The Magicians creators unpack the 'unusually optimistic' series finale
- TV Show
Warning: This article contains spoilers from the series finale of The Magicians.
The Magicians went out with a bang — literally.
In the Syfy fantasy drama's climactic series finale, the Brakebills gang succeeded in rapturing every Fillorian onto an ark before they blew up the entire planet and thus defeated the risen dead, led by season 1 big bad Rupert Chatwin. From there, they used the World Seed to create a brand new world for the refugees, which resulted in Margo (Summer Bishil), Josh (Trevor Einhorn), Fen (Brittany Curran), and newly christened master magician Alice (Olivia Taylor Dudley) disappearing during the ritual, leaving Eliot (Hale Appleman) and Kady (Jade Tailor) behind on Earth.
After some time passed without any word from the missing foursome, Eliot and Kady took meaningful steps forward. Kady assumed leadership of the hedge witches, and Eliot not only accepted a teaching position at Brakebills but was also considering a romance with Charlton (there's a metaphorical bang). After keeping people at arm's length, Eliot was finally ready to open himself up to a relationship.
Meanwhile across the multiverse, Josh, Margo, Fen, and Alice were adjusting to the opium-scented Fillory 2.0. Because Fen birthed the planet, she decided to christen Margo its high king and gave her the honor of freeing all of the Fillorians from the ark. Before doing so, Margo noted how their lives were about to become even weirder, a fact that everyone in the group found surprisingly comforting. "And that's how I know it's our story," said Alice. With that, Margo cheekily smiled as she pressed the ark-release button and the episode cut to black, ending this tumultuous five season-long journey on the hopeful note of possibility. Just because we can't see it doesn't mean the story is truly over for the characters.
Below, EW chats with executive producers Sera Gamble and John McNamara, who developed the show, about the final shot and line, whatever happened to season 6, and more.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When we spoke at the end of season 4, co-showrunner Henry Alonso Myers said he was excited about adapting parts of The Magician's Land. Way back then, did you already know you wanted to end the season with the destruction of Fillory?
SERA GAMBLE: Yes, we knew pretty early on that would be the difficult cost of saving the universe, they would have to do that.
What made season 5 the right time to tackle that plot point?
GAMBLE: We didn't know at that point [of breaking season 5] whether we would have a season 6 or not. We have a philosophy in the room every season that if there's a story we're burning to do, we're not going to save it for later, we're going to do it now. There was an overwhelming feeling that we should do this very moving piece from The Magician's Land; the World Seed story is that story. We all set our minds to plotting a good story that ended with them backed into a corner [and] having to let go of this thing they love. It ended up making a lot of sense for us in a season that’s so much about each character contending with many different flavors of grief and learning how to let go of things, and bring new things into their lives in smaller ways. The big one is, we also have to blow up an entire planet.
JOHN MCNAMARA: Although I was in the room and part of the broad story break, I didn't co-write the episode and so I was able to look at it with some objectivity. I thought one of the brilliant things that Sera and Henry pulled off was they wrote a script that could function as a season ender or a series finale. It actually had both qualities to it. It's hard enough to say, "Here's our season ender" or "Here's our series finale," but to walk that tight rope was really difficult, and they made it look really easy. I love the fact that it ends on this — for us —unusually optimistic note. I think that should be the first clue that this is the end of the series. If we're being optimistic in the last episode, we're shutting the lights off, locking the door, and going out to a bar. [Laughs]
As John said, writing an episode that can function as both a season and series finale is hard. What were the most challenging beats to figure out?
GAMBLE: We spent so much time with all of the writers together, then between the two of us we were passing pages back and forth. First and foremost, we wanted to make sure that our eyes were on each of our series regulars. We asked ourselves repeatedly, "Where was Alice in episode 1? Where was she in episode 6 of season 1?" Somewhere around there, she has a little speech about how she's afraid to even peer at her own potential because she's afraid that she'll be alone for the rest of her life. Then, we very much had where she started in mind when we arced her toward a series finale where she finds herself a master magician and understanding the truth of where all of her potential comes from. We had her a bit handicapped for the big piece of magic she has to do. That's what proves she has been able to step into a place where she's confident and she is willing to go there, and she's not holding anything back anymore. We did a version of that for each of [the characters].
The last line of the episode is Alice saying, “And that's how I know it's our story.” What went into writing that last exchange and figuring the final line of the series?
