As the magical kingdom of Fillroy struggles with figuring out how to function without actual magic, Margo actress Summer Bishil thinks the real challenges of The Magicians are more urgent and real. In a recent conversation, she tells Inverse that the most relevant “quest” for Margo is to fight the patriarchy within Fillory.
Mild spoilers ahead for The Magicians Seasons 1 and 2, but not for Season 3.
In Lev Grossman’s trilogy of Magicians books, the character of Margo was called “Janet,” and because of her ability to get shit done in the kingdom of Fillory, she gained the nickname “Fillory Clinton.” But, the SyFy series didn’t want too many characters with “J” names in the first season (Julia got to keep her book name) so Janet became Margo, and for the past three seasons has been played fearsomely by Summer Bishil. Margo swears a lot and is initially introduced as a boozy party girl, but Bishil says that playing against any stereotypes was foremost in her mind.
Bishil is clear that she never wanted Margo to fall prey to tropes. “What has made the character interesting for me is that when Margo becomes High Queen she enters into a patriarchal environment,” Bishil says. “Fillory is regressive culture, in which Margo has no power and her words have no agency. And for her, that’s the most terrifying injustice. So, she makes it her mission to do things that matter. She’s chosen that path. She’s made the decision to stay and rule in season two. Whereas, Eliot was forced to.”
Though The Magicians generally subverts and mocks fantasy tropes, the new season does find the series embracing a “quest” trope, which, as TV Tropes points out is “the defining High Fantasy storyline.” In Lord of the Rings, the quest was obviously about destroying the One Ring. By the end of the Harry Potter series, the quest centered on getting rid of Voldemort’s Horcruxes. And now, The Magicians are after some magic keys. But, Bishil thinks that all these fantasy quest stuff is just a means to an end for her character.
“Why are the stakes so high this season?” Bishil asks rhetorically. “Oh, it’s the universal quest to restore magic and you have that generic formula response. But the quest is personal. For Margo, it’s personal because she is rage. In the books, she’s just rage. And I’ve been thinking a lot about that, especially in today’s world: anger and it’s value in our culture.”
In the wake of seemingly countless cases of sexual misconduct across multiple industries, Bishil’s comments about rage and power are not only timely but also, profound. Some often consider fantasy a kind of escapism, but for the actress behind the powerful Margo, that’s not the case at all.
“I’ve been thinking about what anger can accomplish. And it can be a good thing. For Margo, she’s furious at her complete lack of voice in this environment. And she wants to change that. And in order for her to obtain power, she needs currency and agency, and magic will provide that. So, she’s more politically ambitious than she is interested in being a magician. But she knows that with something like magic, comes power and with power comes change.”
Bishil makes it clear that though Margo is a fun, funny character, it was important for her to find something real that the character wanted, otherwise the role wouldn’t be worth playing.
“Margo’s interest in being Queen isn’t just ‘hey, I’m the Queeeeeen,’” Bishil says. “Because that’s boring. And I would shoot myself if I had to do that day in and day out. She’s more of a politician. And I think she’s one of the good guys.”
The Magicians season 3 airs on Wednesday nights at 9 pm eastern time on SyFy.