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rage, rage

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So—it's late. It's 11:30. And I watched The Magicians 4x13, and then I sat up way past our bedtimes with breathedout, talking about sort of the—the particular parts of this plotline that bother me, and I cried a lot. I'm not suicidal right now, I don't anticipate being suicidal in the near future. I'm mentioning that here because—sometimes that's a thing I have to say, when I'm sad. Because sometimes it helps me to say it, and to know that people are listening to me say it, and it helps the people who love me to know that too. I will never, ever say that, for the record, unless it's true. I am not suicidal right now.

But I have been.

Talking about stuff like this in a fannish context can be so hard, because there's all these layers, right? In the experience of watching something as a fan. There's the layer of me that consumes media because I'm a writer, and I'm interested in stories, and the mechanics of stories, and in how people get stories to do what they want them to do; and there's another layer that consumes media because I just—love stories, and I love what stories can do to me, how they can sort of—purify and refine me emotionally, experiencing a story. Catharsis, right? Those Greeks were onto something. But yeah. I watch stories, always, with at least two minds: one is thinking about how the story works; and the other is absorbing what it's doing.

I'm also a person who really profoundly relates to Quentin Coldwater, kind of—outside this issue of suicidality. For a really long time, I was a self-absorbed, whiny, annoying little twit (arguably, in many ways, I still am). I also spent my teens and twenties feeling profoundly disconnected from the world in ways that are—very, very hard for me to talk about, in part because they're emotionally difficult and still cause me pain and in part because they're just so fucking embarrassing. Like Quentin, I had (slash have) a smallish number of things in which I am interested to a degree that is often uncomfortable or distasteful to the people around me, and my ability to not be absorbed in those things is—inconsistent at best. Like Quentin, I find it difficult to relate to other humans unless they come towards me with an almost immeasurable degree of patience and tolerance for me being an awkward hand-knit tube sock used to disguise a badly-built robot as something approaching a person, a degree of patience and tolerance that I didn't (and often still don't) know how to accept. Like Quentin, I spent a lot of time taking abuse from someone—multiple someones—that I loved because I didn't know any better and it seemed like that was what was happening. Like not just Quentin but a lot of depressed people, I had—have—almost no ability to recognize when I'm actually feeling sexual desire. Like Quentin, I was also very, very pretty—no, sorry, in addition to being a girl, I was actually way hotter than Quentin (sorry, Quentin, but I showered), but—: like Quentin, I was pretty, and I looked young for my age, and there was, for a very, very long time, something about me that made me look, in particular, vulnerable; and let me tell you: when you are a small big-eyed soft-mouthed young-looking bisexual bonbon, you are a magnet for a particular set of creeps and assholes, all of which intersected with my basic total lack of familiarity with the concept of "boundaries" in some very, very Quentin Coldwater ways. I have been sexually assaulted more than once (though I've never been raped). It mostly took me literal years to realize that what had happened to me actually was assault, because I basically didn't feel anything about it at the time. When someone actually did try to rape me, I got lucky and it didn't work; but I then defended my would-be rapist so assiduously from social censure that it warped and perverted every social connection I had, and also came very close to destroying my professional life. Basically: a guy I trusted tried to rape me and I spent the next year trying to keep him from losing friends. I also have just let a lot of people fuck me because it seemed like it'd be rude to say no.

I am, also, not neurotypical.

I am, also, mentally ill.

I have, also, spent a nontrivial part of my life suicidally depressed.

So. Point: Q. Coldwater is—very recognizable to me. In a hell of a lot of ways, I sort of wish he wasn't. And I don't—like Quentin, really; I feel sort of—*sigh* fond of him, I guess, but he is such an avatar for parts of myself that I really struggle to accept and to love that it can be very hard to just—enjoy him, the way I enjoy an equally-disastery-but-not-quite-as-much-me character like Eliot.

When it comes to something like 4x13, I'm really, really aware that all these parts of me are sort of—watching the show together. So, like, I'm watching the show as a writer, and thinking about how all the pieces fit together; and watching as just like—Jane Viewer on the street, who's really into The Magicians; but I'm also watching—someone who isn't me, but who feels like me, in whom I see a lot of—disordered shit that I have been and done and thought and felt, living through all the things that happens to that character on The Magicians.

