‘The Magicians’ Star Jason Ralph on Q’s Season 4 Finale Shocker
[Warning: The below and gallery above contain MAJOR spoilers for the Season 4 finale of The Magicians, “The Seam.”]
A sufferer of depression with a history of hospitalization and escape through fantastical fiction, he has found real friends, love, hope and at times, even horrors, that have changed him and countless fans of the show (based on Lev Grossman’s novels) for the immeasurable better. And while he was never crowned High King of Fillory, he was our guy. And tonight, Quentin finally became the hero of the story so many have fallen in love with when he out own his life before all else to save the world.
Having captured both the Monster and his sister in protective vessels, Q, Alice (Olive Taylor Dudley), and Penny 23 (Arjun Gupta) entered the Mirror Realm to cast the vessels into “the seam” between worlds, only to be confronted by Everett (Brian Markinson), the Librarian intent on absorbing their God powers.
During their standoff, Quentin — knowing the risk he was about to take — ordered Penny to drag Alice out of the room and cast a binding spell within the Realm where magic notoriously goes haywire. It resulted in an explosive crossfire that led to his ultimate evaporation. In the words of Alice…
It’s a major loss for The Magicians, which has been renewed for a fifth season, and definitely not one the show takes lightly. In fact, knowing how hard hit fans may be, executive producers John McNamara, Sera Gamble and Henry Alonso Myers released this statement:
“The Magicians has always been a fantastical show about real life—with a generous dose of magic to keep it all feeling less like bitter medicine and more like raiding a weirdly delicious pantry at 2am (probably while a bit drunk). That has been our approach to Season 4, knowing that we want to explore the most confounding, harsh and messy aspects of adulthood in our story. At the top of that list: Facing your own mortality, and experiencing the death of someone you love.
Before we began this season, we entered into a creative conversation that included the writers, executive producer and director Chris Fisher, Lev Grossman, our partners at UCP and SYFY, and Jason Ralph. The choice for Jason to leave the show was arrived at mutually, with much respect for the story, fans of the show, and a shared sense of deliberate, essential creative risk. We want The Magicians to visit strange and fascinating new places and we know we can’t get there by treading the same garden path others have before us. So, we did the thing you’re not supposed to do—we killed the character who’s supposed to be “safe.” In real life, none of us are safe.
When we first met Quentin Coldwater, he was in a mental hospital, contending with painful questions of life and death. This season, we saw the rare opportunity to complete his arc, bringing him to a real understanding of the incalculable value of his own life. Quentin, and we, got to see the truth: There is no such thing as a Minor Mending. The smallest action can ripple out in powerful ways we may never fully know.”
This week, TV Insider spoke with Ralph about Quentin’s choice and, as always, he was immensely thoughtful, grateful and understanding that this character and his portrayal of him mean more to viewers than even Quentin could ever realize.
Jason Ralph: I know.
This is not OK. How did this happen? What have you guys done?!
You know, when the show started, when we first met Quentin, he is unsure and is questioning if life is worth living. I think the journey of the show for him is in finding that it is and that his life has had an impact and that he does matter. Even though he’s not the hero that he always imagined himself to be. He’s not even really the main character of his own story, you know what I mean? And as heartbreaking as it is, this has been the journey of him coming to terms with that idea.
It’s very parallel to the journey that Quentin experiences in the books. It’s not exactly the same, but we’re hitting the same big themes and I think it’s kind of gorgeous that in the book, and in the show, Quentin makes the choice to walk through a doorway of his own creation onto a new adventure. That’s the end of the story of Quentin Coldwater for us.
It’s heroic, it’s beautiful, it was gorgeously filmed. I mean, if you had to have a death scene, this is the one to get. And that campfire scene …
Yeah. The campfire scene was extraordinary, right? I read that, and I was like, “Oh, I finally get to play Emily from Our Town.” [Laughs] and I think that a lot of is think about this moment in our own lives…
That “What will people say at my funeral?” thing.
Yeah, like what’s my impact? What have I done? How will people feel? And to get to live that, I don’t know. It was such a gift from John McNamara. Shooting that scene was really, really special for the journey of Quentin, and also for the journey of me, the actor, on the show. I don’t know if you can tell from the way it was shot, but I was standing quite far away from the campfire as all of that was happening. A real observer. Like, I’m not allowed to be a part of this anymore. I can only observe. And to be standing there as the actor, and see this troupe of players that I’ve been on this journey with for so long, to watch them move through it and then get up and leave, to go on and carry the story…I don’t know, it was such a beautiful send off. Like sending your babies off.
This one hurts, though. For so many of us, our entry point into this world was through Q.
Then fans went and found that character that spoke to them, but for those who really connected to Quentin and his struggles—his learning that he wasn’t the center of the universe, but was still an important part of it—this could be very triggering for people. I know there is closure and we’re given that idea that he is onto his next adventure, but this is a blow for fans.
I think it’s a…hmm, sorry. This is an important thing to think about. (Long pause)
This is not a story of a character giving up. It’s certainly tragic and if you find yourself drawn to this character and this character’s journey, you’re allowed to be sad. And it should be allowed. We can mourn those things and mourn what they represent for us. We’re not celebrating someone losing hope or giving up here. We have an opportunity to celebrate someone’s journey and someone’s life, and I think that’s what the final episode does. I think that was the attempt of it and I can only hope that people take that from it.
And if it provokes thoughts that are more complicated and difficult to deal with, I hope that people will reach out for help. I know that the show is very careful about stuff like that, and will provide resources for people in need.
What are you going to take away from this character and this experience?
This is one of those characters that, when I read the book, I felt like I had to play, that I had something to say inside of this person and in this world that Lev Grossman created. And I feel like I did that. I feel accomplished. I’m very happy with the work that I did and with the road we took this character on.
In the process of making this show over the last four years—The Magicians is weird, you know?—I have had the gift of getting to work in a lot of different genres and try on a lot of different kinds of hats. I got to be pushed in ways that a lot of material doesn’t always ask of its performers. And so for that, I do feel like, because of the show, I am definitely a better, stronger, more exercised actor.
When did you find out? When was this brought up?
Before shooting Season 4. Yeah. So I’ve known kind of all along what was coming. I was under very specific gag orders, so I wasn’t allowed to talk to any of the cast about it. Like no one knew. We even shot a dummy scene that sort of negated the whole thing. The rest of the cast and the crew kind of thought that was the story.
A scene where you survived this?
So how did they handle the news?
I don’t know yet. From what I understand, the cast has only been told [this week], and John and Sera wanted to let them know first. They just spoke to everyone, so I’m going to be reaching out to everyone today.
Oh, my God. They filmed that campfire scene not thinking you were leaving.
Yeah, it’s pretty fucked up, right? [Laughs]
When you talk to Stella [Maeve], please tell her what she did in the finale was so beautiful.
Oh, I know! This is a stupid thing to say, but I thought that her line reading of “I’m doing this” was so better than my line reading of it in the pilot. I was like, “Oh, that’s how you’re supposed to say it!” [Laughs]
I’m gonna miss this guy so much. What does this mean for you now? Will you come back and direct an episode? Because you never got to do that.
That’s true. I don’t know. I have to talk to John and Sera about that, but for right now, I’m happy with what we did. I’m happy with the story that we told, and I’m ready to move on and to be try on some new characters. It’ll be nice to get home, get back to the theater. I just finished shooting a fun little role in a new Charlie Kaufman film, which is really exciting, and so onward and upward.
Back in New York with the dogs, huh?
Yep, exactly. My dogs are happy to have me.
We know how they feel, bud.