What’s cooler than being cool? Not being an ice cold corpse, that’s what. But being an astral projection has to count for something, right? There might be no coming back from this one for Penny.
So yeah, Penny’s not dead. But I mean, if you don’t have a body, and you’re just an astral projection, what does that make you? Not appreciated apparently, as far as Penny is concerned. The gang isn’t really sure how to react to Penny dying. Meanwhile, reduced to a projection, Penny does all he can do: he zaps about from place to place, looking for a way to fix himself. On his travels, he bumps into Eliot and family in the Neitherlands, breaking camp with a bunch of cannibals who seem to have eaten the last of the Librarians. He finds Margot sailing back to Whitespire just as Quentin and the gang send an interdimensional-bunny message her way about Penny’s passing.
Just as Penny is about to ghost out for good, Kady nearly dies of some mystery ailment. Julia barely gets to her in time, only thanks to some bizarre magical message. Right about then, someone new pops on the scene, and they can see Penny. It’s Brakebills not so infamous “Pervert Ghost”, a guy who got stuck on the astral plane in 1920 after someone moved his body while he was peeping on people without their consent. Apparently, he’s been watching the gang’s adventures with rapt interest, like a real audience-insert character. He even ships Qulia.
A small catch pops into the mix. Penny is pledged to work for the Library for eternity. That means in death too. Some Librarian from their “Underworld” department pays the Brakebills gang a visit to say that Penny hasn’t stopped in for work yet. Which means his soul hasn’t passed on. Because Librarians think of everything, they have a way of sucking unwilling souls into the Underworld: a magical creature called a corpse eater which… well, you know. Kady’s considering burning his body, rather than giving his soul over to eternal servitude. Now the clock is ticking as to how much longer Penny’s body will still be floating around.
Q and Julia are still on their search for the next key. They know that there’s a “key” in Fillorian lore, previously owned by a wartime friend of Rupert Chatwin. Luckily, the friend actually attended Brakebills himself. Q and Julia track down the key to a buried, haunted dormitory on campus. Rupert’s friend is still hanging around as a ghost… who can also see Penny. He tries to get him to say his name aloud, to let Q and Julia know he’s in the room, but to no avail. His next best bet: if Q and Julia find the next key, there’s a chance its magic could reveal that he’s still around. With Dean Fogg’s help, Julia tracks down the key, but not before Kady burns Penny’s body.
Good news though, Eliot and family make it out of the Neitherlands with all their bits and pieces thanks to their magic key, and are reunited on Earth with Q and Jules. They trade stories and show Eliot their key. While the Fillory key seemed to create Illusions, this new key is supposed to reveal the truth. Hence why Eliot spots astral Penny in the corner the moment he lays his fingers on it.
I want to applaud this episode for blending so many personal moments with SO much plot. A million little developments zipped by in this episode, and we still got to have some one-on-one time with our favorite characters.
Firstly, I had to appreciate the variety of reactions amongst the gang to Penny’s passing. As much as Penny’s disappointment in the lack of hysterical grieving became a running gag, it felt grounded. Not only was he a hard character to like, but he only ever grew close to Kady. It would be hard to expect any more.
Alice really shined this episode. Her talk with Quentin questioning whether magic should really be brought back or not was a fantastic moment. As much as Quentin has recognized that he—like many magicians—took magic for granted, he hasn’t really stopped to look at the mess he made with magic before it was taken away. He and the others have rushed headlong into this quest to get magic back. But what will be the consequences?
Through Penny’s eyes, each character was highlighted in a new refreshing way. It was great to see Penny respecting Margot’s backbone and authority as Fillorian Queen, as so many of us in the audience have done through the seasons. I loved bringing in Eliot’s homophobic dad as an Illusion of the magic key when they attempted to use it to open a door out of the Neitherlands.
As ever, I just wish we could linger more on some of these more grounding moments. These characters really shine when we see where they started and how much they’ve changed since coming to Brakebills. I worry that The Magicians might soon suffer the same fate as Supernatural and other shows that typically lived to see too long of a shelf life. The writers in the room get so excited to introduce so many new chapters to the show’s life, that the show’s history gets completely buried. And with that, so do the characters. If you don’t call back to a character’s arc in some meaningful way through a season, they start to become caricatures.
The next key lies in Fillory, and now we have our gang nearly back together. Are we finally going to get our epic Fillorian quest?