Okay, let's just lay this out there right now. The Magicians Season 4 Episode 7 is the episode that I never knew that I needed.
I have always considered The Magicians an ensemble show, but "The Side Effect" takes those characters that don't get a lot of play and puts them front and center.
The set-up is quite perfect. Reconnecting with Underworld Penny right now feels perfect after seeing The Magicians Season 4 Episode 6. After giving Penny-23 the okay to live in his timeline, it's hard to imagine what Penny would be doing, especially since he seemed so determined to find a way out last season.
Seeing him in a role that he's enjoying and in which he's thriving feels like a great nod to this version of a character in which we are so invested. Arjun Gupta delivers all of his monologues seamlessly and without being preachy. It's clear that Penny has an agenda, and that he wants to teach Derek something, but it's not heavy-handed.
Even when Derek tries to provoke him talking about being one emotional crisis away from a psychotic break, he's calm and tells him to keep reading. The calmness that Gupta portrays in Penny gives him an air of wisdom that fits the character.
Penny gives Derek three stories: Zelda's, Margot's, and Fen's, and while they could have easily been writing as separate chunks with thinly veiled connections between them, two of the three influence each other a lot, and introduce a whole new thread into the season.
When we get halfway through a season, and it feels like a show is burning through its plot, I always wonder how they will inject something new. The Magicians has never failed to serve up new plots continually, and this is no exception.
In many ways, it feels like "The Side Effect," is a similar take on The Magicians Season 3 Episode 8, "Six Short Stories About Magic." Events take place in different points of view, but in the end serve to drive the plot forward.
It is especially fitting when you consider one of the thread picked up is Harriet's death, which occurred on "Six Short Stories About Magic" when the mirror bridge shattered.
I have been wanting to hear more about Zelda and Harriet's relationship since then and seeing Zelda genuinely heartbroken over Harriet's death filled that desire. Even if the attempt to rescue Harriet from the mirror universe seemed like a tangent to introduce the idea of the trackers, it still felt relevant.
Remember, Harriet was always warning the Brakebills students about The Library. She grew up there. She knows what they are holding and what they're gatekeeping. It was one of the things she and Zelda fought about. So if Zelda would flip against The Library, it makes sense that it would be, in part, because of her daughter.
Zelda's meeting with Alice towards the end of her story feels like another redemption arc getting introduced. The fact that both Alice's and Zelda's would converge on similar trajectories feels natural, especially when you consider that interest Zelda took in Alice during The Magicians Season 4 Episode 1.
As the writers unpack this point a little more, it wouldn't surprise me if Zelda talks about how Alice and Harriet are similar in some ways.
Plus, I won't lie, I am pulling for Harriet to be alive, mostly because I want to see Marlee Matlin come back to the cast.
Zelda's story directly ties into Kady's. Kady is an exciting choice for this episode, because, much like Derek, I don't think of Kady as a side character at all. She's been there since the beginning, but unlike the others, her path wasn't straight through Brakebills and diverged a little.
Kady's insecurity about only being in this group because of Penny feels warranted.
To be honest, I hadn't realized exactly how much Kady's storyline rested on the actions of others.
In The Magicians Season 1, she went to Brakebills to spy for Marina. She became friends with Julia by the end of the season and ended up helping her find a way through her trickster god pregnancy and abortion. She stood by Penny while he was dying from his magical cancer, but once he died, she retreated again.
Kady's had her moments, and she's facilitated a lot of good things for the Brakebill's students but she has never had an arc that drives her forward as a character, and it's about time she got one.
Her time as Sam seems to have helped her find a way that she can both be useful and do something that fulfills her. The detective skills she had as a member of the police force feel natural for her character, and the way she slides right into investigating the hedgewitch deaths couldn't be smoother.
Kady's impassioned speech as she rallies all the hedgewitches together also feels natural. Given this character's roots, she would stand up for the outcasts; she would champion them. With her lawful, good alignment, she would also make sure they were smart about how they moved forward.
This entire plot with the hedgewitches against The Library feels like a much-needed thread for the new season. As much as Eliot and The Monster are entertaining to watch constantly killing gods would get tiresome going into the next season, and I am not entirely sure how many more organs they need for the body.
The hedgewitches verses the gatekeepers of knowledge feels like a story that can flow into the season finale and set up for another conflict going into The Magicians Season 5.
The third plot that comes up on "The Side Effect," is Fen who is having premonitions in the form of dreams.
This storyline feels a little disconnected to the rest but does serve to move the cure for the talking animals' plot forward just a smidge. Moreso than narrative structure, it also pushes Fen into an active role.
She's primarily been Eliot's wife or The Knifemaker's Daughter, and while she has a fantastic personality, she doesn't always get to exercise it beyond comic relief.
Setting Fen off on a quest is a great way to utilize her character, and if it serves to change Fillory in the process, even better.
The last major plot point of this episode is Penny's promotion. The Magicians handles the reveal that Derek is a supervisor effortlessly, turning the expectation that Derek is a newcomer on its head with a few sentences.
Chris Brochu leans right into the white, cis, heterosexual male stereotype at the start of the episode that when he says that he's Penny's supervisor and that this is a test, it's genuinely shocking. Even more so when Derek tells Penny that he passed and has gotten promoted to collecting secrets taken to the grave.
The final frame is a fantastically frustrating cliffhanger where Penny is welcoming someone he knows into The Underworld. The question is who could it be? He seemed way too calm and collected for it to be any of our main characters. But, let's see, who do you think it is?
What was your favorite storyline in "The Side Effect?" Are you excited to see where this story goes? Watch The Magicians online to see this episode again.
Lauren Busser is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.