The Magicians showrunners Sera Gamble (YOU) and John McNamara are nervous about season 4 (premieres Jan. 23 at 9 p.m.).
When we last hit the books with Quentin (Jason Ralph) and the rest of the Brakebills school gang, their memories were replaced with new identities as part of a magical witness protection program — but that was the least of their problems. Their friend Eliot (Hale Appleman), the school’s resident lush, became possessed by an ancient and dangerous monster. With almost every actor playing a different character at the beginning of the season, The Magicians, which was just renewed for a fifth season, is very far from any sense of a status quo.
“It’s scary having one of our regular cast be the villain, with his own life hanging in the balance. This is a really, really out-of-control villain who could do almost anything,” McNamara tells EW. “At the same time, what was scary was the cliffhanger of no one knows who they are. They’re all completely different people. We kind of knew at the end of season 3 where we were gonna go and we kind of were winging it a little bit, but that’s the fun of the job.”
For the cast members who were juggling new identities at the beginning of the season, it was a matter of figuring out how different or not these characters were from their original ones.
“I didn’t want to overthink it too much or make a bold choice to make a bold choice. I wanted it to feel authentic and add up to reality,” says Summer Bishil, who usually plays Margo but starts the season off as Janet the fashion editor. “In a different setting, she’s still just as motivated in who she was. It wasn’t too much of a departure. It was just small, incremental changes. For instance, she’s a little more fearful, because I think what’s made Margo so fearless is overtime she’s confronted difficult circumstances and extraordinary circumstances and survived and lived to tell the stories. She’s built this confidence up over years, that Janet hasn’t necessarily had to build. She has an earthly confidence, a worldly confidence, but not an otherworldly confidence.”
Adds Trevor Einhorn, whose normal character Josh has been replaced by Isaac the Uber driver: “I think all of these characters, especially for me at least, they all had broad strokes versions of Josh or Margo, and it was never too far of a stretch. It was always something in the wheelhouse and more of a visual feel.”
While the witness protection gang didn’t have to stretch too much, the same can’t be said for Appleman. The key to Appleman’s performance as the monster, an infantile sociopath, was to pay the complete opposite of Eliot. “I knew I didn’t want to do any big, grand gestures because I think that’s very in Eliot’s wheelhouse,” says Appleman. “[The monster’s] way through the world physically is very direct and linear.”
Of course, the fact that the Monster is inhabiting Eliot’s body makes him far more difficult to handle than previous season-long beasts the Brakebills students have faced. “It’s more un-killable,” says Gamble. “But I think the core of it for our characters is that this monster has possessed the body of somebody they care so much about. This very much limits the ways they can or would want to take care of the problem, because they want Eliot back, and that means they just can’t chuck him in a black hole. They’ve gotta figure something out.”
However, Eliot’s absence does lead to something surprising that was revealed in the most recent trailer: an unexpected romantic relationship between Margo and Josh. “It’s been a real joy being able to work with Summer on this stuff because it didn’t take much work to have this weird, fun, natural chemistry,” says Einhorn. But don’t worry, this new coupling won’t change the Margo fans have come to love. “We didn’t want to write a man into Margo’s life in a way that would take away from her Margo-ness,” says Gamble.
Of course, this is The Magicians, so there’s more than just an ancient monster to deal with. Magic is back this season; however, that just means the show has entered into a different kind of dystopia because the Library, which controls the flow of magic, has started to display some fascist tendencies in how it doles it out. The hedge witches are bearing the brunt of the new regime. Thankfully, Jade Tailor’s Kady steps up as their champion.
“She sees these people that are suffering and wants to do something about it,” says Tailor. “In a lot of ways, it’s art imitating life. You know, people really taking a stand for others and speaking up for things that matter.”
Meanwhile, Fillory is also descending into random chaos once again, like too much opium in the air, and at the beginning of the season, it falls on acting High King Fen (Brittany Curran) to handle the situation in Margo’s absence. “It’s like this difficult thing for her,” says Curran. “There’s this side that she fears actually having power, because her whole life she’s just been told what to do and who to be with.”
In other words, there’s never a dull moment on The Magicians.
The Syfy fantasy series premieres Wednesday at 9 p.m.