Relationship Deep Dive: Quentin Coldwater and Eliot Waugh

Eliot Waugh holds Quentin Coldwater's hand in The Magicians
Source: Syfy

Type: Romantic
Book | Show: Lev Grossman and Syfy’s The Magicians
Featured Characters: Quentin Coldwater and Eliot Waugh

“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)

Hello again. It’s Pride Month which means it’s time for a Queliot Relationship Deep Dive. 

So sit down and settle in because as you’ve probably realized by now I am not a woman of few words. I have a lot of emotions about Queliot, their relationship and their meaning. 

Once again Queliot are Lev Grossman’ creation and we wouldn’t be here if not for him so I do want to give him props. Let’s face it, most of what we love about Quentin and Eliot and the scenes that make our hearts soar? It’s a lot on Jason Ralph and Hale Appleman. I know you might be tired of me saying it, but I’ll always repeat it. 

They added gravitas, meaning and love to Queliot. Both in terms of Quentin and Eliot’s friendship and romantic relationship. They both stated multiple times how important the relationship was to them and it truly showed in their work. They referred to them as best friends and soulmates and even now are still there to answer questions.

Whether it’s Jason Ralph answering Cameos about what he thinks Quentin and Eliot’s wedding was like, or Hale Appleman talking about how they raised Teddy together.

It’s a respect towards the characters and towards the fans that isn’t always present.  We see romance written off all the time. Especially if it’s between two men. Here there was none of that — well not from the actors playing the roles anyway. That is something I’ll always be grateful for. 

As always when I talk about The Magicians, trigger warnings for mental health, homophobia and trauma. There’s not really any deep talk of it but just in case.

Peaches & Plums 

“I know this sounds dumb, but us… we… I don’t know, think about it, we… we work. We know it, because we lived it. Who gets that kind of proof of concept?”

(Quentin Coldwater 4×05)

Queliot was called the Ship of Dreams, and it was. It really was. 

Okay that is obviously a quote about the Titanic not Queliot, but I thought it was fitting. Queliot was also thought to be unsinkable and we all saw what happened there. Yes, sometimes I use dark humor to cope. 

But in all realness, I don’t think I’ve ever felt a connection to a ship the way Queliot latched on. If you truly think about it, they are all the best tropes put together in one gorgeous package. 

  • Do you want “We just met but I feel safe with you”? Check 
  • Best friends to Lovers? Check
  • The Nerd and the Popular kid? Check. Jealousy? Check
  • I can be myself with you? Check. Soulmates? Check.
  • Life-Partners? Check. Raising a kid together? Check
  • I will burn down the world to save you? Check

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  Quentin Coldwater and Eliot Waugh are what they are now because of the careful work by Jason Ralph and Hale Appleman. Both actors saw the deep friendship in the books and wanted to bring it to life. I personally would argue that both the Eliot and the Quentin of the books were in love with each other, but Quentin is very much a repressed bisexual. 

Outside of the Julia plot, the books’ biggest flaw is the fact that they left their very obvious — almost text — as subtext. This is coming from someone who deeply loves the books but in terms of Queliot they were almost there. 

Well the actors looked at that and did what few do in regards to queer couples — they said we’re gonna build from that. From Day 1 you can tell that they loved the characters and worked on their relationship. What is truly magical is that Quentin’s introduction to magic and Eliot are intrinsically tied. It is Eliot who tells him that magic is real and takes him by the hand into a new world full of magic and wonder. 

There’s a wardrobe change in the first episode where I love saying that Eliot changed outfits just to impress the cute new guy. He immediately introduces Quentin to Margo and so the best trio in the world is born. But talking about Marqueliot is for another day and another deep dive (trust me it would be another long one). 

Time in The Magicians is not real. There could be 3 months in one episode or 2 hours, so we never really know. But in the pilot we know months pass and the happiest moments are when Quentin is with Eliot and Margo. Throughout season 1 we see this friendship grow and deepen. In episode 2 they barely know each other, and Eliot who is all about masks and appearances, drops his to tell Quentin his darkest secret. Just as Quentin admits to having been hospitalized. 

