In the Season 1 finale of The Magicians, it is revealed that the brilliant, determined, powerful hedge witch Julia Wicker (Stella Maeve) has survived a brutal rape—what defines the character, however, is not the rape itself, but her often-difficult path as a survivor that proceeds from that trauma.
In the early episodes of the series, before Julia survives her assault at the hands of a trickster god, we meet the badass, queer group of misfits who become the titular magicians. Julia and Quentin Coldwater, childhood friends, find themselves taking a magical test in an impossibly hidden magical university, Brakebills. When Quentin passes the test and Julia fails, their lives are forever changed. Quentin continues his magical education through traditional means, meeting the rest of the magical students who become his friends. Meanwhile, Julia, unable to shake the feeling that she is missing something despite the fact that the existence of magic has been erased from her mind, teaches herself magic from online spells, un-sanctioned hedge witches, and a healthy dose of intuition.
Denied entrance to Brakebills as part of a time-loop experiment, not because she was undeserving, Julia becomes obsessed with magic, eventually joining a coven seeking god-level power. When Julia and her coven summon the goddess they call Our Lady Underground, Reynard the Fox appears instead. He murders almost everyone, but Julia protects a friend who escapes. Julia is not so lucky.
I have only seen the Season 1 finale and the reveal of Julia’s rape, shown onscreen through a flashback, once. As a survivor, the scenes depicting how Reynard pins and violates a terrified Julia are simply too traumatic to rewatch—and in fact, it took me a very long time to watch the second and third seasons of the show. With such a graphic portrayal, I struggled to feel confident that the subsequent seasons could do anything to redeem the rape or portray a survivor dutifully. I still have a lot of mixed feelings about the portrayal and the brutalization of Julia. How she grapples with that trauma, however, and the treatment of her path as a survivor have been surprisingly resonant.
Almost the entire second season of the show finds Julia plotting for revenge and dealing with the fact that Reynard’s rape also made her pregnant. The bulk of it is challenging to watch, and a lot less fun than Season 1 led me to believe I could expect in The Magicians. That said, the reality of how Julia becomes her new self—a self forged by actions forced upon her, a self created by the erasure of her humanity, a self born from the casualty of who she was before—feels familiar.
Life after rape is hard to describe and unique to each survivor. One day you were one person and the next that person is changed by forces completely outside of your control visiting power upon your body—close to you, inside you, through you in ways you wouldn’t wish upon your worst enemy. Some describe the experience as a death. Some describe it like a virus, a contaminant that has seeped into your life even at the cellular level. Others never find the words.
That is why the portrayal of Julia is so empowering. Her world is destroyed by her rape. She becomes angry, vengeful, focused to the point of betraying those who mean the most to her. She is also still similar to the Julia from before: determined, powerful and defiant. Without hesitation, she takes the risks she deems necessary to protect herself and exact revenge—including undergoing an expensive and painful magical abortion that rends her shade, kind of like a soul, from her body.
Without her shade, Julia is calculating, cold, and relentless. Instead of being haunted by her survival, she simply does what she must to kill her rapist. When his mother, the true Our Lady Underground, stops her hand, begging for mercy, Julia allows her rapist to live. While I may have a lot of feelings about how women are expected to show mercy to those who would destroy them, Julia made a decision for herself, rather than allowing Reynard to continue to control her. And, without her asking, Our Lady Underground returns her shade to Julia, rendering her whole, and wholly broken, again.
In the process of receiving her soul, Julia finds that she was given the spark of Reynard’s power. When magic is no longer accessible, it is only Julia who exhibits the potential to reach it. That potential comes from her rapist’s spark. Julia struggles with the source of her gift, eventually accepting that even if it’s not what she wanted, the rape and her rapist have changed her. No matter what she does, Reynard will be a part of her. So, what does she do? Well, Julia just goes ahead and fights through her pain, becoming one of the most badass goddesses capable of healing and mercy. She takes what was done to her, what she couldn’t control, and turns it into her greatest power.
Julia is wildly imperfect and that’s why she means so much to me as a survivor. There is no right or wrong way to survive. There are no good or bad rape survivors. There is only the impossible task of surviving the unimaginable and the people who manage to do so, and Julia Wicker shows just how challenging — and empowering — survival can be.