Portrayed by: Hale Appleman
Book | Show: Lev Grossman and Syfy’s The Magicians
Well hello again — we’re here to talk about my favorite gay who deserved better, Eliot Waugh. Last week we talked about Quentin Coldwater and now we’re gonna talk about his other half.
Eliot is a character that has a beautiful soul both in the books and in the show, where he’s played expertly by Hale Appleman. This is going to cover the first four seasons of The Magicians (season 5 does not exist as everyone is out of character so it’s not to be counted) and just like with Quentin’s it will have sprinklings of book spoilers.
Content warnings for homophobia, trauma, child abuse, sexual assault, addiction and substance abuse.
The Guide to Magic
“And seeing Eliot here, out of the blue, for no reason whatsoever, felt like proof that impossible things were still possible.”(Lev Grossman, The Magicians Land)
Both in the books and in the show Eliot is our (and Quentin’s) introduction to magic. He’s the first person we meet at Brakebills, after all. From that point on he is enchanting. There’s no way to think of magic without thinking of Eliot. He is magic.
Eliot is brilliant, and not just at magic although I’d say he’s one of the most talented, powerful and intelligent magicians in the entire show. There’s this idea that Eliot is stupid or that he doesn’t read. It comes from the writers making jokes at his expense. First of all, reading isn’t the only way to show a person is smart. Just because he’s not a super nerd like Quentin or Margo it doesn’t mean he’s unintelligent.
In fact, we know he scored an A in various classes, and at Brakebills took an elective in horomancy. Horomancy, in this show’s magical vocabulary, is time magic; a knowingly difficult subject and one that is almost impossible to understand for most people. Not to mention the fact that at the Mosaic in season 3 he was about to do very big math in his head with no issue. He’s a Broadway musical nerd, master bartender and has an impeccable physicality.
He’s also extremely traumatized and depressed. Eliot sees magic as pain.
After all, it’s never done him any good. He connects magic with violence and pain. He fully believes that magic comes from pain. Eliot can be cruel and vicious when he wants to be (especially if he’s scared, because it’s what he learned growing up) but on the other hand, he’s also extremely thoughtful and kind. His love language is probably a combination between touch and cooking for people.
He was a great king who tried his best even if it’s not a thing he chose. He risked his life going on a one-on-one against Idri (a rival king) while magic was malfunctioning, he taught Fillorians how to farm despite having to go back into his childhood memories for it. He risked a lot for Fillory and he deserved more than he got.
But most of the time Eliot can’t see the good he’s done — he can only see the broken parts. He can’t take a step back and see that when you put all those broken pieces back together you get a beautiful mosaic.
The Mask is All That They See
“Becoming me was the greatest creative project of my life.”(Eliot Waugh, The Magicians 1×08)
You see what Eliot wants you to see. Eliot Waugh is all about control, he’s the best at it out of anyone on the show. His magic is controlled, his anger is controlled, his speech is controlled, his appearance is controlled. He’s got almost everybody fooled that what you see is what you get. Eliot wants to be known as the hedonistic party king of Brakebills who doesn’t care about anyone. Who grew up going to parties and not having a care in the world.
We know that’s not true.
Eliot Waugh grew up on a farm in Indiana with abusive parents. Then he made his way to New York. We don’t know at what moment he created Eliot as we know and love him but it was probably before Brakebills. He pretends that he doesn’t care about anyone — except perhaps Margo and Quentin — but we know that isn’t the case. Throughout the show we see him reach out to others when they are in pain.
As early as the second episode, we see him open up to Quentin about his darkest secret just to cheer him up. When Fen is suffering, he tries to be there for her and ask if she’s okay. He’s there to comfort Margo at any moment she needs it. He cares deeply about the people of Fillory, to the point that he brings something from his childhood trauma to help them. When Julia is at her lowest, it’s Eliot who helps her out and gives her comfort despite not being friends. Eliot Waugh has a huge heart and cares deeply about everyone except himself.
