‘The Magicians’ Showrunners on That Series Finale, Happy Endings, and If This Is Really the End

     April 1, 2020

Note: This interview contains full spoilers for the series finale of The Magicians.

The Magicians is over. With the airing of the Season 5 finale, “Fillory and Further,” five years of insanely cool magic, shocking twists, emotional breakdowns, and yes, f-bombs galore has come to an end. It wasn’t exactly supposed to go this way. If it were up to The Magicians showrunners Sera Gamble, John McNamara, and Henry Alonso Myers, the show would have continued. But Syfy saw it differently, and in the midst of production on Season 5, word came down that this would probably be the show’s final season.

But really, if the series had to go out unexpectedly, I couldn’t think of a better or more fitting finale. The series came full circle as it brought The Beast back into the fold for one final antagonistic showdown, and once again the titular magicians—Julia (Stella Maeve), Alice (Oliva Taylor Dudley), Eliot (Hale Appleman), Margo (Summer Bishil), Penny (Arjun Gupta), Kady (Jade Tailor), Josh (Trevor Einhorn), and Fen (Brittany Curran)—had to pull together and defeat the odds to save the world(s). Again.

There was a sense of finality to this particular adventure, however. Fillory as we know it is gone, with Alice, Margo, Fen, and Josh literally laying the groundwork for an entire new world. Fittingly enough, Margo is crowned High King Margo, the Creator. Alice finds self-acceptance—flaws and all. Penny and Julia are parents to a newborn magician. Eliot may have finally found healthy companionship with Charlton. Things seemed… okay? For once? And for a show that’s unafraid to dig into the harsh realities of day-to-day life—depression, mental illness, toxic relationships, etc.—it was nice to be able to say goodbye to these characters knowing that, after five years of ups and downs, they’re gonna be okay.

That was a conscious decision on the part of the showrunners, who were gracious enough to answer some burning questions I had about the Magicians series finale over email. Gamble, McNamara, and Myers revealed when, exactly, they knew this season finale was going to have to work as a series finale as well, and talked about the decision to wrap up this story in a way that felt true to the show but also satisfying to fans. They also dug into specifics, like bringing The Beast back and why they decided not to bring Jason Ralph back for one final appearance as Quentin Coldwater following the character’s death at the end of Season 4. And sadly, they explained why this truly is the end of the road for the show—they exhausted all possible options to continue on at another network.

I’ve been a fan of this show since it first aired. I was obsessed with Lev Grossman’s books off of which the show is based, and delighted in watching this Syfy series really grow into its own as the seasons progressed. The Magicians was always unafraid of being bold. Of being weird. Of being fucking ambitious. And for that we should be grateful. It’s rare these days that any show makes it past the first season let alone the pilot, but for this series to run for five seasons and still have gas in the tank? That’s a minor miracle.

It’s a testament the producers, the writers, and of course the cast that The Magicians was as consistently good (and crazy) as it was, and I think we can confidently say we’ll probably never see a show like this again.

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Photo by: James Dittiger/SYFY

Below, see what Sera Gamble, John McNamara, and Henry Alonso Myers had to say about The Magicians series finale and bringing this series to an end.

How soon did you find out Season 5 would be the show’s last before writing this final episode, and how did that affect the crafting of this episode?

SERA GAMBLE: We knew all season that the show was on the bubble, just because we were aware of the TV landscape and the lifespan of comparable shows.  We fought hard for another season, but meanwhile we had to write a season finale, and we knew it may well need to stand as the series finale. So we set the goal of crafting an episode that didn’t necessarily wrap up every plot point but did provide a sense of a full arc for each of our characters. They’re each so multifaceted, we couldn’t possibly sum them up completely in one episode, but we picked an important struggle or two and highlighted how they’ve changed over the life of the series.

Was there an alternate ending to the season you were building towards that you jettisoned when you found out it needed to potentially work as a series finale? If so, what was it?

GAMBLE: It’s more that we shot certain scenes knowing they felt like series finale scenes. We knew that if we had to, we could cut and trim in post to make ’em a little more… well, brutal. More cliffhanger-ish. But the version you’re seeing is the complete Series Finale version. Everything stayed in.

If the show had gone on to Season 6, what would that story have been? The creation of a new Fillory?

GAMBLE: We had a plan, but since this is the end of this version of the story, I think it’s right to hand it now to fans of the show to dream up whatever they envision. We certainly evoke their next set of problems in the finale– part of the point of our show is that life goes on, quests emerge, new crises clamor in.  Just a few weeks ago I was in a totally different place in my life with totally different stresses– I could not have predicted I’d be answering your questions while self-isolated during a global pandemic.  But then another part of the point of our show is that how you do in battle has everything to do with the soldier standing next to you, whether on the same ground or worlds away.. The finale tells you pretty damn explicitly that after a lifetime of each feeling quite alone, our characters are really there for each other.  They might not always agree or even like each other, but they will risk their lives to save each other, always. Beyond that, you get to spin out whatever tales you want to tell yourself!

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Photo by: James Dittiger/SYFY

How long have you known you might want to bring The Beast back into the fold, and how did that decision come about?

JOHN MCNAMARA: Honestly, I think it was bandied about the writers’ room all season, as we were going to introduce or re-introduce all of the living Chatwins.  So it seemed natural to have The Beast be the one pulling the strings for a final time, betraying everyone he’s ever encountered.  Also, we love the actor who plays him, Charles Mesure, and thought he deserved a final bow.

