The Magicians' Season Finale Was an Unforgivable Mistake

Major spoilers for the season 4 finale of Syfy’s “The Magicians” are in this article. 

I’ve been in a period of mourning since Wednesday night. That's is the best way to explain it. 

In a shocking twist of events, Sera Gamble and John McNamara, the show runners of “The Magicians”, made the executive decision to kill off Quentin Coldwater, the character at the core of the show’s soul. In fact, Quentin is the one character viewers have been following since the first five seconds of the very first episode. He begins his on-screen journey leaving a hospital, where he had checked himself in for depression; this is a fact that is touched on several times throughout the series, with a gentleness that I had never expected from a sci-fi fantasy show. Quentin’s depression is never written completely off. In fact, it shapes several of his decisions, his struggles and his triumphs, in a way that has always felt genuine and not overbearing. 

And they killed him. 

So, yes. I have been in mourning. But not, exactly, for Quentin himself. I’ve always prided my ability to think rationally about seemingly controversial TV show and movie decisions. Quentin’s death, in an alternate reality separate from ours, could have been done respectfully. Satisfyingly. In another universe, his death would have just been a painful death, and nothing more.

But instead, killing off Quentin Coldwater has revealed several upsetting and deeply problematic issues with the writing team and the direction they are taking the show. In an interview with Hollywood Reporter, Sera Gamble says, “It's kind of great that at last, the white male lead on a show is no longer safe.” Her words highlight one of these deeply problematic issues: characters cannot be treated with respect when the writers themselves do not understand the characters' complexity of identity and intersectionality. Call it anything you’d like: second-wave feminism, commercialized feminism, shallow wokeness, et cetera. Of course, Quentin was a white lead. But he was also queer and mentally ill. For many people, that meant something. And it should have meant something to Sera Gamble and John McNamara. 

When many people, including myself, watched Quentin sacrifice himself in a strange pseudo-suicide (which the narrative pushed), they did not think, “a white male lead finally bit the dust!” Instead, they thought, “A queer and mentally ill character was killed off, again.” When Quentin arrives at the Underworld, he asks his old acquintance Penny, "Did I do something brave to save my friends? Or did I finally find a way to kill myself?" Then, he gets to witness his friends mourning him, which many people have pointed out is part of suicidal ideation, and only furthers an unsettling undercurrent in this episode that glorifies suicide. Putting the number for the National Suicide Hotline at the end of the episode felt like a slap in the face; this, after everything, was they way they treated Quentin. A way to "complete the circle", as Sera Gamble put it in the Hollywood Reporter interview, as though Quentin sacrificing himself with no thought to his own wellbeing was the only way to round out his hero's arc. 

And, furthermore, the treatment of Quentin’s relationship to his good friend/love interest Eliot was painful to see, especially in light of the hope the showrunners gave earlier in the season with the episode, “Escape from the Happy Place.” It was a wonderful rumination on Eliot’s character, and it served to not only bring his romantic relationship with Quentin firmly into canon, but it also cultivated unmistakeable hope that they would be given more screen-time together. Following the wake of that episode, several amazing pop culture writers posted thinkpieces on how their relationship would change the way queer characters are treated on major genre shows, which the showrunners encouraged despite knowing how they'd treat Quentin in the end. One of my favorite of these thinkpieces was by one of my favorite writers, Alanna Bennett. Her piece was called “The Magicians’ Queliot Episode Is a Landmark Moment For Slash Fandom,” and reading her exuberant words now leaves me with a bitter taste in my mouth. She was certainly not alone in thinking that the writers were going to move forward with complex storytelling regarding Quentin and his love for Eliot.

There are several other glaring issues in season 4’s finale that are harbingers of bad writing on the show that will definitely hurt them going down the line. Firstly, Julia, a wonderfully strong character who endures a brutal rape plot line throughout season 2 and 3, is yet again deprived of bodily autonomy. Secondly, the two big villains in season 4 are unceremoniously disposed of in the finale, which was jarring. For example, the Monster’s sister was touted as even more powerful than her brother, and she was supposedly capable of mass destruction at an unbelievable level. She is defeated in under 10 minutes, which made absolutely no logistical sense. Since they spent months battling the Monster, why did it only take them a matter of moments to trap his supposedly stronger sibling? 

As I write this, Sera Gamble and John McNamara have been suspiciously silent on social media following the episode, as almost every fan flooded the show’s Twitter hashtag to express their sense of betrayal and hurt. As for me, considering the way they have decided to take the show and undo all the well-crafted storylines about mental health, found family, bodily autonomy and queer identity, I doubt I will be along the ride for season 5. 

In short: I could have handled the death of a character in one of my favorite shows. I am still, however, trying to figure out how to handle the death of that show’s character.