When they’re forced out into the cold of Antarctica naked, Quentin Coldwater and Alice Quinn have to find a way to survive in The Magicians. Luckily, they are both pretty top-notch magicians and they transmogrify into foxes to stay warm. What they find, though, is that foxes love the cold and the snow, causing the two magicians-turned-foxes to lose themselves in the moment: surviving turns into playing, which turns into chasing, which turns into sex.
The Magicians has established itself as a queer, sex-positive, and often feminist TV series. From the outset, the series has tackled sex and sexuality head-on — may we never forget the epic display of magic and sex that was Kady and Penny’s afternoon delight in Season 1's “Unauthorized Magic” — and it boasts three unapologetically queer characters in the main ensemble, including Eliot, Quentin, and Margo.
All in all, the series is a sexual delight. Not only is it filled with sexy characters, mythical and human alike, but also almost every aspect is infused with sex, mostly in very healthy and exciting ways. That’s not to say that all the sex in the series represents something positive for our characters, as Quentin finds when Alice breaks up with him after he sleeps with Eliot and Margo. (Julia Wicker and her survival will not be addressed in this essay. Rape is not about sex. It’s about power.)
The Magicians offers a unique treatment of sex within its narrative, one where sex is not just something that happens (or doesn’t), but one where sex is constituent to the narrative itself. Take, for example, the fox transmogrification referenced above from Season 1's “The Mayakovsky Circumstance.”All the first year students at Brakebills have been sent to Brakebills South to study with Professor Mayakovsky, an alcoholic who teaches through intimidation and deprivation. Neither Alice nor Quentin have been able to master the teachings other students have already grasped, and so Mayakovsky takes matters into his own hands. He forces them into a survival situation, trusting they will either learn how to use their magic or… not be his problem anymore.
The sexual tension between Alice and Quentin has been building to this moment — even Mayakovsky suggests they just do it already — and when they find themselves not frostbitten but comfortable under a thick coat of fur, they can’t help but enjoy the moment before escaping inside.
Once inside, Alice and Quentin try to wrap their heads around their experience, but memories from being the foxes are overwhelming, unfiltered, unlike the human mind’s perception. Flashes of foxiness cut into the scene, making their dalliance both something that happened and is still happening.
They cover themselves, shivering, gasping for breath. Each gasp flashes to a moment of their transmogrification, recalling the painful and sensual experience of transforming from people into foxes. As they catch their breath, they try to speak but the images overwhelm and confuse them. Alice and Quentin reach for each other as humans, their lips touching, their bodies rubbing together. Fox Alice and Fox Quentin play in the snow, rearing on their hind legs, nuzzling into one another’s fur.
As Alice and Quentin have sex in the moment of having escaped the cold, their fox selves have sex in the snow. Even in the cold dark of Antarctica, they find each other. The moment is tense and vulnerable, sweet and animalistic.
Later, Mayakovsky asks Quentin why he chose a fox. Quentin says, “The fox knows. And I knew everything I needed to survive was me. I guess not just to survive, but to be happy. I was happy.”
The treatment of Alice and Quentin’s sexy fox scene is indicative of the series as a whole. Not only is the sex allowed to be sexy, but it also forwards the narrative. Their ability to use their magic to save themselves is an important milestone for a magician, and Quentin’s ability to see himself as happy is an important milestone for him as a character who struggles with self-doubt and depression. The way their magic is intertwined with their personal growth, which is intertwined with their sex, makes it clear that sex can not only feel good but make you better, stronger.Throughout the series, sex scenes aren’t just filler or titillating tidbits. Sex drives the plot forward in interesting ways, complicating some relationships and establishing others. The titular magicians even discover sex magic, which they attempt to use to defeat the Beast. While that doesn’t work, it does reveal Quentin’s sexual proclivities when he sleeps with Eliot and Margo.
One can read Quentin, Eliot, and Margo’s sex as a negative trope about promiscuity. Or, one can read that moment as a turning point. It’s the moment Quentin realizes his attraction to Eliot and Margo isn’t as important as his love for Alice; when Eliot realizes he can’t screw his way out of depression; and as for Margo, well, she just keeps on being a boss bitch who won’t apologize to anyone for how she likes to get down. And the fact that their sexual encounter results in Quentin and Alice’s break-up doesn’t actually make it a bad thing. Alice and Quentin grow more apart than they ever did while together.
The Magicians is sex-positive in the most literal and truest sense. By letting characters have sex and break up and yearn and mess up and try again, the series seems to say it’s OK that sex drives our decision-making. It’s OK that sex is important and valuable. It’s OK that sex is intimate and vulnerable. It’s OK that it’s sometimes cheap or transactional or a lifeline when you’ve just become a human again after being a Niffin. Every character is a bit of a sexual hedonist and that’s not just acceptable, it’s celebrated.
And, in the end, that’s what the series gets to be: a celebration of all kinds of sex and the freaky magicians who love to get busy.