The Magicians, S03/E04: "Be the Penny"

I’ve been clear on my general dislike for Penny, but even a Penny-centric episode of the Magicans is great. In fact, it may be the strongest episode yet.

At this point I have to defend Penny, mostly from my own criticism of him. Penny is a belligerent jerk, but his greatest, most unforgivable sin was destroying Quentin’s one of a kind copy of an unpublished final book in the Fillory and Further series. Not only did that deprive Quentin and the world of a new chapter in a beloved series(the ultimate dread of Game of Thrones fans), but it also was clearly intended as an aid in their fight against the Beast... but that’s the rub, isn’t it? We know Penny is short-tempered because of the constant flood of other people’s thoughts he can’t help but hear, and chief among them was the Beast himself, who Penny thought was his only true friend. I started thinking about this a couple weeks ago after rewatching the first two episodes of the first season. While it has never been stated outright, I have to now assume Penny’s wanton destruction of an irreplaceable book was probably instigated by the Beast.

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So, fine, I’ve talked myself out of hating Penny, and just in time, because he really, really delivered in this episode.

Penny Dead.

Penny is dead, and Julia returns to old habits and hard drugs in her grief. Penny had astrally projected out of his body at the time of its death, so his spirit/self continues to exist on the astral plane (not a ghost, they are different). As Penny’s astral form can’t interact with things and he can’t make his presence known, he leaves Julia in her grief, unable to help her in any way.

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Hey, remember Todd? He shows up, possessed like the homeless lady who gave Julia a message, to give Julia another message. Possessed Todd tells Julia to save Kady, then awakens confused. Of note, there is a beam of golden light shining over him while his eyes are the stark white of the possessed. The scene below was shown from Penny’s point of view, and I believe only he sees this golden light, which will come up again later.

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Julia blasts the knob off the door and uses some magic to stop Kady from dying- looks like Julia’s “minor” magic is pretty useful after all.

Quentin, Julia, and Dean Fogg (and Astral Penny)

Elliot’s retrieval of the first key triggered the appearance of chapter two of the Tales of the Seven Keys, which leads Quentin and Julia to a key from Fillory that may have been brought to Earth by Rupert Chatwin and given to a friend that attended Brakebills. They find the former student’s name and Dean Fogg explains to them that the student either committed suicide or magically exploded- the code is the same for both- and that his dorm was haunted. In the old days, having a ghost on campus was considered unseemly, so the faculty magically sealed and hid the building. With Magic gone, they walk right in to find the ghost of Rupert’s friend.

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Quentin and Julia find the spectral Lance Morrison, and Penny tries to get the ghost, who can see and touch astral beings, to tell them that he is among them, but the ghost is confused and then triggers his loop. Ghosts in this world have unfinished business that they relive again and again. Lance sees his friend, Rupert Chatwin, who gives him the key of truth, showing them both the truth of their feelings for eachother. A ghostly echo of Lance’s father comes in and takes the key, seeing the truth of his gay son and kills him, then the angry shade turns against Quentin and Julia, only to be stopped by Penny. Since ghosts can touch the astral, penny realizes he can fight the ghost and stop it from killing Quentin and Julia. Unfortunately, this ghost is also confused by the message Penny is trying to deliver, arguing that “Penny” isn’t a name instead of just saying the word, and the pair of vulnerable humans hightail it out of the haunted dorm unaware of their friend’s presence.

Watching the ghosts torment, they learn that the key did indeed come to Brakebills, and that Lance Morrison’s mother was a McAllistair.

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The McAllistairs are an old-magic family, among those on the board of Brakebills. Dean Fogg had an encounter with Jaime Ray Newman’s Irene McAllistair in the first episode of the season, and now he brings his students to her home to do some snooping. When they get there, they are surprised to see magic on display as household objects go about the business of dusting and sweeping, and making martinis on demand. Quentin asks for an olive in his. Penny tags along, hoping they can find the key that will make him visible, and from his point of view, all the animated objects- brooms, martini shaker, dusters- have golden glares coming off of them. He follows Julia into the McAllistair library where he sees two more of these golden lights, but leaves before she finds the key.

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When she does pick it up, we see two faeries where the golden lights were, but Julia has her back to them. She puts the key away without becoming aware of any faerie presence.

Penny and Hyman.