Because Eliot has been taught to hate himself basically all his life. He doesn’t think he deserves good things. Hale Appleman is a phenomenal actor and he’s wonderful at showing the subtleties of Eliot’s feelings. Episode 4×05 shows us an Eliot who has to go through his traumatic memories and we see this clear as day. We see the shame in seeing his younger self attack Taylor and the guilt over betraying his friends. Eliot hates every version of himself that he has no control over.
We only truly see him drop the mask at first with Mike and then with Quentin. He shows Mike his truest self, who he is at his core. And believes that maybe someone can love him as he is. Which is what makes the reveal so heartbreaking. Because Eliot was coming out of his shell and believing that people could love all of him — and it ends up being a lie. He closes himself even deeper than before.
When he tries opening up it doesn’t go his way. The first time is with Mike and right after that he finds out Mike tried to kill Quentin — and that everything he thought about Mike was a lie all along. Then he almost opens up to Fen about his fears about fatherhood and Baylor tries to kill him. Both times him making the effort to open up is met with violence and confusion. So it is any wonder when he’s face to face with someone that loves all of him — he can’t believe it?
I Bond Fast… Time is an Illusion
“I know I said I didn’t need a family to become who I was supposed to be but it turns out that I did and it was you. We’ll meet again — E.”(Lev Grossman, The Magicians)
Quentin and Eliot’s relationship is special from the moment they meet. There’s an attraction from both sides for sure — but more than that there’s a connection. Jason Ralph and Hale Appleman are spectacular actors that insert love and care into every one of their interactions — even from the very beginning.
They open up to each other from the beginning. When he needs to recover the book Eliot goes to Quentin and when Quentin needs help with the spell he goes to Eliot. Quentin doesn’t smile a lot but he does when he’s around Eliot and Margo. It’s clear from the start that Eliot has a crush on Quentin. Even after the disaster of the threesome, instead of being awkward they still feel comfortable with each other.
Quentin is the one that crowns Eliot and believes in him. Because no one believes in Eliot more than Quentin does. Just like in the books, even when they’re not together they are thinking of each other.
But it’s clear that Eliot doesn’t think that Quentin could ever be truly interested in him. They both have their own insecurities to deal with. Then the Mosaic happens and Gissane wrote a beautiful post about the scene. Eliot learns a lot during the mosaic — he learns that not only is he a good parent, but he’s a nurturing one. He learns that he can live a long life and he can be in love and have a healthy relationship.
But coming back to the present brings back all his old insecurities. Even though Quentin has shown him that he loves all sides of him — he rejects him. Because he’s afraid and when he’s afraid he runs away. It’s why 4×05 is such a powerful moment for Eliot as a character. Not only does it have one of Hale Appleman’s best performances but we see Eliot take a huge step.
He has to play both the past Eliot and the current one. Appleman is impeccable at both, we see the exact moment the Eliot of the past closes off and the smile turns mocking. He’s convinced himself in that moment that Quentin doesn’t mean what he says. Meanwhile the Eliot of the present closes his eyes in shame. You see the guilt and the pain that watching this is causing him.
“What the hell is wrong with you? What the hell are you doing? Someone good and true loves you and he went out on a limb. And yeah it was a little crazy but knew — you knew this was a moment that truly mattered and you just snuffed it out. Q I’m sorry. I was afraid and when I’m afraid I run away. If I ever get out of here Q know that when I’m braver it’s cause I learned it from you.”(Eliot Waugh, The Magicians 4×05)
It’s such a big moment for Eliot whose biggest traumatic moment is rejecting the possibility of love. Rejecting the idea that someone might actually love him. Even though it’s just a memory version of Quentin you can see how much Eliot is struggling. He’s being brave and realizing that he does want happiness and he wants to fight for it. He’s so delighted when he sees Quentin, even if it’s just for 5 seconds, he wants Q to know he’s there and that he’s fighting.
