*Warning this post contains some spoilers from episode 1 of The Magicians*
When I sat down to watch the sneak peek of Syfy’s highly anticipated fantasy drama The Magicians, based on Lev Grossman’s bestselling Magicians Trilogy, I had no idea what to expect. I had never read any of the books and knew absolutely nothing about the story on which it was based. All I knew was that it was being marketed as a darker, sexier version of Harry Potter, and, to be honest, that’s all the enticement that I needed. Much to my surprise, the premiere episode proved to be much more than that, and by episode’s end, I had fallen head over heels in love with the show.
That’s not to say that I didn’t experience serious Harry Potter déjà vu while watching it; I did, but only on a surface level. The show’s premise is very Harry Potter-esque: an introverted young man named Quentin Coldwater (Jason Ralph) discovers that he possesses inherent magical abilities and is recruited to attend a prestigious magical academy in order to hone his powers. The academy, called Brakebills, divides its students by year and house, as well as by focus of study, much like Hogwarts—but whereas Hogwarts is mysterious, colorful and bizarre, Brakebills is muted and almost mundane, reminiscent of a typical university. Even Brakebills’ assortment of characters seem like normal college kids: at one point, Quentin’s new besties, Eliot (Hale Appleman) and Margo (Summer Bishil), even take Quentin on a tour of the school’s principle cliques, not unlike the memorable cafeteria scene in Mean Girls.
It’s the introduction of Fillory that really adds flair to the universe of The Magicians. We first encounter Fillory as a fictional place; prior to his admission to Brakebills, Quentin was obsessed with a fantasy series called Fillory and Further, which is about three siblings, the Chatwins, who find themselves drawn into the exotic and magical land of Fillory. To Quentin’s surprise, his induction into Brakebills also leads him to discover that Fillory is real. Like Narnia, it comes and goes as it is needed, presumably to offer guidance or teach lessons. So far, the glimpses that we’ve gotten of Fillory have been brief. How it is tied to Brakebills and what role it will play later on are still unknown, but I can only guess that it’ll prove to be important.
What I do know is that the introduction of Fillory took this episode to a metafictional place that I honestly found surprising and refreshing. Fillory is first presented as escapist fiction for Quentin, who is so invested in its world that he neglects his life. As an actual place, Fillory is no less consuming, absorbing the Chatwins with ease and threatening to absorb Quentin as well. In both incarnations, the intention seems to be to make Fillory a metaphor for our relationship with fantasy itself, and I’m anxious to see it develop further.
Probably the most exciting storyline launched in this episode, though, concerns Quentin’s childhood friend Julia (Stella Maeve). Julia, like Quentin, is initially recruited by Brakebills as a potential, but unlike Quentin, she fails the entrance examination and is cast out. However, her memory is unsuccessfully wiped and she becomes obsessed with Brakebills. Ultimately, she is recruited by a rival group whose intentions at this point are unclear. As far as protagonists go, I hope that the writers allow Julia as much screen-time as Quentin, since her journey to mastering her magical abilities could serve as an interesting foil to Quentin’s.
The highlight of the episode for me, however, is the introduction of the show’s main antagonist, The Beast, who is quite truthfully one of the creepiest things I’ve seen on television in a long time. Saving his grand entrance until the last five minutes is a brilliant move; it not only allows this exceptional premiere to end on a strong note but it also gives viewers an incentive to tune back in to find out what happens, something which I, for one, plan to do.
The two-part series premiere of The Magicians will air January 25 at 9:00 pm EST on Syfy! You can also watch episode one by visiting http://www.syfy.com/themagicians.