Synopsis of 1×01: Recent college graduate Quentin Coldwater feels lost in the world, finding solace only in the Fillory book series he’s loved since childhood. When he finds out that magic is real and finds his way to Brakebills University he finally feels like he belongs. But real magic isn’t like the magic that appears in books and fantasy. It can be dark and unpredictable and the results of tampering with forces you don’t understand can be grave…
If you haven’t yet read Lev Grossman’s The Magicians series then let me take this time to make an obligatory recommendation that you do so when you get a chance. The books are pretty great and they are geared towards your average twenty-something year old who grew up reading the Harry Potter books. The television series does much the same but will perhaps also capture the attention of those Harry Potter fans who were first and foremost focused on the movie adaptations instead.
Either way, the books are great and – as far as I’m concerned after watching the pilot for Syfy’s adaptation – the TV show is on its way to being great, too.
The basic premise is one that a lot of us can relate to at this point in our lives. Quentin Coldwater, the series’ primary protagonist, is a young man who grew up reading a book series about a magical world called Fillory. The Fillory books are much like the Chronicles of Narnia but with the same fanaticism as the much more recent Harry Potter series.
Unlike all of us, though, Quentin discovers that magic is, in fact, real. The revelation comes at a low point for Quentin. Now a college graduate applying for graduate school at Yale, he’s checked himself into a psych ward briefly. He feels lost and unable to connect with anyone in New York. That feeling seems to compound with the fact that he’s now on the edge of falling completely into adulthood. He checks himself out just in time for his interview feeling a bit better. He resolves to put away childish things like Fillory and to try and make real connections.
But when he and his friend Julia arrive for his interview they find the alumni interviewer dead and in his possession a mysterious copy of an unpublished, long-rumored sixth Fillory book. Quentin is enamored by the possibilities but Julia becomes upset and chastises him about it.
It comes a surprise to both of them then, when they find themselves magically transported to Brakebills University not long after. Seemingly ordinary doors in the city wind up bringing them to the university in upstate New York where they are immediately thrust into testing with no real explanation. Elliot, an upperclassman, takes Quentin to the main testing room where they take a written test to judge their magical aptitude.
While Quentin is selected to advance, Julia is not. Where Quentin is pressured into an explosive example of magic under pressure (after which he promptly passes out), the instructor speaking with Julia explains that she will be made to forget any of it ever happened and sent home. Before they can wipe her mind, though, she secretly gouges her arm which leaves a scar and allows her to remember her brief time at Brakebills.
Julia goes home feeling melancholy and lost.
Quentin finally feels like he belongs for the first time in his life. So, he has a bit of a rough start with edgy roommate Penny. But he falls in quickly with Elliot and his friend Margot, who take him under their wing. They explain how magic works, how people come into their talents, and that magic is not all it’s cracked up to be sometimes. It’s dangerous – as evident by the almost entirely missing third-year class. But Quentin isn’t to be deterred and he becomes wrapped up in that feeling of belonging and is determined to remain in this world.
Little does he know, though, that things aren’t as simple as that. At the beginning of the episode, the Dean and one of the instructors begin talking rather cryptically about “him” and preparing “him” for something to come. Is Quentin the “him” they were talking about? It’s too early to say but Quentin starts falling asleep and dreaming about Fillory. Jane Chatwin – one of the characters from the book – begins talking to him about a destiny that will take him away from Brakebills. She also warns him of a Beast that’s coming for him.
He’d love to think that the dreams are really just that: dreams. But he wakes up from one in the library with runes carved into his hand.
Meanwhile back in New York, Julia’s friends notice she’s become withdrawn. Quentin is called back for a party (which Elliot and Margot invite themselves along for) but he’s not expecting Julia to confront him about Brakebills. She demands answers and that he go back to tell them they made a mistake in not admitting her.
This angers Quentin who tells her she’s only hung on this because it’s the first time she hasn’t been good at something. She says she’s been trying spells and doing magic but Quentin tells her that doesn’t mean anything. There are, apparently, videos on YouTube of a drunken George W. Bush doing magic.
None of this is what she wants to hear. But it turns out Brakebills isn’t the only option. Pete – a mysterious and clearly morally questionable man – approaches her later after Quentin is gone to tell her that there’s other organizations of magic users out there besides Brakebills and they have been watching her for a long time.
Because, you know, that doesn’t sound ominous at all.
She’s not the only one about to have a brush with darkness, however. Alice, a reclusive student from a long line of magic users enlists Quentin’s help in speaking with her deceased brother. The ruin he finds carved into his hand is the one she needs. But the two of them are unable to do the magic they need to speak with her brother Charlie – at least until Penny and his girlfriend find themselves drawn into things. Unfortunately, even with the four of them, the magic doesn’t work.
At least, it doesn’t seem to work.
The next day they are all in class when something happens. Quentin starts to nod off while spinning a coin and listening to the instructor when the clocks all start getting stuck – flashing between a single minute at noon. The Dean is the only one who seems aware of the danger and he takes off running as everyone else on campus freezes. But they aren’t frozen in time. They are just frozen. They are all aware of something happening as a dark, terrifying entity comes into the world through a mirror.
Shaped mostly like a person, there are moths flying around its limbs and making up its face. It wanders the room slowly with a slight skip in its step as the students and instructor can only watch in fear. It then kills the instructor and starts looking around the room for someone. The Dean bursts in and manages to injure it to an extent with magic. But the victory is very short lived. It soon ensnares the Dean and holds him in mid-air, plucking his eyes from his head before placing them on a desk and making a smiley face with the Deans blood.
The creature – the Beast that Jane was warning Quentin about most likely – begins walking the room again. Suddenly the coin Quentin was spinning falls to the ground indicating that perhaps Quentin isn’t as frozen as the others. The Beast walks over to him and calls him by name…
AND THEN THE EPISODE ENDS.
WHAT THE HELL?
HOW CAN IT END LIKE THAT!?
Luckily for those of you who choose to watch this episode the day it airs on Syfy, the second episode will start up immediately after. I, on the other hand, decided to watch it on demand yesterday through my cable provider. I figured, hey, this will be fun. I liked the books. Let’s see how the pilot episode stacks up. I was not expecting this kind of a traumatic cliffhanger.
But I love it.