There’s a juicy heresy in Lev Grossman’s 2009 novel The Magicians and its two sequels, which subvert the cozy magical power fantasies in Narnia and Harry Potter. The core of that cultural skewering carries on in the SyFy show (loosely) adapting Grossman’s books. I binged the first two seasons (currently on Netflix) while in the feverish throes of a nasty stomach bug, which is an adequate metaphor for the show’s take on beloved childhood magic. Strip away the sentimentality and show the cruel realities of life-altering magic and you’ll arrive at a different truth about humanity. In this case, the show stares unflinchingly at a world where people use spellcraft and sorcery for selfish ends and quick fixes, which has devastating consequences.
It’s not a perfect show; it falls into subplots that do little for the story and less for the characters, but it’s the only media chipping away at the assumption that magic would be benevolent and liberating. Sometimes the most seductive shortcuts have crippling costs — perhaps just for everyone around you. Are they worth taking, and what would that say about you? The third season is almost over, and it’s getting farther away from the source material, for better and worse: A straight adaptation of the book trilogy would’ve been a lot more concise and preserved the emotional body blows. But what can I say? I enjoy watching these characters finagle solutions to problems they created trying to fix other things. New viewers can blitz through seasons 1 and 2 on Netflix, while the third is…