Warning: This post contains spoilers from The Magicians season 4 finale. Read at your own risk!
And thus another season of The Magicians ends…
In the fantasy drama’s season 4 finale, Quentin (Jason Ralph) sacrificed himself to destroy the two ancient monsters that were possessing Julia (Stella Maeve) and Eliot’s (Hale Appleman) bodies and head librarian/wanna-be god Everett (Brian Markinson). In the wake of his death, he was reunited with Penny-40 in the Underworld, who allowed him to attend his own funeral and watch his friends sing A-ha’s “Take On Me” in his honor, before passing on the unknowable plane beyond the Underworld (Read our chat with departing star Jason Ralph here).
However, the season didn’t end on too dour of a note as we were also shown glimpses of what awaits the remaining living characters. First: At the beginning of the season there wasn’t enough magic, and now there’s too much magic when it ends, which will cause all sorts of problems in season 5. Second, Eliot and Margo (Summer Bishil) somehow wound up 300 years in the future when they return to Fillory and learn that acting High King Fen (Brittany Curran) and Josh (Trevor Einhorn) were overthrown. On the upside, though, former goddess Julia got her magic back at the end of the hour.
Below, EW chats with executive producers/showrunners Sera Gamble, John McNamara, and Henry Alonso Myers about the finale and what’s ahead in season 5.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: This may be the first Magicians finale in which everything doesn’t seem, to borrow one of the show’s favorite words (f—ed) and no one is peril when it ends. Was that a conscious choice?
HENRY ALONSO MYERS: We actually spent a lot of time in the room discussing that. The feeling was that we were going to be dealing with such an intense, emotional thing to our characters and the fans that, on some level, it felt important that we don’t completely pull the rug out from under them elsewhere as well.
JOHN MCNAMARA: Henry actually started that conversation last season by saying, “What if we have kind of a semi-happy ending to the season? Wouldn’t that be a great twist?” Of course, we decided that also Quentin had to die, so any actual happiness went out the window, as it often does on this show. But the idea they’re not in imminent peril kind of stuck.
Can you walk me through how you decided to end the season with Quentin’s dying dying?
MCNAMARA: It started with a conversation between Sera, Jason, and me just talking about where the show’s going to go and where the characters are going to go. All three of us mutually came to this idea that Quentin’s journey felt like it was coming to an end before the other character’s journeys were coming to an end, in terms of everything he was going to learn about himself, in terms of magic. It’s just sort of an instinct the three of us separately had and hashed it out on a phone call.
When we decided that was going to be the end of his journey, we immediately called [author] Lev Grossman and said to him, “What do you think if Quentin dies for real at the end of season 4?” [laughs] Long pause. He said, “I think that’s a really great idea. First of all, I would never see that twist coming. Secondly, it leans into what the books are about.” The books are fantasies about reality, and one of the real things we deal with in life is how do we handle death, how do we handle tragedy. Certainly, we’ve dealt with that on the show but never with the kind of depth that we do in this episode, and it’s going to carry over and resonate throughout season 5 and probably the whole series.
What was the experience like writing that entire final sequence? I cried watching it, so I imagine it must’ve been emotional to write, too.
SERA GAMBLE: John and I wrote the script together, and both of our hands are in every scene in a lot of ways. Just to get the first draft down, we alternated acts. [We talked] about this beautiful, classical trope of attending one’s own funeral and how we had the opportunity to do that with Quentin. A very cool thing about the show is that you can kill a character and then follow them to the underworld and see them be processed through death [laughs] and really take stock in a way that felt exciting and interesting and weird and like the show for us.
John and I were both really interested in Quentin getting to see what is the beginning of the next chapter for his friends before he departs from them for the last time. I was like, “Doesn’t that get maudlin really fast? People eulogizing at a funeral.” And John was like, “Don’t worry, they’re not going to talk. They’re going to sing.” I guess that’s what I get for asking. They’ll be another musical number [laughs].
We didn’t want to skip any important beats. We feel that Quentin is as crucial as any character has ever been to a TV show and was our way in the pilot to this world. Though over time the show has evolved into such a true ensemble piece, we felt like we just wanted to really carefully and lovingly trace every step between the moment of Quentin’s death and the moment he passes through the door to a place that even Penny-40 doesn’t know and nobody gets to know what’s next.
