First, let me state I am in no way, shape, form, or fashion connected to SyFy’s The Magicians other than as a fan. And this is more about toxic fan reaction to Q’s death than his death itself, and to be upfront, I am bisexual, which I have known since I was 15, I have endured depression most of my life with sometimes occasional sometimes frequent suicidal thoughts, and I’ve suffered from PTSD for a considerable amount of time.
Very few TV deaths have affected me as much as that on the Season 4 finale of SyFy’s The Magicians of Quentin Coldwater, the graduate student at the Brakebills University of Magical Pedagogy also known on the magical world and realm of Fillory as King Quentin the Mildly Socially Maladjusted. So much, in fact, that after being reminded the next day of the elevator scene at the end of “The Side Effect” (S04E07), I immediately rewatched it back-to-back with “No Better To Be Safe Than Sorry” (S04E13), said finale.
Then I went back to the beginning and binged my way through all four seasons to look at trends, consistencies, foreshadowing, etc. While I did enjoy the rewatch immensely and may have done so anyway, I was compelled to do so by a certain section of the fandom carelessly throwing around charges of “queerbaiting”, employment of the “bury your gays” trope, and reckless use of a character suffering from mental illness.
I came to the conclusion that while understandable it was that these fans were hurt by Q’s death, their expressing hurt in this way made them sound exactly the same as the butt hurt cis-het frat-bro white incel snowflakes upset over Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Oscar Isaac headlining Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Kelly Tran added as a major cast member to Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and Felicity Jones in the star role of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
Aside from its being one of the best written, directed, acted, designed, costumed, and teched shows on television currently, the features which won me over were its strong women and its sexual awareness and progressive portrayals of queer characters, of which there are quite a number. My VA case manager, incidentally, is the person who first turned me on to it.
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“Q, c’mon, I love you, but you have to know that that’s not me and it’s definitely not you, not when we have a choice.” El to Q in “Escape from the Happy Place” (S04E05)
“This would only be equivalent if Ess was a girl and you found pussy, you know, interesting in a ‘sometimes you like Thai food’ kind of way. And now it’s all Thai food, forever, until you die.” – El to Margo in “The Cock Barrens” (S02E06)
The character Quentin Coldwater as portrayed on the show was not in the least bit gay. He was bisexual. Same sex intercourse in the context of bisexuality is different, at least internally, even if physically the same as in homosexuality, at least for the bi person.
Queliot and Quelice shippers are both equally wrong in demanding a same sex or opposite sex romance from a character who is clearly bisexual. Stop telling Q whom he should have loved.
Bisexuality isn’t some midway point between homosexuality and heterosexuality, but something entirely different from both. Homosexuality and heterosexuality are two sides of the single coin that is monosexuality; bisexuality, however, is another coin entirely.
Generally, bisexuals are either androphiliac (mostly attracted toward men) or gynephiliac (mostly attracted toward women), with a much smaller group that is ambiphiliac, more or less equally attracted to both sexes.
Ignoring all of this, either out of ignorance or spite, is called bi erasure or biphobia.
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First, let’s examine the charge of queerbaiting.
Three of the main characters are queer: Q is bi (gynephiliac), El is also bi (androphiliac), and Margo is polysexual. Margo can be poly rather than a would-be rapist of animals because those on Fillory are not only sentient and sapient but speech-empowered, which means that a sexual relationship between them and humans or other humanoids is not bestiality (aka zoophilia), but actual xenosexuality between consenting creatures.
At least two of the major recurring characters are also queer: Marina, who is either gay or bi (she has a girlfriend in “A Timeline and a Place”, S04E06), and Fray, foster daughter (of sorts) of El and Fen who is xeno (and in a relationship with the talking bear Humbledrum).
Queer sex and queer relationships actually happening, whether on screen or off, rule out the charge of queerbaiting. Q and El had an entire life together on past-Fillory which became romantic and sexual after Q’s wife Ariel died. The two of them and Margo had previously engaged in a magically-influenced threesome which broke up Q’s relationship with Alice.
A large part of the charge of queerbaiting, at least from some sources, is due to the “outtake” scene from Q’s and El’s discussion when the memories of their time together came back after they ate peaches. However, that memory was all in El’s head, deeply buried, had fuck all to do with Q himself, and can only be called queerbaiting if taken completely out of context.
