Series / The Magicians
aka: The Magicians

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The Magicians is a fast-and-loose televised adaptation of the book trilogy by Lev Grossman, airing on the Syfy channel.

Main character Quentin Coldwater (Jason Ralph) is a young man preparing to enter grad school. Since childhood, he has been a fan of a series of fantasy books that was set in a magical parallel world called Fillory. When arriving for an entrance interview for Yale, his group unexpectedly discovers that their interviewer is dead. The paramedic at the scene claims the interviewer left something for him, which turns out to be a sixth unpublished Fillory book. On Quentin’s way home one of the manuscript's pages blows away, and while chasing it he finds himself suddenly stumbling into another place. He and his friend Julia both find themselves at Brakebills University, which collects 20 students each year to teach them magic. They are offered a chance to apply by passing a strange and arduous exam. Julia fails, but Quentin is accepted, managing to perform magic when goaded by the examiner, Dean Fogg. After failing Julia gets her latest memories erased, but she manages to retain some part of it by leaving a message to herself on her body, and gradually grows obsessed with the newly discovered magic. To Quentin, in turn, it soon becomes evident that not only is magic real, but Fillory as well...

The first season can currently be streamed on Netflix. The second season started on January 25, 2017.


Provides Examples Of:

  • Adaptational Attractiveness: Eliot’s description from the first book: “There was something off about Eliot’s face. His posture was very straight, but his mouth was twisted to one side, in a permanent half grimace that revealed a nest of teeth sticking both in and out at improbable angles. He looked like a child who had been slightly misdelivered, with some subpar forceps handling by the attending.” Elliot’s portrayal in the series: by Hale Appleman with no additional disfigurement make-up.
  • Adaptation Deviation: Many minor and major differences here and there, some of the more important ones being:
    • The Beast’s power and its source: six fingers, sacrifice of his “humanity”, some knowledge and a deal with a god (books) v.s. six fingers, removal of his “shade”, and drinking from the Wellspring (series);
    • Magic in Fillory gradually waning and becoming unreliable: Fillory was at the end of its life-cycle, dying (books) v.s. the Wellspring getting bespoiled (series);
    • The old gods noticing humanity’s use of magic: Julia’s summoning of Reynard the Fox awakened other gods (books) v.s. the murder of Ember\Umber made them retaliate;
    • Magic being disabled: on a global scale, by making changes to the “matrix” upon which the many different dimensions reside (books) v.s. some human-looking being walking into various magical places and “sealing” magic shut;
    • Creation of Fillorian gods: a sacrifice of a goddess gives life to Ember, Umber, and Fillory itself (books) v.s. Ember and Umber have unmentioned “parents” who apparently care enough about the deicide to retaliate against Earth, Fillory, and the inter-dimensional Library.
  • Adaptation Distillation: In the first book of the trilogy that the show is based on, the entrance exam had a long section devoted to it. Here it's compressed to just showing us that the writing on the exam paper is frequently changing, and Quentin passes while Julia doesn't.
  • Adaptation Induced Plothole: Inverted. Early in the first book it's strongly implied that Dean Fogg knows who Jane Chatwin is, and is concerned that Quentin had met her. This is never mentioned again in any of the books, and given what we later learn it makes very little sense that Fogg would be aware of her. The show has them working together.
  • Adaptation Name Change: Janet Pluchinsky and Amanda Orloff from the novels get renamed to, respectively, Margo Hanson and Kady Orloff-Diaz.
    • Lampshaded in Margo's case: when the group arrives at the Neitherlands: the librarian calls her Janet, but when Margo corrects her, she simply replies, "This time." - implying that the books and the television series are actually alternate timelines.
  • Adaptation Personality Change: Neatly coupled with Took a Level in Kindness; during her brief appearance in the first book, Emily Greenstreet was openly contemptuous of magic and openly blamed everything wrong in her life on magic, and the only reason why she was able to have a civil conversation with Quentin is because he'd given up on magic at the time. In the series, Emily is far more subdued and infinitely less judgmental, coming across as troubled and grief-stricken more than anything else; plus, she's able to converse with two practising magicians without making any references to them being nuclear bombs waiting to go off. Fogg in particular has changed noticeably: he's far less stuffy and more involved in the events of the series, while his book counterpart was something like a Professor Umbridge lite.
  • Adaptational Angst Upgrade:
    • Quentin was pretty depressive at the start of the first book, but he kept it bottled up for the most part and had never considered the matter serious enough to seek professional help. At the start of the series, Quentin has just been discharged from a mental hospital.
    • Alice, while undoubtedly fueled by grief over her brother's death, never became obsessed with discovering the truth about how he died and definitely never attempted to summon his Niffin self.