“I bond fast. Time is an illusion.” 

(Eliot Waugh 1×02)

All because Quentin was depressed about maybe getting expelled. There’s also jokes about seducing him if he does get expelled. Which was played for jokes but Appleman played it with an honesty that said Eliot wasn’t fully joking. Eliot takes Quentin to recover the stolen book, Quentin goes to Eliot when his dad has cancer. Eliot worries when Quentin is trapped in a mind spell. They both get jealous of the other’s romantic partners. 

There’s bad spirals and selfishness. Worrying about each other and not knowing what to say.  Threesomes and guilt. The little we see of the threesome is very interesting. We see Eliot bringing him closer and holding on to him as if he never wants to let go. We see Quentin fully into it and wanting more. 

This wasn’t a man realizing “Oh I might be interested in men” it was more of an I’m actually acting on the crush I’ve had on my friend since I met him. The bad side of it came from the fact that he did cheat on Alice. 

It’s an extremely messy situation because no one is at their best. Margo is angry, Alice is hurt, Eliot is in pain because he thinks he fucked everything up, and Quentin is an asshole. They are at their messiest and yet despite it all, we see that not much has changed between Quentin and Eliot. 

The framing of Quentin and Eliot’s scenes is romantic even back in the earlier seasons. They spend most of season 2 apart but their scenes are golden. We get the Coronation scene which is one of the most romantic moments of the entire show. The framing of it is completely romantic and intimate. The speech shows that Quentin knows who Eliot is — he’s seen the good and the bad. He believes in him and for a guy like Eliot who hasn’t really had that before? It’s stunning. 

Also Jason Ralph and Hale Appleman truly bring it and I dare you not to cry during the Coronation. It’s just not possible. We also get some minor scenes in season 2 like Eliot getting between Quentin and a magical weapon. It was his first instinct to protect Quentin. Sure it wasn’t truly his body but a golem, but I don’t think either realized that at that moment. 

Queliot is ironically a perfect slow burn relationship. I don’t think the writers ever intended for that but that’s how it ended up being. There are moments that are mostly background or filmed in a strange way. Like the hug from 3×04 which we deserved to see from a better angle. The relationship has twists and turns but you know that these two characters deeply matter to each other. Two broken souls who managed to find a way to heal each other. 

The Mosaic

Eliot Waugh and Quentin Coldwater in The Magicians' "A Life in the Day" working on a mosaic.
Source: Syfy

Quentin Coldwater: The Mosaic. The puzzle?
Eliot Waugh: Nope.
Quentin Coldwater: It’s… You use tiles… Are you kidding me? You use the tiles to create a design that reflects the beauty of all life, and when you do, there’s a mystery prize. You’ve really, you’ve never heard of this?
Eliot Waugh: “The beauty of all life”? Sounds appropriately vague and impossible. What’s the prize?
Quentin Coldwater: A so-called key to greater magic.

(Eliot Waugh & Quentin Coldwater, 3×05)

Gissane has already said some beautiful things about the Mosaic episode which you should really check out here. But you can’t talk about Queliot without talking about “A Life in the Day.” While in hindsight there are things that don’t stand up as much in terms of intent and what was left on the cutting room floor — it’s still a wonderful episode for Queliot.

First we get one of my ultimate favorite Queliot moments. Which is Eliot teasing Quentin about the mosaic and pretending like he doesn’t know what he’s talking about just to hear Quentin rant. Then Appleman’s performance shows us how truly delighted he is when Quentin catches the bait and starts ranting. 

It is such a simple scene and yet so telling of their characters. Eliot loves Quentin — all of him. Even the sides that others might find annoying, he relishes them. The nerd rants are one of Quentin’s best features in my opinion and Eliot delights in them. Because nerding out makes Quentin happy, and whatever makes Quentin happy is a plus in Eliot’s book.  