GAMBLE: Well, I have to say when you put it that way, it sounds pretty high pressure for a writer. I think Henry and I could at least pretend we weren't writing the last lines of the series, but we wanted to use that scene to say something a little bit bigger about our perspective on why we tell the story and what they really mean to everyone.
I will also tell you that the last shot of the series was also a subject of some debate in the editing bay as Henry, John, [executive editor] David Reed, and I all watched [director] Chris Fisher's cut. He had a drone that day and a crane and shot the s--- out of this beautiful vista that they are all sitting on together. We looked at a version of the cut that ended with the classic beautiful pull away and out into the gorgeous landscape. And then we had the option of just ending close on Margo in the moment that she presses the button and starts the next story and that felt so right to us. It felt more intimate and a little cheekier and about the people — and The Magicians has always been about the people.
Did you guys start thinking about what season 6 could look like if you managed to get another season?
MCNAMARA: I'll let you in the vault. We have a document that may someday be available on eBay that is the arc of season 6. I mean, you have to be just optimistic enough to be ready in case someone writes you a big check to produce a season on television. I know Henry, Sera, [executive producer] David Reed, and I were really starting to get excited as we mapped out the broad strokes of what a season 6 should be. It was interesting.
What was the weirdest idea or pitch in the room that you guys never got a chance to actually implement?
MCNAMARA: I remember the first time David Reed pitched the befouling of the wellspring.
GAMBLE: We did that one, though.
MCNAMARA: I know, but that stands out so vividly because he was sort of embarrassed, like, “No, this is too crazy.” And I just remember saying, “We’ve crossed a bridge here. This is a safe place to have really insane ideas.”
GAMBLE: I remember the idea that evolved into a smaller episode where there were two versions of Dean Fogg — we had an idea on the board about doing at least an act where everyone was played by Rick Worthy. We called it the Council of Rick in a little nod to one of our favorite shows, and we couldn’t quite justify it yet. We probably would’ve gotten there if the show went on 15 seasons. But there’s a lot of really crazy creatures in [Lev Grossman’s] books. There’s a giant demon who’s stark naked with big dangling balls. We frequently would pitch that demon in episodes and then he would fall back out again.
MCNAMARA: I never knew what the plot would be, but I think because my chair was positioned right next to the card [taped to the wall in the writers’ room], “Freak out on cocaine island,” I could see that one in my head.
GAMBLE: I got to say, of any job I’ve ever had in my life, Magicians, by an order of magnitude, has given me the opportunity to do the craziest things that you think of. We could throw things out, but I don’t think any of the things we’re saying sound any more or less crazy than what we have actually gotten to do on the show.
MCNAMARA: I still can't believe though that I got shot down in the musical episode. Originally, Santa comes in earlier to rescue them. He is confronted by a Golem and has a Captain Kirk-style knife fight in the hallway and he dies. I always thought that'd be awesome because I love that actor, I love the character, and I thought, “Let's kill Santa brutally.” That didn’t even make it to lunch.
Looking back on the series, what line, scene, or moment are you most proud of?
MCNAMARA: It was a line in the pilot that got cut. I can't remember why it was cut. It was in the early days, we were trying to find the tone of the show and what was too far. We quickly realized nothing was too far, nothing was too much, nothing was too vulgar. I think the line ended up in a later episode that season, but Elliot says, "You have to forgive Margo. Her spirit animal is a c---." And I really missed that line. I was so glad we found a way to put it in.
GAMBLE: I'm going to be slightly cheesy and sincere in answering the question. When we started the show, we imbued our characters with so many genuine and truly difficult personal dilemmas and psychological problems, and then we threw a bunch of crazy stuff at them that just made it all even worse. We got to tell the story for five seasons, and because of that, we got a chance to be more complete and holistic in telling the story of how you grow internally and how you face challenges.
An example of that, for me, is Julia’s story over the course of the series. It's like in season 1 of the show, she's brutally assaulted. In season 2, we got to tell the story of the direct aftermath of a sexual assault, but now years and seasons later, we've gotten to continue to tell that story past the flashy stuff that happens in the first year after your world has exploded, and into the stuff that can start to happen later as you come together and become the person you're going to be moving forward. I think that’s true of [our approach to] all of the [characters]. Considering all of the magic has always been an excuse for us to tell a story of how you start to grown and become yourself as an adult, that’s the thing I’m the most proud of.
The Magicians seasons 1 through 4 are available to stream on Netflix.