    • Penny didn't have much of a background to account for his unpleasant behavior - and he wasn't being secretly taught by the Beast. Also, in the book he is described as inappropriately enthusiastic, and possibly autistic rather than constantly angry
    • Though Eliot was bullied quite extensively when he was younger, in the novel he never committed Accidental Murder by magic.
  • Adaptational Badass:
    • In the novel, Quentin and the rest of the class remain paralyzed by the Beast until he gets bored and leaves; the only one of them who manages to resist is Amanda Orloff, who isn't even able to finish casting a spell before being eaten alive by the Beast. More to the point, Dean Fogg's only involvement in the scene was leading the other teachers in an attempt to break through the enchantments around the classroom and rescue the students. In the series, the characters manage to put up much more of a fight: the Dean actually breaks into the class guns blazing, managing to at least fling the Beast against a desk before having his eyes ripped out; Quentin manages to teleport the Dean's time-controlling pocket watch into his hand and reverse the paralysis spell, allowing the others to escape; Kady tries attacking the Beast with battle magic (though she gets knocked out very quickly); last but certainly not least, Alice manages to cast a spell capable of killing the moth-cloud around the Beast's head, forcing him to retreat. Plus, Penny shatters the mirror before the Beast can try to come in again.
    • Meanwhile, the Beast himself is even stronger than his novel counterpart; in the novel, Alice was able to go toe-to-toe with him throughout their battle in Fillory, dueling him in several different shapes, and even doing enough damage to burn away his signature suit; even the rest of the group put up enough resistance to slow him down (with the exception of Penny who ended up getting his arms chewed off by the Beast before the fight began). In the show's version of the Fillory battle, the Beast manages a near-total party KO without even breaking a sweat. Quite apart from the fact that the god-killing knife was never considered or needed as a means of killing him, this particular battle in Fillory ends with the Beast dead, albeit at the cost of Alice's life and Penny's hands, whereas in the show, he survives.
    • This also happens as a result of the show wildly altering the timeline from the book series. Events that originally took place after Quentin had been studying magic for years now take place a few months into his education, when book Quentin would still be trying to move a marble. This is doubly true for Julia, who spent most of Quentin's first year at Brakebills trying to prove magic existed at all in the books.
    • Dean Fogg in the novels is a fairly realistic portrayal of an academic administrator. Namely, in the books he is a stuffy Obstructive Bureaucrat who sees himself as a gateekeeper whose duty is to prevent students he deems unworthy from achieving their professional or academic goals. In the series, he is more of a clever Trickster Mentor for whom Authority Equals Asskicking.
  • Adaptational Villainy:
    • In the original novel, the hedge wizards Julia teamed up with were pretty sleazy and disreputable, but their initiation tests never involved being locked in a freezer, nor did they ever try to trap Quentin in a nightmare just so they could break into Brakebills. Plus, they never stooped to murder and memory-wiping.
    • Julia was driven to moral extremes by her desire to learn magic, but she never played along (however unknowingly) with any attempts to harm Quentin or Brakebills.
    • Likewise, Penny was undeniably an asshole throughout the first book, but he wasn't responsible for the disappearance of the unpublished Fillory book.
    • Additionally, although Christopher Plover was indeed a child molester, his crimes weren't this extensive.
    • Julia changed significantly as a result of being raped by Reynard; however, she never ever sabotaged Quentin and co's showdown with the Beast, nor did she make a deal with the Beast to get revenge on Reynard - in part because she was never invited to Fillory in the first place.
    • Ember in the books is too afraid to sacrifice himself to save Fillory, but in the show is deliberately destroying it out of boredom.
  • Adaptational Wimp:
    • The entire main cast in the season finale. In the book, this event was a marathon battle featuring Alice matching the Beast almost move for move with every spell in her repertoire, the rest of the group teaming up to pelt the Beast with magic, and Quentin - though badly wounded - managing to slow the Beast down by summoning a cacodemon into the fight; the whole thing ends with the Beast being slain, at the cost of Alice being transformed into a Niffin and vanishing into the ether. In the show, the entire party is taken out in the space of about thirty seconds, and the Beast survives - in part due to a character who wasn't even there in the books.
    • A first-year Brakebills student was able to bind a niffin. In the books, niffins are virtually unstoppable.
  • Addictive Magic: Julia's behavior in pursuit of magic resembles an addiction to such a degree that people close to her actually believe she has gotten hooked on drugs and she even agrees to go to rehab. It is later explained to her that there is a reason for that:
    Chaplain Richard: The reason you treat magic like a drug, is because the people that taught it to you act like drug dealers. They buy it and they sell it, and they fight and they fuck for it.
  • Adventures in Comaland: Quentin is put in one due to a magic spell that makes him think he's still in a mental institution.
  • Age Lift: Dean Fogg was an old man in the books. Here he's in his late forties at most.
  • All Just a Dream: The episode, "The World in the Walls." The dream was created/reinforced/focused by magic, but it's still a dream.
