Given how the dynamic between Julia Wicker (Stella Maeve) and Quentin Coldwater (Jason Ralph) began, we were more than a little nervous that “The Magicians” would let these two characters fall into the trap that way too many fantasy stories (TV and otherwise) play into: The best friends-to-lovers trope.
We understand why it’s a classic — there’s really nothing quite as sweet as realizing your soulmate has been standing next to you all along. It’s adorable. However, it can also be super irritating and kind of offensive to all characters involved.
The staple of any nerd-tastic hero in the fantasy genre is a female best friend on whom he bestows all the unrequited love his adorkable heart can muster. Sadly, said female friend is always oblivious to his feelings or just not that into him.
Paging Quentin Coldwater.
From the jump, “The Magicians” made it very clear that Quentin had a thing for Julia, and half of his time growing up was dedicated to dreaming about the day she’d notice how awesome he was and dive headfirst in love with him. He even had even a few moments which implied that his new girlfriend, Alice (Olivia Taylor Dudley), was insecure about the bond Quentin shared with Julia and whether or not his feelings for his childhood friend ever really went away.
This is where we typically dip a toe into dangerous waters. The word “friendzone” comes to mind when we talk about guys like this. The ones who hopelessly waste away, waiting for the day their best friend will wake up and realize the jerks she’s been dating will never love her as much as the sweet, understanding guy who comforts her after a bad breakup. And one day, all their hard work and devotion will finally result in the romance they so rightfully earned with their patience. Barf.
The one thing the “best friends to lovers” trope consistently overlooks is that hanging around waiting for someone to love you back walks a thin line between cute and pathetic. If your BFF didn’t fall for you in the first 10 years, you might want to entertain the possibility that your feelings are just not returned, and it’s time for you to move on. Not to mention, this trope tends to invalidate the love stories that take place before said revelation, which is what we were always worried would happen with the Alice/Quentin/Julia triangle that constantly seemed on the cusp of forming.
Luckily, Julia and Quentin pretty skillfully side-stepped this entire thing in Season 2.
Quentin got to have a beautiful love story with Alice, and most of his time during this season of “The Magicians” has been spent mourning her loss. At no point did we feel like Alice’s death was being used as a vehicle to get Julia and Quentin together, or even to unite them in their shared trauma/heartbreak. In fact, Julia’s recent decision to bring Alice’s shade back from the Underworld rather than her own indicates that this is the healthiest non-love triangle we’ve seen on TV in a while.
Despite having lost her conscience/humanity/emotions, Julia is still able to care deeply about Quentin. She understands that bringing Alice’s shade back is the only way they can attempt to bring her back to life, which is something Quentin needs. On top of that, she undoubtedly feels a little guilt over Alice’s death — or would, if she could feel guilt — seeing as her intercession in their plot to kill The Beast (Charles Mesure) is kind of what got Alice killed in the first place.
All of these complex dynamics and emotions occur without the overbearing sense that Quentin and Julia’s feelings for each other might one day lead to a romance.
You would not believe how refreshing that is.
It’s so rare to see two heterosexual, attractive young people allowed to have a deep and complex love for each other without the pressure to turn it into a torrid love affair. They can just be friends, and that friendship can be a healthy one — or healthy insofar as magicians can ever have truly healthy relationships.
We’re not saying we’d never want to see a romance between these two. They could actually be pretty compatible, all things considered. We’re just glad that at this stage in their lives, if the relationship were to ever become romantic, at least they were allowed to grow up and grow apart before entering into that new adventure.
But that’s something for the writers to suss out when they start breaking Season 3.
“The Magicians” airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Syfy.