The Magicians Season 2 Review
Syfy’s breakout series The Magicians concluded its second season on Wednesday, April 19. Season 2 of The Magicians saw its main characters depart from the secret training institution known as Brakebills College and enter Fillory, a magical world where they encounter additional problems as nascent rulers of a tumultuous land.
The series, adapted from the novels of Lev Grossman by show-runners Sera Gamble and John McNamara, aired its first episode on Dec. 16, 2015. Now having finished its second 13-episode season, The Magicians has been slated for a third in 2018. Viewers and readers of The Magicians adore the series for its unique mixture of childhood fantasy and the grim details of daily life. The series’ major themes include the growing pains of adulthood, grief recoupment and support found in the internal and external. Friendship, like most of the series’ themes, is twisted and contradictory at times, never simple. While the seven main characters exhibit a tense antagonism towards one another, their explicit hate welds them together as units of a complicated problem-solving machine. It also provides the show with plenty of drama, although this construct can become overused at times, leaving points of tension feeling empty and devoid of import.
Additionally, while the conflicting personalities of the show’s characters provide interesting interactions, they can cause the audience to wonder why the group stays together. In the books, the character’s beginnings are further explicated. In the show, their meetings are more or less happenstance. While both the books and series use consequential events to invent the character’s connections, the series is less effective in convincing viewers of the fact.
The main cause of this seems to be the weak emotional linkage between all the characters. Characters’ emotional cores can be clearly identified as only extending to one or two other characters. It is in the exploration of these connections that the show shines. As for the group, the occasional interaction between disparate persons only comes from necessity: usually the latest and greatest threat to magic.
Episodes can become occluded by superficial drama. Problems that creep up in the last 10 minutes of an episode can be resolved in the first minute of the next episode. Sometimes problems maintained as insuperable at the beginning of an episode can be resolved within the runtime of that very same episode. The quick turnover of dilemmas and cheap cliffhangers saps the series of any real dramatic tension. Like the boy who cried wolf, The Magicians makes viewers doubt whether they should care or not care about the characters’ problems.
As with many fantasy book adaptations, The Magicians faced a major challenge in realizing their source material’s vision faithfully. Fortunately, The Magician’s set design and special effects teams have more than met the challenge in the show’s second season. Utilizing a TV series’ budget, the teams were able to ingeniously realize (within reason) some of Grossman’s most fantastic settings and characters.
In Season One the magicians were still in training, meaning most of the special effects developed showcased spell-casting. In Season Two, the magicians moved and in a sense graduated to ruling Fillory, a magical land akin to Narnia originally known to the characters through the children’s book series Fillory and Further, the equivalent of Narnia or Harry Potter in their world. Having landscapes developed in Fillory allowed the show to bring in more naturalistic effects- including the portrayal of magical creatures like fairies, centaurs and a sloth.
Besides the show’s engaging visuals, The Magicians manages to interact with its audience in a way many shows more concentrated on realism aren’t able to. One of the show’s marketing phrases describes the characters as “millennials with magic.” This relatability originally attracted readers to Grossman’s novels. In the same way the novels were attuned to the characteristics of the millennial fantasy-reader, the show features references toward its own genre, reflecting the real-world experience of many of its viewers. This self-referential element draws in a lot of viewers, but it doesn’t add any substance to the show itself. In some cases, it detracts from new adaptations of Grossman’s text, substituting import for levity.
Still, the show’s writers have managed to translate some of the toughest emotional problems dealt with in the books to the screen. Issues of grief recovery after personal loss, betrayal, revenge, rape and depression are covered in the show.
Season Two of The Magicians suffers from a set of characters unsure of their relations with one another. The show pits them in conflict after conflict until they find themselves inextricably linked together, with each chain strengthened by the coupled emotional cores of certain character duos. Together, however, they seem unbalanced, with the latest quagmire acting as the only thing holding them together. This dissonance between the cast compounded with a surfeit of dramatic refuse leaves the show feeling hollow at times.
On the other hand, The Magicians has carried its weight in the visual department. Adaptations and deviations from Grossman’s novels have been similarly above average, keeping the show exciting for those familiar with the original content. If Season Three continues with its creative adaptation and treatment of dark topics, The Magicians should be a show to look forward to in 2018.