  • And I Must Scream:
    • An entire class is magically paralyzed as a faceless man stalks around the room, then rips out Dean Fogg's eyes and breaks his fingers when he tries to intervene.
    • When the team visits the Plover house, they find that two servant children are still stuck there, trapped in an endless loop of being tortured and murdered by the owner's sister. Those three are real, but their presence also creates illusions from that day. The children and the sister can interact with outsiders, but the others cannot, since they're just scenery.
  • Asshole Victim: Plover.
  • Astral Projection: Penny gets this ability as part of being a Traveler.
  • Attention Whore / It's All About Me: Alice's parents. They're what drove her out of the house into Breakbills.
  • Awesome Moment of Crowning: Invoked. In season 2, when everyone (except Penny) become the kings and queens of Fillory, Quentin insists on doing a simple ceremony, since it's kinda important. Eliot was planning to just plop the crown on his head without fanfare.
  • Bad Future: The probability spell they use in episode 11 shows them all dying in 7 timelines out of 8.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Victoria looks surprisingly good, considering who had been torturing her for the last several years. Also as a general rule when something’s happening to the lead and secondary cast.
  • Beyond the Impossible: Alice gained entry into Brakebills by stealing a set of Alumni keys from her parents, despite the fact that such keys are generally enchanted with a spell to make them impossible to steal.
  • Bi the Way: Eliot.
  • Bloodless Carnage: Penny’s mentor kills himself with a sawed-off shotgun, which in real life would’ve made his head explode.
  • Body Horror: Emily tried to improve her looks using magic, but this ended up warping her face horribly instead.
  • Bottle Episode: "The World in the Walls" has very few visual effects and takes place mostly in a single location.
  • Break the Haughty:
    • Julia was a slightly entitled young woman who was pissed when Brakebills rejected her and took Quentin instead. Since then, she has been used by hedge witches who discarded her once they got what they wanted, at the expense of her friendship with Quentin. Also, she had to watch as Kady's mother, who was in a similar position that she was in, was murdered in a brutal fashion by Marina. All of this sent her to rehab. Then she accidentally summoned a demon who possessed a man and raped her.
    • Penny started off as a major bully to Quentin who stole his book from him and nearly got him kicked out of Brakebills. Since then, he has been through hell, with the Beast tormenting him to the point where he almost killed himself. Also, he found out that Kady was using him to steal things for Marina. While he was willing to help her, she abandoned him and broke his heart once Brakebills found out, so that she wouldn't take him down with her.
    • Marina was still a bitch in season two, but after she ignores Julia's pleas, she heads over to another hedge witch, only to arrive after Reynard got to her first. Then, she comes groveling to Dean Fogg for asylum, who soundly rejects her to protect his students from her. Somewhat humbled and very afraid, she goes back to Julia for help.
  • Broken Pedestal:
    • Quentin is devastated when he finds out that Christoper Plover, the author of the Fillory books, was actually an abusive rapist who terrorized Martin Chatwin while attempting to brute-force learn magic and travel to Fillory..
    • To a lesser extent, Quentin feels this way when he discovers Martin is actually the Beast. He clearly saw Martin as something of a self-insert, which has terrible implications for his future.
  • Broke Your Arm Punching Out Cthulhu: The season 2 finale. Good news? Ember is dead and Fillory is under new management. Bad news? Humans killing lesser gods gets them on the radar of the greater gods, who shut off magic in retaliation.
  • Buxom Is Better: Margo comments on Alice's large breasts being her "assets" which she shouldn't hide under her modest outfit.
  • Call Back: In "The World In The Walls", Quentin starts a flash mob in his "Music Therapy" session, singing "Shake It Off" by Taylor Swift. He's hoping that Penny will pick up his thoughts in the real world, remembering how annoyed Penny became with hearing him mentally sing Taylor Swift songs in "The Consequences of Magic".
    • The first season finale's title is "Have You Brought Me Little Cakes?" in reference to Ember's question when meeting Julia and Quentin. The season two finale which focuses on Ember has the title "We Have Brought You Little Cakes".
  • Calling Card: The Beast seems to like smiley-faces, first drawing one on the other side of a fogged-up mirror, then drawing one with Dean Fogg's blood and eyeballs.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Quentin becomes genuinely angry with Umber, calling him out for his part in creating the Beast by spurning Martin when he needed sanctuary from his abusive guardian and writing off Fillory as a lost cause.
  • Can Only Move the Eyes: The students in the pilot when Time Stands Still.
  • Captain Obvious: Margo complains of Julia telling them blatantly obvious things in figuring out how to use the god-killing knife against the Beast in the last episode of season one.
  • Celestial Bureaucracy
  • Child by Rape:
    • Julia gets pregnant due to her rape by Reynard, and decides to have an abortion. However, he, or it, stops this by forcing the doctor to kill herself. Later a magical abortion is successful.
