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By on March 9th, 2022
The Magnus Archives is a podcast—and after 200 episodes, I’ve listened to the whole thing. Twice before, I’ve spoken about the series and how it progressed, and now we can bring the talk home to roost. 
Spoilers for the entire series ahead.
Now, there’s no point in going over the old takes. If you’ve read the other reviews, you know how good the base series is—but old me didn’t understand. Old me had no idea how creative and mesmerizing the series would become.
I spoiled the season five apocalypse for myself before it happened, but that didn’t diminish its effectiveness. It’s one thing to know the writing style changes, it’s another to hear the stylistic shift. It’s another thing entirely to experience a poem about people fighting for not enough faces. Or worms that are not worms and do horrible things to crawl through their tunnels.
I’ve consumed a lot of weird media. Seen phantasmagoria rendered with abandon. But nothing compares to the first round of domains. Jonathan Sims is a fantastic writer, and the world he built of blood and endless suffering is dark and wild.
It’s also more personal. Some episodes touch on topics that will upset. Abuse, addiction, existential terror at our fragile mortality to name a few. It’s often hinted at rather than shown, but the show commits to each specific fear. No matter who you are, one of these will stab at something deep in you.
And this level of suffering affects the character’s dynamics. I didn’t expect the theme of choice—especially concerning causing harm—to come up as often as it does. At first, it feels a little too heavy-handed moralizing, but by the ending chapters, it becomes deeply nuanced. The Dark domain (MAG 173 “Night Night”) was the point for me where every moral question complicated drastically. How do you deal with a demonic torturer—who’s also a child? Is it better to be suffering forever, or to inflict it? Only series like Star Trek and what little I’ve heard of Mass Effect’s plotlines put similar no-win/no-easy-answer options on the table. 
But no series is perfect, and the final parts do contain issues besides the stuff I’ve complained about before. The first is burnout with the horror domains. I took a long time to get through season five because I kept taking week-or-more long breaks. The Magnus Archives excelled at smaller-scale horror stories. Even way back at MAG 1, you get a sense of who’s giving the statements. But these later episodes rarely have “people” so much as punching bags with occasional names. Us—the listener—could’ve been these people, and there’s empathy at first for that. But it fades from lack of direct connection, and what kept me going was mostly to see the creative uses of the fourteen/fifteen fear gods. I wasn’t so much scared by episodes like MAG 174 “The Great Beast” or MAG 168 “Roots” as I was fascinated by the concepts. Having a woman get stomped by an unknowably massive monster made of an unknowable number of tortured humans is the purest expression of The Vast perhaps possible. The double-edged sword of this, though, was it deflated fear domains without specific entities associated. They were less interesting because they could technically be from any franchise. MAG 180 was the worst offender of this, with the fear being specific while not connected to any god. 
The other issue is the windup to the ending. A lot of plot happens in the last season, and even characters I forgot about get some pay-off or culmination. And that’s great. But from about MAG 190 onward, I didn’t want to hear more tangential statements—I wanted to hear the ending. The ladder domain from MAG 198 irritated me. I just didn’t care about anything but the main plot. If a statement didn’t directly explain something about Elias, the Fears, or The Web’s plan, I didn’t want it. When it finally just jumped right into Jon and Elias’ final confrontation, I was thrilled. It may have been jarringly quick to the culmination, but the tension was too strung out for more buildup. 
And about that ending: MAG 200 “Last Words” didn’t destroy me like some fans. Shipping is almost never a strong reason for my interactions with media. And besides, while Martin and Jon are adorable, they bickered and sniped at each other so often in their final season it made me doubt the relationship. But it’s a testament to these voice actors that they still instilled so much heart and tragedy in the final moment. It also helps that the editing team is so good at their jobs. The sound design, the effects: spectacular. You can hear the passion for this project. Love poured into this podcast.    
And on that note, we can talk about what did make me sad—how the finale affected me. I rarely speak too deeply about my personal connections to the media I review, but it seems important here. I’m not grieving for Jon and Martin; I’m grieving for the end of an era. I’ve spent almost a year listening to this podcast. It got me through a lot of hard days. Not since Doctor Who have I fallen into a fandom to this degree. The series means a lot to me and recommending it to you is a personal desire to share something special. I, Brandon Scott, want horror fans to know about this show. 
The Magnus Archives is the kind of thing that inspired me to want to be a reviewer. It’s narratively dense and artistically special. I may spend the rest of my life chasing something comparable. And, frankly, I’m not sure I’ll ever find it. Thank you, Jon, Alexander, Ben, Mike, Frank, and all the other wonderful voice actors and Rusty Quill team members who made this show possible. Thank you for giving the world The Magnus Archives.
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