What are magicians without magic? This is the question being asked at the start of Season 3 of SYFY's The Magicians.
When we last left our characters, magic has been shut off, a measure of revenge for Quentin having killed the god Ember. But Julia, somehow, still has a tiny spark of magic. Alice, now a human, is going to face an enemy she made as a niffin: the Lamprey. Penny has some kind of fast-moving magic cancer. And Eliot and Margo are High King and Queen of a Fillory without its most important element.
SYFY WIRE spoke with the show's executive producers Sera Gamble and John McNamara, and frankly, they didn't offer any words of comfort. It looks like Season 3 will be tough on Quentin, Alice, Penny, Kady, Eliot, Margo, and Julia — but on the upside, that makes for some good television.
Sera and John filled us in on where the characters are when we begin, new magical creatures we will meet, and infectious musical numbers.
The Magicians Season 3 premieres January 10th on SYFY.
Where do we start this season?
John McNamara: We're f***ed! That should have been the title of episode one: "F***ed!"
Sera Gamble: There's no magic! The show is called The Magicians and nobody can do magic!
John: Maybe next season.
Sera: Surely they'll be f***ed again.
How do you work that into a show that is called The Magicians?
Sera: The nice thing about is that everyone wants magic really, really badly. So it creates a unity among characters. Some are stranded on different worlds, they don't all get along, they don't all want magic for the same reasons... but everyone wants magic. So from a story perspective, we couldn't be in a better position. It creates universal suffering among your characters, and that's what you want as a writer. For a show without magic, there are certainly some beautiful, magical moments in the first couple of episodes.
While all of the magical current in the universe has been shut off, magical creatures are a different thing. Magic is in their DNA. It's like the difference between powering a lamp and a firefly, or electric eel. So we encounter magical creatures who provide beautiful - but generally malevolent - magic. For various reasons, almost all magical creatures everywhere really hate magicians. So it's not like it helps [humans] that they have it and we don't; it only makes it worse.
What are some of the new magical creatures we are going to see this season?
Sera: The boat!
John: It's a creature! But there are others...
Sera: You know how Alice was running for her life at the end of last season, because the lamprey was looking for her? You're going to meet the lamprey. That's an example of one. Quentin and pretty much everyone he knows are trying to get ahold of anyone who can help.
In episode one, Quentin realizes, "Maybe if I can find another god, I can find somebody who can find somebody who can find somebody who can help us get a word in with the old god. That's what I would do!" So they are at least trying to find other gods. If you've learned anything from this show, it's that gods are not helpful, they're not easy to find; they are not what you expect; generally, it's a bad idea to approach them. But you will meet new ones this season.
How long until they get the magic turned back on?
Sera: Do they get it turned back on? [Laughs]
Is everyone separated?
John: No. Some are in Fillory. Some can still travel. There's a character who is a traveler and he's a magical creature, and somewhere on earth. The trick is, without magic, how can they communicate? How can they travel? That's an ongoing process of trying to solve this riddle of how you turn magic back on. There is a way to do it, but it's very hard.
Can you tell us about the Muntjac, the magical boat?
John: It's mentioned in episode one, but you see it in episode two.
Does everyone make it on?
Sera: No! Everyone wants to be together, so it is our jobs as writers to keep them apart. It would be easier for them if they were all together, so therefore it's more interesting if it's not so easy for them to work together. In a season where everyone is on the same page, many of the obstacles are external. Sometimes it's really as simple as Julia and Quentin saying, "We desperately need to share these five words of information with Eliot; how the fuck are we going to do it?"
But because Eliot thinks he might have a beat on something that might help in the quest to restore magic, he needs a very special kind of boat. His Fillorian wife, Fen, has an idea and introduces him to the idea that boats like this even exist, which is news to our characters.
Do you have any fun episodes in the works for this season?
Sera: John is prepping a strange one right now.
John: Yes... a musical!
Sera: It has four musical numbers in it.