“50 years. Who gets proof of concept like that? Peaches and plums motherfucker, I’m alive in here.”(Eliot Waugh, The Magicians 4×05)
It’s a promise — even if Quentin isn’t aware of it at the time. A promise that he’s going to get out of there, he’s going to beat this and then he’s going to do what scares him the most and open his heart to the possibility of love.
We just wish he’d gotten the chance to fulfill that promise.
I Only Have One Bambi
“By the power vested in me by… I have no idea, I do hereby crown you High Queen Margo the Destroyer. I mean that in the best possible sense.. I have known what you truly are since the day we met. Long may you reign.”(Eliot Waugh, The Magicians 2×01)
Margo and Eliot have a relationship that defies definition. The closest that comes is probably queerplatonic. They understand each other at a level beyond anything else. They bring each other comfort and joy.
They see each other as they are — most of the time. We see them fight and we see them grow. Margo chooses to stay in Fillory to help Eliot and Eliot is supportive when Margo wins the election. There’s some misunderstandings between them, like when Margo ignored him spiraling in season one, and the way he reacted with the whole Margolem situation. Margo would do anything, she would cross anyone for Eliot. And she’s not wrong for it.
They’re not romantic but also not fully platonic. Eliot doesn’t mind when Margo joins him and another man during sex because she’s Margo. They have a connection that goes beyond anything. It’s their souls that are connected.
Until Quentin arrived on screen it was the two of them against the world, and then they both adopted him at a moment’s notice. They brought him into their special bond. One of the most enjoyable aspects of the show as a whole was to see Eliot and Margo’s dynamic grow from Brakebills to rulers.
Eliot even manifested as Margo’s conscience. They’d both risk it all to save each other — and I think that’s beautiful.
For a show that praises itself for being queer friendly it’s actually quite homophobic. We could sit here and point out all the ways but that would distract from the matter at hand, which is Eliot.
Eliot is a queer man. He is interested in men and only men. Eliot Waugh in the books is a gay man. The show was just trying to avoid saying the word (they do the same with Quentin and bisexual).
And before you say what about Margo and Fen? Margo is Margo. She defies definition. Their relationship is not quite platonic or romantic, it just is. Eliot likes her not because she’s a woman but because she’s Margo. She’s the one and only exception.
Fen was told multiple times that Eliot wasn’t into her and then decided she didn’t care because he was good at sex. In any other show if a man got into the bed of a woman who wasn’t interested while she was sleeping and pushed for sex we wouldn’t be okay with that. So why does Fen get off as the innocent quirky girl? Now this is on the writers not on Fen herself but the question still needs to be asked.
The show makes out Eliot to be the bad guy because he doesn’t want to have sex with Fen. But it’s clear from Hale Appleman’s performance that Eliot is not happy about the marriage (which by the way does not exist in the books. It was just the writers being homophobic).
The show doesn’t let Eliot have a relationship with a man. First there’s Mike who turns out to be the Beast in disguise and Eliot has to kill him. Then Javier who he can’t have sex with without Fen deciding to have sex with him at the same time (Eliot closes his eyes the moment she joins in — he’s not happy about it.) Idri is there for two glorious seconds and then he’s turned into a rat (brought back once and then forgotten). They tried to no homo the mosaic by putting a woman there for five seconds but the actors made it clear that Quentin and Eliot were in love. Then Quentin kills himself before he and Eliot can reunite.
So no, this show does not like Eliot Waugh or respect his desire to be with men. It constantly punishes him for the fact that he wants a loving relationship.
Haven’t we as a society progressed beyond punishing queer people for wanting love?
Life ain’t Fair
“I think something might really be broken.”(Eliot Waugh, The Magicians 1×10)
Trauma is Eliot’s state of being. It’s what he knows best. His greatest companion from a very young age. He shows it through closing himself off and an addiction to drugs and alcohol. Because it’s what manages to numb the pain he’s constantly in. Not much is said in the show about Eliot’s childhood but a lot can be inferred from Hale Appleman’s performance.
