The world of magic grows bigger even as there’s little magic in it during The Magicians Season 3 Episode 4.
“Be The Penny” is probably one of the most interesting episodes to date. In a matter of 42 minutes, the show crammed in an admirable amount of plot development without overwhelming the audience. At the same time, it also took steps to ensure viewers understood the mechanics of what was happening.
That is often a tricky balance for storytellers, especially for series featuring casts as large as that on The Magicians. And yet the writers managed to feature every character, address a shift in their plot or character development, expand the universe, and explain how the heck aspects of the universe work near effortlessly.
The episode begins at almost the exact spot where The Magicians Season 3 Episode 3 ended: with Penny on his deathbed. Thus begins Penny’s journey into an astral projection in between where he is not only faced with trying to keep his body from being destroyed but getting someone to notice at least part of him is still alive.
In addition to granting us some quality Penny content, we met Hyman, a former Brakebills student who has primarily been around campus since the 1920s. Known as a school creep and peeper, Hyman’s classmates moved his body to make a point, sentencing him to a century of invisible, bodiless roaming.
Hyman’s appearance and the idea that there very well could be students still roaming Brakebills — both known and unknown — was a pleasant and apt surprise.
It also comes in handy for Penny, who can’t interact with anything, but needs to figure out how to get his friends’ attention before his body gets handed over to a corpse eater or Kady burns it.
Penny gets a lot of rather funny but well written moments this episode as he navigates this dilemma. The sequence of “Damns” as he realizes all the things he can’t do is an amusing montage that helps establish the limitations and boundaries of his new existence.
We also have Hyman who is mostly a dartboard of concepts for the audience to grasp. He provides viewers a bunch of different ways Penny can attempt to make himself known while also forcing the show to establish what it means to astral project without a body.
The near fourth-wall breaking that Hyman offers through his fannish responses to the Brakebills crew is also right in line with the things I love about The Magicians approach to storytelling.
I did have one issue with Penny’s storyline. While watching him try to grapple with his death, I was somewhat startled by the lack of response from everyone else. It is not to say that some of the shot comedy wasn't really good (it was).
It is also not to say that I think Penny had the greatest relationship with these people or to ignore the ways their various traumas may have impacted their response to an emotionally challenging issue. Quentin does after all awkwardly laugh.
But I, like Penny, certainly thought his death was more significant or deeper than how the show portrayed it — especially given all the poetic mourning over the loss of magic. Excusing Kady’s response, Fogg, Julia, Quentin, and even Alice (until the very end) have somewhat underwhelming reactions.
Eliot, of course, doesn’t know (hence why he gets the grand reveal at episode’s end), but Margo — who I feel spent significantly less screen time with Penny — managed to shed a (rather hilarious) tear.
I appreciate the acknowledgment that this group is sort of a forced, ragtag team and that in The Magicians universe bonds are often forged as much from mutual care as they are mutual interest in simply not dying.
I also appreciate the subtle nod to the fact that some characters in a 13-episode season don’t get to be developed as much as they should be.
But outside of Alice who wanted to grant Penny mercy (even if it was misguided) and Kady, who essentially told us that no one knows Penny before wanting to die without him, the response felt comedic without pulling everyone's emotional response strings together.
Quentin’s faced losing his father. Alice just lost her father, lost her brother and confronted her own death head on. Julia has seen plenty of people die, violently, and was visibly shaken then. Dean Fogg probably has a running list of experienced deaths.
For everything that these folks have dealt with daily, death should bother them even if the who doesn’t. The momentary ambivalence (and casual continuation) was a running episodic joke, but I’m not sure it landed well in terms of everyone’s characterization.
It certainly did concerning plot development though as it gave Penny screen time to work out his issues and let everyone else carry on with their plot lines.
The latter includes the exceptional interaction between a malevolent ghost and Julia and Quentin in an old deserted wing of Brakebills. First I loved realizing there were parts of Brakebills even the magical kids didn't know about. It's that Scooby-Doo gang stuff I love.
And while I’m not entirely sure why Julia and Quentin weren’t more curious about the weird breaks in the ghosts’ memory cycles, the step proved quite fruitful for their broader mission.
After Quentin and Julia realize the next key mission will require a team up from them, they semi-manipulate Dean Fogg into helping them get to the McCallister family, both old money donors, and relatives of the key owner.
In a nice twist, Quentin is the one who pretends to have magic (confirming Fogg remains on the outs). As for Julia, she's allowed to acquire the key by doing basic magic and poking around the woman’s mansion.
They do eventually find their key, but they are unsuccessful in Dean Fogg’s mission of saving Brakebills. There’s a lot going on and so that ends up seeming like one of the smaller things on their ever-growing list of problems.
But honestly? It’s not. We have no idea what it will mean to see Brakebills broken up and sold off. Can the school even re-manifest if the crew doesn’t manage to bring back magic in time?
Off in Fillory, Eliot is dealing with cannibals and his greatest fear: his father. I appreciated the few scenes Penny got to spend in the Neitherlands, and both laughed and squirmed at Penny’s desperate pleas for Eliot to not eat a human being.
The trip, which was emotionally eventful and gratifying for Eliot, has resulted in the High King’s return to Brakebills. Which probably means he’ll be teaming up with someone or at least be somewhat part of the next key's mission. I’m eager to see what grouping comes out of their next challenge.
Margo and Alice had smaller moments this week, but I loved Alice’s defense of not getting magic back. It helped nail the messages of Season 3 Episode 3’s storylines.
I also quietly relished Margo’s promise to eat the Fairy Queen’s heart out. Heart eating doesn’t seem so great, but fierce is such a good look on Margo.
Some afterthoughts: Now that Penny’s body is gone, how will his existence on the show continue? I sort of liked him popping around, but no one could see him until Eliot used the key. This seems like it could lead to a really great and new format for telling one character’s story.
I’m also interested in seeing how Kady does. I imagine The Magicians doesn’t plan to keep Penny invisible for long, so how is she going to respond after having unknowingly watched him burn his own body?
I'm pretty sure this is the first time either Eliot's wife or his daughter have been outside of Fillory. I'd love to see their reactions to our world in the next episode.
The Margo-lum death was a lot, slightly horrifying, and uncomfortably hilarious. It was also a genius way to tie up a loose plot thread.
As for the episode's ending, it was creatively perfect. The sudden cut-off was funny enough it lessened my anxiety and shock over its cliffhanger elements, but gave us enough that I could be satisfied until The Magicians Season 3 Episode 5.
If you have thoughts about The Magicians' latest episode "Be The Penny," comment below! And if you haven't caught up, you can watch The Magicians online.
Abbey White is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.