Four seasons in, most TV shows are struggling to keep material fresh for viewers. They’ve often run through the major story beats they wanted to hit, coupled up the most enticing romantic pairings, and are looking for ways to keep the drama engaging and the story moving forward. Such is the constant dilemma of the medium, and yet a few series have navigated through those mid-series story bumps in successful ways.
The Magicians is one of them. This is a show that feels as fresh as ever in its fourth season, and the whip-smart writers continue to find exciting and surprising ways to keep the audience on their toes—like a near-total reboot for the central characters. Magicians fans need not fear that their favorite characters have become unrecognizable when the series picks up in Season 4, and they can look forward to the fact that —as always—the journey will be surprising, emotional, and really fucking fun.
Discussing The Magicians Season 4 is tough without spoiling the twists and turns, so I’ll remain encouraging though vague. The show’s third season finale found the central characters finally bringing magic back to the world after a season devoid of the good stuff, although at a cost. Those pesky Librarians tracked Quentin (Jason Ralph), Alice (Olivia Taylor Dudley), Margo (Summer Bishil), Julia (Stella Mave), Eliot (Hale Appleman), Kady (Jade Tailor) and Penny (Arjun Gupta) to Blackspire and subsequently siphoned off the magic fountain, taking control of magic themselves like some shadowy fascist organization (I wonder where the writers got that idea). As for our heroes, their memories were wiped and they were given new identities on Earth—although not before the monstrous creature trapped inside Blackspire wormed its way into Eliot’s body. And Alice, meanwhile, was locked in a Library jail cell, fully aware of the danger looming for her buddies, yet unable to do anything about it.
Season 4 picks up pretty much right where Season 3 left off, and we get to know the new identities of the magicians rather intimately. I wouldn’t dare spoil the fun of seeing who they are, but I will say none of them are aware of each other or the fact that magic exists, and it takes one pleasantly surprising character in particular to put them on the road towards regaining their memories and identities.
Quentin/Brian, meanwhile, is still being held hostage by The Monster/Eliot, whose motives start to become clear and involve a murderous hunt. While The Monster is indeed monstrous, the writers do give the Season 4 Big Bad a backstory and motivation that’s slowly being teased out, which provides a path towards some sense of empathy or understanding for his actions. Even if those actions are disturbing.
Indeed, identity appears to be a big theme of Season 4, especially as it relates to the central magician characters. Self-loathing, insecurity, depression, and mental illness have all been serious topics of The Magicians thus far (which are rooted in Lev Grossman’s wonderful source material), but Season 4 confronts the prospect of embracing our imperfections precisely because they make us who we are. That’s a universal notion that plenty of coming-of-age stories have pondered, but I’d venture to say The Magicians is the only one to do so by involving magical potions, multiple timelines, and rave parties in a fantasy land hosted by a literal god.
I’ve seen the first three episodes of The Magicians Season 4, and the ensemble remains one of the most charismatic and engaging on all of television. But Summer Bishil, who really broke out in a big way in Season 3 as Margo took the title of High King of Fillory, continues to steal the show. The mix of confidence, capability, and swagger with which Bishil imbues Margo is a delight, but Bishil’s performance is equally striking when revealing Margo’s emotional complexity and insecurities, thus bringing to the surface the character’s humanity. I’m starting to think when all is said and done, Margo will be equal to if not surpassing Quentin as the true hero of this story.
But while The Magicians remains thoughtful, compassionate, and character-driven, it’s also still just an absolute joy. The show’s writers have somewhat impossibly become even more enamored with magic as the show has worn on, and clearly delight in finding new ways to reveal heretofore-imperceptible signs of magic within our reality.
It’s this balance between semi-R-rated fun and sci-fi ingenuity and emotional candor and character-focus that has made The Magicians a consistently satisfying watch these past seasons, but coming off the show’s best and most substantial season yet, The Magicians Season 4 reboots its characters in exciting ways without losing any of the charm and anarchy that makes the show so delightful. Impossibly, it’s a serialized, character-driven sci-fi series that shows no signs of slowing down, and is opening up compelling and refreshing new avenues of storytelling that are grounded in emotional truth and a willingness to get funky. All hail The Magicians, one of the best and weirdest shows on television.
The Magicians Season 4 premieres Wednesday, January 23rd on Syfy.