First off, the easy but still great joke “Did that mean something different when you were born?” I love that Penny actually questions this instead of just snickering about it.

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Penny finds himself face to face with another traveler, who also happened to be outside of his body when it died and has been forced to exist at Brakebills as a voyeur. This doesn’t seem to bother him too much, since he was a voyeur to begin with- a teleporting peeping tom from the 1920s, Hymen’s classmates “pranked” him by moving his body, trapping him forever in the astral plane when he was unable to find it.

Hyman may be a pervert, but he’s a hilarious character. His creepy voyeurism- which is literally his entire existence for almost a hundred years, so let’s not be too hard on the guy- of the Brakebills students lampshades his status as audience surrogate, as he delivers commentary on their actions and relationships. Hyman tries to teach Penny the only thing he’s learned in the last century, which is that he can’t touch or move things, but he can become things. He teaches Penny to project into a penny, which is not especially useful, since coins don’t have legs, but Penny manages to flip the coin through sheer will. Hyman is shocked and impressed, but warns Penny that more complex objects, like people, are harder to control.

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Margolem!

Penny, unable to make any kind of contact, gets desperate and tries to project into a rabbit, which he saw delivering messages, and eventually finds the Margolem, a golem of living clay that looks like Margo, in Todd’s closet and possesses that. He runs down and warns the gang that the formerly inert Margolem has come to life, and it, with Penny inside, shambles into the room like a zombie and tries to speak, but Quentin freaks out and beats it to a pulp with a stick- another near miss in penny quest to be seen.

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Penny’s body, Kady and Alice.

Throughout Penny’s astral travels, it became known to the Librarians that he died violently, which they believe explains why his soul didn’t show up for work in their afterlife division. Penny signed a billion year contract with the Library, and there is no getting out of that. A Library official tells them that they have seven days to find Penny’s soul before it is lost for eternity, and can accomplish this by eating his body. They don’t have to eat it, the Library employs a corpse eater. This will allow them to claim Penny’s soul and put it back to work.

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Kady consults with Harriet, who says that if they burn the body it will release his soul, but that is working under the assumption that he is a ghost. Penny does not want to work for the Library, which Kady correctly surmises, so after seven days with no hope of helping him not be dead, she decides to burn the body. Alice tries to talk her out of this, being the only person rationally thinking about this problem, and reminding them that a billion years of service is still a lot less than an eternity of being lost, and that the underworld isn’t all that bad, it even has a bowling alley. Alice offers to make the decision for the distraught Kady, but Penny inhabits the candle next to his corpse and forces it to flare and burn his own body.

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Elliot, Fen and Fray.

Elliot, having escaped the pirates on the Muntjac using the first key, ends up in the Neitherlands, which has never been a particularly friendly place. They come across a pair of cannibals who have exhausted all sources of food and toilet paper. Luckily, they figure this out off screen somehow and escape the cannibals. Unluckily, they didn’t figure this out until after Elliot ate someone.

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On the run in the Neitherlands, with no doors in sight, Elliot thinks to use the first key. The priest summoned an illusory shadow bat to terrorize the villagers into worshiping him, the same illusion could distract the cannibals long enough for Elliot to find an entrance into the Library and use his key on a door. Unsurprisingly, this does not go exactly as planned, and Elliot conjures up an illusion of his greatest fear- his own father, a gruff and disapproving man. Elliot, thinking quickly, decides to pit his problems against eachother and makes his escape, putting his magic key into a door and appearing back in his own dorm at Brakebills, where Julia and Quentin welcome him. They tell him they found the Truth Key and he grabs it without a care, saying he can handle a little truth, because this is your High King, people. He looks around, sees nothing interesting and guesses that it doesn’t work on him, then says hi to Penny, who finally has someone who can see him!

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Wait!
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Legerdemain in the Membrane.