John: Huge. Spoiler: you seem to like the idea of everyone being together, and so do I. We found a way for all eight characters to sing one song [together], even though they are in different places. Because... reasons [laughs]. It took a long time to figure it out.
Sera: In my head there was a little flashback cutaway to the writers on the floor, so upset, can't break it [the story], days and days, listlessly putting tortilla chips in their mouth, so sad!
John: I had this very strong idea of like, "This song will tell us this, this song will tell us that, this song will push everyone apart, and this one will bring them together." Everyone was like, "How?" And I was like "...I've got a dentist appointment!" In fact, I had four!
Sera: He had so many dentist appointments.
John: I had four root canals. So there were two things that were great for me: I was on nitrous for the entire [story] break. I would come in stoned out of my mind! And - and this is totally true - my dentist totally believes in aliens. Like, deep dives into Area 51 and the black satellite and everything. So I'd be on nitrous, thinking about The Magicians, getting drilled, and he's saying, "They're coming in 2018. Don't worry about North Korea because we have a satellite the aliens can use."
So the good thing was, I thought, "Oh the plot. That's [the writers'] problem. I came up with the musical numbers; you just figure out why it's a plot." That's why I have two excellent co-writers, two young gentlemen, and why the writer's room was so important to that episode. It was probably the hardest story break I've ever been involved in.
And musicals are hard because they have to do one of two things. They either have to deliver a level of emotional depth that just talking couldn't; or they have to move the plot forward. We really tried to design each number to do both. I think in three of them we succeeded. One of them is a little more just flashy and fun. But in the other numbers, they were vehicles to go deeper into character. They were really vehicles that really... the plot literally... if SYFY called today and said, "We hate this, you've got to change it." If you pulled those numbers out, you actually wouldn't have a plot. So that's when I knew we were successful.
Sera: That's when you knew that none of the songs could be taken away.
John: I don't know if it's going to be a good episode or a bad episode. It's going to be an episode. It's going to be big.
Sera: And ambitious.
John: And expensive, because we've got really, really, really good songs. It's sort of like Moulin Rouge! We're taking existing songs and giving them a whole new purpose.
Was the cast excited to get to do a musical?
John: Everyone had a different reaction. Everyone was game, because we did Les Mis last year. I know two or three of our cast are professional singers: they've done Broadway and they've done opera and cabaret. But everyone is - and one of the reasons I love working on this show - everyone is very insistent that it be the best it can be. It's tense - in a good way. It's scary! I think we're all scared. I am. If it sucks, I will have to take tomatoes at Comic-Con. I would not keep doing this if I didn't think this was a really, really talented cast and top-notch crew, and amazing directors. We had to get a director for this one who loves musicals. Everyone is excited and nervous, just like if we were going to do the show off-Broadway.
There are a lot of moving parts: the pre-records, orchestrations, choreography - which I think is going to be insane. Our choreographer, who normally just does the hand cuts, I said to him: "For the first number, you can't go Bob Fosse enough for me. It's totally logical; it makes sense in the world we are in. Last year, on Les Mis, I told him to just make it movement, moving to rhythm. He really wanted to do dance, but I wouldn't let him. Now I am opening the gates. And Sera will never watch the episode! [Laughs.]
Sera: No, I will! I was just thinking about how you've infected me, because there is actually kind of a small musical number in the first episode of the season, which I wrote.
John: It's terrific.
Sera: Like what used to happen to John before he got more ambitious, it just kind of came up as I was writing the script.
John: It was cuttable.
Sera: Yeah, it was. We had a long discussion where it really just went to character. Two of the characters need to do something, and they're reminiscing...
John: And they're drunk.
Sera: And they're very, very, very drunk, and sloppy, and they start singing and dancing. That's what happens: If you are on The Magicians for long enough, you find yourself writing musical numbers, even if you think you hate musicals. It's a weird thing. It's the STD of this show. It's like I caught it!
John: It's MMTD. Magically musically transmitted disease.