This The Magicians review contains spoilers.
The Magicians Season 3 Episode 4
“Be the Penny” has everything a good episode of The Magicians should have: plenty of pathos, a healthy dose of self-referential humor, and just the right amount of unexpectedness. Arjun Gupta has always delivered a wonderfully sardonic performance as Penny, and to see the consequences of his general disdain in the past is entertaining in the extreme. As the quest for the keys continues, it’s encouraging to realize the show can still surprise us with details like each of the keys having different powers or, of course, the amazing ending.
But let’s start with the troubling yet understandable fact that no one would mourn Penny. Alice and even Quentin, despite his half-hearted eulogy, could be forgiven, but Kady’s indifference was a huge red flag for the danger she would soon encounter. Benedict’s characterization of Penny as his best friend put an ironic spin on everyone else’s insistence that they barely knew him, but the pièce de résistance was Margo’s response: “I guess I thought someday we were gonna bang,” and Penny’s, “Me, too, girl; me, too.” Perfect!
Back to Kady, though. Her drug habit has at times been too easily dismissed by magic, but whenever she’s actually in the clutches of addiction it feels frighteningly real. Her retreat into her room after finding a secret stash of heroin and preparing to shoot up with Penny watching was especially spine-chilling. She might not have cried profusely at Penny’s death as he and we might have expected, but any confusion at her initial stoicism was immediately made terrifyingly clear.
Thank goodness Julia was there to… wait, there was that cloudy-eyed visitor again, telling her, “Help her now, you’re the only one who can!” The Magicians may be drawing out the mystery of Julia’s mysterious visitor and her tenuous hold on magic, but her link to the divine is starting to take shape in wondrous ways, and the pace of her unfolding story is just where it needs to be. Meanwhile, she’s also able to cast the location spell to find the second key in the McAllister home.
Speaking of which, were those fairy prisoners in the background operating the supposedly enchanted household items? Talk about a subtle but very important revelation! The story of Lance Morrison and Rupert Chatwin and the history of the McAllister family added a much needed dimension to the history of Brakebills, which has had to take a back seat to Fillory since season 1. Irene’s threat to close down the school is almost secondary to the sordid history of her family.
The real genius of the episode, however, came in the form of the third person observation of the story by both Penny and his reluctant astral guide, Hyman Cooper. Great fun was had listening to Hyman share his favorite ‘ships and observations about personality quirks; he pretty much became the voice of the fans in those moments. But Penny also brilliantly tied the stories together by jumping around from place to place. From the Neitherlands, where Eliot and company were running from cannibals, to the Muntjac, where he admired Margo talking about eating the fairy queen’s heart, he really got a good cross section of the story so far.
Topping it off were the shocking scenes at the end. Most viewers probably assumed that Penny would find a way to get back into his body before the corpse eater could arrive or Kady could burn his body. The struggle between Alice and Kady to make the fateful decision was thrillingly awful enough, but Penny frantically developing the ability to influence his surroundings and finally jumping into the candle to set his own corpse on fire — wow! He must really not want to be beholden to the Order. But what does he do now?
After all that, to end the episode with Eliot using the key to return to the Physical Kids’ house and offhandedly notice Penny by virtue of the key’s truth-revealing powers was enough to make any viewer jump out of their seat and loudly shout, “HA!” in unbridled joy at the surprise. So even though there were some weak spots (for example, the cannibal plotline was necessarily but noticeably marginalized), the overall complexity and an explosively good ending make this another top notch episode of The Magicians, keeping season 3 on a really solid track.