  • I noticed the D in the light up TADA sign in the dorm is broken, indicating a lack of upkeep at the magic school with no magic.
  • Two weeks back, the episode aired right after Pirates of the Caribbean. This week, the movie preceding was the Goonies, the final shot of which is a pirate ship sailing off into the sunset. I think there’s a real pirate thing going on.
  • Hyman, being born in 1908, finds Quentin, a heterosexual, white male protagonist, very relatable.
  • I know Hyman is a pervert and peeping tom, but he’s also a fanboy and has been alone and incorporeal for almost a century, I really hope Penny doesn’t just leave him behind. I suspect there may be an out, wherein Penny trades his service contract to the Library to Hyman... but it’s not like Penny has a body to get back to. I don’t know where Penny’s spirit is going to end up.
  • When Hyman was telling Penny about his favorite characters, he says Alice is okay, but lately she’s a real Mrs. Grundy, a reference Penny doesn’t get. I looked it up, it’s really a thing.
  • Julia didn’t tell Quentin about the message from possessed Todd.
  • Todd keeps the Margolem, and everyone is creeped out. He says it’s not like that- he dresses it up and pretends she respects him. I get it.
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Irene.

  • Irene McAllistair claimed that the household enchantments ran on reserve magical energy, stored by her father in reaction to a blackout that occurred when he was younger. I already didn’t buy this, since Lipson’s batteries were treated as a breakthrough. Irene is suspect.
  • Irene came to Brakebills as a friend to Dean Fogg, but with a warning that without magic, the school might close down. I think she’s the wolf in sheep’s clothing, and probably knows that her family enslaved faeries.
  • Lance Morrison’s angry ghost father says that he has been talking out of turn about his mother’s family, the McAllistairs, and that this could ruin them. I think Irene’s family has been breaking laws of magic and nature for generations.
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Faeries and Margo.

  • Last week, the Faerie Queen helped Margo out of her jam with the pirates after seeing what Margo was willing to risk for the Muntjac, showing, for the first time, a side that isn’t pure manipulative monster. She told her “I need you to be a queen.” This week we see faeries who I am betting are bound to the McAllistair home as slaves. I think the Faerie Queen’s end game here is forcing Margo, a human Queen, to release her kind from servitude, but having had bad experiences with humans who have exploited their power, she doesn’t bother asking Margo for help. Now that humans have lost magic, the Faerie Queen is pressing her advantage.
  • Margo learns of Penny’s death via rabbit messenger. She has had enough, and commands Benedict and Tick to grind up a brick from the rooms crafted from a stone that Faeries can’t tolerate and put it in the Faerie Queen’s bath “And when that knocks her on her ass, I’m going to cut out her heart and eat it in front of every god damned faerie asshole in the kingdom” Have I said it yet? ALL HAIL QUEEN MARGO THE DESTROYER. Even Penny is impressed.
  • The gold lights in the McAllistair home are faeries, and there was a gold light shining on Todd as he delivered the warning to Julia. I have to wonder if the faeries are the ones communicating with Julia.
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Alice.

  • Last week, I thought Alice should turn villain, but this week she’s just so defeated. While Quentin is dedicated to continuing the quest, even though magic’s return comes with the risk of his father’s declining health, Alice is resigned to living in a world without magic, believing they aren’t really equipped to handle it.
  • Alice is still grieving the death of her father; she says to Quentin “I loved him, I think.” OOF! That is one sad, broken girl.
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Elliot

  • When Elliot returns to earth with his wife and grown baby, Quentin starts to ask how he came back, but stops mid sentence and runs to him and hugs him. This is why I love Quentin and the show.
  • Elliot’s tale: Elliot did nothing wrong but was chased through the befucked Neitherlands by cannibals anyway. I will immediately being using “befucked” as much as possible.
  • When Elliot, Fen and Fray are running breathlessly from the cannibals, Fen screams “Slow down, I have wooden toes!” I love Fen. I hope she gets her toes back from the faeries.
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Penny.

  • So many great lines, and really great delivery. I just came to terms with Penny in the last week or two, and now was the perfect time for a Penny showcase.
  • I’m still pretty sure he’ll go back to being a dick when he gets back to being some form of alive.
  • “Why is nobody crying? I saved all your asses, so many times! Appreciate me!”
  • I loved when he followed the rabbit to Fillory, not knowing they could do that, and he spills to the floor in the Muntjac near Margo “That was Suuuper-weird! Hey, when did you get this sweet boat? I miss all the cool shit.”
  • I thought Penny, being dead, would go to the underworld to retrieve one of the keys, but since he isn’t bound for there, maybe there is a key on the astral plane somewhere. There has to be a reason for his current state.
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And I’ll leave it at that for now.

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