Fillory as the season was closing?
McNAMARA: Yeah. Largely because Lev deals with them so well in the books. They tend to, if I remember correctly, and I apologize if I don’t, my brain is in Book 2 right now. But my recollection is in Book 3 they have a larger and larger role to play. So I think we all wanted to make sure that this didn’t come in like deus ex machina in season 5. We wanted to deal with not only the gods that we’ve seen from early on, but what we called the Old Gods, like Persephone, above and beyond, who up until now they’ve kind of forgotten us and they’ve left these younger gods to rule and torture us. Reynard really represents True Evil because he is simply defined by a vengeful hatred and an unending appetite for filling this wound that’s caused by his mother’s abandonment. It’s a much more malevolent type of evil than Ember and Umber.
Was there ever an option for Umber and Ember to remain alive?
GAMBLE: They’ve got to die for the next domino to fall.
We also saw Julia forgive Reynard last episode, despite wanting revenge against him all season. Talk to me about that.
GAMBLE: When we were deciding how exactly to resolve the Reynard story line and what would happen in that scene, we were aware that it was a highly emotional, kind of controversial choice. I suspect not everyone who watched it felt the same thing. For some of it, it was definitely a bigger win for Julia if she put the gun down and gave it up. For others, it was like, “Shoot him in the face. He totally deserves it.” So that kind of friction was really important to us to preserve in that story… When Our Lady Underground says to Julia in episode 12, “There are consequences to killing a god.” Obviously, at that time when Julia is hearing those words, it seemed like that was about Julia’s emotional state, and what would be best for Julia’s healing process maybe. But now that we’ve seen what has happened in the wake of killing Ember, we know that Our Lady Underground was trying to protect Julia in a much more specific way. She knew more about the hierarchy of the gods above her than she was saying at the time.
What does it mean for our characters to not have magic right now? The show is called The Magicians.
GAMBLE: They’re pretty f—ed. [Laughs] We just started the room for season 3 and that is the thing we’re discussing now. The situation is super terrible for our characters, but it’s really great for our writers because everyone has a lot of ideas for what the world looks like.
The episode also ends with Julia still having magic. What does that mean for her?
GAMBLE: That was a callback to our pilot. When our characters first started their journey, Julia showed up able to do that very same spell and Quentin essentially laughed in her face and said it was a party trick. He was unimpressed and didn’t help her. And now that same party trick is potentially the only magic on Earth. So where they are now is, they have this big mystery. Why can she do this? What does it mean? How do they protect it? It raises the questions.
Elsewhere in the episode we also have Margo and Eliot dealing with the fairies. When did you know this would be the price they’d be paying?
McNAMARA: There’s always a price to pay when a character makes a decision, particularly one that involves power. Whether that power is “I’ve been bitten by a radioactive spider, so I’m going to put on a red suit” or in the case of Eliot, “I’m reluctantly going to rule a kingdom I barely understand. I’m going to get better and better at it, but obviously, there are gaps in my knowledge.” There’s going to be consequences. In the case of Margo, there are huge and incredibly charismatic and fun gaps in her character. She’s discovering she’s a far more reactionary, almost fascistic person than she would have been at Brakebills. The discovery of those traits and the actions they lead to is conflict, some of which is the fairies. They gave her what she needed, and they exacted a price, and it turns out they had a very, very, very large clause in the contract in tiny, tiny, tiny print. And that was, “We’re going to take over the kingdom.”
Compared to the gods, how would you describe the fairies as a threat?
GAMBLE: They’re magical creatures. There’s a lot about them we haven’t unveiled yet. We haven’t explained them very well, and that’s on purpose because all the juicy stuff is coming in season 3. Since the beginning of the show, we’d slowly started to introduce our audience to the idea of magical creatures, whether it be a vampire junkie who happens to be hanging out in a loft in Brooklyn or a dragon who lives under the subways. They populate the world. But so far we haven’t met any that are super excited to hang out with humans. [Laughs] But you know, the fairies are this cool species and this whole hierarchy that’s been living alongside our kings and queens. It actually makes them a very specific threat. They have their own desires and they have their own plans and those intersect and those plans intersect with Eliot, and Margo and Fillory.
Looking back over the season, you’ve had a heist episode, but also a musical number in the middle of a battle scene. What are you proudest of?
McNAMARA: The musical. I thought that was fun. It came off better than I hoped. I was very open to the idea of just cutting it if it didn’t work. I knew exactly how I would amputate it if it didn’t work. But it worked, so it was satisfying. I also loved helping plot the heist episode because I’m a huge fan of the genre of team heist movies.
GAMBLE: I second all of those. Those were really fun. The great fun of producing this show is, the same day you get to write an emotional, grounded scene between two characters and you got to [post-production] and you’re giving notes on a dragon you’re creating out of thin air. So for me, the most exciting thing is getting to be part of the whole package of creating The Magicians. But time and again my favorite moments this season have been when I sit down and watch an episode, and after all the spectacle, and the huge magic, and the giant explosions, there’s a scene between two of our characters where they’re speaking honestly and being vulnerable with each other.
The Magicians has been renewed for a third season.