Did you ever have any ideas or plans to bring Quentin back? 

MCNAMARA: No. I may have felt the strongest about this, though no one ever brought it up seriously. Here was my reasoning. On most TV shows and in a lot of movies, books and plays, the death of a protagonist is a trick.  A way to shock and unsettle an audience.  But it usually does neither because the audience is well-accustomed to the trope: it’s a fake out.  He or she didn’t die for some myriad of plot contrivances, or did but was miraculously brought back and so on.  We did a version ourselves in killing Penny 40 and sending him to the Underworld.  But then — cleverly at least — brought in Penny 23 from another time line.  But we did adhere strictly to some painful truths: Penny 40 is really dead; Kady loves Penny 40 and not Penny 23 and vice versa.  So we got to see real emotional agony from all the characters who loved Penny 40.  This was, in a way, a litmus test.  Could you kill a major character for real, forever and have it not throw the show off course?

In killling Quentin, we knew the risks were greater, for a number of reasons. Jason Ralph, a wonderful actor, had asked to leave the show at the end of Season 4 and we reluctantly agreed. So there’d be no Quentin 23 popping into Season 5. Quentin was also a character who was in love with both Alice and Eliot, so he represented the LGBTQ community in a big way. And he’d suffered from serious, sometimes suicidal depression, so we needed to be conscious of that as well.  But what we wanted to deal with as artists was the notion that death cuts across all gender, racial, sexual, mental psychological, political, financial lines. No one in the real world is a protected class when it comes to dying.  Look at the world today, March 31, 2020, with every sentient being on the planet simultaneously sharing the same fears of mortality for the same reasons, not one of us immune or certain of our fates. That is our reality.  And though this reality is the most stark in terms of confronting life’s fragility, that reality has been and always will be there. Life is about death — not avoiding it but dealing with it.

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Photo by: Dean Buscher/SYFY

If we were going to kill one of our major characters, we felt it had to feel absolutely real. No tricks. No twists. No magical resurrections (well, none that could last, anyway, and so make the pain of Q’s loss even more acute) . It had to mirror the experience of true, undeniable, irreparable grief.  Because I’ve maintained from the start my attraction to The Magicians was always singular: it is a fantasy about reality. And if a character’s demise is reversed to appease some fans’ grief and we bring Q back to appease those few who howled at our cruelty, well, that was never going to happen for one simple reason: that isn’t The Magicians. And it never was. All of the DNA for this world view of mortality has been baked in since the first episode. Yes, a few fans felt so hurt they had to stop watching the show and that’s okay and understandable. But I’d contend it’s also the reason that the series’ end feels so powerfully emotional. You might not have liked everything we did in the making of it but to the best of our abilities, we never lied to you about its view of life, death and beyond.

Julia and Penny’s baby provides a really emotional story for this episode. How did Stella’s real-life pregnancy affect Julia’s storyline this season? Did you have a different story in mind for her and Penny?

MCNAMARA: Stella told us she was pregnant fairly early in the season so we hadn’t yet charted a course for her character in any detail yet.  I’ve faced this situation before.  You have 2 choices: shoot around the pregnancy and don’t write it into the show or lean into it and see where it takes you.  We’ve always said we like to write ourselves into corners we don’t know how to get out of.  Now a corner was handed to us.  And a beautiful life-affirming one at that.  I don’t think we would have had Julia get pregnant had Stella not been.  But I’m awfully glad it went the way it did.  Both for Stella, the new mother of a beautiful newborn, and Julia, a character who has grown painfully but radiantly over the years.  Her story isn’t over.  But this is the new chapter she and Penny 23 deserve.

Everyone really gets a happy ending here. Was that always the plan for this finale, or was that a consequence of wanting to make sure the series finale didn’t leave viewers hanging?

HENRY ALSONSO MYERS: We’ve been talking for 5 years about giving people a happy ending. Every season we tend to upend the table and pick up the pieces in the next season — that usually means that things are kind of messed-up for everyone, so there’s more story to tell. But as fans of television we were eager to not do the same thing every year. Since we weren’t entirely sure about the fate of the show when we wrote the finale, we opted to try to close out all our character stories, while keeping a bunch plot threads going. Our characters’ journeys as a result will feel more complete, even though, [SPOILER ALERT] everything is messed-up and they are scattered across the universe.

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Photo by: Eric Milner/SYFY

Is there a major storyline or character you always wanted to tackle in the show but never got around to?

MYERS: Not really. Most of the stuff from the books we’ve at least gotten to hat-tip. We would have liked to do Margo’s flight around Fillory, watching the apocalypse, but it just wasn’t possible on our budget and schedule. We also wished we’d found a way to do the magic carpet from the book 3 heist sequence, but alas there wasn’t a way for us to do it and have it look good on our budget — and it also would have robbed us of the great Santa Claus escape. All the same, very few regrets about what we did get to do, which is most of it. Could have always used more dragons, though.

Is there hope at all for a Season 6 elsewhere, or is this really truly the end of the road for The Magicians?

MYERS: I would love to say there there is hope, because there is always hope in the world, but we explored as many options as we could before we finally accepted that we wouldn’t be able to continue.  In the current TV environment many shows never make it to 5 years.  We did, and we were able to tell a complete story, in the way that we wanted to tell it.  We’ll always be grateful for that.

The Magicians has now completed its run on Syfy. Past episodes are available on Netflix.

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Photo by: Eric Milner/SYFY

Television