Ever since the Season 3 episode “A Life in a Day,” fans of the Syfy series The Magicians have been eager to see how the show might address—or seize upon, even—the idea of a relationship between Quentin (Jason Ralph) and Eliot (Hale Appleman). The notion of that relationship ever happening went out the window at the end of Season 4, when Quentin sacrificed his life for his friends and Ralph exited the show, leaving Eliot despondent over losing the chance to ever explore a relationship with Quentin.
That’s no doubt why Quentin’s death hit especially hard for Eliot, and in tonight’s episode of The Magicians Season 5, “The Mountain of Ghosts,” the show teamed Eliot and Alice (Olivia Taylor Dudley) up for a quest that ultimately turned into a search for closure. Eliot and Alice each loved Quentin in their own way, and it was incredible to watch these two characters work through their pain, anger, and grief over Quentin’s death together as they climbed a mountain in Filory. Appleman and Dudley delivered a pair of stunning performances, and while the idea of closure remains elusive (as it often does in life), the episode ends with the two characters having finally told the truth to one another.
I recently got the chance to speak with Appleman on the phone about The Magicians Season 5, and during our conversation we got into spoiler territory to talk more extensively about Episode 3. You can read the rest of the interview right here, but below I’ve shared the portion of our discussion that pertains to tonight’s excellent episode of the series. Appleman talked about getting to work with Dudley on these emotionally vulnerable scenes, and how Eliot’s candor is an important step on a path towards maturity this season.
Check out the full interview below, and you can also read my interview with co-showrunner Sera Gamble, who wrote tonight’s episode, about the show’s life after Quentin and writing “The Mountain of Ghosts.”
Episode 3 I think really addresses Quentin’s death in a significant way, and I think your performance in that particular episode is really terrific. I was curious how you felt when you first read that script for that episode.
APPLEMAN: Yeah, I think a huge elephant in the room is the mutual grief of Eliot and Alice and their shared love of Quentin and how much or how little connection and conversation they’ve been able to have between the finale and episode three. Certainly as characters on screen, we haven’t seen much of them together since earlier seasons. So I knew that it was a really ripe opportunity for Olivia Taylor Dudley and I to explore both their mutual grief and how these two characters have learned to, I guess, kind of ignore the deeper truth around the love that they had for the same person.
We had a really great time delving deep together and discussing how much we wanted even Alice to reveal over the course of that episode, and sort of get the emotional arc of them coming together after a period of friction. I guess on some level, Eliot knows Alice’s part of the story, but Alice doesn’t fully understand Eliot’s truth in regard to Quentin. It doesn’t seem like it was fully articulated earlier, to her at least. And so yeah, we really got to bond over how these characters get to come together and express their honesty to each other. They’re both hiding something from each other at the top of the episode, so I did appreciate that.
I also thought Sera [Gamble] did a really lovely job articulating the emotional life of those characters in that episode. She came up to just be with us on that day because she knew that it was an important one, and it was really lovely to have her there as a support.
Oh wow. Yeah, that script is fantastic.
APPLEMAN: It is, yeah.
The episode “A Life in the Day” is one of my favorite episodes of television in the last decade. Quentin and Eliot get to live this life together and then Quentin dies. And in this episode we finally get a tiny bit of resolution on it. Was that something that you had kind of pushed to get when you guys came back? And was it nice to kind of finally explicitly address the love that Quentin and Eliot shared?
APPLEMAN: I think it was pretty mutually understood that in the aftermath of Quentin’s death, exploring Eliot’s responses and gradual acceptance, or lack thereof, was a huge priority for the show. That was something that everyone could agree on. Not that I necessarily had a say, but in my conversations with John [McNamara] and Sera, we were pretty open and vulnerable about that as an important aspect of the arc of the entire season. I think that it just allowed for a different kind of storytelling than we’ve had, particularly in regards to my character.
I haven’t seen the episode yet so I don’t know what ended up in the final edit, but I will say in the playing of that big scene with Alice on the top of the mountain, it was a bit surprising how it came out on certain takes. Sometimes Eliot is laughing, literally, at himself, and sometimes he’s kind of heaving this giant weight off of his chest, and sometimes both at the same time. Olivia and I prepared the scene and rehearsed a little bit before we got up there, but there was a certain alchemy to what happened on the day that honestly surprised me in what we came up with together in the moment. It felt like a strange blend of emotions that hopefully feel aligned to where Eliot is in his process of grief and defining his relationship to Quentin for himself out loud and for Alice.
What’s so striking about it is, I mean, Eliot is a broken character, and we love him because he’s sarcastic and he’s funny and he says stuff out loud that other people won’t say out loud. But it seems like he has a hard time telling the truth. And I think the breakthrough in this episode is he says it out loud.
He says the truth.
APPLEMAN: He says the truth to Alice, and down the line, he reveals his feelings in the moment to someone else. So it’s interesting to see how he either shies away from that or, I think down the line, he gets a little more brave about expressing his needs to take care of himself emotionally. And so that’s part of the growth of the character this season that’s important and what he’s willing and unwilling to do with his own trauma and health.
The Magicians airs on Syfy on Thursdays.