[Warning: The following contains spoilers for the series finale of The Magicians, "Fillory and Further." Read at your own risk!]
The Magicians series finale may have closed the book on Fillory and Further, but in true Magicians form, this last chapter really just felt like the beginning of a new story. That new story just so happened to involve blowing up an entire planet — you know, magician stuff.
In a last bid to save Fillory from the Dark King's (Sean Maguire) plan to release the dead, the kids decided to "rapture" the planet's inhabitants into a new world they'd built with the god seed. In the end, Margo (Summer Bishil), Alice (Olivia Taylor Dudley), Fen (Brittany Curran) and Josh (Trevor Einhorn) found themselves separated from the group in this new world, alone but excited at the prospect of building something from the ground up. Back at Brakebills, Eliot (Hale Appleman), Penny (Arjun Gupta), and Julia (Stella Maeve) found their own happily ever afters — Cheliot is officially canon, y'all — while vowing to continue to search for their lost friends.
All in all, it was a satisfying series finale that left us wanting more, which, it turns out, was the plan all along. TV Guide spoke with showrunners John McNamara and Sera Gamble about bringing the Syfy series to an end and how they closed out so many characters' story arcs in this fifth and final season.
What was your reaction when you got the news this would be the last season?
McNamara: While I was stubbornly pitching, "Well, we could do it as a sock puppet theater in my backyard! It will cost like eight dollars!" Sera and [executive producer] Henry [Alonso Myers] were very wisely composing a season finale that also had the DNA of a series finale. And, in fact, they sort of wrote it in such a way and it was shot in such a way that had we gotten a sixth season somewhere, there was a way to edit the episode so it would only feel like a cliffhanger. They had written, I think, really wonderful material that while on the one hand felt like there were very complete arcs for all the main characters, there was also the sense that their journey would continue without us — that we weren't saying to the audience, "This is the end for you and for them." We're saying, "This is the end of your viewing The Magicians at the moment, but know that they're literally out there in the universe, building new worlds." And I thought it was very smart.
How did you go about deciding how to crafting endings for each character in a satisfying way?
Sera Gamble: That was first and foremost in our conversations, and that conversation started at the beginning of Season 5. I have a certain essential pragmatism slash pessimism... about the future at all times. So we always start at a season saying, if this is our last, what do we want to say? And in this case, we knew we were on the bubble, and our first priority was to talk about where our characters started in the pilot and where we wanted to see them in the finale.
What were your main goals for these characters' endings?
McNamara: Eliot's a really good example [of that].
Gamble: It's funny because I will tell you that we had this in mind for Charlton when we cast him. When we cast Spencer [Daniels], we were very much thinking of the possibility that somehow — we had no idea how — if he ever got out of the monster's head, he would have a real connection with Eliot. We talked a lot about how when we meet Eliot, though he is always the life of the party and he cared deeply about his friends, he's also very guarded. He is ambivalent about having love for himself. And so we thought that it would be an interesting challenge to really look at the ways he's grown and the hard lessons that he's learned and whether he would be ready for something like this and have moved past some of the damage of his earlier life by the finale. And so we were really very excited to do that. I think if you went back in to rewatch him throughout the season, that's something that every writer in every episode was very diligent about tracking for him, knowing that this is where he would see him in the last episode.
You would hope that one day Eliot finds a way to see his friends again, but we didn't really get that in the finale. Do you imagine that he does one day reunite with them?
Gamble: I mean, there's always going to be problems. The Magicians is the craziest, most fantastical version of a show that's really just about accepting that real, adult life is hard and uncertain and things don't get tied up in a bow, and there's always another problem to solve. You never really get to say that you're done, and you don't even really want to because you want to keep living. So yes, he's separated from his friends. He's helping his traveler friends to go on this epic quest to try to find them again, and meanwhile, he is at Brakebills kind of holding down the fort there. But when I watch the finale, there's no doubt in my mind that somehow or other, these crazy kids will find a way to save each other. That's kind of the story of their friendship as a circle. When when we started this series, each of them was pretty much, essentially alone to a great extent. They didn't have a group that were their allies and their fellow soldiers, but now, in the finale, they do know that they have each other. They do know that they have each other's backs.
When did you guys decide you had to bring the Beast (Charles Mesure) back, or was that always the plan for the series finale?
