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'The Magicians' postmortem: Summer Bishil on that crushing boat scene

Mandi Bierly
Deputy Editor, Yahoo Entertainment
Margo (Summer Bishil) has a heart-to-heart with the Muntjac (Photo: Syfy)

Spoiler alert: This week, the third episode of The Magiciansthird season, “The Losses of Magic,” returned to a subject the series has dealt with before: sexual assault.

This time, after Eliot’s boat, the sentient Muntjac, was taken over by pirates, Margo (Summer Bishil) persuaded the Fairy Queen to transport her and her advisers there. Eliot and his family had already escaped, so Margo was left to negotiate alone. She was told the pirates’ ship wanted to have sex with the Muntjac. If it didn’t get what it wanted, the crew of the Muntjac would die. A torn Margo then had a heartfelt conversation with the Muntjac‘s heartwood about consent and the stakes.

“As a woman, as a person, as a living being, it’s instinctual to want to ground a conversation about rape, essentially. So the work is already done for you if you are connected with reality,” Bishil says of filming the emotional scene. “As far as it being an inanimate object, and having to work with that, and wanting a response from it, I’m glad they left in the moment where I reach out to touch the heartwood, because it’s like, ‘Oh, you can’t respond. But you are living.’ So that sort of plays already too, because it is weird talking to a piece of wood. But sometimes you don’t get a lot from actors.”

“How often do you go into an audition and you’re basically reading with a sack of bricks?” her co-star Hale Appleman (Eliot) says.

“You don’t always get people who are invested in story either. Not on this show. But you are trained to deal with that,” Bishil says. “So I just drew on that. But that was just a beautiful episode. The writing for Margo is just endlessly inventive, and it’s there — it’s in the writing, really.”

Margo crushing her eye, in her own hand (Photo: Syfy)

The Fairy Queen overheard Margo’s conversation with the Muntjac and was touched, in her own way —  she massacred the pirates. She also, however, realized that one of Margo’s minions had stolen back Margo’s eye, which the Fairy Queen had been wearing as a bracelet. Rather than return the eye, which had become a spy for the Fairy Queen, Margo crushed it in her hand. It was a powerful moment.

“It’s almost like there’s two Margos,” Bushil says. “There’s the Margo in the edit, and then there’s the Margot that I experiment with. I come from the school of thought where you just try everything on the day. You try as many things as possible. You know, instinctually, what choice is probably going to be chosen in the edit, and what is probably going to resonate, but I played that scene completely different at first. I played the horrors of seeing all of these people dead, and the pirate king, who I had some sort of physical-sexual connection with, and the atrocity of what the Fairy Queen’s done, and the shock, and the devastation, and the real fear. The director [James L. Conway]— who I love working with; he’s fantastic, and he just makes me feel really supported on the set — and I think it was [co-producer] David Reed on set that day, were like, ‘Margo’s fearless, she’s not broken, she’s not afraid.’ So I quickly transitioned into what is played in the edit. And it was hard, because I wanted to break down and be like, ‘It’s my eye!’ But it’s so much more powerful [for her to crush it more stoically]. Because she’s basically deciding who she is in that moment. I don’t think Margo knows how fearless she is in that moment. That’s life, right? You don’t know who you are till you’ve made the decisions that you’ve made. We surprise ourselves, and I think Margo surprised herself at this detachment. She’s crushing this eye, and she’s like, ‘Oh my God, I’m really crushing this eye.'”

She’s always tried to play against the vanity, Bishil says. “Because Margo really could’ve fallen into that category of superficial, and I never wanted her to be that, and I always tried to carve out something more interesting and not as cliché,” she says. “I don’t think Margo really cares too much about what people think about her appearance. She enjoys her appearance as performance. She celebrates it. It’s her own; it’s all hers, it belongs to her. She doesn’t do anything, appearance-wise, for anybody else.”

The Magicians airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on Syfy.

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