There was one major question posed by everyone gathered for the Vancouver set visit of SYFY's The Magicians: how do you have a show called The Magicians without magic? It's a fair question, and frankly, a good setup for a season. It's not like the characters just give up on magic and go get office jobs. They all set out to find magic, by any means necessary.
At the end of Season 2, both Ember and Umber, the brother gods of Fillory, were killed: Umber by Ember, and Ember by Quentin (with a magical assist from Julia). But gods have parents, and Ember and Umber's parents bring about the ultimate revenge: they turn off the flow of magic. There is no magic in Fillory; there is no magic at Brakebills.
There is some magic left in the world. To start, Julia, inexplicably, has a little bit of magic. "A tiny spark," actress Stella Maeve explains to SYFY WIRE. Her character teams with Quentin (played by Jason Ralph) to figure out why she is the only one left with magic, and if it can be used to help bring magic back to everyone. "The goal is to replenish the well," says Maeve. "It's not for selfish purposes. For the first time for Julia, she's not using magic selfishly."
Magical creatures have their own internal wellspring of magic, one that cannot be snuffed by having the rest of the world's magic turned off. So those creatures still have magic. One of those creatures, the centerpiece of the season, is a living boat called the Muntjac. Though all of the cast gets their time on the Muntjac, it seems to be Eliot's domain more than anyone else.
"Eliot takes the quest on the boat in order to begin this quest to restore magic, which has seven parts to it," explains star Hale Appleman. "He commandeers the ship, he commissions it and takes it out for its first spin on the first quest, which is all under the larger umbrella of restoring magic."
The Muntjac is spectacular. Producer Chris Fisher and production designer Margot Ready give us a tour of the magnificent set. In order to make the ship feel alive, Ready points out the large, twisted tree-like structure in the center of the boat. They call it the "Heartwood," the heart of the Muntjac. It glows with lights that change color depending on the Muntjac's "mood."
Fisher explains that production bought a real boat to use for exteriors, but that boat is nowhere near as large as the Muntjac. The steps on the set's boat lead you from a large, lavish interior, up into a small, nondescript real boat. "It really helps sell the magic," Fisher says.
While Eliot is using the Muntjac to try to save magic, Margo is back in Fillory, trying to fend off the fairy invasion. ("I'm not on the boat that much, so I don't have to pronounce it!" declares Summer Bishil, who plays Margo. Apparently it is a joke around set that Bishil can't pronounce Muntjac, and no one teases her about it more than Appleman.)
Margo and Eliot have always seemed like soulmates, because no matter what was going on in their lives, they went through it together, whether it was good, bad, or indifferent.
"We have a family bond, a love that is loyal and permanent — probably — but that will fluctuate in interesting ways, as you saw at the end of Season 2," says Bishil. "Now we have such bigger things to think about. We've done what good leaders should do, which is put it aside for the greater good. Margo very quickly takes accountability for the decisions she made to make a deal with the fairy and begins to assess a way in which to get her out of that."
"It's amazing to see Margo step up this season, and see Summer step up into Margo's full power," Appleman says of the character.
Bishil insists that Margo is no longer a "wild card," and that her actions are more meaningful and thoughtful in Season 3. "There's intention behind her now. You see it revealed towards the middle, end of the season about why. Why is she so dang invested in this?" Bishil is also careful to say that Margo does not become a dictator, which seemed to be the way her character was going in Season 2. "She does have dictatorial instincts," Appleman says, but is quick to add that Margo sees the consequences of a dictator's rule.
Meanwhile, Alice is going through the "ultimate quarter-life crisis," says actress Olivia Taylor Dudley. "Now that magic has been taken away from her - that was a big part of her identity - I think this season is a lot of her finding who she is and who the new version of her is, without magic. She's always been the one questioning magic; it's not romantic to her at all. When she was a niffin, she got to see what real magic was like, and I think she was enchanted by it. Now it's completely gone, and I don't think she knows who she is.
"I love magic," Dudley continues. "It's why I would watch the show to begin with, but at the heart of the show it's about the people and these relationships and what it's like to be human in this world."
The Magicians Season 3 premieres tonight on SYFY.