Spoilers for the Season 3 finale of The Magicians follow below. Beware!
If you’re not watching The Magicians, you just missed one of the best and most exciting seasons of TV in recent memory. The show wrapped up its third season in characteristic fashion—and by that I mean it was equal parts weird, moving, and hilarious. Season 3 of this Syfy series began with the promise of a quest, the Quest of the Seven Keys to be exact. The finale delivered the conclusion to that quest, but that was far from the end of the story.
Our heroes finally turned magic back on after a season-long drought that brought challenge after challenge, but not without some difficulty. Julia sacrificed her power to prevent Alice from meddling in their plan, then the Librarians (plus, in a twist, Dean Fogg) showed up to finish Alice’s job of siphoning magic. Now under the Library’s control, magic will be doled out and rationed in accordance with whoever they deem worthy.
But of course that’s not all. The memories of Quentin, Julia, Eliot, Margo, Kady, Josh, and Penny 23 were wiped entirely, just as the monster guarding Blackspire was let loose. In a coda we see our heroes leading new lives, unaware that they’re magicians, when Eliot—possessed by the monster—shows up and takes aim at Quentin. Roll credits.
After I picked my jaw up from the floor when I finished the episode, I had the opportunity to get on the phone with The Magicians showrunners Sera Gamble and John McNamara, who graciously unpacked some of the finale’s big twists and turns. They discussed how these events will impact the characters in Season 4, how they hit upon the idea to wipe the characters’ memories at the end of the season, and how they crafted some of this year’s delightful twists and turns. They also took a moment to share their gratitude for the Magicians fandom at large and promise even more great cosplay opportunities next season.
If you’re a fan of the show (and you should be—it’s one of the best things on TV) I think you’ll find what they had to say enlightening, funny, and a little scary. Just like The Magicians itself. Check it out below.
Before we dig into the finale specifics, I just wanted to say this was one of the best seasons of TV I’ve seen in years. Did it feel special in the room as you guys were crafting this season?
SERA GAMBLE: Wow, thank you.
JOHN MCNAMARA: I mean, to me it felt like work (laughs).
GAMBLE: We knew we were having fun. I feel like as time has gone on the people that we work with just prove themselves to be so fucking good at their jobs and so creative and so eager to learn every little detail of how to make this show, that what we have is increasing confidence in letting everybody do their best work and kind of grab ideas by the horns and run with them. We’re very fortunate that so much of our team has been with us since the beginning, many people even from the pilot. So we have a great shorthand now. It felt good this season. It felt weird, it felt very weird, but we have learned to trust weird on this show. We trusted the weird, we’re happy to hear that you enjoyed it.
How early on did you decide where you were going to end the season and this quest of the seven keys?
MCNAMARA: Well I think we always wanted to end the quest by Episode 13 because we didn’t want to leave that big of a dangle. Some seasons we’ve left on a cliffhanger, and this one we felt like we wanted to do kind of both which is satisfy everyone that’s been on the quest with us, and then show that the quest is actually not the end but the beginning of a whole new world of problems. That was pretty early on. I don’t think any of us knew the details but it was always kind of the designed intent.
GAMBLE: We did have an idea really, really early on that we wanted to leave the characters with a particular problem and have that stick at the very end of the show. I think it was quite early this season that we sort of had this flash of ending the season with nobody knowing who the fuck they were, and we didn’t know how all these things were gonna connect but that card kind of stayed up. Because you know every season we like to do as hard a reset on the idea as we possibly can, so we wanted for them to win and yet lose this season.
This show, and especially this season, is about this group of messed up people working so hard to find or fix the thing that they think makes them happy, if only for a brief moment, while sometimes ignoring the happiness staring them in the face. And as a viewer of this show I find myself feeling similarly—I was so eager to see them turn magic back on and see everyone get their powers back, and then you guys swoop in with this coda and not only take away magic but also their identities.
GAMBLE: But we’re giving you some cool shit!
Yes! It’s frustrating in the moment, but it’s very exciting in terms of possibilities and I understand what that gives you as writers. When you guys do stuff like that, is that something you had ideas of where it would go next or was it more just setting an interesting table for Season 4?
MCNAMARA: I think with that ending we knew it would open up a lot of roads, and the question to that is which road do we take? We’re in the room now on Season 4.
GAMBLE: I will say one idea, the last thing you see with Eliot I would give a certain amount of credit for that choice to [Reynard actor] Mackenzie Astin. I think we learned a lot in the story that we told with him and the two characters that he played. When we started Season 1 we thought that we were going to cast an actor to play Reynard the Fox, and as we got closer to that episode where we were introducing that characters, we had conversations about how such a brilliant actor was already in the room in that scene, and what a shame to kill him and risk bringing in someone else who might not be as amazing. So we just kind of followed the truism that you should give great material to a really great actor, and I’m very thankful that Mackenzie was so game and very unsurprised that he did interesting things with the new character. So that was a little bit of our inspiration as we started talking about a body-jumping monster. We started talking about how we have a really great menu of potential hosts for him.
So the monster says that it’s more fun to play together. Is the idea that he’s going to amass some kind of army? Can this creature inhabit the body of more than one person at a time?
MCNAMARA: That we can’t tell you. We cannot tell you that. What we can tell you is the monster within Eliot is highly, highly motivated to do some destruction.
Fair. This season kind of subverted expectations where we thought we were getting a classic Big Bad arc, but then you took a left turn and it ended up being more of a quest season. Is next season going to be a Big Bad season or are you gonna keep switching things up?
GAMBLE: We have a “yes, and” approach to things like that (laughs). From the beginning there has always been more than one major storyline happening to our characters each season. We have discovered that one obstacle or adversary or situation is not enough to hold down eight or ten really smart Magicians, so we have to throw a lot of stuff at them. So we have a nicely cluttered playing field of absolute shit for them to try to wade through in Season 4 (laughs).
You guys touched on politics this season with the Fillory stuff, which was delightful, but with the siphon and the library controlling magic it feels like we could be delving deeper into the politics of policing magic. Is that something you guys are talking about for Season 4?
MCNAMARA: You are wise.
GAMBLE: Yep! Sure is! I couldn’t tell you why a thing like fascism would be on anyone’s mind in the writers room but it just keeps coming up.
In the finale Julia finally becomes a goddess, and it’s great, and then she sacrifices her power to turn magic back on. Has Julia now completely lost her gift? Is her trying to get that back part of her arc in Season 4?
GAMBLE: I’m like how do we answer this without spoiling the whole thing? First and foremost the problem is she has no idea she’s Julia at the end of the episode, but the choice that she makes, what she does with the power that she has or had in the season finale, there are consequences to that that come into play in Season 4.
I was also curious with the coda, how long after they turned magic back on does that take place, where we pick up with the characters not knowing who they are?
GAMBLE: See the fun thing about a spell of that magnitude and that level of advancement is it packages the whole fucking thing for you.
MCNAMARA: It could be two days!
GAMBLE: Yeah it takes about a day, and then you wake up in your life and you don’t know it was ever any different.
MCNAMARA: You have all these friends who you think you’ve known for years. You have a boyfriend, you have a landlord, you have a job you love or you hate.
GAMBLE: I don’t mean to alarm you but this could have happened to you today.
GAMBLE: How would you know?