Not all art has to be political. Some might even support the more uninformed argument that art shouldn’t be political. But creating or even considering art without acknowledging the larger context of the place and time in which it was made feels impossible. It also felt impossible for the creative team behind The Magicians.
Rick Worthy, stroking his Dean Fogg Brakebills tie in between takes on Season 4’s Vancouver set, remembers being in a Canadian bar the night Donald Trump won the U.S. presidency in 2016. He asked a young 20something man what he thought of Trump’s projected win, to which the man replied, “Well, at least now I can say the word f—t.” “I really knew then that everything had shifted,” Worthy said.
For John McNamara, the co-creator and showrunner of the Syfy series mentions the 2018 mass shooting at Tree of Life. “My wife and son are Jewish,” he remarks. “And after Pittsburgh, [I asked,] ‘How’s the security at our synagogue?’ Do I fear fascism? I fear a state in which crimes committed against minorities are simply treated differently than crimes against the majority.”
With the rise of Trump and a public resurgence of white supremacy, the writers on The Magicians played with a metaphor for fascism through the Library’s storyline. Now entering Season 4, it’s coming to the forefront, particularly with how “it infects characters we may think are good,” McNamara says.
After succeeding in restoring magic, the Brakebills gang were left splintered at the end of Season 3. Julia (Stella Maeve) sacrificed her god-hood to prevent meddling from Alice (Olivia Dudley), but The Order of the Librarians popped in during the aftermath to take control of the well. Per a shady agreement with Fogg, they also wiped the group’s memories, and placed them in a glamour state where they are living out mortal lives, unaware of their true identities or magical affinities.
Arjun Gupta describes it as “a deeper form of witness protection.” His character, Penny 23, is now living as DJ Hansel, a mix between Yellow Claw and sexy house music. Jason Ralph’s Quentin goes by “Bry-Guy” (enough said) and Summer Bishil’s Margo is living large as a high-powered fashion editor carted around by Isaac, a five-star ride-share driver who’s the glamoured state of Josh (Trevor Einhorn). Now The Order are the ones rationing magic as they see fit.
Alice initially doesn’t know her friends have been glamoured. She’s been locked in the Library jail with no information from the outside world. “Dean Fogg is the only person who comes to visit me, but that doesn’t necessarily mean our relationship is good,” Dudley says.
Fogg, then, becomes more of a “business man” as he deals with this “uneasy alliance with The Order.” “He finds himself in a position where he has to report to the Library. Dean Fogg has never really had to report to anyone up until this season,” Worthy says. That puts him at direct odds with Zelda (Mageina Tovah), who brokers the magic for Fogg and Brakebills. “How much does she want power?” McNamara poses of her character. “How much will she surrender of her own morality, which is significant? How much of her daughter will she abandon to do what she thinks is right? But is she doing it because she thinks it’s right or is she doing it because it benefits her and the Library?”
Many forms of entertainment made attempts to tackle the era of Trumpism to varying effects. Dudley believes The Magicians is in a unique position as the show has always been “ahead of the curve.” “We’ve been a very diverse show that’s not afraid to touch on touchy subjects,” she says. “We were ahead of the MeToo movement by having all these women rule kingdoms!”
No matter the medium or the genre of storytelling, McNamara says the ingredients for fascism are the same, like a “pre-packaged pancake batter”: “You need a certain amount of poverty, you need a certain amount of disenfranchisement, you need a certain amount of fear, and that’s it. You mix those properly and you have a totalitarian government and you have the rise of white supremacy, you have the rise of antisemitism.”
The first ones hit are the hedge witches, since they “are at the fringe of our fictional society,” McNamara continues. Once Kady (Jade Tailor) snaps out of the glamour — because, as everyone jokes, that alone can’t be the entire season arc — she starts “fighting for the voice of the Hedges to be heard and to save their lives.” But the conflict with the Library brings a ripple effect.
In what could be seen as a parallel to Trump’s ignorance of climate change, Fillory’s ecosystem is thrown out of whack. Fen, the acting High King, is dealing with the emergence of “extra questing creatures” and an overabundance of opium in the air, all with “no flow of magic other than what the Library gives us,” actress Brittany Curran lays out.
We also haven’t discussed The Monster yet and that’s for a reason. The entity that took ahold of Eliot (Hale Appleman) in the last finale has a largely separate story arc, despite a few intersections.
In the grand scheme of fascism, if “evil is greed without boundaries,” then The Monster “is an even simpler version than that,” McNamara says. “He is greed without awareness… To me the Library would find him very useful if they could control him. That’s the most useful soldier that you can imagine. Where those stories come together is when someone in the Library is like, ‘I could use him. That’s useful to me.’”
For the most part, the main antagonists in Season 4 will be “much more difficult to define,” McNamara teases. “There are people we’ve known for a while and then people who are revealing their true character in the face of changed circumstances, just as Donald Trump went from being a clownish reality show host to president of the United States because circumstances in this country changed and tipped in his favor.”
This all isn’t to say Trump is now going to magically appear as a character on the show. McNamara and fellow showrunner Sera Gamble aren’t quite that overt in confronting the subject, but he says “politics are going to creep in because we want to grow The Magicians in the world that we all live in.” The original books by Lev Grossman maintained that spirit, notably tackling sexual violence and how one deals with trauma. “We’re definitely going to take what’s in the air and express our feelings on it.”
“I think our show just has a really good language of magic to be able to tell that,” Dudley posits. “You can pull people in with the sexiness of magic and then slam in their face this thing about this real issue that’s happening in the world. Magic isn’t what’s gonna fix it, it’s everybody banning together against the bad guy and taking them down.”
The Magicians season 4 premieres Wednesday, Jan. 23 at 9 p.m. on Syfy.