    • John Gaines is a child of Reynard's from his last rampage.
  • Crapsaccharine World:
    • Brakebills looks light and fluffy, but the teachers make only token efforts to keep the students safe, it's not unheard of for entire classes of students to just disappear, and since magic is powered by pain this is actually a valid way of teaching it.
    • Fillory itself turns out rather different from Quentin's expectations.
  • Creator Cameo: Lev Grossman appears in "The Source of Magic" as "Dev Fleischman", an expert on the Fillory novels.
  • Condensation Clue: The first smiley-face left behind by the faceless-man entity is drawn as if by an invisible finger on a magically fogged-up mirror.
  • Cuckoo Nest: In "The World In The Walls", Quentin wakes up to find himself in his old mental hospital and is told that he has been hallucinating Brakebills. The people he meets there are patients and staff. Midway through the episode, it's revealed that Julia and the hedge witches have placed him there as part of a Batman Gambit to gain entry into Brakebills.
  • Cute Monster Girl: The questing beast Quentin and Penny go hunting after.
  • Deader Than Dead: At first a viewer might assume that Jane is only faking being dead\strangled to get free. Not so much after her head explodes in a shower of blood.
  • Demonic Possession:
    • Richard is possessed by Reynard the Fox, a cruel trickster god, after he's accidentally summoned.
    • Later Quentin essentially gives Alice the niffin a "time-sharing" form in return for her help.
  • Disproportionate Retribution:
    • Julia begs Quentin to get her tested for magic again, and later he dismisses her achievements as "party tricks." She retaliates by trapping him in a nightmare from which people usually never escape. Though in her defense, of course, she didn't know that's what would happen.
    • A man curses Penny's newly-healed hands for insulting him, with the curse being so potent it would poison anyone who tries to cure him. It's later revealed Ember had stolen from the man, leaving him in a foul mood when Penny arrived.
  • Driven to Suicide: All of the Travelers kill themselves (except Penny) due to the Beast's threats.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: The pilot shows what seems to be a much younger Plover typing at a computer, implying that the timeline had been wildly altered from the books. When we find out Plover's actual history, it seems to be much closer timeline-wise to the books.
  • Erotic Dream: Quentin has one involving Alice as Daenerys Targaryen and Julia as Leia in her metal bikini, while he himself is Indiana Jones. Hilariously, Alice/Daenerys rebukes him for not allowing the two to talk long enough to pass the Bechdel Test.
  • Eye Scream:
    • Dean Fogg gets both of his eyes plucked out by the faceless man.
    • Julia's doctor is forced into stabbing herself through the eye with an instrument by Reynard, stopping her from performing an abortion.
  • The Faceless: The man that paralyzes the class and then mutilates Dean Fogg has a constant cloud of moths around him, covering his face entirely; in fact, threatening to reveal his face by killing the moth-cloud is what eventually forces him to leave.
  • Failed a Spot Check: Plover’s sister doesn’t notice when Elliot empties his tea on the carpet.
  • Fake Russian: Mayakovsky chants a Russian spell in S02E12 with a very heavy accent («Подобное притягивает подобное чтобы составить цельное.» \ “Like attracts like to make a whole”).
  • Fantastic Racism: Against vampires, dryads, etc.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Quentin, Alice, Penny, Eliot and Margo become this over the course of the first season.
    • Julia and Kady, especially after Julia saves Kady from Reynard.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • "Tricky... I like it."
    • "You can't un-ring a bell."
    • The archivist copies for Penny the pages he needs, explaining that otherwise he would try stealing them, which would result in the book getting damaged. It looks like her being Genre Savvy at the moment but she's actually pointing out that they are inside a time loop and that's exactly what Penny would do when given the choice.
  • Geometric Magic: Many of the spells and rituals that are shown in the show use different runes and shapes to create various spell effects. Some even require more than one magician in order to be executed properly.
  • George Jetson Job Security: Not technically a "job," but it seems that almost nothing the Physical Kids do can get them kicked out of Brakebills. While some of this can be explained as the school simply not finding out, Kady faces no consequences for helping a Hedge Witch rob the school and nearly trapping another student in a permanent coma, and Quentin gets nothing more than a stern lecture for experimenting with a form of Magic Dean Fogg explicitly says is not only forbidden to students, but also "forbidden to everyone else" ( he only used it on a puppy, and was desperate to cure his father's cancer, but still...). While Julia's not actually in Brakebills, it seems strange that Fogg says he has no interest in punishing her for her part in the robbery, and she's left alone even after she's no longer under Marina's protection. All of this could be somewhat justified by the fact that Fogg knows Quentin is The Chosen One.
  • Ghostapo: Hitler was apparently a skilled battle magician.
