Apologies for missing out on recounting the misadventures the characters went on in last weeks episode “The Losses of Magic”, for it was a delightful installment of the series. The big takeaway however, was Penny’s believed (pretty real) death that left in the inbetween world after he’s as astral projected his soul from his body.
As the rare episode that focuses on Arjun Gupta’s traveler Penny, “Be the Penny” is a remarkably clever hour of television with a last minute sucker punch that is unfathomably satisfying. Not a show that has relied heavily on shock value and flipping the script of what we’ve come expect from fantasy series, this is a highly intelligent series because it understands when to give and take.
Finding himself in an in between world with his only company being that of a Brakebills pervert who died while trying to peep on girls in the showers, he’s caught in an astronomically tricky position, being able to watch his friends grieve (or not) over his death while being unable to do anything to get their attention. He can’t even die properly as he’s been separated from his body. It’s a demonstration of The Magicians playing on both its strengths as a series in its ability to shake up its own basic structure while also adding refreshingly new elements with a confidence that can only be found in a series that truly understands what it is trying to accomplish and elicit from its audience.
Here are three reasons why “Be The Penny” succeeded to such a degree. ,
The unusual reliance on the titular character
Penny has always behaved as a foil to the rest of the characters, a true blue support system to a lot of different leads and as such, the show hasn’t always known what to do with him. In most cases that opposites attract basic nature of the character works marvelously against the likes of Quentin, Kady or Eliot since despite the fact that he is quite literally the most untethered from reality, he is the ground presence. He brings a sense of nonchalant humanity and humor to proceedings to make the characters as a whole feel enriching and relateable, no matter how otherworldly the hijinks. In “Be The Penny” he finally gets the chance to take center stage with a storyline deserving of Gupta’s considerable amount of charisma. There are a lot of winning lines here, from his dissatisfaction regarding his friends lack of response to his “same girl, same” to Margo’s teary eyed response to his death being that she thought one day they’d “bang” (and what a ship that would be) but his undercurrent of melancholy is what sells the humor. He’s determined to reach his friends, to end Kady’s spiralling of self-destruction and his increasing level of frustration makes his desperation feel real while also being hilarious.
That cut to him being in the actual penny was pure joy.
There are real stakes
We spend the entirety of the episode thinking that no matter the situation he’s found himself in he no doubt will end the episode safe and returned to his body but the characters odds continue to worsen as the hour goes on. And rather than feeling as if we’re simply being toyed with before optimism kicks back in, we actually buy into the hopelessness of the situation. And it pays off. By the end of the episode, Penny isn’t saved, his soul hasn’t even been condemned to the library for an eternity – instead, he’s as aimless as ever, stuck in a hellish purgatory of his own making where he can’t interact with anyone he cares about ever again, no matter his determination.
It surprises you
Of course, all seems lost until just the last second, that final kicker that is the perfect ending and lead into next week’s episode. Eliot, having been on his own journey for the majority of the episode, facing down cannibals with his wife and daughter and then feeding an apparition of his father to said cannibals (Hale Appleman’s delivery of it being a cathartic moment is one of the best one liners of the series), he finally makes it back to Brakebills intact. After a lovely reunion he grabs ahold of the truth key, believes it doesn’t work, turns, see’s Penny and off handedly acknowledges him. In a delayed response Penny realizes what has happened and leaps to his feet, shouting for Eliot to wait before putting the key down, and the episode ends just like that. It’s a miracle of a punchline, one that had been built upon since the very few moments as every character and every decision is purposefully and effortlessly brought to this point. It is the perfect ending to one of the best episodes the series has done to date.