Thirteen weeks later, we’ve made it to the end of season 4 of The Magicians. And in keeping with the past three finales, this one is a doozy. The episode picks up exactly where we ended last week. Alice (Olivia Taylor Dudley) and Quentin (Jason Ralph) have cornered Sister in Julia’s (Stella Maeve) body. Penny (Arjun Gupta) arrives seconds later and axes Sister and her spirit leaves Julia’s body. They trap her in a bottle.
Julia isn’t left unharmed, however, her body is stuck in flux and the Binder informs them that she must make her choice – goddess or human? Unfortunately, she is not conscious for this decision and Penny chooses for her. Humanity. Humanity without magic.
Back at their new headquarters, the Physical Cottage, the Monster (Hale Appleman) arrives wanting the scroll. Fogg manages to transport the Monster to a forest while Josh (Trever Einhorn) and Quentin use the scroll the monsters found last week to transport to a new location. This new location is some kind of office space where the secretary to the old gods informs them that there is a seam in the mirror realm where they can drop the monsters where they can never return.
In order to capture the Monster, however, Kady (Jade Tailor) comes up with the idea of performing a cooperative magic spell across the world in order to gather enough magic. It works, and Eliot is finally freed. Margo (Summer Bishil) works overtime to make sure he survives.
With the monsters bottled, Penny, Alice, and Quentin head to the mirror realm. They find the seam in a mirror and Quentin tosses the first of the siblings through it. Alice is on edge the entire time though, and her hesitation results in Everett arriving before Quentin can toss the second bottled Monster through.
Because performing magic in the mirror realm causes disastrous consequences, Everett reverts to the physical to foil the questers’ plans. He physically breaks the mirror. Everett demands the bottled monster (he wants to be a God!), but Quentin in all his self-sacrificing glory, does the only thing he can. He mends the mirror, his minor mending showing its use. The mirror and the seam repair itself in time for Quentin to throw the bottle through, but the magic causes disaster.
Penny manages to pull Alice away in time, but the magic consumes Everett, and then Quentin. In slow motion, artfully shot and executed scene, Quentin dies. Yes, you read that. Our original protagonist dies in an act of heroism.
In the Underworld, Penny-40 greets Quentin and brings him to the room where secrets taken to the grave. Quentin talks through his history of depression, and because he doesn’t remember dying he wants to know if he did something brave to save his friends, or if he killed himself. Oh, my sweet summer child.
In response to his friend’s depressing question, Penny takes Quentin up to Earth to observe his friends, who are holding a memorial of sorts for him. Each one of his friends has brought an item that reminds them of Quentin and deposits it into a fire. Everyone brings something different. From Quentin’s Fillorian crown to one of his Fillory books, each means something to the character that brings it. When Eliot tossed in a peach, I just about lost it. The whole scene is set against the characters singing “Take on Me”. Quentin cries as he watches how genuinely his friends mourn him.
Before he moves on, Quentin asks Penny what will happen to his friends. Here, we learn a bit of what next season may have in store. Magic is back. Zelda asks Alice to run the library. Fillory is now 300 years in the future and Josh and Fen (Brittany Curran) have been overthrown.
And then we see a moment from after the memorial. We finally see what Julia brought for the fire – a playing card. Julia is who Quentin was most worried about (and let’s be real, who we were all worried about). Alone, Julia tosses in the playing card, but before it hits the flames, it flies up and erupts into a collection of cards suspended mid-air, a mirror of Quentin’s first act of magic in the premiere. Magic comes from pain. Julia is in pain, and her magic is back.
At last, Quentin takes the underworld MetroCard from Penny. He’s ready to move on. And he does.
Before I get into that ending, I have a couple of non-Quentin things to say. The first half of this finale was a little rocky. After spending a season on the Monster’s storyline, I will have to say it ended a bit anticlimactically. Especially, with the Sister. And Eliot’s first moments back? While I’m glad they were with Margo, I will forever be bitter that we never saw a reunification between Eliot and Quentin.
I’ve said it before, but Julia Wicker deserves better. Since the moment she learned about Brakebills, she has had to claw her way through mountains of shit to find her place in the magical world. Julia has been stripped of her choices way too many ways to count. I hate that she wasn’t offered the agency to make the decision she was finally given. I do, however, understand how this works story-wise, but I still hate it. Can’t Julia just make a decision of her own volition for once? Ultimately, however, she is a strong woman who has overcome more than any of the other questers and ultimately always grows from pain.
And now onto Quentin. So, there’s a lot to unpack with Quentin’s death, but I want to start by saying that Jason Ralph’s departure from The Magicians was planned before the start of this season. This was a joint decision between Jason and the producers.
Immediately following the episode, the backlash across social media regarding Quentin’s death was immense. Here we have a clinically-depressed, bisexual man, dying as self-sacrifice. The problems here are two-fold. Firstly, Quentin finding peace in death after years of depression is a slippery slope. While Quentin’s death falls in the grey area between suicide and heroism, there is a balance needed. I don’t think that Quentin chose to die for himself, but rather chose to act in a heroic measure that resulted in his death. This fine distinction places his death as one of a warrior in battle, and not as a suicide. Or at least, that is how I view it. But I am just one person, and I think the intricacies here open up a necessary conversation about mentally-ill characters and their stories on screen.
The second aspect of Quentin’s death that is being hotly debated now, is the fact that Quentin was a queer man. Does his death fall under the “bury your gays” trope? Honestly, I don’t know. I think there are merits to both sides. There are so few bisexual men on television that his death may feel like an attack on that representation. On the other hand, The Magicians features an ensemble of characters. Quentin wasn’t the only queer character. Eliot and Margo are both confirmed as queer (although we’ve yet to see Margo with anyone other than men).
When an actor sees their character’s arc as ending, is there a way to honor that character, that queer character, in a way that doesn’t fit the “bury your gays” trope. I think it depends on who you ask. His whole life, Quentin had trouble figuring out where he belonged, and what his role was. In one lifetime, his role was to figure out a puzzle and live a life with Eliot, but in this lifetime, it may have been to save his friends and the world by sacrificing himself.
I don’t think there is a clear-cut answer as to whether Quentin’s death was problematic or not. All I know is that it was desperately sad, and I will miss Jason Ralph on this show. I also know that Quentin got the sendoff he deserved. The funeral scene was beautiful, deserved, and really exhibited the fact that Q was always the heart of the group. His death also showed us what this season has told us multiple times; nothing is ever just one person’s story. The Magicians isn’t the story of Quentin Coldwater, it’s the story of a group of Magicians dealing with life. One of whom just happened to be Quentin Coldwater. His story might be over, but everyone else’s is just beginning.