At some point when I've slept and processed some more or whatever I'll go through and link these but—I've written, this season, a number of times, about how Quentin is being abused by the Monster and how his abuse by the Monster parallels the way he was abused by niffin!Alice; and how I think that, whatever he was "supposed" to learn, what the Key Quest actually taught Quentin was that he needed to put aside love as something that he could accept for himself. And I marked Quentin as the character who was going to die quite early in the season: first privately, with breathedout, and then since we hit 04x07 and later, I haven't thought there was conceivably any other way they could go and I started saying so publicly on the internet. But—however aggressively they set this up, however far in advance they telegraphed it—I still have spent the past thirteen weeks watching a character who looks like me, who feels like me, be traumatized by relentless physical and emotional torture by someone with the face and eyes of someone he loves, following on a season of him learning to cut himself off from life and joy, following on a season of being traumatized by relentless physical and emotional torture by someone with the face and eyes of someone he loves; and then decide to kill himself.

Because: he did kill himself. Just because they lampshaded it, just because he did find a way to do it saving hs friends, that doesn't change that he killed himself. Quentin spent two seasons being relentlessly traumatized and abused, by people he loved, who he couldn't say no to, who he couldn't get away from, who he didn't, even, at any point seem to indicate that he understood that in an ideal world, he would say no to, or get away from; he went on a quest that taught him to isolate himself from companionship and affection and love; and then he killed himself.

I think, in some ways, what bothers me the most about the the execution of 4x13 (and, inextricably woven up with that, 4x12), is that I think their handling of Quentin's mental health is, in the light of 4x12-4x13, just—cheap. It's just cheap. What bothers me about it isn't that it's fucking—#problematic, or clueless, or whatever; it's that it's cheap.

Like—the thing I keep coming back to, with breathedout, and in my own mind, is that—these are issues that I think the writers' room—at least some people in the writers' room—understands. There have been so many moments where mental illness is handled with such nuance—Julia's ongoing PTSD, the way that Quentin's depression rises and falls but never really leaves him; the way that Margo and Eliot's friendship is inflected by Eliot's drug and alcohol abuse, and Margo not knowing how to deal with that—that I can't say that the writer's room doesn't get trauma, or understand how to write mental illness, or understand that it's something that merits thought and attention. They do understand mental illness. They clearly know that writing mental illness merits thought and attention and care.

So then—the thing that I'm left with, then, is that they know that, and they understand that, and they still wrote a clinically depressed boy spending about two years being traumatized, abused, isolated, abused, and traumatized; and then they wrote him killing himself. "But it's okay!" they shout. "He did it saving his friends!" But that doesn't make it okay. It doesn't mean that he wasn't, in that moment, processing shit very, very poorly, due to the aforementioned relentless trauma and assault and abuse. In fact, because of the way that scene is filmed, when Quentin has fucking ages to throw the bottle before Everett attacks: they specifically framed and constructed that scene so that Quentin Coldwater did not need to die. But—he still did die, didn't he. "But it's okay!" they shout. "We talked about why it wasn't suicide!" But that doesn't make it better, because it was suicide. They know it was suicide. You fucking know that he killed himself. That is why they had to write the last twenty minutes of that episode. So you had a badly traumatized mentally ill bisexual kid kill himself unnecessarily, and then you spent 20 minutes gaslighting dead!him, over whether or not he'd actually done the thing he most feared when he was alive.

It's—so late, God, I am getting up in five hours, but—when you're depressed, when suicidal fucking depression is just—something that lives with you, the fear that you're going to do something irrevocable when you're extra sick is like—it really is just like another person who lives inside you, wearing your face and just—talking to you, sometimes pretty fucking relentlessly, in a voice you hate and you recognize. (This is what I mean, about them—pretty clearly understanding mental illness, what mental illness does, and how mental illness works.) And it's so, so scary, to know that you have—a traitor, a traitor who is made up of you, living inside your body, and you're never going to be able to trust yourself all the way. You're never going to feel all the way safe inside your own head. So you build—a support structure, a scaffolding, that can help you, that can be—a safety net, for this highwire act that you do that is just getting through the day, and God: I'm so glad I have access to therapy, and meds if/when I need them (which, because I'm lucky, I mostly don't), and friends, and family; and I know that I can check myself into the hospital, and I know what I'm listening for to know when that's something I need to do. But it is still—fucking terrifying, all the time, to know that there is a murderer hiding somewhere inside you, and the person it wants to kill is you.