  • Golem: Margo finds out an ex-boyfriend made a golem twin of her, which he uses as a sexbot, to her outrage and disgust.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Averted. When Julia gets pregnant due to Reynard's rape, she decides to have an abortion right away, and this is treated as perfectly acceptable. Kady confides in her that she had an abortion as well. Julia later gets one from two Korean magicians.
  • "Groundhog Day" Loop: The world is stuck in a loop because the outcomes so far have been failing to satisfy the wielder of time magic. Quentin has managed to drug Dean Fogg 27 times while inside and die 39 times.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: Renard's children with (unwilling) human women are demi-gods, and apparently quite powerful because of it.
  • Heroic Suicide: John compels Julia to kill him so she can collect his divine essence and use it against Reynard.
  • Hidden Villain: Late in season 2 it becomes clear somebody is purposefully causing chaos throughout Fillory but it isn't until Ramifications that it's revealed to be a bored Ember. In a speech by him in the last episode it's revealed he was involved even more deeply than anticipated, having nudged events just so to ensure even the minor conflicts occurred.
  • Hitler's Time-Travel Exemption Act: A group of Brakebills students tried to use time travel to kill Hitler, only to be thwarted because Hitler was a battle magician.
  • Hypnotic Eyes: Reynard the Fox, etc.
  • Idiot Ball:
    • The way they confined the person who was suspected to be Beast himself sockpuppeting another body would’ve made more sense if they were dealing with someone demonstrating accidental bursts of magic. Admittedly, even Hannibal-tier restrictions could’ve potentially been insufficient, but deciding to not even try them was just negligence.
    • Various other major and minor Idiot Balls also crop up along the two seasons.
  • Indentured Servitude: In return for getting back the use of his hands to do magic, Penny signs a contract with the Neitherlands Library to work a million years for them, in his lifetime and afterward.
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: During Quentin's nightmare, he finally gets a spell to work, producing some miniature fireworks for Julia, except no one can see them. She quietly says "I would have liked to see the fireworks." He didn't say what he was trying to do. This is the first hint that this is the real Julia, and that she's behind all this.
    • The first clue that the collector of Fillory memorabilia is actually Umber is when he talks about Jane being the Watcher Woman, a detail never revealed in the novels.
  • Informed Attribute: The seventh episode would be somewhat confusing to watch without prior acquaintance with the book series. Chronology was often jumbled up, some of the events were put off screen and only briefly discussed by the characters in short, incomplete comments, etc.
  • In Medias Res: Episode 13.
  • Involuntary Shapeshifting: Kady, Penny, Quentin and Alice turn into geese at the end of their test, flying to Antarctica in that form. Later Quentin and Alice become foxes in Antarctica - they even have sex that way.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Eliot disillusioning Alice when she tries to make them go back inside the haunted house. She'd already almost died once trying to save/bring back her brother, and now she wants to risk all their lives again without even any prior preparations.
  • Kill It with Fire: Shade-less Julia solves the problem of a recalcitrant sapient forest by burning it down.
  • Kill the God: Possible but extremely difficult, with most information on how to do it being carefully hidden. Julia's plot in season 2 focuses on killing Reynard while Quentin's plot ends with Quentin killing Ember after he killed Umber.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia:
    • Students who fail to enter Brakebills get their memories wiped. In Julia's case, this fails and she remembers enough to become obsessed with doing magic.
    • Later on, she herself asks for fake memories to be implanted to forget about Reynard the Fox.
    • When Julia thinks she needs to tell the truth to boyfriend James, Marina strikes first by making James forget he ever met Julia.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Marina spent most of season one terrorizing Quentin, Julia and her friends, controlling others with her power, and getting away with killing Kady's mother. In season two, she goes on the run from the fox god Reynard and teams up with Julia, only to be tortured and killed by Reynard while Julia is busy with the Beast.
  • Light 'em Up: Alice's magical specialty, "Phosphoromancy", that she can use to turn invisible or to magnify light to burn through doors.
  • Loophole Abuse:
    • The librarian from the Neitherlands isn't allowed to lend Penny any books without a library card. However, there's apparently no rule against her making photocopies of the relevant pages.
    • As Fillory’s high king, Eliot is not allowed to leave it. So he creates a clone and drives it when his primary body is sleeping.
  • Magical Abortion: Discussed by Julia and Kady after the former gets pregnant by rape. However, it turns out spells that cause abortion are very dangerous, with side effects like erasing the woman's uterus, so they decide a regular medical procedure is a safer idea. After this doesn't work as Renard forces the doctor to kill herself, she gets a different magical one from two Korean magicians that is successful. Unfortunately, it has the side effect of severing her shade.
  • Magically Binding Contract: Quentin agrees to make a contract with Alice as a niffin which is subject to "Word as bond", which neither of them can break. She finds ways to circumvent the contract's restrictions despite this.
