The Unconventional Bromance of Thomas Magnum and Jonathan Higgins

Not everyone believes in soulmates and that’s fine. I’m not judging you. People can’t even seem to agree on the definitive definition of a soulmate. My preferred explanation is that a soulmate is a person who comes into your life to stimulate your growth. Maybe it’s just for a short time, maybe it’s forever, but they are there for a purpose and that purpose is to nudge you into being a better version of yourself.

Most people who buy into the concept of soulmates focus on romantic soulmates, twin flames burning in the night, but they are not the only kind. There are also platonic soulmates (think your best friend) and antagonistic soulmates.

It would be that last category that Thomas Magnum and Jonathan Higgins fall into.

During the eight season run of Magnum PI, the relationship between Magnum and Higgins evolved from purely antagonistic to friends of a sort. Not the hang out and have a beer kind of friends, or the invite to them to your party kind of friends. But still, friends. Sort of.

The first episodes of the series establish that Higgins and Magnum are to be each other’s foil and their dislike is mutual. Magnum is a thorn in Higgins’s side and Higgins is a constant cramp in Magnum’s style. The only reason they’re in each other’s lives is because they work for the same man (though Higgins might argue that what Magnum does constitutes work), and Higgins is usually dragged into Magnum’s shenanigans against his will.

However, even in those earlier episodes it’s established that there’s at the very least a certain understanding between the two men.

My favorite first season example of this is an episode called “Thicker Than Blood”. TC gets busted smuggling an AWOL buddy who once saved his life into Hawaii and he looks ready and willing to take the fall. Magnum and Rick are desperate to help him. In the course of their investigation, Magnum needs to use the dark room to blow up photos of the ship TC picked up his buddy on, but he has to get through Higgins to get the name of the vessel. The typical bartering is thrown off because Magnum’s need to help TC overrides everything and he offers to move out of the guesthouse, which trips up Higgins even though he accepts. In the end, Magnum stays put because Higgins claims he can’t move out until he does a proper inventory and that will take a while.

But we all know it was because Higgins understood what Magnum was going through trying to help a friend. Being a military man himself, it’s not stretch to surmise that he understands the depths of the bonds created during service.

In the second season episode “Tropical Madness”, a young woman takes a liking to Higgins, which makes Magnum suspect that she’s up to no good. Though Higgins insists that it’s Magnum’s ego driving him, Magnum’s persistence uncovers that the young woman does have an ulterior motive. Okay, maybe Magnum’s ego does play into it, but there’s also a sincere concern for Higgins there, too. He doesn’t want to see the man get hurt, broken heart or something worse.

This is the rhythm of their dynamic. The aggravate each other, antagonize each other (sometimes intentionally), barter with each other, but there’s a mutual respect that’s built on that develops into a more genuine, if odd, kind of friendship.

Part of this understanding is because Magnum knows what kind of man Higgins is. He’s uptight and proper and has some control issues, but Magnum also knows that he’s a good man, one that lives by a strict moral and ethical code. Why else would Magnum work so hard to clear Higgins’s name in the Season 3 episode “Foiled Again”, in which it looks like Higgins is responsible for the death of an old rival during a fencing match. Magnum knows that Higgins didn’t intentionally kill the man and he refuses to let him take the fall for it, even if Higgins is doing it to protect someone else.

In another Season 3 episode, “Black on White”, Magnum goes to extreme lengths to protect Higgins from an apparent attempt on his life without his knowledge. What starts off as a bit of a silly ploy to capture the assassin -Magnum faking an illness to have himself and Higgins quarantined in the guest house- gets very serious when the whole plot is revealed to Higgins and then Higgins reveals that a massacre in Kenya during the Mau Mau uprising happened on his watch. Magnum is the one helping to coax Higgins into opening up. For someone who often tells stories at a drop of a hat, this is one tale that Higgins didn’t want to tell.

Magnum is on the receiving end of another personal story from Higgins in the Season 4 episode “Holmes is Where the Heart Is”. Magnum is obsessed with getting into Higgins’s office to retrieve a camera lens, but Higgins has locked himself away to work on a very specific story for his memoirs, one about an old friend named David Worth who thought himself to be Sherlock Holmes. Eventually, Magnum gets in the office and reads the unfinished story, not taking it seriously until he sees the state Higgins is in and the absolute ire of his reaction to Magnum’s intrusion. However, Magnum is able to coax the rest of the story from Higgins, helping to relieve the emotional burden the man has been carrying.

Likewise, Higgins gains an understanding of what kind of man Magnum is. He might be irresponsible, uncouth, and a bit of leech on his friends, but he also has a deep sense of justice and loyalty, particularly for those his cares about.

Which is why Higgins is also affected when Magnum ended up stranded at sea in the Season 4 opener “Home from the Sea”. Though at the time no one knew that Magnum was in trouble, Rick, TC, and Higgins all have unexplained, uneasy feelings about him. In Higgins’s case, it’s right after he says something unpleasant about Magnum that he suddenly regrets it. He’s just as plagued by the feeling that something is wrong as Magnum’s two besties and joins them in their search. In fact, it’s Higgins that jumps in and does the ultimate save. Whether either man would admit it, it’s that loyalty that bonds them.

That loyalty is also why Higgins joins Magnum, Rick, and TC in what they’re told is a rescue mission for an old friend in Cambodia in the Season 5 two-parter “All for One”. Higgins has no obligation to go (and first season Higgins almost assuredly wouldn’t go) and yet he shows up just the same. Maybe a little bit of his motivation is to go on one more adventure like those of his youth, but the bigger part is that he cares about these men, in particular Magnum. He’s not going to let them go off without him, even if this isn’t his fight.

As the seasons go on, we see just how much these men care for each other, in big and small ways.

Higgins doesn’t fret any less than anyone else in the Season 5 episode “Mac’s Back”. Magnum swears he’s seen Mac, who’s been dead for a couple of seasons by this point, and his friends worry about his sanity. While Higgins chastises Rick for pacing and TC for working his hat, TC points out that Higgins has been drinking out of an empty tea cup for 30 minutes. He’s just as concerned for Magnum’s mental health than the other two.

In the Season 6 opener “Deja Vu”, Magnum and Higgins are in England. Magnum is investigating his friend’s death while Higgins is trying to help the major domo of another of Robin Masters’s estates. One part of the B-story is that Higgins is finally in a position to visit his father and heal a decades old rift, but is reluctant to do so. Magnum is the one who gives him that push (or more accurately, kidnaps him and dumps him on the doorstep). Magnum gives Higgins a similar push in the Season 7 finale “Limbo”, in which it’s revealed that Magnum sent Higgins’s memoirs to a publisher.

Throughout the series Magnum and Higgins find ways to help each other like that. Magnum taking on cases to help Higgins or his friends; Higgins helping Magnum out with cases; Magnum helping Higgins deal with all of his half-brothers; Higgins giving Magnum advice or a few words of wisdom.

By Season 7, their relationship has evolved to the extent they have a prank war in “Paper War”, evidence of their interactions having grown from mostly antagonistic to something approaching good-natured.

The Thomas Magnum and Jonathan Higgins we see in the series finale “Resolutions” are not the same Thomas Magnum and Jonathan Higgins we’re first introduced to in the series premier “Don’t Eat the Snow in Hawaii”. No, they haven’t changed so much that we don’t recognize them. They’re still fundamentally the same and they still get on each other’s nerves.

But Higgins isn’t quite as uptight as he used to be.

And Magnum isn’t quite as immature as he used to be.

It’s a growth that they couldn’t have achieved without each other.

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