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SYFY WIRE The Magicians

The Magicians takes a huge step forward for queer ships

By Alyssa Fikse

During Season 3 of The Magicians, our dysfunctional band was on a quest in search of the keys to saving the magical land of Fillory. While searching for the third key, Eliot and Quentin go back in time in order to solve a mosaic puzzle in what turns out to be the most romantic storyline in the show’s history. In one five-minute segment, The Magicians packs in a whole life for these two together — the tentative kiss, having a family, building a life together — before they eventually solve the mosaic and are sent back to the present and the timeline is erased. Or so we thought.

As it turns out, both men retained their memories of the life that they lived together and the love that grew between them. It was a quietly painful moment, highlighting that there are some things that you just have to leave in the past. Or so we thought.

Jump to Season 4: Eliot, trapped inside the monster trapped inside of him (Eliotception) is forced to face his most traumatic memories in order to find the door out of his not-so-happy place. Fans let out a collective gasp when we realized that telling Quentin that the love they shared wouldn’t translate to “the real world” and that they should just move forward as friends was the memory that haunted Eliot most.

Perhaps we should have seen this coming. The two have had a connection since Eliot lazily showed Quentin around Brakebills in the first episode, and have since exchanged more longing glances than a Jane Austen novel. Sure, they’ve had other relationships on the show, but none of their romantic entanglements have had the easy intimacy that seems to remain between these two, whether they’re hooking up or saving each other’s lives. There’s a reason why Darth Eliot chose Quentin as the one he sought out first: He knew that Q would always help him, no matter how dire things got.

Queliot has been a popular ship since The Magicians first began, but the common assumption was that it would never really be canon. Slash ships have been a staple of genre for ages — Harry and Draco, Steve and Bucky, Dean and Cas, Sherlock and John, Finn and Poe, to name a few — but any kind of romantic payoff has always been relegated to the realm of fanfiction. (God bless the writers on Tumblr and AO3 for writing the happy endings and coffee shop AUs fans are hungry for.) Meanwhile, viewers had settled into the idea that while never really becoming queerbait, Quentin and Eliot would remain an unfulfilled dream.

And then BAM! Peaches and plums, motherf*cker. All of the subtext became real, romantic text. And it wasn’t just the regret from Eliot, kissing Quentin in the Happy Place before breaking through the Monster’s hold on him to let Q know that he was still alive in there. There would be no one-sided, unrequited business here. No, we had the moment of heartbreaking realization from Quentin that Eliot has not been completely consumed by the monster, leading to a steely resolve worthy of any romantic hero. This monster has Eliot’s face and eyes (yeah, a totally platonic point to make, Q), so Quentin is ready to let every bone in his body be broken as long as Eliot is safe. Picture me swooning, you guys.

The Magicians has never been a particularly romantic show. Sure, there is plenty of sex and drama, but there was never really a sense that any of the romantic pairings were going to lead anywhere good. Penny and Kady probably came the closest, but those two were so self-sabotaging that they never really allowed themselves to fall fully (now that OG Penny is back in some capacity, maybe these crazy kids will be able to work it out). Penny-23 and Julia are quietly becoming a couple to root for this season, but haven’t really been given the screen time needed to reach OTP status.

Quentin and Alice seemed like the obvious choice for the show’s OTP, but that crashed and burned in a spectacular fashion. These two were endgame in the books the show is based upon, but the writers were clever, opting for something a bit less obvious. The show literally closed the book on Alice and Quentin ever being romantic again, diverging from the source material and plunging into new territory. Fox sex is definitely a thing of the past.

By making Quentin and Eliot explicitly romantic, The Magicians is taking the time-tested tropes of the genre — royals in love, friends to lovers, scoundrels with hearts of gold, literally take your pick — and creating something that feels fresh and timely. Fantasy fans have been hungering for this kind of coupling forever (seriously, you can find so much Legolas and Aragorn fanfic out there), and while plenty of shows and films have been content to exploit that desire without providing the payoff, The Magicians is barreling full speed ahead. They're giving legitimacy to the desires of fandom that have too long been shunted to the fringes.

It feels a little silly to proclaim that one pairing is going to change the face of romance in genre, but screw it. Eliot and Quentin are changing the face of romance in genre and are opening up the possibilities for what love can look like onscreen. It’s a new, less heteronormative time to be a genre romance fan, and that is something to be celebrated. It would have been so easy to chalk up what these two had as just “another life,” a cursory nod to queerness that ultimately wouldn’t affect the show in the long run. Instead, the show is treating this relationship as a deeply profound one for both men, giving fans an example of the representation that they deserve.

At this point, it’s unclear how they’re going to free Eliot from the monster, but they are definitely building up to something epic. On a different show, I might fear that they would lean on the Bury Your Gays trope that so many shows have deployed before, going for tragedy instead of building something beautiful for the long run, but I just don’t think that’s where this is headed. Each small moment is building to something seismic, both culturally and within the context of The Magicians. Quentin and Eliot better get their happy ending, damn it. The Magicians always, always, always throws a wrench into traditional fantasy expectations, so I don’t think we’ll get them peacefully ruling Fillory side by side anytime soon. However, as long as we get to see them face down whatever curse/body stealing god killer/peasant insurrection comes their way, I’m delighted to keep watching it play out.

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