  • Magical Gesture: Most spells require extremely precise hand gestures, which can be mimicked if you pay attention. Most spells also only require the gestures. Some thought has clearly gone into choreographing this trope also, as the Beast's knuckle-cracking gestures make his hands look disturbingly deformed, in contrast to the smooth movements of humans' casting.
  • Magical Incantation: Magic items usually require an activation phrase, in addition to a longer incantation to create the item in the first place. A binding box was activated with the phrase "I bind you" repeated in Turkish and English, but making it took a month-long incantation.
  • Macabre Moth Motif: The Beast, usually announced by a moth and whose unseen face is perpetually surrounded by a swarm of moths.
  • Mass Hypnosis: Unknowingly utilised by a demi-god.
  • Mercy Kill: After entering her mind with magic, a comatose patient asks Julia to kill her. She refuses, but Richard gives an overdose to her once Julia tells him this.
  • Mind Rape: Which also counted as a suicide-by-a-human.
  • Mood Whiplash: The season one finale "Have You Brought Me Little Cakes?" big time. Quentin snarkily narrates about how he and Julia enter Fillory in its heyday, with Fillory being just as beautiful and magical as the books that they had read. They even joyfully discover that they are minor characters in the books that help Jane. But once the Watcher-Woman (AKA Jane Chatwin) sends them to present day Fillory, they find that the land isn't as lush and full of life as it once was. And then Ember gets rid of the memory patch that Marina placed, making Julia remember her incredibly horrific traumatic experience with Reynard. And then the gang encounters the Beast, who manages to brutally defeat Alice, Penny, Eliot, and Margo.
    • In "Divine Elimination", the gang start off being cursed, which results in them hilariously plotting to kill each other. After Penny saves them, they head off to kill the Beast, only for Alice to turn into a niffin, kill him and turn on the others. Quentin has to kill her to save them.
  • Mythology Gag: The librarian in the Neitherlands greets Margot by the name Janet, her name in the novels, and indicates that this was her name in previous iterations of the time loop.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!:
    • Ember's Take That! move to the Beast in the form of pooping in the wellspring has caused more problems than it should have, including possibly helping to destroy magic in both Fillory and Earth.
    • Julia's continued persistence in going after Reynard and using the Beast has resulted in her betraying everyone and causing Alice's death.
    • The cast plotting to take over Fillory from Ember works, but they have to kill him and the greater gods retaliate by shutting off all magic that comes from the wellspring.
  • Mundane Afterlife
  • No Budget: Invoked with The Castle That Isn't There.
    Quentin: The truth is, the castle was constructed to be invisible primarily for budgetary reasons. The royals had spent their entire seasonal allowance and then realized they still had a castle to build, so they figured builder's grade material is just fine if you can't see it.
  • Noodle Incident: Alice mentions she somehow lost her virginity while fully clothed.
  • Obstructive Bureaucracy: The library in the Neitherlands runs on one. Franz Kafka wrote The Trial after a week there.
  • Odd Friendship: Type-A Julia with emotionally messed up Quentin. This is deconstructed once Quentin is accepted into Brakebills and Julia isn't. Let's just say that Julia's inability to accept that fact leads to a lot of problems between the two.
  • The Old Gods: Alice discovered during her time as a niffin that there exist old gods who created both the multiverse and the lesser gods such as Ember and Umber. They generally ignore mortal species as harmless but after the death of the aforementioned gods, their parents shut off human magic.
  • Order Versus Chaos: Umber and Ember are respectively gods of order and chaos. They joined forces in creating Fillory because their natures would balance out and create something more than they could alone. After Umber fled and the Beast died, Ember has free rein and begins wreaking havoc for his own amusement.
    • Their actions apart from each other show why the balance between them is so important. Alone, Umber creates worlds that are perfectly ordered and utterly bland. Ember by contrast terrorizes and tries to destroy Fillory.
  • Out of Character: In one scene Penny asks the doctor what “necrotizing” means. Given both Brakebills’ strict entry requirements and its extensive curriculum coverage, it’s very unlikely that he would’ve needed an explanation on that.
  • Outside-Context Problem: After two seasons dealing with magicians, the Beast, and gods, nobody is prepared to deal with the "plumber" of the old gods who shuts off magic throughout the multiverse.
  • Personalized Afterlife: There are multiple versions of the underworld and incoming souls are sent to whichever they subconsciously expect.
  • Pet the Dog: Marina of all people decides to save the life of a hedge witch who was neurotically cleaning up the aftermath of a botched ritual with four homicides and a rape. This is the equivalent of a mob boss thinking "Yep, this guy did too much in one day".
  • Polyamory: Alice's parents turn out to have a man named Joe as their "third". Eliot also calls the outcome of his two marriages a polyamory, although his wife’s lack of agreement makes it at least somewhat dubious.