They take the clock to Fillory and discover there’s magic in the air. Their joy is palpable and infectious. Until they discover that they’re actually in Fillory of the past — whoops. This show played fast and loose with certain characterizations but another thing I love about this episode is that it shows how smart Eliot is. We get a reference to him taking Horomancy, a notoriously difficult subject, as an elective. Then he was trying to do some really big math in his head like it was no big deal. 

Eliot Waugh is an extremely impressive character and if you want to read more about him here’s the deep dive I wrote earlier this year.

They realize that they have to solve this impossible puzzle and show the beauty of all life. This takes them an entire lifetime. In which they have a son, they experience loss, they fully commit to each other and raise a family. They grow old together. It is the beauty of all life. It’s not until Quentin loses Eliot that he actually gets the time key. Because the beauty of all life cannot be measured. 

In the tiles on a mosaic, the fruits in a garden. It’s in Teddy’s steps and Quentin feeling brave enough to kiss him on their first anniversary. 50 years together and in love. It’s them — Quentin and Eliot. Their love is woven into the key. It could only be them — no one else could have done it. 

Ironically by wanting to pander to the fans they did something they never expected. They intrinsically tied Queliot to the fabric of the show. Because the point of season 1 was to defeat the beast and we find out Jane Chatwin has tried through 40 different time loops. Those time loops were only possible because of the time key. The time key was the product of Quentin and Eliot’s love. 

Their love is a fixed point and it’s what saved them all. 

Their Flaws Make Them Perfect

“You have a brother of the heart with the floppy hair — you are two parts of a whole.”

(The Great Cock 3×01)

Make no mistake neither Quentin nor Eliot are perfect characters. They are both deeply flawed. Quentin has clinical depression, extremely low self-esteem, weird relationships with sex and well relationships. Eliot has buckets of trauma from child abuse, magic, alcoholism, and sexual trauma. 

But it is the fact that they are not perfect that makes them perfect for each other. Like Qualice are perfect on paper, but we saw throughout the show that together they were toxic. Alice didn’t know how to deal with Quentin’s mental health issues, and Quentin wasn’t always a good boyfriend either. Which is why they were always better as friends. 

Eliot and Quentin are different. Because Quentin needs to be needed, and Eliot wants to take care of him. We see them take risks for each other that they wouldn’t for other people. Their biggest problem was miscommunication because they could never actually talk to each other. They would just pretend like they knew what the other was feeling. 

They’re not always nice to each other. Quentin can be callous and Eliot can be cruel. Eliot had problems reaching for what he wanted. Mostly because he thought he didn’t deserve it and because he’s a master of self-sabotage. On the other hand — most of the romantic interactions are started by Quentin. 

He’s the one that usually gives the first step. He wears his heart on his sleeve while Eliot covers it up. Always afraid that he’ll get hurt so he puts up walls and practically an armed guard. Then Quentin kisses him in the mosaic. We see the surprise and joy and love in his face. And this show had a problem that the queer kisses were never given proper lighting but it’s still a beautiful moment. 

The Mosaic gives Eliot everything he ever wanted and never thought he would get. It was a truly perfect life with the man he’s been in love with for years. Then they are back to their “real lives” and yet remember everything. Of course Quentin wants to jump back in — he’s the bravest nerd in all the lands. When it comes to matters of the heart, he jumps in heart first. To him it makes perfect sense because they have proof of concept. 

But Eliot is more careful. His first thought is well — it worked once that must mean it won’t work a second time. It’s impossible to believe that it would work a second time around. That he would be so lucky. Also Quentin for all his belief and because of his own issues, asked in the worst way possible. 

So Eliot runs away — he hides. He does what he knows will work. He’s biphobic and cruel knowing it will push Quentin away. We see the self-hatred plain on his face. And we know it’s his biggest regret. 

