The election of Donald Trump had far-reaching repercussions not only for America and the world, but in the imaginary realm of Fillory as well.
On Syfy’s dark and irreverent series “The Magicians,” a handful of students from the magic college Brakebills have discovered that the world of Fillory, the setting of a popular series of fantasy novels, is real. Fillory is like C.S. Lewis’ Narnia on crack… if crack were made from the blood of innocent baby unicorns.
When Season 1 left off, the gang made a deal: In exchange for a blade that would kill an antagonist known as the Beast, Eliot (Hale Appleman) as the future High King of Fillory married the blade-maker’s daughter. For what was possibly the worst honeymoon ever, they confronted the Beast, who made quick work of everyone including Penny (Arjun Gupta), whose hands are sliced off with magic. Just when all seemed lost, Julia (Stella Maeve) held the Beast hostage with the blade and whisked them both away to cut a deal.
When “The Magicians” returns from that carnage for Season 2 on Wednesday, Jan. 25, we’ll find out how the students survived to fight another day.
“The first part of the season has our characters madly searching for a spell strong enough to take on the Beast,” executive producer Sera Gamble told IndieWire. “They’re looking for a distillery, they’re looking for it on Earth. That occupies their time in the first few episodes. Beyond that Penny is looking for something that will help him with his hands problem, which are multiple and legion through the season.”
Another part of their challenge this year is to help Eliot rule Fillory with Quentin (Jason Ralph) as a fellow High King and Margo (Summer Bishil) and Alice (Olivia Taylor Dudley) as the High Queens.
“Margo’s nickname in Season 2 is ‘Fillory Clinton’ because she’s a High Queen of Fillory,” said Gamble. “We used it once [in an early episode] and it’s funny. The delivery is great.”
Unfortunately, the reality of Trump actually winning the election meant that calling Margo that wouldn’t have the same impact after that initial joke. “We wanted to keep using that nickname, but we thought Hillary Clinton would win the election,” said Gamble. “It didn’t end up meaning what we meant for it to mean, and we ended up having to cut the other references in post.
“Which mirrors Margo’s journey in Season 2. She’s incredibly capable,” Gamble added. “Of all the people who land in Fillory, she’s the most capable of running the country. She’s the most prepared for it. She was Welters captain. She has the right temperament for it. And everywhere she turns she gets nothing but shit, largely for being female in a pre-industrialized society like Fillory, which is of course so different from America.”
As it happens, Margo’s struggle is minor compared to Julia’s. In one of the darkest and most controversial scenes last season, we witnessed the Trickster god, also known as Reynard the Fox, rape Julia. The incident left her traumatized and is the reason why she left her friends and took the Beast with her in the finale.
“Julia’s got that knife, the knife that will kill Reynard, and she needs to work out something major,” said Gamble. “Trapping the Trickster is the problem. So she and The Beast are working together to figure that out. So it’s kind of all nuclear-level spells required at the start of Season 2.”
It’s no accident that Julia is now teaming up with the Beast, whom we learned was really Martin Chatwin (Charles Mesure), who is another survivor of sexual assault.
“A lot of victimizers if you really dig in, started as victims,” said Gamble. “This is not to say that every victim becomes a victimizer, but it is a dark possible future of someone who has massive trauma beyond their capacity to process or get past. So that’s a big question: Which future is Julia’s future?”
While some fans feared this would position both victims of sexual assault as possible villains, the producers see Julia as one who is fighting for what is right despite her troubles.
“Julia has always been complicated. She doesn’t have a lot of support, she doesn’t have Brakebills, she doesn’t have the kind of friends that Quentin has,” Gamble continued. “So she is less equipped to make some of these big decisions about magic. And sometimes she makes the right call and sometimes she makes the wrong call. That’s sort of part of being 22 and reaching really high.
“The stakes have become much, much greater for her now because the damage that she’s fighting through is more extreme and because she’s trying to do damage control, having unleashed Reynard. he is trying desperately to triage because she unleashed a monster who is still out there. She’s trying to mitigate future damage. Other women will be attacked.”
“The Magicians” has often reached deeper than its superficial charms of magic, mayhem, and sexy spell-casting co-eds to examine the students’ psyches: Quentin’s depression, Julia’s ongoing trauma from her rape, and the unconventional parenting that made Alice uptight. This constant search for meaning and control often mirrors the characters’ quests at Brakebills and in Fillory.
“Magic is a wonderful metaphor for mastering something you think is going to make you happier, whether that is a marriage, a job, a talent. You only learn through experience that mastering something or acquiring something outside yourself is not an automatic route to happiness,” said executive producer John McNamara. “In fact, it will often exacerbate whatever is wrong with you. And I’m speaking about Donald Trump being sworn in. His problems, and they are infinite in nature and terrifying in scope, are only going to be exacerbated by being the most powerful human on earth.”
Gamble added, “I think our unconscious minds were really working overtime because we were breaking this season during election season. So there’s a lot about getting power, having responsibility you’re not really prepared for.”
This fear and anxiety took shape and became a major force in Season 2.
“There’s an entity from Season 1 that’s secretly been destroying or undermining everything. It gets worse and worse and worse and worse,” said McNamara. “That entity has been in and out of episodes from almost the beginning, and it’s not the Beast. We will reveal the entity’s identity in Season 2. As we reveal the entity’s identity as this character on the show, when we got to that moment [in writing], we thought, ‘Oh my god. It’s really a metaphor for Trump.’ It really was a metaphor for someone who is completely and utterly has no empathy, no connection to real leadership, no connection to even rational thinking. And that entity controls everything about your life.”
“The Magicians” returns on Wednesday, Jan. 25 at 9 p.m. on Syfy.