The Magicians Is an Awesome Show and You Should Definitely Watch It

Seriously, there’s a show called Magicians. I rarely do straight up reviews or recommendations, but this is a show that I feel not enough people are talking about. So I’m going to talk about it. I’ll tell you why it’s awesome and once we’ve all watched it, come back to this space and I’ll have some deep analyses and we’ll talk together about how awesome it is.

Ok, quick synopsis in case you haven’t heard of this show. It’s basically Harry Potter with college students who drink a lot, swear a lot and behave like awful people. It’s great. Synopsis over, and another transition handled most smoothly. I think I’m getting the hang of this writing thing.

Look, I get that “awful people doing awful” might sound kind of terrible. But it’s, like, super not. Yes, they’re all pretty much some combination of insecure, clueless, obnoxious, self-centered, callous, arrogant and self-destructive, but the writers are mostly aware of this and in general terrible behavior has terrible consequences.

Also, main character Quentin has kind of terrible hair.

But it’s OK because the characters are terrible in interesting ways and there are these really great moments when these guys who think they know everything realize they are completely in over their heads. And despite all their shortcomings – or maybe because of them – the characters and their reactions feel, for the most part, like real people having real reactions and real hardships. Yes, the writes don’t always pull this off flawlessly – I could name a bunch of decisions that seem to come out of nowhere or don’t really work –  but for most part, the relationships and emotions of the characters feel true and real.

In fact, one of the main draws of the show is that while it is very much a fantasy story, with magic and elves and wizards, the characters are from the real world, and many of them, especially Quentin, have read and obsessed over fantasy novels. This mean they react like you would expect real fantasy nerds to react to finding a real fantasy world. They make knowing references to Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, but more importantly, it means that they have certain expectations of what happens in a fantasy story, similar to what our expectations, as viewers are. The writers skillfully set up these expectations – both for the characters and the viewers – ad they turn around and savagely and bloodily subvert them. If you haven’t guessed by now, I like when things are subverted. You should too.

Then there are the magic elements themselves. It’s not fantasy storybook stuff, it’s dangerous and messy and dirty and the consequences of messing up, or even just not doing well are tangible. I really respect when shows don’t hesitate to explore the logical conclusions of their premises, even when those conclusions are grim and dark. And I will admit that sometimes events don’t make a whole lot of sense, like when they all suddnely become geese and fly to the south pole for no apparent reason. You might think that I of all people would get upset about that kind of random shenanigans. I didn’t, because first of all, that was a glorious moment, which will defend most strenuously, and secondly those kind of shenanigans just don’t happen too often.

In this scene, a curse is broken through the power of Taylor Swift songs. Now, I have nothing either for or against Taylor Swift, but this scene was beautiful.

Still, even when stuff doesn’t make sense plot wise, the show consistently uses the magical elements in service of character building and this is what saves it. In one scene, the characters can only cast a spell by telling their partner a deep secret. Again, this doesn’t necessarily make a lot of sense, but this then allows the show to springboard to a place where the characters are able to explore and deepen their relationships in a meaningful way. Which is good! That a makes it good to watch. Also, yes, it’s a TV show with a TV budget. For all that though, the special effects aren’t all that bad. There’s even a funny in-joke about how a magical castle had to be made invisible because the magic builders spent so much on the interior they couldn’t afford to make the outside look nice. I chuckled at that joke. So meta!

Did I mention, the show is funny? Because it is. I know I mentioned the character interactions at least. These are funny! Sometimes, the humor is light and nothing more than an incongruous f-bomb. But more than that, the show is really smart about how it uses its humor. It will disarm the viewer with seeming throwaway jokes and you’re like “huh, that’s funny” and you expect the show to move on. But it doesn’t. It keeps exploring the topic, and what starts as just a joke evolves into a deep exploration of the characters or the way society talks about women.

It actually does this again and again, and it’s incredibly effective, especially when it goes to these really dark and bloody places. One second you’ll be laughing at a clever joke, and next you’ll find the laughter catching in your throat, as a character has their hands cut off. This could easily have been jarring in a bad way, but instead it’s jarring in a good way, amplifying the emotions both in the moments of levity and making the shocking moments of blood and darkness all the darker.

So, you know, the Magicians. Go watch it! And then we’ll talk about all the ways the fart jokes are really funny and all the ways it works as a subtle indictment of rape culture.

The Force Is Stupid

Like, I actually do like Star Wars. I kind of love Star Wars. That said, here’s another article about why Star Wars sucks. Basically, it’s about the force. I hate the force.

