The Magicians EP Sera Gamble talks 'high' fantasy in Fillory and Centaur droppings

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Feb 15, 2017

Spoiler alert: The following discusses plot points from "The Flying Forest," the fourth episode of Season 2 of The Magicians, which aired on Feb. 15.

Holy crap, it's a centaur – and he's hung like a horse, or so Margo noticed in tonight's episode of The Magicians on Syfy.

It was kind of the tragicomic opening we needed after Alice's tragic death and the brutality of Reynard on Marina last week. (Also, am I the only one just a tad bummed that there will be no more crooning from The Beast?)

And yet the endowment of a centaur (played by Alessandro Juliani of Battlestar Galactica, The 100 and Smallville) was not the biggest revelation from the night.

In a high fantasy episode that also featured the White Lady creature/human hybrid and forests that give you a contact high, this week's The Magicians was a packed full of Fillory magic. Meanwhile, back on Earth, Julia reconnected with Kady and briefly resurrected Marina, and Dean Fogg discovered magic is dying.

To cap it off, following a quest with Penny -- which almost made them seem chummy – Quentin abandoned Fillory to go back to his old life.

With so much packed into the episode, and with these characters (and us) still reeling from Alice’s death, I spoke with executive producer Sera Gamble to get her take on "The Flying Forest."

Is this the heaviest fantasy episode so far?

Yeah, we knew once we got into Fillory, we'd get to build more creatures. Frankly, that's easily a Top Five reason to have this job: you get to create creatures. I wake in the morning so excited about that. We didn't have as much opportunity to do so in Season 1. It just sort of worked out that way we have so many creatures in Episode 4. But it makes sense, because our characters are starting to wander further into the landscape of Fillory now that The Beast is out of the picture. They get to encounter all these unique species and there will be more of them as the season goes on.

As you show more of the fantasy elements, it's all the more heartbreaking for Quentin because it's what he's always wanted – yet Alice is dead, the White Lady cannot bring her back and magic doesn't solve everything.

The tone of The Magicians is something we very much inherited from [book author] Lev Grossman. It allows us to take a second look at the creatures you take for granted in children's stories. In the Narnia series, a lot of these mythical creatures were there at the respectful beck-and-call of these children. That's not the case in Lev's vision of a world like Fillory. I really enjoy that the centaur is such a huge dick. He feels completely superior to humans, and I enjoyed how David Reed, who wrote the script, channeled the attitude of a Harvard surgeon talking to someone who dropped out of high school. It is fun to riff on creatures and the assumptions you might have about encountering them in a magical world.

As an aside, you say the surgeon is a huge dick, and I guess Margo noticed that, literally!

I mean, you know, we seldom let a dick joke go by. That's not an accident; we think that stuff is funny, but also the mix of high tones and low tones is part of the weird cocktail that makes The Magicians work in our own minds. If Margo and Eliot encounter magical creatures, of course they're going to think about sex.

What did you say to Alessandro Juliani to get that great expression as his centaur goes poop?

You'd have to ask director Carol Banker what she said to him on the day, but it's always interesting when your casting notices go out. It sounds so fun to play a centaur, but we always underline that we want these characters to be played in a grounded, contemporary, real way. Faux Shakespeare doesn't fly on this show. He really just played this asshole, incredibly well-educated surgeon. The reason it's funny is because he never leans too hard into the joke. It's just part of being an esteemed centaur that you just shit in front of people and people come and clean it up, and aren't they lucky to do so.

Why is the White Lady a good storytelling device to use on this show?

In terms of the White Lady, this is one of the arguments for telling fantasy tropes and tools. Magic and monsters and spells give us this amazing toolbox to tell stories about human emotions and our psyche. If you're going to tell a story about grief, which is very uncomfortable, and heavy -- nobody enjoys grieving. But when somebody is grieving on The Magicians, we can externalize their longing in the form of a beautiful albino creature who Quentin can talk to and work out some of what he's feeling.

Julia reached out to Marina for help and now she's back with Kady. Is this the beginning of a Julia joining a group or a family?

I don't think it's her first step in her gathering like a group of super friends! That's not how things work for Julia. She is a character without much support in the world. The closest she has to family is Quentin, and that is for good and bad. As time goes on, that becomes true of Kady. But these are very special cases for Julia. It goes back to what another character said to her in Season 1: It is hard in the world for a young woman like her. She is exceptional, she is driven and ambitious, and she is following her gut and instincts against a lot of advice. Because of that, people are not falling into line trying to help her. Again and again she has to figure out her own way.

Penny and Quentin are on a shared mission through the Flying Forest and seem to reach an understanding. Does this signal that they could be friends?

The connection between Quentin and Penny is profound, but I don't know if they'll ever be friends. They're not each other's cup of tea. Emotionally they moved to a new place by the end of this episode in terms of how each is coping with Alice's death. Or how much they're putting on the other's shoulders. But Quentin and Penny get shoved together all the time, and they're interconnected. It is especially delicious to watch because they don't like each other and never will.