MCNAMARA: The one thing it gave us a chance to do, and I think we did talk about this in the room — I went immediately back to the first scene of the pilot four years ago — [was address] the idea that Quentin was in a mental hospital for having suicidal tendencies for most of his adult life. The idea that he would wonder in the afterlife, “Was that heroism or did I kill myself?” felt like a really interesting question to give what followed a bit of tension and a bit of mystery. That’s what I think gives that second half of the script a drive, so that it’s not just maudlin and wallowing in sadness. So the real question adds a real purpose to going to that campfire and a wonderful moment of Penny-40 comforting him. “I just don’t believe you would’ve chosen to leave these people. But your journey is over for reasons that are larger than we as mere mortals can see.” For me, it closed the book on Quentin’s depression and his self-hatred and sense of inadequacy and gave him a sense of who he really was as a person: He was a really brave, very compassionate person who was loyal. That’s how he’s going to be remembered. That felt like, if it was done right, it would give a sense of closure as opposed to mordent and pornographic tragedy.
How did you choose “Take On Me” as the memorial song?
MCNAMARA: [laughs] I feel so bad for Sera.
GAMBLE: I like that song, though. It’s fine. I really had nothing to do with it. John was like, “We’re going to do ‘Take On Me’ but acoustic.” I was like, “Are you sure? That’s kind of just a pop song.” He was like, “Trust me.” And he was right. He’s usually right about this stuff.
MCNAMARA: Really good orchestration makes all the difference! My son is a piano player and very talented. He and I were looking for stuff to listen to at bedtime, and to him, the ‘80s are like what the 17th century is to me. So, we came across this version of “Take On Me” that was done in an acoustic set, I think, for MTV Unplugged. I thought, “Oh, that’s a beautiful version of that song,” and I just put it away in my head.
Five months later, we’re laying down the tracks for the musical episode. I’m in the booth with Olivia Taylor Dudley, and between takes she’s humming “Take On Me.” I said, “Oh you’re humming the acoustic version of that.” She said, “I listen to the acoustic version of ‘Take On Me’ every day because usually Alice is going to be doing something emotional or sad and it gets me right in that place.” I didn’t say anything, but I thought, “I don’t know how or why or how I’m going to get this past Sera, but that has to be the song they all sing as a group at the funeral.” I just tucked it away like a secret. There’s no intellectual reason I thought it worked.
It’s interesting you guys used this song for this moment because The Leftovers, a show that was very much about grief, used it, too.
MCNAMARA: I never knew how sad the lyrics were until I heard the slowed down acoustic version. It’s an incredibly sad song, you know, about a longing for something. That’s why we named the episode, “No Better to Be Safe Than Sorry,” because what the song is saying is there really is no one way to be happy and happiness isn’t something that any of us are promised.
One of the other big moments in the finale is when classically trained witches and the hedge witches join forces for cooperative magic. What was your intention with that moment?
GAMBLE: For us, that’s a huge moment in the series-wide arc, especially for Kady [Jade Tailor] but also other characters who have at least dipped their toes in the world of the hedge witches. Kady came from a place of so much conflict and shame about where she came from and she’s just always been very ambivalent as she moves between these two worlds. This season saw her really step up and figure out how to be really a leader. Not because she was seeking a nomination, she wasn’t, but because she has grown into such a compassionate and responsible adult over these seasons that she just became the logical choice. The reason that was successful, the reason that cooperative magic happened was because she was able to advocate for a bunch of people around the world who were under-estimated up to and including our characters; people like Margo [Summer Bishil], who sort roll their eyes when they think of the hedge witches.
At this point in the show’s run, you’ve done two full-blown musical episodes, a heist episode, an episode that deconstructs storytelling and the importance of perspective. Looking ahead, what are some of the wildest or craziest things that you haven’t done yet and are dying to do in season 5?
MYERS: [Laughs] There are a million things. There are definitely some things in the books we haven’t adapted. I don’t really want to spoil any of them, but there are a few things that we haven’t done from the books that still fit the framework of what we’re going to do. We spent a lot of time this season trying to take stock of what are the stories we cannot tell without Quentin and trying to get as many of those into the show as possible. But there’s a lot of stuff from book 1 and book 3 that we’re sort of able to pull from now as we plan ahead for the season.
The Magicians was renewed for a fifth season on SYFY.