There’s this thing about the force I’m going to call “the evil-switch”. It’s basically, the idea that you can take a person, flick a switch in their head, and suddenly they become an evil version of themselves. It’s what happens when you get seduced by the dark side. You’ve seen the films, you don’t need any more examples, but here’s the one everyone has heard of. So, take Darthy V. Before Darth Vader became himself, he was just plain ol’ Annakin, a pretty stand-up guy, mostly, but then he flipped the switch, and became the most evilest guy you could think of. Then you have Ben Solo and don’t get me started on the expanded universe, but it happens a lot in the expanded universe. People go evil a lot there.

And yeah, I get the whole “I feel the call to the light” thing.  It’s a genuine thing The Force Awakens does well. So this is really more of a problem for the original hexology.

But let’s just think about this for a second. What the films are saying is that the basis of becoming evil is anger. If you have enough anger, if you act on it enough times, you reach the point where you turn into an evil version of yourself. You just become evil. Actually, the way it’s presented in the films, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a slow progression. One act of anger is enough to turn you forever. For Luke, the pivotal moment comes towards the end of Return of the Jedi, where he’s battling Darth Vader and he has him on the ropes. Sure, he’s made to be pretty angry here, but it’s not like we’ve seen him steadily building up to be angrier and angrier earlier in the film.

Pictured: pretty angry.

Yet, the way the scene is presented, it’s pretty much, if Luke had struck down Darth Vader here, then that would have been it. Evil-switch flicked. And once you’ve turned evil, there’s pretty much no way to go back. Yes, again, Darth Vader does it, but only after three films and a lot of effort by everyone. So basically, if you get really angry this one time and do something awful, that’s it, your evil-switch is flicked and your going to be a bizarro evil version of yourself for the rest of your life.

But that’s really not how life works. If you do one bad thing, you don’t suddenly become an evil robot. That’s stupid. People don’t just turn evil all of a sudden. That just doesn’t happen. If we go back to the scene we just talked about, when the emperor asks Luke “so… do you want to be evil?” Luke’s answer is a pretty resounding “um… no. That’s stupid.” It’s a powerful, chest-thumping moment because, “all right! Down with evil, up with good!”

We can compare that to scene in episode three when Annikin gets asked the same the same questions and his answer is almost literally “yeah sure, why not.” That’s scene doesn’t resonate in the same way because that’s not how people behave. We can identify with Luke because if someone said to us, “Hey you, do you want to be evil for the rest of your life?” our answer would also be “um, no. That’s stupid.” That’s why the moment when Annakin’s turn in Episode three rang so false. No one can identify with just turning evil out of nowhere. It’s supposed to be this defining moment in the Star Wars Mythos.

Don’t get me wrong, it is also just a very stupid scene, even without all the things I just said.

The whole prequel trilogy, and arguable the originals, have all been building to this moment. And it just ends up being kind of “meh.” Lucas has received a lot of criticism for his handling of this scene – justly so – but the problem isn’t necessarily his handling of the scene, or not just that at least, so much as the fact that the basic concept is flawed. Evil-switches don’t exist and I think as an audience we’re reacting to that, even if we’re not aware of it. In a world of lightsabers and levitating rocks, someone just turning evil is more than we are willing to suspend our disbelief. And, if you think this is hypocritical of me, recall, I argued strongly for being able to say something like that.

Having said that, I think I need to clarify what I mean a little bit, and preemptively defend myself. I’m not going to deny that there have been some atrocious and terrible acts committed by man. I’m not even going to deny that normal people have the capacity – under certain conditions – for doing terrible things. I mean, World War II did happen. But the thing is, pretty much every time you have someone committing terrible acts, they are preceded by a fairly predictable pattern of events.In the case of normal people doing terrible things, this usually happens through dehumanization of a person or group, and some sort of distance, either psychological or physical between the perpetrator and the victim. Another typical prerequisite is a gradual escalation of violence and desensitization. In most cases, there is still a lot of emotional distress involved – most people just don’t feel good about doing awful things.

We can compare this to Star Wars where Annakin goes from being basically a decent guy (or at least not super evil) to a remorseless childkiller in a matter of hours. So I’m not saying that some people aren’t evil or that evil doesn’t exist (actually, I would say that, but that’s a discussion for another day) or even that people can’t become persuaded to do evil acts, but I am saying that the way this is presented in Star Wars, the existence of the evil-switch, is patently ridiculous.

I also want to, again, stress how much I adored Rogue One.