Adding this scene makes the second half of season 3 more powerful. Their  moment before the boat quest is more painful. We clearly see two people who are comfortable with each other and know the other perfectly but there’s hurt. It’s Eliot wanting to keep him close after breaking his heart. Quentin’s decision to stay in the castle takes on more weight — as does Eliot shooting the Monster. 

The show never explored Eliot’s grief — it never cared to. But I can just imagine the guilt and the pain that came from everything that transpired. Because we know Eliot has a tendency to blame himself after all. 

In a perfect world, Quentin was at Eliot’s bedside after he woke up from possession. Or Eliot got the chance to be brave and saved his husband from the Underworld. In a million worlds they are happy — because they’re soulmates. They’re going to be connected no matter what.  In a better world, they were happy. With therapy, pets they adore and dote over. Just a normal life with maybe kids down the road. No more magical crisis. 

Just Quentin and Eliot being in love. 

The Cruelty of it All

To fully explain this section I’d have to take you back to Comic Con 2018. As anyone who has been to San Diego Comic Con will tell you — it can be an emotional event.

On that Saturday I had already gone through the full spectrum of emotions. I will avoid boring you with the whole story when what truly matters is the end. The last panel of the day was Syfy’s The Magicians in the Indigo Ballroom.

I was in the first row in the center so I saw it all and remember it all. If you asked I could tell you with full honesty that what I felt during that panel and right after it was unlike anything ever before.

You see we were in the hiatus before season 4 and the season 3 finale had ended with a Queliot cliffhanger. The monster had possessed Eliot and had found Brian (Quentin).

And the panel? The panel was wonderful. Felicia Day teased Jason Ralph and vice versa. We got Queliot comments from Appleman, Ralph and Olivia Dudley. Jason Ralph said the Quentin line that touched my heart, “His sexuality is the one thing he’s not anxious about.”

Which honestly meant a lot. Even the special videos made included comments about Queliot. Either “Yeah we really ship them” or “Queliot we ship that.” It felt exhilarating. An auditorium full of mentally ill and queer people who thought for once they were gonna win.

The guy was going to get the guy.

Of course as we know now that didn’t happen. And one of the things I hate the most is the loss of that feeling. The loss of that hope. Yes it sounds dramatic, but this is pride month, and it’s my bisexual right to be dramatic.

And it’s true.

Unless the show is made by queer creators (Shout out to Noelle Stevenson and Dan Levy) queer fans never win. It’s either a full queerbait or a bury your gays.

I don’t like calling The Magicians a queerbait because as much as the writers might hate it — both Eliot and Quentin are canonically queer characters.

So we’ll use Rowan Ellis’ queercatching.

1. Explicitly talking in the promotion of a film or TV show about a queer character, but not following through in the piece itself in any meaningful way.

(Rowan Ellis)

Yes this is explicitly what they did. They had articles on syfy’s site, the show’s socials were all about queliot, to the point they made an actual fanvid. They sent out Hale Appleman to do interviews and the biggest kicker — the reason why all of us actually thought we were getting follow through… The episode “Escape from the Happy Place” aired.

The writers made an active choice at making a queer love story the focal point of their season’s narrative. They didn’t have to do that. Even with all the queer catching fans were not expecting anything. We thought “A Life in the Day” was all we were going to get. Then they made Eliot’s biggest regret turning down Quentin.

They did it in such a way that it beautifully retconned the latter half of season 3. They made Eliot’s season 4 mission to get back to Quentin, and Quentin’s entire plot was getting Eliot back no matter what. What was the reason? Why bring it front and center and make it clear that these men are in love if it was going to go nowhere?

Before anyone says it, no I do not blame Jason Ralph for quitting. Anyone is allowed to leave jobs where they are unhappy — yes actors too. Plus the writers proved with the way they handled the backlash that followed (and then how they gleefully and proudly admitted that they wrote season 5 to spite the hurt fans) that they were never going to follow through on it. Then again these are the same writers that tried to get a queer writer and their editor fired for criticizing the homophobia of the finale. 