Gamble: This season was very much about the Chatwins. We constructed Season 5 to bring you back to the story we started in Season 1 about this group of siblings and their relationship to Fillory and to each other and the ways in which their family legacy has hurt them and has estranged them from each other. So we brought you Plum (Riann Steele) and Rupert, and looking at it now, it's sort of like, "Well, of course, the Beast would be behind some of the shenanigans and we'd get to see him one more time, which is awesome." I couldn't tell you who pitched it in the room, but as with many things that feel like no-brainers, by the time you get to them in an episode, they are the result of a lot of writers doing a lot of thinking and finally landing on that idea that I excites everybody.
McNamara: Plus, we love Charles Mesure. He was just a delight to work with, for the two seasons he was alive, and a hell of a singer too.
Was there ever the thought to bring Quentin (Jason Ralph) back for the series finale, considering how integral he was to the show, or did you guys not want to mess with his ending?
McNamara: I think there would have been a certain disingenuousness to that because the thing that made it, I think, the right decision... is that his death was real. And death, even in The Magicians, when you go to your final destination, you don't come back. Look at kind of the theme of this season — it is Rupert trying to undo death, and that even in this universe, you don't do that. There's too huge cost. There's too much deception. There's too much self-deception involved. There's too much collateral damage. And so for me anyway, I don't think I've even articulated this before, but thinking about your question, you want things on the show to have stakes. And in order to have stakes, things have to have a finality and a reality to them. There's got to be a reality that's at least a mirror image of our reality. And one of the things you deal with as an adult as opposed to being a kid is people you love die and they're gone forever. That's something that was, I think, really important to me and Sera and Henry and the other writers. We're not going to like trick our way out of this or fake our way out of this... We wanted this to be a fantasy about reality.
I also want to talk about the destruction of Fillory because that was a huge thing to do. Why did you pick that as the place to end this series?
Gamble: Spoiler alert, it's in Lev's books [laughs]. It's incredibly moving in the books. We talked about it for a long time. The show, in the last couple of seasons, has been very focused on telling a story about doing the right thing even at incredible cost. To us, this was the greatest cost. But it's also a way to tell a story that I find very optimistic and kind of exciting, that's about letting go of the old and opening yourself up to the possibility of creating something new, which I have to say gave me solace as I was co-writing what I felt was likely the last episode of the show — or not unlikely the last episode of the show. There's a beautiful metaphor in that for the creative process... It was sort of sad and exciting at the same time. I was very curious to see what new Fillory would look like.
McNamara: There's a distinct resemblance to Vancouver.
Do you guys have a character whose ending was your particular favorite?
McNamara: Are we allowed to say our favorite, Sera?
Gamble: I don't think so. I mean, we are, we're not allowed to talk about them publicly [laughs]. I'm happy with so many of them. I have to say my favorite line that a character got in the last episode is Zelda's (Mageina Tovah) line. "Death is not the end, it's a transfer to a new branch."
McNamara: Great line.
Gamble: As a television producer in general, one of the most exciting and fun things about our job is that you don't always write a role and know, "Okay, this is going to be Julia Wicker. She's going to be massively important all the time for the series, and we need to cast a very accomplished, young actress to play this role." Sometimes you just write a role for one episode called "Head Librarian," and then you see what happens. That was true of Zelda, who didn't even have a name in the past. That was true of Fen.
McNamara: Katy (Jade Tailor) was supposed to die in the pilot.
Gamble: Yeah, our early draft of the pilot had a Katy dying.
McNamara: Dean Fogg (Rick Worthy) was going to die. We were going to kill, like, everybody.
Gamble: David Call's character, Pete, was meant to just be there for a few episodes. Marina (Kacey Rohl) was originally just a couple-episode role. So celebrating sort of breakout characters who organically, as a combination of how much fun it is to write the character and then just how great the actor is, have inspired the room. There are really so many of them on this show, and we kind of brought back as many as we could justify in the last show.
McNamara: You know, you can only do that if you have an incredibly strong, multi-faceted group of regulars on the show. If your core ensemble is really strong, and there's no one who's a weak link — and I believe there isn't the weak link in the original six that we cast. In fact, they just got better and showed more versatility and more talented things we had no idea they could do when we cast them. But what you then do is you raise the bar through them, and the other characters that now come in had better be interesting and they better really have their own voice and their own point of view. And you've got to cast as well as you possibly can. We got, I think, very lucky both in casting that core ensemble, but then building off that ensemble.