When Quentin finds his way to Brakebills University, he has spent his life trying to reconcile two worlds, the one around him and the one in his head.
The one around him is dark and depressing. In the first season, the real world is shot in shades of dark blue, grey, and black. Existence is drab. It’s depressing. And it’s often overwhelming.
But for Quentin there’s another place, one that’s full of life and color. That place is Fillory, the fantastical realm from a series of Narnia-esque books. Those books, and all the branches that grow off of that tree, are what has kept Quentin going for most of his life. The idea that there is something bright and wonderful somewhere out there has helped him barely hang on, and sometimes even that hasn’t been enough.
Brakebills University is the space in between.
We already know that the real world has failed Quentin, and over the course of the show we will see that Fillory will ultimately fail him, too. But Brakebills, that space in between, never does. It’s there, not in Fillory, where he is the most alive. It’s there where he finds joy, where he finds feeling.
And consider where he died — in the space between the land of the living and the land of the dead.
That’s what the Magicians was for its fans, just enough fantasy to help us escape, just enough reality to help us feel less alone. It was real enough to make me cry, but magical enough to help me escape for 40+ minutes at a time.
That space in between that was Brakebills extended to the group the show revolved around. Each of them had reasons to need the space that Brakebills gave them, that allowed them to be themselves, to become themselves.
Even when he first meets his friends, Quentin ends up in the space in between. Eilliot and Margo take him under their wing from the start, drawn to him for some reason. At the same time, both Alice and Penny are antagonistic towards him, for reasons that later become clear.
If it seems like I’m framing the show around Quentin it’s because it was, because Quentin himself didn’t fall into a dichotomy. Jane Chatwin actually gives some examples of this in the second episode, how he’s smart, but not a genius, a magician, but not a particularly good one. He’s not remarkable, she says.
But Quentin wasn’t a character torn between worlds; he belonged in neither, it’s just one actually meant something to him. One was a fantasy, the other reality. This is what made him different, what made him so great, and so appealing to so many people.
Quentin occupied the space in between, a space the show itself also filled, right up until the day he died, right up until the day the show ended.