He grew up in Indiana with an abusive father who was the first person to convince Eliot that he isn’t lovable. He was bullied at school and then turned on his only friend. When he was 14, he got his magic by killing Logan Kinnear with a school-bus.
That is what we know of his trauma. But we can infer a lot more, especially from 1×09 “The Writing Room.” He wakes up in a haunted house with his hands tied and immediately knows not to drink the tea offered to him and Alice, he knows how to get out of the restraints and how to get out of the house.
After the characters escape, there’s an argument outside. You can see Eliot’s demeanor and how he acts. Alice wants to save the child ghosts but no one ever saved him. No one ever cared to save him. Appleman is brilliant as he makes Eliot’s accent slip when he says “Life ain’t fair — why should death be any different.”
It’s not about Alice at all — it’s about the situation. It’s a flashback to his past because he learned how evil people can be when he was little. And it’s not the sort of thing you can forget.
The last half of season one is extremely traumatic for Eliot. The boyfriend he likes turns out to be the Beast in disguise. Which means he’s been sexually assaulted by the person trying to kill him and his friends. Then he has to hear that the real Mike doesn’t remember him. So his first meaningful relationship was a sham.
Then he has to kill said boyfriend and falls apart. No one notices Eliot’s trauma or asks him if he’s okay. The one time he tries to open up he discovers that he’s talking to the Margolem (essentially a magical doll that looks like Margo) rather than to Margo herself and he never tries again. His friends are too busy with their own messes and with the Beast to ask. So he turns to drugs and alcohol.
They go to Fillory and Eliot becomes king to save his friends, and like he told Fogg in season two “I thought I was going to die.” He fully expected not to live past the fight.
But he’s a survivor and so he did. He represses everything because that is the way that he’s learned how to survive.
Every time he gets a tiny bit of happiness the show punishes him for it.
(Even when he cathartically kills an illusion of his father by feeding him to cannibals he’s judged for it.)
In Season four while he’s possessed by the monster he has to go through his trauma all over again. He faces his biggest fear and grows as a character to tell Quentin and the others that he’s alive.
But in the end, it’s still for nothing as Eliot is thrown back into the spiral of trauma and not allowed to grieve or grow. His addiction is made into a joke — he is made into a joke.
Book Eliot is allowed to find himself and grow from the sullen drunken teenager to an adult that saved the world and knows his worth.
Show Eliot is left alone at Brakebills with no one and nothing. Not even Margo.
Eliot the Spectacular
“So, destiny is – it’s bullshit. But you are High King in your blood. And somehow that makes sense, you know? And I-I just – for what it’s worth, I think that you are going to be a really good king.”(Quentin Coldwater, The Magicians – 2×01)
Eliot Waugh is a lot of things. He’s a best friend and a lover. He’s a nurturing father and a great cook. A master bartender and an addict. A brilliant magician and a good man. A guy with trauma and love in equal measure.
Eliot Waugh could have easily fallen under a stereotype but Hale Appleman inserted so much love and nuance in his performance that it was impossible not to love him. Just like with Quentin, Eliot belongs to us.
He belongs to Lev Grossman and to Hale Appleman. He belongs to anyone that got captivated by Eliot and cried alongside him. He ended the show alive but in a worst place than he was in the pilot so we reject that as well.
Because Eliot Waugh deserved to get the chance to be brave, he deserved to know that he was a great king and an even better magician. He deserved to walk into the sunset with Quentin and live a normal life.
Eliot deserved to receive the love he gave to other people and to actually go to therapy and heal from his trauma. He deserved to be happy and I like to believe that he is. That he tore up the Underworld for Quentin and then found a way to form a portal between Earth and New Fillory to get to Margo.
Do whatever he wanted to be, be whoever he wanted to be. And to have a happy ever after — because he deserved it.