The Magnus Protocol Continues A Beloved Series
It’s time. Two episodes of The Magnus Protocol have now been released, and if you know anything about me as a media person, you probably know my favorite horror franchise is The Magnus Archives. I’ve been eagerly awaiting this spin-off series for so long. And you can bet that, like Doctor Who’s recent outings, we’ll be following along with individual articles as new episodes arrive.
Our first outing, episode one, “First Shift,” instantly sets up a bunch of mysteries—the biggest being a certain pair of voices making appearances where you wouldn’t expect—but also pivots the series into something that The Magnus Archives almost never explored: modern-day mixed media. Dedicated spooky podcasts, websites, and chat logs existed in-universe before, and people outside the archives are aware of the supernatural, some even making it their vocation—but this is different. This new episode has an extended chat log scene (which unfortunately overwhelms with read-aloud timestamps) as only one example. Computers, the internet, emails: it’s all there. It’s all plot-relevant. I’ll miss the tape recorders, but this is a strong direction for the series to go.
The New Series Shifts How We Hear Horror Stories
And with that change arrives an interesting difference in the horror writing. The Magnus Protocol doesn’t deal with direct statements; no one is laying out the entire tale. At least, not yet. Instead, it’s been snapshots of moments. Isolated events and half-conversations. We don’t get two minutes of backstory to form character profiles and instead have to infer from small hints. This suggests that though some further details related to victims could be revealed—the person who set up the graveyard meeting immediately pinged my mind as a potential antagonist—a lot of horror stories in The Magnus Protocol could be throwaway concepts. Background worldbuilding and little more. I doubt we’ll ever know what happened with that guy and the Eye-Box, for instance.
This also brings me to the thing I didn’t expect when starting The Magnus Protocol: I know the scares. I understand this franchise’s style, if not fully the new rhythm. A younger, less horror-knowledgeable Brandon listened to “Angler Fish” way back when, and it chilled him to the bone. Nowadays, it takes much more to scare me—and the horror tales in this one so far failed to bridge that gap. Not a shiver passed my spine. I enjoyed them, for sure. The horror imagery was creative, and certain lines of dialog will affect other people strongly, but I’ll be hoping—and craving—for some return to the horror magic that started me on this journey.
The Magnus Protocol Doesn’t Start Off As Strongly
As to the character work, I enjoyed the core cast once The Magnus Protocol established them. Alice and Sam have incredible chemistry—I half-guessed their relationship status before the reveal—and it’s damn near cozy to have another curmudgeonly manager overseeing things. The other background characters haven’t gotten a lot of time yet, but the general vibe of people stuck in a dead-end job is expressed with all the verisimilitude and snark I now expect after reading Family Business. The writing quality held. However, there was quite an issue in the first few minutes of The Magnus Protocol. There were just too many names. A multitude of voices, all talking, all hinting at character traits, leaving me totally lost. It was only when Alice was explaining the computer systems that it felt like a narrative starting.
Now, that remark—and other complaints—may aggregate toward a more negative opinion than I’m truly holding. First episodes often have an energy mismatch, and it’s by no means an indication of a crash and burn. I’m not surprised that The Magnus Protocol has a few awkward or mishandled moments—there’s a lot to set up in a spin-off like this. You have to please existing fans. The thing that reassures me is I can already feel the energy of Archives replicated without too much repetition. The slow drip of information is just as it was. Isolated scenes of horror are as evocative as ever. And all of it’s propelled by great voice acting, especially from Jonathan Sims. This is Magnus. This is the fandom I know.
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