SPOILER ALERT: The following discusses plot points from "Cheat Day," the fifth episode of Season 2 of The Magicians, which aired on Feb. 22.
Quentin is an office drone; Penny waxes on and off for Mayakovsky to fix his hands; Eliot has to set aside his quest to introduce champagne to Fillory when he learns he's going to be a daddy (and that the Dave Grohl-less Foo Fighters want him dead); Margo pushes back against the Fillorian patriarchy; and Julia faces a real-world decision that is torturous and complicated by magic.
Our characters were largely off on their own in tonight's episode of The Magicians, each addressing the limitations of magic to solve their problems of impending parenthood, physical disabilities, grief, and abortion. But the episode also gave us more backstory on Fen, Eliot's beset wife who might have some skeletons in her closet. Played by Brittany Curran, Fen's importance continues to grow as she's proving more and more to be a critical ally to the High King.
For a post-mortem of "Cheat Day," I spoke with Curran about Fen's big pregnancy news, as well as where she fits with Bayler and the Foo Fighters. She also teases the changing relationship with Margo and hints at another big bad for the show.
Also, showrunner Sera Gamble joins me again to weigh in on Julia's plotline and how the writers approached the topic of abortion without losing the tonal balance on the series. She also speaks about the big cliffhanger where Quentin sees Alice (or is it Alice?).
How has Fen changed over the course of when we met her in Season 1 and now?
Brittany Curran: When you first meet Fen, she's a bride and an innocent, naïve farm girl. She is very surface. When you see her go into the second season, she comes into her own. There is a lot more substance forming. As she starts having her own voice and feels she can speak up to Eliot, she does have a lot more depth. And she's not exactly who she says she is. She's not perfect and innocent. She's a little mysterious at this point in the season.
And she has this sexual drive, which has been fun to watch her own that.
Brittany Curran: When I read the script for last week, I thought, "Wow, innocent farm girl wants the D." She's way feistier than I thought she was. That’s what's so fun about playing her; every week I discover this new interesting thing about her. You see Eliot being forced into this marriage, but it's easy to forget Fen also was forced into a marriage. She's just trying to make the best of it. She knows the rule they can only be married to each other, so when she comes on to him more, she realizes they're both stuck in it together, so make the best of it.
How does she view her relationship with Eliot?
Brittany Curran: Since she was a child, she knew she'd marry the High King of Fillory. She has always had a duty towards her marriage and knew she wouldn't marry for love. But then she meets this man and fortunately he's handsome and young. He's different than she expected, but she accepts that. The number-one important thing to her is Fillory and its success. As the episodes go on, she initially thinks he's just obsessed with making champagne but then realizes Eliot is a good man. She ends up believing in him more.
How does being pregnant change Fen's motivations? And how does this new wrinkle of Bayler, and the history between them, impact that?
Brittany Curran: When she gets pregnant, she's absolutely psyched. For her, it's a symbol of normalcy. In a way, now that they're having a baby, it's like man, woman and baby. It's the image she's always had and there's a little naiveté left in her. With Bayler, Fen used to be in the FU Fighters but isn't anymore. She already knew it wasn't a right thing to be a part of them but having the baby makes her realize she is in love with Eliot and does care about being honest. The baby is the final straw with being completely transparent with Eliot. She gets to a higher level of respect for him at this point, too.
She grew up in Fillory and knows a lot more about this world than Eliot or the others. I keep waiting for someone to realize that and use her as a resource of knowledge.
Brittany Curran: You couldn't be more right. As we progress in the season, people will start finding out there's more to Fen and she has an integral role in the future or Fillory. The Beast is gone, but we're starting to find out The Beast wasn't the only, or biggest, enemy of Fillory. This isn't the beginning of greatness. There are a lot of struggles ahead. And this native Fillorian Fen will be a fountain of knowledge for those silly Earth kids.
Is Fen jealous of Eliot's relationship and closeness with Margo and will these two women ever have a connection?
Brittany Curran: Their relationship is very tough for Fen in the beginning. Margo is a perfect, ethereal being in Eliot's life. She's his best friend and I think the love of Eliot's life in a way. Fen sees that and knows she'll never have that with Eliot. But Fen understands Eliot had a life before her. It's going to be an interesting dynamic between Margo and Fen because our relationship becomes more serious as the season progresses. We might be butting heads more, but there will also be times we'll have to work together.
Finally, tell me about the talking rabbit in the collar.
Brittany Curran: That was such a fun scene. That rabbit was a baby rabbit. She was tiny and well-behaved but would try to wriggle out of her collar. Mike Moore wrote this episode and when he pitched the idea he did the 'pregnant' sound the rabbit does. And when we were on set, he'd always do the 'pregnant.' That's the rabbit's voice to me, this man/writer's voice. Hale Appleman [who plays Eliot] and I had a lot of fun with that scene. We get along so well in real life, so when there's zany moments, like a tiny rabbit with a collar, it makes it that much more fun to play with. I especially liked the scene because I had a rabbit when I was younger. Her name was Petite Ami, which means 'little friend' in French. This rabbit looked a little like her, so it was a nice throwback to Petite Ami!
So, the big question from that cliffhanger: Is Alice still dead or is Quentin losing his grip when he sees her at the end of the episode?
Sera Gamble: You're asking all the right questions. Quentin is wondering that, too. Is she dead? Is that a ghost? Have I gone crazy? Is it the spell? What is going on? Yes, the answers will become clear in the next couple episodes.
This was yet another thing to happen to Julia. Now she has to deal with being pregnant, and getting an abortion, as a result of rape. Why is another thing happening to Julia?
Sera Gamble: It is an interesting balance to hit in the writing. None of us want to tell a story about a woman punished for her ambition. At the same time, it is my observation of the world that when a young woman tries to forge a path with the kind of driven, relentless qualities Julia has, people do try to punish her for it. My experience of being a woman in the world is I felt beaten up often for trying to forge my own path. We're trying to tell that story. People are like, "God, another thing has happened to Julia." Yes, of course another thing is happening. Just by being Julia in the world, she's on a dangerous path.
What were some things you kept in mind while approaching this story of Julia trying to pursue an abortion while remaining true to the show's tone as well as the topic itself?
Sera Gamble: In a practical sense, when you're breaking a story like that, you're thinking of it in magical terms. You are working within the rules of your world. But we all looked at each other the day we were breaking the story to make sure we are not accidentally saying something we don't mean to say, such as that abortion is wrong. We didn't want to make a strong political statement about abortion in the case of rape without being aware of what we were saying. The obvious analogies lined up in a way we were comfortable with. Women, and men, are raped with alarming frequency in our culture, and sometimes this happens when a woman is raped. It should go without saying it's not her fault. It is a consequence a woman has to deal with sometimes. We just wanted to pursue it respectfully.
When we see Quentin in the Muggle world, there is more of a muted color palette. Is the message there that, even with the dangers of magic, it's better than the real world?
Sera Gamble: Every world has its own palette and shooting style. Anytime we go to a new place, our director of photography Elie Smolkin initiates a conversation of which shooting rules we're going to follow there. Because this is 'the real world' of New York, it is handheld. It has very fluorescent office lighting. And worlds more suffused with magic have more color, light and glow, and have life to them. Part of the reason is magic is intensely seductive. Even though for the most part when our characters create more problems by doing magic, they continue to be drawn towards that.