  • Portmanteau:
    Dick: Margo, I... I needed you. You broke my heart. The only way I could repair it was to create my golem... of you.
    Elliot (high): A golem... of Margo. A Margolem!
  • Power Perversion Potential: Kady and Penny use their magic to levitate so they can have sex in mid air. Quentin and Alice's first time is after turning into foxes in Antarctica.
  • Psychic Block Defense: Quentin seems to lack even a rudimentary one, which is why Penny is always so annoyed with him. Penny offers to teach him how to block psychics just so that Penny doesn't have to listen to his stupid thoughts any more.
    Penny: Taylor Swift? Really?
  • Psychic-Assisted Suicide: Reynard, or the fetus, forced the doctor Julia went to have an abortion from into suicide.
  • Race Lift: Dean Fogg, described in the books as white, is black here. Penny, also described as white, is Indian American.
  • Rape as Drama: Reynard rapes Julia when he possesses Richard after she accidentally summons him.
  • Rape by Proxy: Reynard possesses Richard when Julia accidentally summons him, raping her in his body.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Surprisingly averted, considering the type of narrative. No adult seems to care that much what their students do until something terrible happens. The dean, who one would consider to be the Dumbledore-like figure, gets pwnt by The Beast so horribly he loses sight and cannot cast at least for weeks, and then almost gets killed by a possessed ex-student. In one episode, he even says to Quentin outright he has no idea what should be done at the moment.
  • Religion Is Magic:
    • Gods can be prayed to for power, which is similar to normal spellcraft but distinct. Julia describes it as having the spell cast on her, rather than by her.
    • Alice mentions that every culture in history has a way of dealing with ghosts, and Eliot corrects her, saying they have ways of preventing ghosts. It seems he's talking about religious funeral rites.
  • The Reveal: A couple actually. Eliza, the woman who knows more than she has a right to, turns out to actually be Jane Chatwin. On a smaller scale, the Watcher-Woman is also Jane Chatwin.
    • Additionally it was initially believed that the Beast was Christopher Plover. But he is actually Martin Chatwin.
    • The chaos unfolding in Fillory for much of season 2 is perpetrated by none other than the god Ember, who now intends to destroy the world.
  • Ripple Proof Memory: Possessed by Dean, Amber and the Beast.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Kady does this when she learns that her mother is dead and that Brakebills knows she was spying for Marina.
    • This may explain why Marina was alone and without her hadge group in season two, after she had killed Kady's mother.
  • Secret Test:
    • Julia is locked in a freezer with another rookie hedge-witch and has to figure her way out. When she does, she tells Pete (the supposed proctor of the test) that she doesn't have to prove herself to him. The "rookie" hedge-witch was actually an expert and she organized the test to see what Julia was made of.
    • The comatose magician Julia needs to talk to traps her in a Buried Alive nightmare to see if she's worth dealing with.
      Julia: What is it with magicians and tests?
  • Sex for Services: Julia lets Pete have sex with her in return for information.
  • Sex Slave: Kady was sold by her mother to Marina to work off a debt, and she's forced to seduce some professors for information on things which she can steal to repay it, essentially making her this.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Several references to the Harry Potter series.
      Elliot: Nothing to see, you louche little degenerates. Avada Kedavra!
      Physical Kids: Whatever, Eliot.
    • In "The World in the Walls," Alice thinks she's trapped in a situation like the original Star Trek pilot "The Cage." She refers to it as "a cage, a menagerie"; "The Menagerie" was a two-part episode that reworked the pilot footage. Fogg thinks she's talking about a Lost in Space episode and Quentin corrects him.
    • Fillory, a magical world where children can enter through mundane objects and it let's in only some of them, is quite reminiscent of Narnia.
    • Quentin has an Erotic Dream where Alice is Daenerys Targaryen, Julia is Slave Leia and Quentin himself is Indiana Jones.
    • When Julia enters Keira's mind, she finds herself in a coffin, which she compares to a situation Uma Thurman found herself in in Kill Bill.
    • Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid: Julia mentions it at one point.
    • Groundhog Day.
      Dean Fogg: Can you imagine, Quentin, how many times we've had this exact conversation? You've managed to slip truth serum to me twenty-seven times, twenty-seven ways, and I'm quite sick of it.
      Quentin: So, what, this is just some giant, blood-soaked Groundhog Day?
      Dean Fogg: You always bring up that fucking movie. I still haven't seen it. Now it's a point of pride.
    • Josh, saving the group from the Neitherlands magicians, tells them "Come with me if you want to live." He Always Wanted to Say That.
    • Penny compares the magical mob daughter Sylvia to Meadow in The Sopranos, earning a groan from her at being so old. And then corrects him on the name.
  • Sibling Murder: Ember, enraged on realizing Umber fled Fillory and left him behind, crushes his brother's throat.
