This article contains spoilers for the season finale of Syfy’s The Magicians. You have been warned.
Last night, The Magician’s aired it’s fourth season finale and shocked fans with the death of Quentin Coldwater (Jason Ralph), the show’s defacto cis white male hero protagonist. After a season of fighting off an all-powerful monster inhabiting the body of his ex-boyfriend Eliot (Hale Appleman), Quentin sacrificed himself to banish the monster into a transdimensional void called the Seam, sacrificing himself in the process to save his friends and return magic to the world.
Unlike most TV deaths, Magicians fans got the chance to give Quentin a proper goodbye as he was ushered into the afterlife by Penny (Arjun Gupta) — who earlier this season got a sweet corner office in the afterlife — and watched his friends mourn him with a rousing rendition of a-ha’s “Take Me On.” (The Magicians sure does love a musical number.)
On a show like The Magicians, death isn’t necessarily final. Penny himself died earlier this season, only for an alternate-reality version of him to take over his place on earth as he became an underworld pencil-pusher. But last night executive producers John McNamara, Sera Gamble, and Henry Alonso Myers released a statement confirming that not only is Quentin’s death for real, it’s something they’ve been planning since they were breaking the season in the writer’s room, and not a decision they reached lightly.
“We want The Magicians to visit strange and fascinating new places, and we know we can't get there by treading the same garden path others have before us,” they wrote. “So, we did the thing you're not supposed to do — we killed the character who's supposed to be ‘safe.’ In real life, none of us are safe.”
So there you have it, dead is dead. For those who loved him, and especially for queer fans who feel cheated out of a real queer love story for him and Eliot, the loose ends left in his wake are frustrating — and curse Hale Appleman for giving me hope that Queliot was endgame! Also, it kind of sucks to know that the writers teased us with the promise of that queer love story with the writer’s knowing Quentin would die — the “bury your gays” trope strikes again! But as a piece of storytelling, it’s pretty revolutionary for a genre show.
Since episode one, Quentin has been the show’s clear protagonist, the fanbody avatar who learned that all his favorite fantasies (a school for magic, the fairy tale world of his favorite childhood books) were real. But throughout each season, The Magicians has stripped away the idea that Quentin’s ordinariness bestows him with any inherent right to be the hero of the story. This season’s standout episode “The Side Effect” deconstructed the notion that only certain people — in the fantasy canon, as in everywhere, cisgender white men — are always the heroes, and everyone else is relegated to being a sidekick. Much of the action this season has been propelled more by the Hermiones and Neville Longbottoms of the story.
The show has even taken great pains to show that Quentin himself isn’t necessarily the traditional fantasy protagonist, despite his appearance. In an alternate reality explored last season and called back to in this season’s “Escape from the Happy Place,” he lived a long, happy life partnered with Eliot, and once they returned to the main timeline it was Quentin who suggested they give their relationship another shot, only to be shot down. Since season one, Quentin has struggled with mental illness, and in the finale questioned whether he really sacrificed himself to save his friends or merely finally succeeded at suicide. Quentin has no special power — in fact he’s arguably the least-talented magician of the bunch, and his magical discipline was revealed to be the decidedly unspecial “minor mendings.” But in the end, it was that otherwise unnoteworthy ability to repair small objects that allowed him to save the world.
And unlike most traditional fantasy heroes, Quentin’s death isn’t the end of the story — it advances the plot. Because of his death, his childhood best friend Julia, who had recently lost her ability to do magic because she’s been freed from the pain that helps fuel it, finds her power again. Eliot and Margo (Summer Bishil) escape back to the fantasy world of Fillory needing an escape from grief only to find that the monarchy they left behind has crumbled in the 300 years that they’ve been gone. And Alice (Olivia Taylor Dudley), the ex Quentin had recently reunited with (which I was not happy about as a Queliot stan but now makes sense to me, assuming the showrunners wanted that relationship to have some closure) stands to inherit control of the all-powerful Library.
Could Harry Potter have continued without Harry, even though almost every character was more interesting that him? No.
For four seasons, The Magicians has been taking apart the fantasy genre piece by piece and turning it inside out, forcing us to rethink the way these stories are told. With Quentin’s death, the show continues to reinvent the way we think about genre TV. Sorry fanboys, there’s no seemingly straight white guy anymore!
But still, RIP Quentin Coldwater. You were so cute, and so sad, and so bisexual. It will be exciting to see how the rest of the cast’s stories are expanded without you. As Penny says towards the shows end, their stories are just starting — but you and your stupid floppy hair will be missed. And I suppose we’ll have to live out our Queliot happy endings in fanfiction — but we were already going to do that anyway.