REVIEW: The Magicians, S3E4 – Be the Penny

The Magicians delivers one of its most ambitious and entertaining episodes yet with “Be the Penny,” which tries to unravel Penny’s (Arjun Gupta) fate after the untimely death of his body. After over a season of being mostly separated from the other characters, his death ironically brings him closer to the center of the action and serves as a showcase for Gupta’s talents. Not only that, but the quest for the seven keys starts coming together in a way that fills the season with narrative juice once more.

It’s hard mourning a friend you didn’t know.

The frailty of the bond between Penny and his fellow magicians is dealt with immediately, such as when Julia (Stella Maeve) informs Quentin (Jason Ralph) of the death only to have him break out into laughter. Margo (Summer Bishil) merely bemoans that now they’ll never bang after she learns the new via rabbit, Alice (Olivia Taylor Dudley) is too busy mourning her father to spare much grief for Penny, and Elliot (Hale Appleman) is too busy being trapped in the Library with a group of cannibals to even hear about the passing. Only Kady (Jade Tailor) is truly shaken up, but even she admits that she never really knew Penny – which is exactly how she wanted it. Her attempts at stoicism only cover up her deeper pain, though, and she quickly turns to self-destructive methods to curb it. It’s heartbreaking for Penny to watch her shoot up heroin without being able to help, but thankfully Julia’s mysterious spiritual guide warns her of an impending overdose.

 

But Penny doesn’t have to spend all of “Be the Penny” talking to himself and yelling fruitlessly at his friends. He soon meets another Traveler named Hyman Cooper, who got stuck in his astral projection while being a freaking pervert. While it’s beside the point, I was comforted to hear Penny express disgust at the thought of using his skills to spy on women in the show. We’re proud to stan a feminist! Things go from bad to worse for him when Hyman reveals he has not successfully communicated with anyone for nearly a century. On the bright side, he’s had time to develop his shipping preferences and has chosen Julia and Quentin – a man after my own heart. He breaks down the various characters in a hilariously meta-textual fashion, and poor Alice gets compared to Mrs. Grundy. The best line? “As someone born in 1902, I find a heterosexual white male hero very relatable.” Hopefully this self-burn is a sign that The Magicians will spend more time than than ever on characters not named Quentin. And yet my shipper heart can’t help but squee as Quentin and Julia bond over their childhood love of Fillory books, using them to figure out the location o the second key. On this part we agree, Hyman!

A dynamic with many riches to offer.

Time starts running out for Penny when a Librarian informs the barely-grieving group that Penny’s soul never reported for duty to their Underworld branch. He claims a corpse eater must consume Penny’s corpse – what’s with the cannibalism this week? – before the week is out so that he doesn’t become a vengeful spirit. Kady struggles against this idea, and her conviction that working for the Library in the afterlife is not what Penny wants proves she knows him better than she thinks. Thinking she’s his last hope, Penny demands that Hyram help him find a way to communicate with her – which is where “Be the Penny” comes in. After three excruciating hours, Penny is able to astral project into and control a literal penny, but that’s not going to help him talk to anyone. He next tries one of the magical rabbits, but that only leads to a glimpse into Margo’s impressive plan to subjugate the Fairy Queen and eat (again?!) her heart. Finally, he succeeds in being the Margo-golen – a sex doll of Margo that hasn’t been season since The Magicians‘ first season – but he only gets a beat down from an oblivious Quentin for his trouble.

Penny’s attempts to communicate range from frustrating to hysterical, but there’s still a lot of heart to be found. While he’s screaming at a ghost to say his name in front of Julia and Quentin, all of them are forced to witness said ghost’s tragic death at the hands of his homophobic father. This scene doesn’t just cause pain, though, it also explains where the truth-revealing key is hidden: in a Brakebills board of director’s home, which coincides with Dean Fogg’s (Rick Worthy) quest to keep the school from closing. And so “Be the Penny” balances plot and humor once more, as Quentin tries to pass his sleight of hand off as magic while Julia uses her actual magic to locate and swipe the second key for the quest.

No magic and now no Brakebills.

Meanwhile, Alice and Kady struggle between giving Penny’s body to the corpse eater so he can work for the Library or burning it so he’s free to go to Heaven or become a vengeful spirit at his leisure. Penny hopes Kady wins that argument, but she is so drained from all the wasted effort trying to save his life that she eventually relents and gives up responsibility to Alice. And faced with that horrible future of servitude, Penny summons the will to be the candle and burn his own corpse rather than let it be eaten. The flare up of flames signals to Kady that this was Penny’s choice, which hopefully comes back in future episodes.

It turns out Mrs. McAllister was not impressed with Quentin’s parlor tricks, so The Magicians adds another obstacle in the form of Brakebills closing down due to a lack of funding form the board of directors. But all hope is not lost, because just then Elliot barges in to recount the tale of how he escaped a pack of cannibals by feeding them the illusion of his emotionally abusive father. He then tries the truth key on for size… and sees Penny in the corner. He’s saved! Right? If Julis could restore her shade and Alice could return from being a niffin, there must be a way for Penny to be corporeal once more.