  • Slobs vs. Snobs: A magical version. On one side, the elitist Brakebills magicians are in luxurious mansions and cottages where it is always sunny; on the other side, the hedge witches dwell in deserted industrial buildings of a grimy New York City. For bonus points, Brakebills magicians (well, at least Elliot and Quentin) are condescending towards their slob counterparts. Also, the hedges seem to be bitter toward the Brakebills magicians, partly due to their elitism, and also due to their rules which the hedges don't seem willing to follow, based on the fact that Kady learned battle magic from them, as well as Marina's willingness to use magic to harm/kill others.
  • The Sociopath:
    • This seems to be how people end up after losing their "shade", to go by Martin Chatwin and Julia.
    • Niffins also behave in this manner, calmly killing even the people they once loved. It turns out Niffins lose their shade when transforming.
  • The Soulless: The loss of a person's shade appears to leave them like this, with the usual lack of empathy.
  • Stealth Hi/Bye: Penny when he gets volunteered into the Plover house.
  • Surprisingly Sudden Death: Maybe not that sudden, considering that anyone in close proximity to the Beast automatically and immediately drops on the survival chances list, but still.
  • Take a Level in Badass: Julia, after summoning Our Lady Underground. Alice, after drinking some unsavory power-upper.
  • Telepathy: One of the two specialties of Penny. Because of that he was first affected to the Psychics' crowd. Much to his displeasure.
  • Teleportation: Penny's other specialty. He is a Traveler, a rare kind of magician.
  • That Wasn't a Request: Umber cheerfully asks Quentin if he wants to visit his pet world and give some feedback.
    Umber: Care to take a visit? Make some notes?
    Quentin: [stammers] I...uh...I...
    Umber: I'm sorry. But you're acting like I'm asking you. Whereas I am a god and you are a hairless monkey. So nod and say thank you.
  • The Topic of Cancer: When Quentin finds out that his father has cancer, he wants to use magic to cure it, but is told that it is one of the diseases that magicians have not been able to cure. Cancer is part of the patient's body changing rather then an outside virus or bacteria, and magic cannot distinguish between the two. Using magic to change one's own body is extremely hard and prone to Body Horror results. Trying to cure cancer is more likely to kill the patient outright.
  • Tough Love: Professor Mayakovsky is a huge Jerkass, but this appears to all be part of his teaching method and several of his actions suggest that he's actually a Jerk with a Heart of Gold.
  • Thought Crime: Penny gets kicked out of the Library because he was thinking about breaking the rules and trying to steal a book.
  • Three-Way Sex: Quentin, Margo and Eliot have a threesome while "high" on emotion magic.
  • Truth Serum: Quentin drugs Dean Fogg to find out who Eliza really was.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Penny when recounting what he read of the missing Fillory novel. To be fair, he was drunk at the time.
    Penny: It was a dog. [..] No, wait. Not a dog. It was a pig. [..] Wrong. No. What was it? Back up.
    Quentin: Ah, for fuck’s sake!
  • Villain Decay: The Beast’s performance in second season becomes rather tame compared to the first one. The magical contract that the plot has written him into often makes him only be able to walk in a funny manner and get on peoples’ nerves with his singing routine.
  • Was Once a Man: The Beast was once Martin Chatwin.
  • Wham Episode: "Have You Brought Me Little Cakes?" has everyone in Fillory, and Eliot becoming the High King. However, he is now unable to leave Fillory as a result. Also, Julia has a memory block by Marina which Ember removes, resulting in her remembering that her group was tricked in summoning Reynard the Fox. He kills everyone but Kady (who is saved by Julia) and Julia (who he rapes). Quentin gets the chance to power up and kill the Beast, but he gives that power to Alice instead. However, after the Beast nearly kills everyone, Julia, who also has that power, captures him and leaves, making a deal to spare him if he kills Reynard with her.
    • "Divine Elimination" ends with the deaths of Marina, the Beast and Alice.
    • "Ramifications" reveals the source of all the chaos in Fillory is none other than Ember, who's using his newfound freedom to wreak havoc.
    • "We Have Brought You Little Cakes" ends with Ember and Umber dead, which causes the old gods to shut off all human magic. Despite this the cast still has to deal with magical problems as the fairies invade Fillory, the Anglerfish is hunting a depowered Alice, and Penny is trapped in the Neitherlands Library.
  • With Great Power Comes Great Insanity: Niffins. Essentially the result of a magician losing control of their powers, Niffins are immensely powerful and almost entirely without rational thought, as Charlie demonstrates.
  • Wizarding School: Brakebills University.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Quentin cheats on Alice with Eliot and Margo while high on emotion magic. Alice later has sex with Penny in revenge.
  • Zero-G Spot: Kady and Penny have sex in mid air, though it's done by levitation here.

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