The Magicians came back for its third season on Wednesday, and with it came a deluge of geeky pop-culture references. Pretty much every single magician in every world is having to deal with the fact that magic’s been turned off, and it’s an especially big problem for Elliot (Hale Appleman) and Margo (Summer Bishil), since they’re the rulers of a magical fantasy kingdom that no longer has magic. The pair need to turn to pop culture references as a means of subterfuge against the Fairy Queen (Candis Cayne), who is trying to use Fillory’s king and queen as pawns.
It’s a pretty good scene, one that really leans into The Magicians’s meta tendencies, as Elliot and Margo keep the Fairy Queen from learning what they’re doing by speaking exclusively through pop culture references, with subtitles translating them. One of those references, though, isn’t as obvious as the others, and the subtitles don’t help all that much.
Who is Fairuza Balk?
Margo, speaking through pop culture code, calls the Fairy Queen “Fairuza Balk in The Craft,” which the subtitles explain means “That crazy bitch.”
The 1996 movie The Craft isn’t as current as the other shows and books Margo and Elliot mention, but Fairuza Balk played one of the lead roles. Balk, now 43, made her film debut in Return to Oz, but in The Craft she played Nancy, a member of a teenaged witch coven who goes mad with power.
If you didn’t catch the reference, don’t beat yourself up about it. Margo’s kind of talking to herself at this point, and the phrase is somewhat mumbled, and Balk’s uncommon name doesn’t help things. Plus, The Craft is a little dated. Even Bishil, who plays Margo, needed a little bit of help making the reference.
“I actually wasn’t sure how to pronounce that at first.” Bishil told Inverse during an interview the day of the premiere. “Hale had to make sure I got that one right.”
Lev Grossman, the author behind The Magicians books that the Syfy series is based on, was pretty amped about the Balk shout-out. In an Instagram promoting the premiere, he teased that “Penny wears a suit, Margo name-checks Fairuza Balk, and Josh is unexpectedly poignant. Seriously it’s all happening.”
Are The Craft and Fairuza Balk really that obscure? The movie is a cult classic, but in context, Margo’s mention is the least obvious of the many pop culture allusions in the scene.
That’s not where the pop culture references stopped, though. In the very next scene, Elliot makes a Twilight Zone shout-out, and this one isn’t even subtitled.
“We’re going to shoot her, and then we’re going to wish those fairies to the fucking cornfield,” he says.
The Magicians Season 3 airs on Wednesday nights at 9 p.m. Eastern on Syfy.