Summer Bishil Dazzles as Margo Leads 'The Magicians' Through a Triumphant Musical Catharsis
Summer Bishil's Margo Hanson rules. Even though she is no longer the High King of Fillory, the glam-and-gin soaked olive in the cocktail of perfection that is The Magicians will forever be our queen and after this week's episode, she may also be our hero.
Having voluntarily handed over the throne to Fen (Brittany Curran), the gold-medal shade thrower is headed off on a mission to find the materials to beat The Monster that has possessed her best friend Eliot (Hale Appleman). There's no assurance that any part of Eliot is even still alive, but Margo has never been one to back down from a challenge. That includes the personal one she faces in the March 27 episode, "All That Hard Glossy Armor," featuring a hallucinatory vision quest that forces her to explore the loss and pain that's forged her emotional shield.
Bishil's stirring, gorgeously raw performance, paired with the show's beautifully allegorical approach to story, are more than enough to earn this one a shelf in the Library's History of Excellence section, but there's so much more. It's also the season's much-anticipated musical episode (Jade Tailor's high note is life!) and we get some major developments back home as Q and company deal with the Monster.
So yeah, you might want to rest up before watching tonight. Or you can soak in this chat with Summer about how she approached Margo's epic undertaking and how it really took a village to make this whole thing sing.
OK, first off, I love that this quest to save Eliot is Margo's choice, not something she's forced into.
Summer Bishil: Yeah, Fen didn’t even have to dethrone me, I leave on my own accord and I know that this is the only way that I’ll get the materials to build the weapons powerful enough to save Eliot. To me, that is a bigger than being king and retaining my power of Fillory. So she makes this big sacrifice—and I don’t think it was an easy decision for her, either. I think Margo had fallen into that trap of defining herself by this appointed power because it’s still early in her life and she’s still young. But she has to confront those demons and those big self-narratives that hold her back, they’ve been boiling to a head all year, because her pain has never really been expressed, she's never had those talks about Eliot in a really grieving, self-aware way. Even when she’s leaving on her quest and saying bye to Josh (Trevor Einhorn), she doesn’t realize the complexities of the feelings she may be having for him at this point. It's like 'This was fun, hopefully I see you again...I want to see you again and that’s new for me, but I’m on this mission." This was the most fulfilling experience I had on this show and I’ve had so much fun on this show.
Even though this is the season's big musical episode, there’s so much more going on here. I feel like the story here is Margo really coming to grips with who she was raised to think she was, the limitations that were put on her by other people and on top of all that, her unspoken grief.
And grief, on top of that, exactly! We filmed a tent scene where she sort of really starts to break and we got quite vulnerable with her. She breaks and she really shrivels up and there were even some takes where I had regressed, almost to like a little girl. At that point in the desert, she’s so exhausted, she’s on so much hallucinogens that she’s really prone to this kind of identity crisis and self-reckoning and I had always thought that she would be in a puddle of tears on the floor. So it’s interesting the edit that they chose, because it was literally one take that we may have done in that tone. Now the [way the scene plays] sort of makes sense to me, it's this way of honoring that there are parts of Margo that just will never be broken, they’re so strong, she knows who she is so thoroughly. And it’s so funny because she questions it in the exact ways I think I’ve questioned myself in life, and so that was really uncomfortable and painful as well. That’s why it was hard to see the edit because I was like ‘Oh God I wanted all the tears and stuff’ because a lot of times I think our hesitancy is to say you have to be broken to be show your inner turmoil, but not everybody deals with trauma the same way and for her it’s anger.
And that feels so true to the character. She is the reverse almost of Julia (Stella Maeve) and Alice (Olivia Taylor Dudley), who are learning how strong they really are, this feels like Margo realizing it’s okay to be vulnerable and have regrets. And that it’s also okay to be as strong as she is, especially after what we learn about her childhood.
Right. She was raised to marry a certain type of man and be a certain type of woman. The whole thing that really struck me on a really deep level, just as a woman– it’s been edited out—is that we had [flashback] shots of Margo sort of developing in adolescence and how when she started to develop, her dad sort of turned away from her. I used that as the emotional through-line for the whole scene in the tent, that rejection of her father for something as simple as her body.
And that’s such an important lesson and message for young women to hear, to never apologize for being amazing. It's fitting that Margo winds up in a desert community where a demon targets women who show any sort of heightened emotion...