The show had talking bears and bestiality but having a reunion for two men was too unrealistic. They didn’t even give us a reaction shot when Eliot was back even though Quentin was right there. They preferred to throw their plot to the trash and leave the narrative promises unfulfilled. Because I don’t care what any naysayer says — the moment Eliot kisses Quentin and vows to be brave because that’s what he learned from him… That’s a narrative promise. It is writing 101.

It’s been 2 years and I’m still going over it in my head. The cruelty and the viciousness of it all. They didn’t have to do that.  A lot of people started watching the show during season 4 because of that narrative promise. I got so many people to watch and we were all betrayed. Then we were mocked by the creative team. Hell the actors themselves didn’t know Jason Ralph wasn’t coming back until the week of the finale — just two days before the rest of the world.

What was the reason for all of it? Was it just ego? Or just spite? They could have gone down in television history. It was a show with gods and goddesses — where the Underworld was an actual place. 

Can you imagine the power a queer underworld story would have had? We’ve never actually seen one on television. A storyline where Quentin realizes he actually didn’t want to be dead and tries to fight his way back to the living world. The power that would give to people like me who saw ourselves and our struggles in Quentin. Seeing Eliot fulfill the narrative promise of being brave. Because being brave is not always what we think it’s gonna be. 

With Hale Appleman’s gorgeous singing voice? They definitely could have pulled an Orpheus plot. As all of us thought we’d get before the exit interviews came out. Maybe with some Taylor Swift songs. 

(Yes Lover, Evermore and Folklore are Queliot albums no I will not elaborate. Well not here — if you’re interested hit me up on twitter).

The point of all this is that all the signs had aligned for it to happen. The actors were there for it, the writing was leading towards it, the fans wanted it (as did the media). But because of the whims of a straight white woman and a straight white man, the greatest love story was cut at the ankles. 

Just left forever unfinished. 

Reclaiming Stories

“Fifty years. Who gets proof of concept like that. Peaches and plums, motherfucker.”

(Eliot Waugh 4×05)

So what do you do when the story betrays its heart? You reclaim it. It’s as easy as that. Which is exactly what the Queliot fans did. Just like I mentioned in my Quentin Coldwater Deep Dive, fans of the show reject your homophobic suicide fantasy and insert our reality. Quentin Coldwater is not dead. He is alive in all of our hearts. 

Just as Quentin is not dead — neither is Queliot. Because Queliot will never die. I do not exaggerate when I say I think they’re one of the greatest love stories of all time. A lot of the ships I see on television and movies nowadays wish they had what Queliot has. It’s the connection, the chemistry, the history. All the tropes. 

Once we licked our wounds the fandom got to work reclaiming the boys we love so much. Now 2 years after the fact, there’s still a lot of fanfics on ao3, there are fan artists who make these incredible masterpieces. People who write beautiful Queliot songs or do spectacular custom Funkos. 

At first it was lowkey fueled on spite — let’s not kid ourselves here. But spite alone cannot build anything that lasts. So the fandom took our cue from Quentin’s book and we made it run on love.

There is love for the actors who showed us nothing but kindness and respect. For Lev Grossman who loves the characters as we do and still gets excited at fanart and media created for them. Love for each other and the friendships and bonds created from this ship. I can tell you I’ve met at least 2 of my very best friends thanks to this ship and I wouldn’t trade that for all the money in the world. 

Every fandom has bad apples, or people who focus on just one aspect of the character. Sometimes people just like a ship because it’s what is popular at the moment.

None of that matters. 

What matters is that even though we disagree, we can remain kind to each other. That we focus and build something on the love for these two characters and their love story. 

For me, I don’t think there’s ever going to be another ship like Quentin and Eliot. 

That’s okay. 

I love them with all my heart (if that wasn’t obvious with all the articles, projects, fanvids and fanfic I’ve written).  

Quentin Coldwater asked why can’t it run on love? Well Queliot is. 

Queliot will always run on the love because it’s ingrained in every aspect of the ship and that my friends — is proof of concept. 

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