The Magicians is a show that’s full of contradictions. At times it’s refreshing and brilliant, but then it’s so silly I can’t believe an adult wrote the story. (At one point, there’s an actual forest of dick rocks.) But if there’s one thing it’s good at, it’s having a smart, thoughtful, and thoroughly progressive portrayal of sex... even if the results have been controversial at times.
Seriously! For all its faults and bouts of immaturity, Syfy’s Harry Potter For Adults might be one of the most forward-thinking shows on television right now, because it’s exploring a great many aspects of consenting adult relationships in a remarkably honest—and mature—way.
There’s no judgment on The Magicians, no Chandler-from-Friends-style gay panic. Everything is permitted. Quentin and Eliot have openly explored their bisexuality (from opposing sexual preferences), Margo is straightforward and unapologetic about her desires, and Alice and Quentin took refreshingly open steps to help her orgasm. Group sex and orgies are a repeat occurrence, along with sessions of casual sex. Female bisexuality hasn’t been explored yet, other than Quentin’s sex dream where Margo and Alice alluringly discuss trying to pass the Bechdel Test, but it wouldn’t be out of place. Just about any sexual pairing on the show is possible and plausible.
That’s not to say all of the relationships are healthy or well expressed. The show’s only queer woman of color (so far) was killed off unceremoniously, along with Mike, Eliot’s male love interest. Eliot’s melancholy over having to kill his boyfriend was treated like a problem by our heroes— especially Margo, who cared more about wanting her party boy back than empathizing with his loss. The awfulness of pedophilia, in particular, was rather poorly explored, turning a male sexual assault victim into a sociopath without once trying to rectify his tragedy.
But then there’s Julia. It’s safe to say that Julia’s storyline has been a Herculean task for The Magicians. Rape is one of the most misunderstood and abused experiences in modern storytelling, often used as a cheap plot device to make us hate one person and feel sorry for another. People were (rightfully) concerned when Julia’s brutal rape at the hands of trickster god Reynard the Fox gave her godlike powers at the end of the season one, hinting at the problematic “rape as character motivation” storyline that’s shared with the likes of Game of Thrones. However, I feel Julia’s story this season has negated some of those concerns, and has presented a progressive view toward the victims of rape and issues of consent.
One of the most refreshing things about Julia’s storyline is no one blames her for the attack. In fact, Julia is the only one who assumes guilt for what happened (as victims often do), but she is surrounded by people who assure her that it’s not her fault, because it’s not. This includes hedgewitch Marina, who helped Julia erase the memory of her rape even though they were enemies at that time. Dean Henry Fogg gave her sanctuary at Brakebills without question, even though she’d helped steal magic from the school in the past. In last week’s episode, all our heroes robbed a bank so they could fund Julia’s abortion, without ever once blaming her for the pregnancy. They were upset she betrayed them before they could kill The Beast, the big bad of season one, but when they realized Julia saved him in hopes of using him to get revenge on Reynard, they empathized with her decision, even while feeling betrayed.
The show also takes a very open stance toward abortion, which is always a very risky subject on television. The moment Julia finds out she’s pregnant, she absolutely wants to get rid of the baby. She doesn’t mince words, she doesn’t gracefully touch her belly in the mirror as a silent tear of regret falls down her face. It’s plain and simple: Julia doesn’t want the child, and the show makes it clear that it’s her choice to make. Of course, Reynard the Fox does everything in his power to stop her, but this only serves to increase Julia’s resolve. She doesn’t want anyone else making this decision for her, and she goes to every length to take control of her own body. It’s a powerful statement on a woman’s right to choose.
There are still plenty of steps The Magicians can take to be more progressive and inclusive in the future, as all televisions shows can. These include exploration of the gender spectrum, as well as what male victims of sexual assault actually go through. However, I do feel like it’s important to acknowledge the risks The Magicians has taken, positioning itself as a fantasy show that openly explores sex, consent, and abortion in a way that reflects the growth and changes in our own society. Sexuality encompasses far more than just sex, and The Magicians is poised to explore all of it—and do it well.