The Magicians may take place in a fantastical reality far removed from the horrors of modern-day fascism in America, but in its fourth season on the Syfy channel, the series is confronting our current political nightmare through its magical lens — and no, it’s not just a coincidence.
Magicians co-showrunner John McNamara tells Inverse that he’s personally preoccupied with the real-life rise of fascism.
“I fear it for the world,” he said during a set visit in November 2018.
One might not expect such a political mindset from the mind behind bizarre fantasy show focused on a motley group of millennials navigating a mature magical universe and its Narnia-inspired mystical land called Fillory — and yet The Magicians becomes more political than ever in its fourth season. That’s why the Season 4 trailer shows the titular Magicians teaming up to stage a revolution against the Library’s fascist regime.
“It was an analogy for the rise of fascism, currently so in vogue in Europe and parts of the United States — and growing,” McNamara said. “We want to write about that but in a way that we hope is somewhat subtle.”
In the show’s universe, magic is a resource granted to humans by the gods. Magicians can use it by mastering ancient languages, old runes, and complex finger tuts. But after the core characters killed a god at the end of Season 2, they spent all of Season 3 on a quest to restore the source of all magic — only for an information-hogging organization called the Library to siphon and control the resource for themselves.
To top it all off, Dean Fogg wiped everyone’s memories and gave them new identities — and the Library threw Alice in prison.
This is the new status quo of The Magicians universe, where a single regime has gained control over the ultimate power and decided to hoard all magic for themselves, rationing it out to magicians across the multiverse in smaller doses. (Pending approval from the Library, of course.)
McNamara likened the situation of the Library seizing control over magic to the rise of fascism and communism in places like the Soviet Union.
“Communism was supposed to make the world of the Soviet Union and its citizens better and it kind of did,” McNamara said. “But then it really didn’t.”
Plenty of real-life fascist regimes claim to preserve the greater good and claim they can protect people by controlling them. The Library is no different.
“That’s part of the Library’s intent: to make magic safer by regulating it,” McNamara said. “But all it ever takes is for someone with power to try and make the world safer for one group of people, and then you have leaders like Stalin or Hitler.”
McNamara also noted that the rise of fascism often begins with an increase in violence against minorities, and that’s no different in The Magicians. The most marginalized group in this fictional world are the hedge witches, who learned magic outside the confines of Brakebills University. In a world where even Dean Fogg has to beg to get more magic for Brakebills, imagine how worse off rogue hedge witches are?
“If there’s not a lot of you and you’re different and society from the top down — from the President on down — is saying “Different is bad,” you’re going to get targeted,” McNamara said.
The showrunner danced around drawing an overt comparison between The Magicians Season 4 and the current state of Trump’s America, but the implications are there in the President’s attitude’s towards immigrants. McNamara self-identifies as a “loud liberal,” and that’s evident in his criticism of Donald Trump on Twitter.
As much as some people may hate Trump, it’s true that as a society we seemingly can’t get enough of him in the media and on social media. If The Magicians Season 4 has a Trump stand-in it’s probably Zelda, the Librarian, who’s ostensibly the dictator in this fascist regime. She’s also one of the most interesting characters this season. After all, who doesn’t love a villain? (In fiction, that is).
“How much does she want power?” McNamara posed. “How much will she surrender of her own morality?”
In Season 3, we saw a spark of Zelda’s humanity in her relationship with her daughter Harriet, but after Harriet was trapped in a mirror dimension, presumed dead, it’s unclear how humane Zelda is feeling these days.
The Magicians Season 4 should make viewers wonder if Zelda makes these choices because she thinks she’s doing the right thing or because they benefit her and the Library. Even fascist regimes can begin with good intentions, but corruption inevitably compromises morality.
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And Zelda’s not the only one this might happen to.
“We’re going to see that journey for the Library, and we’re going to see how that affects all our characters but in particular it infects characters who we may think are good and noble,” McNamara explained. “They’re seduced by how power for its own sake can be a drug you get addicted to.”
We’ve often seen magic itself on The Magicians as a metaphor for power, a drug that Julia became addicted to and that virtually everyone else became dependent on. With its absence in Season 3, everyone’s over-reliance was made abundantly clear. But now, if they want to keep that which is most precious to them, they’ll have to stage a rebellion against a very different antagonist than they’re used to.
The Magicians Season 4 begins January 23, 2019 on Syfy at 9 p.m. Eastern.
Check out a scene from the premiere that was first released during New York Comic Con in October.
Inverse was invited to attend a set visit event for The Magicians in November 2018. Expenses for the trip were paid for by NBC Universal.