Oh yeah and she’s such a loud mouth, like could she even keep her mouth shut long enough to get this mission done?! That was what I was kind of worried about the entire time I was reading this script, like 'How is she going to accept some of the logic that is being shown to her here, that she knows is so flawed?' Especially since this place just a day ago fell under her territory of rule, or potential rule. I think Margo had plans to claim more land as part of Fillory. In the book she does go on a quest to sort of claim land.
So, this would’ve been one of her places.
I feel like it would’ve been a potential spot for her to get resources from and conquer and build. I feel like that’s the kind of king Margo was trying to be. Now she isn’t king any more, so she has to really be quiet and play the other side, so when I was reading the script I remember thinking 'Is she going to be able to hold her tongue long enough?' [Laughs]
There's a twist that some might feel is a betrayal of a certain someone.
It’s handled sort of comedically, she talks about [a guy from] her junior-high years and when the sexuality that scared her father so much started emerging...she started making choices that may have been impulsive at the time, but were also liberating. She's talking about to it Eliot and we’re singing this funny song, and then Fen is suddenly there and I think it really is her guilt kind of creeping up, thinking was she right, that there is something to be ashamed about in my liberation and in the way that I feel about myself.
It’s sort of starting to creep in because her ego has been broken so thoroughly at this point. I think she’s dealing with so much of that shame around sexuality that—of course!—Josh shows up there in her hallucination to further make her feel guilty about the type of lover she should be. So it’s another guilt by another man in her life. It’s making her feel that her place in his life may not be playing out the way it should be by society's standards and I think that’s been a fear of Margo’s. It's such an interesting and a cool way to show through this song and all these awesome characters showing up out of nowhere, that this is just her conscience.
And how daunting was the music stuff? You and Hale share such a beautiful, cathartic moment.
Oh, my God yeah. I love Roy Orbison, I love his version of "Beautiful Dreamer," and Hale definitely feels that way, as well. And thank god for his artistic direction, he is a musician and he is a singer-songwriter, so I know he really felt that the Roy Orbison version and that melancholy was what he wanted. I mean, Hale’s such a beautiful singer that you know I take his cue, and all I knew was that I wanted it to be honest. I couldn’t become a singer overnight, but I knew I wanted it to mean just as much at the end and for her voice to be soft for the first time ever. I didn’t know how to communicate that without dialogue and only song, so I really worked and worked a lot by myself to find out what Margo’s voice should sound like at the end of it. I feel like I found something that at least felt honest. I didn’t want to be a singer, I just knew I wanted it to sound authentic and I just worked really hard on it.
It paid off. Then there are some bigger moments...
That was another element of the whole thing. We had all these rehearsals and a choreographer came in to choreograph all this stuff on the dune for Hale and his great opening number. There was just so much work from so many people’s hands, it was a monumental effort for the crew.
For all of the cast, as well. It must have been such a gift as actors to have each other there, to really have that safe space, for lack of a better term, to really be open. Singing when it’s not your thing can be terrifying.
I know! [Laughs] It’s absolutely terrifying. And I think even when you are a singer, because Hale cares so much about the quality and he takes his work seriously, which is why I respect him so much. It was equally as challenging for him as well. Jade is such a fantastic singer, too. And she always works so hard when there’s anything musical. She even helped me choreograph one of the sequences for Margo's battle magic, because her character does a lot of battle magic. There’s a scene where I really kick the foremost of asses and on the day of filming we didn’t have time, so she came in [and] threw something together for me and that’s what we did. It was a lot of team playing and working together and getting it done. It was a total labor of love.
And one of my favorite things this season has been the amount of interaction you and Brittany have had. I love Margo and Fen. These two!
[Laughs] Brittany is so extra about her love for it and I love her for that. She’s so great, her work is so fantastic this year. I just think the world of her, I love her.
What can you tell us about the end of the season?
Well I cried. As a person, just me, it was so sad. So, I’ll just say that.
I know, it was just sad. It’s a big finale, it really is. I think it’s our biggest. The stakes were really high and we’ve all been together so long at this point, so there’s that nostalgia. It was a nice way to end the season actually, some of the last scenes we did together.
And how are you spending your hiatus?
I’ve been writing this screenplay and story for probably 10 years now. I was first writing it as a novel, which is helpful now because I have such a dense narrative when I’m building dialogue and doing the outlines and the scenes, because now it’s a TV pilot. I want to do a 10-part miniseries episode type thing with it. Get the first one done, sort of outline the other stuff...it’s just that I’ve been writing it for so long and I’m getting so close to just finishing that I’m just ready to just have one thing done already! [Laughs]
The Magicians, Wednesdays, 9/8c, Syfy