'The Magicians' Showrunner Discusses Controversial Finale Scene, Season 2 Plans

The Magicians Still - H 2016
Courtesy of SyFy

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Monday's season finale of The Magicians, "Have You Brought Me Little Cakes."]

SyFy’s The Magicians has never shied away from doling out cliffhangers to viewers throughout the first season of the show. In keeping in line with Lev Grossman’s vision from the book triology, the series has fluctuated from light to dark, all while tackling heavy subject matter like depression.

In Monday night’s season finale, all bets were off the table as Quentin (Jason Ralph) and Julia (Stella Maeve) finally reunited to stop The Beast in Fillory, with disastrous results.

By the end of the episode, Alice’s (Olivia Taylor Dudley) was hanging in the balance while Penny (Arjun Gupta) was left with sawed-off hands and the rest of the gang precariously teetered towards death after it was revealed that Martin was in fact The Beast. In the end it was Julia with all the power thanks to her recent rape by a trickster God, forcing her to strike a deal with the monster while others bled out.

To break down all of the heavy subject matter, find out where the writers wanted to deviate from the books and learn where they’re heading in their second season, THR caught up with showrunner Sera Gamble.   

Was it a conscious move to start the finale with a lighter tone before getting into such heavy subject matter?

You don’t expect that darkness in the finale when you start the episode; it’s something that happens fairly frequently with The Magicians. We try to enjoy the light stuff and not just be weighed deep down in the darkness all the time. The show is definitely both things so we try to structure episodes so we can allow our audience to really be in it for all the tones.

Was this the end point you always had in mind for season one and how did you decide where to deviate from the books?

Yes. This was the plan we had for where the season would end when we started working on it. It’s not that we all sat down and said, “What are we going to change?” We all sat down loving the story of the books and wanting to bring the spirit of the books to life. A lot of the changes started to happen because we were telling Quentin and Julia’s story simultaneously. When you read the books, Julia disappears for much of book one, and then it doubles back and tells the story of what she was doing during that time. We are telling all of the story at the same time. They happen chronologically and we wanted to really explore what it’s like to get into Brakebills and what it’s like to not get in. That changed the story and that changed the plot. We tried to hit on all the major points from the book series, but we don’t always get there in the same way.

For Quentin, is there any coming back from Julia’s betrayal?

It’s a huge deal. She has a different agenda than the rest of them do. She is the one who participated in the ritual that set that monster loose. So it’s understandable that she would be in the frame of mind that she is. Did she make the perfect choice? Were there other ways she could have gone? Of course. And that will play out extensively in season two.

What kind of role will Reynard the Fox and other Gods play in the second season?

The Gods in our story fascinate me. In the season finale you meet two, what you might call local gods, this god on earth, Reynard the Fox who is a trickster and extremely malevolent, and then you meet the god of Fillory, Ember. He is not as actively malevolent, but he’s certainly not in touch with the nuances of humans. That opens a door to more story about both of them and other gods as well. 

What kind of conversations did you have before going into that rape scene with Julia?

It is a tricky thing to portray, and it’s very affecting when you read it in the books. In the writers' room, we talked about how moved and affected and disturbed we were by it. We also talked a lot about how it made a certain kind of sense that Lev Grossman as a writer would get so real about the kind of stuff you read in Greek mythology. I loved all those stories when I was very young. I was in grade school reading those big books of Greek mythology and every other story has a god coming down and violating a woman or a nypmh or a driad or something and it never really occurred to me... it doesn’t translate in the tone of the little short stories how brutal and violent that act really is. What Lev does, and what we kind of inherited and what we get to do in this show, is to get real with these stories and to talk about what the human truth of these stories is. And to tell the stories in an adult way. So that was our goal going into the scene, to be unflinching and to be grown-ups about this scene and to really be very, very specific about the experience of this character that we’ve gotten to know so well.

What kinds of discussions have you had about portraying sexuality on the show overall? On one hand it’s very fluid, on the other you have characters drinking up vials of semen.

I don’t know that drinking the vial of semen had anything to do with sexuality — that is a power move. It’s totally squicky, it wouldn’t be my first choice of ways to get powered up. But it doesn’t strike me as a moment that has much to do with sex in the traditional sense.

We try to be honest about sexuality and it is definitely one of the fun things about this show is that you have this big handful of characters, all of them in their early and mid-twenties, which is a time when you’re becoming sexually active and stepping into your identity. That can also include a lot of experimentation. It certainly did for some of the writers in the writers’ room that I will let remain nameless. We try to make it not a huge deal because I don’t think it is a huge deal to experiment with your sexuality in the year 2016. It’s maybe part of a rite of passage of stepping into adulthood.

Have you discussed ways for Alice to continue with this story given her ending in the books?

Yes, we have. And we’ve talked a lot about that section of the book and a lot about the future of that character. Without spoiling things, we love the stories in the books, and we try to capture the spirit of the stories. We might tell some of this the same way and we might tell some of it a little differently.

Is it possible to practice magic without hands?

That’s the big question for Penny because that’s not how he or any magician he knows has been trained. We gave him a spell tattooed on his finger about two seconds before they got chopped off, which is kind of emblematic of the shit Penny’s gone through. But every magician in our story learned how to do magic with finger spells and that’s certainly going to be Penny’s first question if he survived.

Have you talked about where to pick up in season two?

We just started the room recently. We’re all in there tossing out our most insane ideas and we’re picking up off a cliffhanger that’s pretty severe. So dealing with what happens next will probably be the first thing we do in season two. But we’re lucky on this show because we have a wealth of material – three books – to draw from. I’ve certainly been on TV shows where we didn’t have the ability to just flip open a book to a passage we remembered and talk about how to build a story out of it. So we’re having a really good time in the writers' room. Everything is still on the table right now.

What kind of character will Fillory be in season two?

It’s going to be a psychotic character. It’s one of the really fun things about season two. In the pilot of season one, you got a dream glimpse of Fillory and we’ve teased little pieces of it and finally got to see it in the season finale, but that’s also still a small corner of Fillory. We spend most of our time in the season finale with this family that kind of lives out in the countryside and we haven’t got to court yet. The only part of the castle we’ve seen is the dungeon. So we’ve been talking about it and delving into what these different areas of Fillory are like. Luckily we shoot in Vancouver, which provides us with a lot of natural beauty. If we weren’t in a place where you could go outside and point a camera at really beautiful nature, we would be dead before we started.

The Magicians begins filming on its second season this summer.

What did you think of the finale? Sound off in the comments below.

Twitter: @amber_dowling