But—you can't make that person go away by like—telling it it doesn't exist, or it's not really trying to kill you: she fucking is trying to kill me, which is why I need the therapy access and the friends and the hospital phone number and, yes, sometimes, the fucking meds. And again: I am so, so, so fucking lucky; I've been seriously suicidally depressed... maybe three times? In my whole life? And I'm thirty-seven. But I still fucking think about things like "what's going to happen to me, when I go through menopause? because a lot of women get more crazy" and "oh, shit, I moved, better update my phone bill and move my cable and figure out where I will go, now, for help, if I wake up tomorrow and I'm suicidal.

I pulled the title of this post from Dylan Thomas because—I think the thing that gets lost, sometimes, when we're talking about suicidal thoughts and feelings is—the thing that I'm afraid of isn't death. I am not afraid to die. But I am afraid of killing myself because it would be a very, very small part of my brain, maybe—idk, 2%? not even, I don't think—speaking for the whole of me; and most of me wants, desperately, furiously, to live. And the thing that I have felt, when I have been assaulted; when I have been abused; when I have been relentlessly told by myself and my life and my circumstances that I don't deserve love and emotional communion, because I am ________ (insert adjective[s] here); when I have been desperately, reflexively protecting a man who tried to rape me from maybe losing a friend; when I have been sad and isolated and alone, it's like—it just. Turns the volume down. On the parts of me that know how to sing and laugh and motherfucking scream loudly enough to drown that very, very small <2% part of me out.

So to have the show—take this issue, and handle it in this way, specifically—they're not clueless. They know what they're doing. They understand depression. They understand suicidality. They understand trauma; and if they understand all of that, then I have to believe that they understand that Quentin was abused by his ex-girlfriend and then taught not to love and then abused by his ex-boyfriend after being sexually assaulted and oh also somewhere in there his dad died and then he killed himself. That is the story they decided to tell. They told the story where like 98% of Quentin just stops fucking screaming.

And us. All of us? We are so, so fucking afraid that we are going to stop fucking screaming.

For me, the thing that makes this especially frustrating is: this is a pattern. This is, specifically, a pattern in how they've handled Quentin. There are so many things on this show that are Acknowledged Issues™—until they apply to Quentin. Then they're just background noise. They wrote an entire episode on the importance of enthusiastic consent (which is, by the way, a super mediocre episode, so—thanks, guys, good job); within spitting distance of the episode in which Poppy first insistently kisses Quentin through him first violently pulling away, then backs him onto a bed while he's visibly shutting down down, then climbs on and continues kissing him through becoming increasingly nonverbal all the way up to (and probably through) the point where she fucks him. Not once have they textually acknowledged, or even alluded to that being assault. Not once have they textually acknowledged that Mayakovsky turning Alice and Quentin into foxes wasn't super consensual, either (at least—they haven't acknowledged that it maybe wasn't super consensual for Quentin). They've had multiple episodes where choice and bodily/personal autonomy are centered and become in-text issues for other characters, and while I note that those characters basically never actually get to exercise choice/experience bodily/personal autonomy, especially if they're women, they at least get to be mad about not getting to exercise it after. Quentin doesn't. Quentin found himself forcibly sharing his body with a niffin who tried to burn him up from the inside and then he was possessed by a lamprey that wanted to kill his ex-girlfriend and laid eggs in his brain and not once did he even get to process about what those experiences took from him.

And—this is what feels cheap, to me. This is sort of—where we cross over from "here is a character who I find highly #relatable and they're hurting him, ow" to "this is lazy fucking storytelling." Like—they've let Quentin whine about—a whole fucking ton of shit, most of it kind of trivial and self-involved; but in every way that matters, in every fucking way that Quentin is a real person with meat and dimensionality oh and also a profound lack of privilege, they have just let him down again, and again, and again, and again; and they've done it on issues that they clearly understand are issues and can clearly see and process. So—why? Why are they doing that? Why for this character? On this show? Like, Jason Ralph clearly has the acting chops to sell whatever they fucking give him—half the time I feel like he's selling stuff they haven't even offered; he's just—selling it because it makes sense for the character. And I don't have a good answer that isn't "bad, cheap writing to accomplish lazy, poorly-thought-out audience thrills," which—I am not thrilled. FYI. There's no reason to kill Quentin off, at the end of S4. It gains them nothing. If anything, if they wanted/needed to write Ralph off so he could go make some decent fucking art (which I am assuming is what's going on), it would work better to do it by not killing him, and just having him move to a hut in Fillory and raise goats or whatever, because they had to do so much fucking work to try and make him unresurrectable (and, FYI, he still is, that one was never going to work), when just having him chose to peace out would've been—much braver, and more genuine, and more generous with the character—and all the people he avatars—than they have chosen to be.