The Magicians third season is easily the Syfy series best yet. With much of the drama focused on a key quest designed to bring magic back, characters from Brakebills to Fillory have had to lean on each other in new, exciting and more complicated ways.
That includes Fen, the native Fillorian promised to High King Eliot since she was a child. Starting her arc as a somewhat hapless and "unworldly" rural Fillorian, Fen ultimately played key roles in helping the children of Earth attempt to right their wrongs.
Delivered each week to audiences with heart and moxie by actress Brittany Curran, Fen has seen a rather grand transformation across this very soon to be completed 13-episode season.
From seducing her half-interested husband in a foggy haze, attempting to build a family, and acquainting herself with emojis to a secret history of Fillorian resistance fighting, losing her child (and toes) to bad deals, and eventually freeing enslaved fairies, Fen has left an undeniable mark on The Magicians universe as a funny, determined, and sincere force.
In a season filled with complex women, well-written pop culture jokes, and serious dives into both morally and emotionally tough issues (slavery, depression, and familial death, to name a few), Fen has managed to be a part of it all in both big, small, and meaningful ways.
Gearing up for the finale, TV Fanatic spoke with Brittany Curran about the quirky and enigmatic woman behind Fillory's (former) royal family, her unique Season 3 journey, and whether her beef with the Fairy Queen will ever get resolved.
I was concerned at the start of Season 3 that Fen might spend most of her time being a naïve sidekick to Eliot, but she has had one of the more obvious and moving transformations of the season. As you were shooting, what was the moment you felt Fen blossomed into her own distinctive Magicians character?
I’m so glad that you see all that and appreciate all that cause I agree, she’s just kind of like Elliot’s little follower sometimes. I would say the moment she broke out of that definitely began after she found out that Fray was not her daughter and that her daughter had actually died in childbirth. The scene in the castle when I’m sharpening my knife – which I’m like obsessed with now – where I tell Eliot that I have to leave.
That was a really pivotal moment for Fen because, I think, for the first time in her life she’s finally admitting that Eliot is not the husband that she deserves or wants, and she’s not living the life that she wants.
It’s also a really cathartic moment because Eliot finally admits how awful a husband he’s been. I think in having that conversation, even though not a whole lot is said, Fen finally allows herself to go off and go on her own journey and live her own life.
Speaking of Fen and the loss of her child, I think your character represents a part of the 20-something experience that the show hasn’t really explored before this season: young parenthood.
Where did you draw from to embody a character who really loved both the idea of family and being a parent and then had that ripped away from her?
I think any time as an actor, when you’re dealing with extreme loss in your character, a lot of times your life isn’t going to mirror what your character is going through and so you have to find a way to honor that in your own way.
I’ve never had or lost a child in my life and I can't begin to imagine what either must actually feel like. So what I did was I just went down this rabbit hole of finding my own things in my life that would speak to that or be horribly scarring.
I actually went online and just read story after story of parents who had lost children and it was one of the most depressing pieces of research I’ve ever done for my job ever.
Again, it’s hard for me to say because I haven't experienced it so I would never ever want to compare my experience to that ever, but immersing myself for a while in all of these heartfelt genuine stories of other people was so eye-opening to how incredibly traumatic something like that is.
Then as an actor, all I can really do is try to bring that and my own version of it to the screen and then, you know, go through my process.
Learning about stuff like that and having your character go through that, it really puts everything in perspective, too. It doesn’t make other people’s issues less important, but it definitely puts Fen's specific issues in perspective.
I think losing her child is part of the reason why she realized like, "No, I don’t have to be in this relationship where my husband doesn’t acknowledge me as an equal. I can break out of this. Life is short. There’s no reason for me to be stuck in this for my whole life.”
Are family and children as important to Fen at the end of the season as they were at the start?
I do think that family and children are important to Fen, but I think that she realizes that they are important now in the right context. They’re not important to her anymore just for the sake of having a family and children.
Originally, I think she was just happy to have a family no matter what, no matter who, no matter how she was being treated. I feel like now it’s just as important, but she also values herself. She has her own integrity now and realizes that she’s excited to have a family when it’s the right time and the right place with the right people.
You touched on the lopsidedness of the Eliot and Fen relationship where one is definitely giving more than the other. But in Episode 12, Fen mentions that she will stay with Eliot because she’s now embroiled in the war in a particular way.
So is that the only reason that Fen wants to stay or is there something else that’s keeping her there?
I mean, look, when the magicians and the children of earth come to Fillory, they're coming to this fantasy land. Their home is still Earth. Their family and their lives and everyone they know are still there. Fen is one of the only actual native Fillorians.
Her whole life is in Fillory and Fillory has gone through so much, been turned upside down, in the past couple years of her life. She’s been brought along on that journey with Eliot and Margo as part of the royalty and somewhat part of their decisions.
I feel like to Fen, Eliot forgets that Fillory is actually her home and she’s a native to this place. He just kinda wants to push her to the side. I think at that moment she finally stands up for herself again and doesn't say these words, but I think what she’s saying to him is “No, I’m a part of this.
