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The Magicians' Sera Gamble and Henry Alonso Myers talk 'breaking the formula' in Season 4

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Jan 9, 2019, 6:00 PM EST

The Magicians is one of the most unique shows on television, constantly changing and taking risks. At the end of Season 3, the shocking finale left memories wiped and characters reset, living magic-less lives.

We sat down on set with co-creator, executive producer, and co-showrunner Sera Gamble and executive producer and writer Henry Alonso Myers to find out more about the challenges going into Season 4 and how science fiction lends itself to telling diverse and interesting stories.

What has it been like balancing both the world-building aspect of a fantasy series but also making sure that human stories are being told in candid and real ways?

Gamble: I think a lot of it just happens organically because the writers of The Magicians don't default to that same idea of who a protagonist has to be and what everybody's role should be, supporting or otherwise. It's actually something we make quite explicit this season. There's an episode in the middle of the season that [deals with] the Library and a book-and-story connection. Because everybody has a book written about them in the Library, we get to get really explicit about why people assume that this white guy is always the center of the story. And the short answer is because historically he is the center of the story 99% of the time. But we're living in a time where somebody like me is fortunate enough to get to write The Magicians, even though I'm not a cis white guy. Of course, I want to tell stories of people like me and I'm curious about all kinds of people, you know?

Myers: Right, and as a cis white guy I didn't get into this story— 

Gamble: To be boring.

Myers: I got into writing because I like putting on other people's lives and imagining what their lives are like. That was part of what I grew up reading for that reason and the fun thing about this show is we are ... I think that's one of those, as I can say, politically, it's something that I really like about this show, but because it's not political in a weird way. The thing that's great about reading is you see other people's perspectives and that's the joy of it. And I feel like that's something that is extremely important to us as writers on this show, is to feel what other people feel and imagine, Margo would not experience this the way that I would. You know? Penny would not experience this the way I would. It feels like sort of a responsibility as a writer to try to inhabit that.

Gamble: I mean quietly, science fiction and fantasy has always been a place where the stories can be a lot more diverse. A thing that you learn when you're pitching a show is that, I mean, this is a very crude kind of sell-out thing that I got told really early, that evidence bears out that it can be true, that you either need something that's a great star vehicle or you need something that's a really great high concept. So either you need to be able to put somebody who is a very known quantity at the center of the story and naturally, everyone else is just going to be less, have less weight in the story. Or you need to be able to blow a lot of really cool shit up and explain life on other planets or whatever your crazy idea is. And because this falls into the crazy idea category, we have a lot of freedom with the characters.

So you're going into the fourth season, what is challenging about that and what’s beneficial?

Myers: For me the challenge is, I feel like there's lots of different types of shows. Sera, for instance, worked on Supernatural for many years; I was on the original version of Charmed. There's a formula that you learn and you have to find a way to keep that formula fresh and interesting, and with this show, it's sort of the opposite. We are constantly trying to break the formula while still being true to what the show is and so going into Season 4 it's hard to constantly break the formula and you find yourself having to really kind of pull characters apart that you wouldn't, necessarily. It's painful in a good way and I feel like when its hard for us it's probably hard for the audience. But that's good because they're experiencing the emotion we are.

Gamble: Yeah. I think when you're telling fantasy stories of this nature for a long time its very easy to fall into a trajectory where every year the Big Bad is bigger until you are now really in your apocalypse season and you have to start to paint in all those corners that were sort of nicely mysterious before, and on the show we're quite protective of those things that are unknown because we as humans can't know them. Like, somebody with a lot of religious faith might disagree with me but I feel like we can't know if there's a god or gods. It's a thing that we can spend our whole lives trying to figure out and maybe never get satisfying proof either way and to me, that is a huge thing that defines being a thinking, feeling human. That there are so many things that you want to know that you cannot know. And when you're on a show for a lot of seasons and you kill the Beast, pretty soon it's like, "Well now we're on gods. We're into gods."

And the thing we're protective of with The Magicians is we want it to stay really personal. We never want the story to get so huge and epic and apocalyptic that it becomes like kind of the small screen version of something that should be a $200,000,000 movie and so the fact that Quentin has recurrent depression gets lost, the fact that Julia has been on this sort of journey with some stuff that's happened to her for the last few seasons, where those things become inconsequential. We always want it to be a show where it hits you in the feels when you see Alice eat bacon, you know? And the stakes don't overshadow that. Does that make sense?

Myers: Those are like my favorite scenes to write too because those are the ones where it's a quiet scene between two people. 

Gamble: Yeah, I mean I get really technical with that. Often times when we have like a big season premiere where a lot of crazy shit unfolds, I like to make sure that the last scene in the episode is something really small and personal, like Alice sitting alone at a diner. Or the season before, that season between Julia and the Beast that was so small and just about what the two of them had been through. I would much rather remind the audience at the end of an episode, at least some of the time, this is what's the most important thing about the show. It's more important than any crazy plot twist we could ever throw at you — just with what the characters that we love are going through.

Season 4 of The Magicians premieres January 23 on SYFY.

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