The extremist Queliot shippers are not entitled to a same sex relationship just because they want one. In fact, except for the magic-induced threesome and his life with El in Fillory past, Q’s dominant sexual interest had been in Alice, especially throughout the first two seasons. When Alice was a niffin, Q spent as much heart and effort trying to fix her as he did El when possessed by The Monster. So much so that J, even without her shade, chose to bring back Alice’s shade rather than her own after their trip to the Underworld.
Finally on this point: several commenters have referred to Q’s sexuality as fluid. While I get this description and understand that within a given framework that it can be accurate, the concept of sexual fluidity in behavioral science refers to the hypothesis that a person’s sexuality can change over time and is this the foundation of gay conversion therapy.
Essentialism differs in holding that a person’s sexuality (hetero-, homo-, or bi-) is fundamentally biological and does not change. So I’d recommend dropping the term “fluid” so as not to unintentionally give legitimacy to the homophobic wankers who advocate conversion therapy.
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Second, let’s address the “bury your gays trope”.
Many problems with this one. First, Q is bi, not gay. I guess you could alter it to “bury your queers trope”, but then you run into the problem that this trope is only a thing if the queer character in question is a only supporting character and, usually in those situations, the only queer character on a show. Q was the main character rather than a supporting character and, as noted above, but one of several queers on this show.
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Third, let’s address Q’s status as a sufferer of mental illness.
It’s rather ironic that fans claiming to be in his support by protesting his sacrifice as a suicide are in fact reducing his identity to that of mental patient. That it was most certainly not that was clear from the last third of the episode. While clinical depression is a condition that does not go away, when Q was chatting with Penny 40 in the room of Secrets Taken to the Grave, he pointed out that the suicidal thoughts and need for therapy and pills and institutionalization had vanished when he discovered magic and Brakebills.
Also, Q is not the only main character dealing with mental issues. As the god Ember pointed out at the beginning of the Season 2 finale, El is an addict, and he has mentioned therapy once or twice. Kady has been to rehab more than once and mental institutions also. Josh is another substance abuser. Julia is suffering from serious PTSD. The presence of nearly all the main characters sharing residence with Q in the incepted “dream” of the mental institution in Season 1’s “The World in the Walls” suggests that they all may fall into this category.
After all, “magic doesn’t come from talent; it comes from pain”; so does mental illness. As Q said in “All That Josh” (S03E09), “We’re all fucked in our own way, like always”. Belittling Q’s death as a suicide is just an insult to the character.
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Fourth, let’s deal with the protest that it was too sudden.
“You have a classic case of white male protagonism, Derek, and a librarian simply can’t have that. That’s why these books are so important, they’re such a gift. They can allow you to see other points of view. And once you start seeing that, you’ll find the story doesn’t end how you think, and the most important characters aren’t who you expect.” - Penny 40 in “The Side Effect” (S04E07)
Rewatch “The Side Effect”, in which they all but drew a map showing where the season was headed. It ended with Penny 40 in the Underworld greeting someone he knew well from the upper world whom our subconsciousnesses told us (if we were honest with ourselves) could only have been Q, especially with all the bread crumbs in that episode. Better yet, watch that episode back-to-back with the finale.
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A few other finale-related things I want to address.
First, several on Twitter have questioned Penny 23’s relationship and closeness to Julia 40, calling it “sudden” and “out of nowhere”. However, in “Twenty-three” (S03E11), when Josh and Julia crossover to Timeline 23, we learn that Penny 23 was in a relationship with Julia 23 until Quentin 23 killed her. And speaking of suicide, after Julia 40 gives Quentin 23 her shade after he has killed Alice 23, that Quentin does, in fact commit suicide. But on the relationship, Penny 23 knew things were different and gave her space until she invited him in.
Second, Julia “having her agency taken away”. Well, at the time, Julia was in a drug-induced coma and couldn’t very well decide for herself. As he admitted to Julia, Penny chose selfishly, but she herself had expressed reservations about goddesshood and watching all her friends die and not wanting to turn into Iris. In addition, Julia accepted what he had done even if she didn’t like it at the moment, asking him to stay with her so she could be mad at him.
Third, El sitting next to Alice at the memorial and holding her hand signaled that they both knew that they both loved him and were equally heart-broken. As a bisexual, I would’ve liked to see how that triangle played out in Season 5 if things had gone that way, but damn, as heroic self-sacrifices go, that of Quentin Coldwater, alias Q and King Quentin the Moderately Socially Maladjusted, can’t be beat, especially with the lengthy closure for the audience. And Quentin's life wasn't worth something because he sacrificed it, but because he lived it.