I’ve been a part of the royal family just as long as you have and you can’t push me aside yet again.” Not that that's the only motivation, but I think she's just over being pushed aside by her husband. I know she cares about Fillory, and I think she genuinely wants to do whatever’s best for it.
Part of Fen's transformation has been her acquiring a harder, stronger, rougher edge. But she existed, particularly in the beginning, as this light-hearted character that contrasted starkly to the more angsty or bitter tone of those around her.
How did you approach playing an earnest Fen against some tonally opposite characters?
I just saw her as such a genuine person. Even though she came across as naïve, she wasn't naïve in Fillory terms. She was naïve in Earth terms. I mean, the children of Earth would’ve seemed just as naïve to her but on her turf, you know?
And it turns out she wasn't as innocent and naïve as everybody thought because she had joined this resistance army and she was trying to fight for her home. I don't think anybody ever expected that.
I guess I never thought of her – while I was playing her and while I was figuring her out – in negative terms. I always thought of her as just living her life. She was being as genuine as possible and she wanted to help everybody. She just happened to be wearing princess dresses and living in an archaic society her whole life.
Speaking of the resistance army, frequently The Magicians forces characters into moral dilemmas and asks them to work out which side they fall on. That definitely happened for Fen and her resistance reveal. It also happened with the enslaved fairies, a somewhat complicated issue for Fen.
What did you want viewers to walk away with when you were playing your character through that storyline?
When [those scripts] first came in that Fen actually not only forgave but helped rescue the fairies, I was so happy about it. I was so proud of her because in our lives, especially when traumatic things happen, naturally you’re going to resist anything that has to do with the cause of your trauma.
For Fen it just happens to be fairies, and I totally understand why Fen just thought that all fairies were evil. To her, every fairy she ever met was. You know, they kidnapped her and were pretty much responsible for her daughter’s death.
Everything that she’s known in life has told her that these creatures are dangerous and will literally take your limbs and kill people that you love. But it was nice to have somebody like Julia realize that Fen deep down does not agree with slavery and thinks it’s bad.
In that conversation [with Julia] though it's not slavery that Fen thinks she’s talking about. Fen thinks she’s talking about protecting good people from bad creatures, you know? And so it was good that Julia had that line of "Okay Fen. First of all, slavery is always bad no matter what."
I love that Julia and Fen can be brutally honest with each other when they need to be, but that Julia was also sensitive to the fact that Fen lost her kid because of the fairies.
I think it says a lot about Fen and a lot about the human spirit in general that you can have your life ruined by a certain thing, and then come around to figure out “Oh, it’s not what I thought it was. It’s actually not evil and just because there’s a couple bad fairies doesn’t mean that all fairies are bad.”
Fen realizes that the fairies have been taken advantage of and abused and I think it takes a lot of courage for her, and a lot of humility to stand back and be like "Okay, this thing that I stood for for so long is actually wrong." Meaning, being against the fairies is wrong and now she is going to help them. I loved it. I loved that storyline so much.
By Episode 12 we see Margo become High King and Julia form an understanding with the Fairy Queen. Fen was a part of, whether negatively or positively, both of those things happening. But at the end of both moments, Fen is hardly acknowledged by the Queen.
Margo even gets an eye back and Fen fails to get her toes back.
Thank you for noticing that! I was so mad. I was like wait, why don’t I get my freaking toes back? This lady killed my baby and I don’t even get my toes back? It's like, you’ve gotta be kidding! Poor Fen keeps getting the bad end of every stick.
Will that continue through to the finale? Will she have to deal with the fact that the Fairy Queen doesn't regard her very highly? Or might Fen get to make peace with the Queen?
There is definitely going to be something that happens between Fen and the Fairy Queen. I won't say whether it’s good or bad, and resolution is too strong of a word, but there’s definitely something significant that happens between the two of them.
One thing I really loved about this season is how much it has given its female characters. They've probably had, at least for me, the biggest development in very specific and different ways.
So based on Fen’s Season 3 arc, what do you really hope viewers take away from her about the experience of womanhood, as well as what it means and takes to be a woman in the world – real or fantastical?
I hope people can bring away the resilience of women. When a woman has her life plan in mind, especially when society tells her "This is going to be your trajectory in life and this is your purpose for being on this earth" and then she believes it thinking "This is my only path in life even if it's not best for me," she can leave that path.
She can have the strength to do that and realize that she has more to offer people and her life and the world in general.
That's what happens to Fen. She's been in this archaic family, she's been promised to this king since she was a kid, to be his wife and to have kids. Her whole life has been "I am here to serve the monarchy and I'm here to serve whoever the future king is" and she does that regardless of how he treats her. But then she takes a stand and says, "No, I'm going on my own path now!"
I hope people can take that out of her arc this year. Her resilience. Even though she followed another person's path for so long, she was still able to divert from it and figure out her own life.
The Magicians airs Wednesdays on Syfy. You can watch The Magicians online to catch up.
Abbey White is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.