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Behind the Masks: Penny Dreadful s3 e2, Review & Recap “Predators Far and Near”

Spoilers
Most Dreadful

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“Predators Far and Near,” the second episode of Showtime’s third season of its horror classic Penny Dreadful, created and written by John Logan, once again showed us that every character wears  a mask in order to get what he most desires. From Sir Malcolm’s Apache guide Kaetenay to Ethan Chandler, from Dorian Gray to Lily and Victor Frankenstein, from Vanessa to Dr. Steward and Dr. Sweet, everyone wears a mask to hide his evil and his secrets. And, as expected, it’s when the characters take off those masks that we viewers get the frights and the shudders.

Dorian & Lily

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In season 1, the storyline of Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney) was virtually completely separate from those of the other characters. Though Dorian and Vanessa (Eva Green) had some interactions, one of them sexual, Dorian existed at the fringes of the major story: that of Vanessa, Sir Malcolm, and Ethan Chandler hunting the Creatures that had kidnapped Sir Malcolm’s daughter Mina. Dorian’s story, disconnected as it was — and unfamiliar to viewers who had not read Oscar Wilde’s novel The Picture of Dorian Gray — was confusing, to say the least.

This confusion was eliminated in season 2 when Dorian began a relationship with the transgendered Angelique (Jonny Beauchamp), then revealed his innate cruelty when he virtually abandoned his live-in love Angelique for Lily (Billie Piper). Dorian’s previous connection with Lily was when he hired the consumptive prostitute Brona — Lily’s identity before Victor Frankenstein killed her and re-animated her as a Bride for his Creature. When Lily revealed that she remembered her previous life, that she was filled with rage against men, and that she was attracted to Dorian because of his dark side, Dorian’s story became more integral to the other events in the show.

Now, with this episode, Dorian and Lily have moved to center stage, where they jointly commit atrocities. Last night, dressed in evening finery, the two of them went into a cellar, where the Bouncer informed them there would be some “butchery.” Dorian replied, with a smile, “I believe that’s what I paid for.” In the cellar, Dorian and Lily sat in a circle of  well-dressed, upper-class men, for a “show” which appeared to be a sort of “snuff film” in the flesh. A masked man brought in a naked, bound prostitute, who may have been slightly drugged. As the masked man picked up a whip to torture the girl, Dorian and Lily sprang into action, killing not only the masked man, but every one of the gentleman at the show. Dorian used a pistol and Lilly used a knife. It was gruesome but thrilling in a scary way. Then Lily walked up to the nude girl and said, “Now you are mine.”

Yowza!

What did these two have in mind?

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They took the girl — Justine — home to Dorian’s house, where Lily is living, and the young girl awoke in a magnificent bed, wearing a silk gown. When she went downstairs, she was a bit confused, wary, and overwhelmed by the beauty of her surroundings as well as by the cultured beauty and manners of Dorian and Lilly. It was Lily who told Justine (Jessica Barden) that they are going to seek revenge-retribution for all the men “with two bob” who made the girl “kneel” to them for sexual service.

Ah, Lily’s complaint from last season, in her tirade to Frankenstein’s Creature.

Lily has a lot of anger issues, there’s no doubt about that. Instead of talk-therapy, however, she plans to use violence to make herself — and the girl-prostitue Justine — feel better. That’s right up Dorian’s alley. I mean, this is a man who killed his transgender lover Angelique after she discovered his hidden portrait, which revealed that he is an aged, ugly “monster” inside, i.e., morally, and in the portrait, while he remains young and beautiful on the outside.

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Dorian rarely takes off his mask, but with Lily, he doesn’t have to: she seems to see beneath it. That makes him more comfortable with her than with any other woman he’s been with. And it makes him a perfect foil for the rage-filled, murderous Brona-turned-Lily.

I’m not sure why they need the girl to go on a killing spree, if that’s what they intend to do, but Lily told the girl that they will have a “monumental revenge” before kissing her like a lover.

Sir Malcolm, Kaetenay,
Ethan Chandler, and Inspector Rusk

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Continuing the plot line introduced in the premiere of season 3, Sir Malcolm (Timothy Dalton) has joined with an Apache named Kaetenay (Wes Studi), who claims that both he and Malcolm are surrogate fathers to Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett). As said fathers, they are morally obligated to rescue him from Inspector Rusk the Intrepid, who extradited Ethan to America,

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as well as to rescue Ethan from the brigands who, on Ethan’s father’s orders, kidnapped him in order to return him to his family home: The Talbot Range.

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Last week, viewers were left with the impression that Kaetenay had Ethan’s best interests at heart. In episode two, however, after Kaetenay has a vision — he actually summoned the vision — we learned that a fierce antipathy exists between Ethan and Kaetenay, at least on Ethan’s part. Kaetenay reached out to Ethan in the vision, found him in the New Mexico Territory desert, and Ethan attacked him.

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We know Ethan doesn’t like his biological father, whom we have never seen, but who is always sending Pinkertons after Ethan, but it was a surprise to learn that, even in the vision, Ethan reacted violently to Kaetenay’s presence and attacked him. Kaetenay never revealed this to Sir Malcolm. Instead, he continued wearing his “Wise Old Man” mask, and told Malcolm simply that Ethan was aware that they were coming.

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Considering the fact that, in the vision, Ethan fought with Kaetenay and threatened to kill him, we were left wondering what secrets Kaetanay is keeping from Sir Malcolm. And why Kaetenay needs Sir Malcolm’s help “rescuing” Ethan. After all, Kaetenay seems an adequate warrior, as demonstrated when he helped Sir Malcolm defeat the bandits who attacked him. Kaetenay has the further ability to not only see Ethan far away in New Mexico, but to communicate with Ethan.

Ethan did not welcome Kaetenay in his vision.

He threatened to kill Kaetenay if he shows up in person.

Kaetenay did not reveal that to Sir Malcolm.

More masks.

More secrets.

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Meanwhile, in the American Southwest, Ethan is simply biding his time, waiting for the moon to turn full, when he now realizes he will turn into a Wolf-Man, so that he can indiscriminately kill anyone around him. Since he’s made it clear since his capture that he knew it was only a matter of a few days or weeks until the full moon caused his transformation, Ethan hasn’t seemed unduly distressed by his captivity. Last night, the full moon came out, Ethan changed into the Wolf, and killed virtually everyone in the place where his captors were buying supplies.

Virtually everyone.

In a surprise move, the Witch Hecate helped Ethan.

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Hecate (Sarah Greene) was shown eavesdropping on Rusk the Intrepid as he told US Marshals that he was the one who was going to recapture Ethan Chandler, whom he calls by his biological name, Lawrence Ethan Talbot. (The name is an homage to the 1941 Wolfman film which starred Lon Chaney Jr. as Lawrence Talbot [below], as is the makeup designed for Ethan’s character in Penny Dreadful.)

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Though Ethan doesn’t appear to be able to control himself when he is on a rampage as the Wolf, he did not attack Hecate, who appeared in her Witch/NightComer guise as she helped him kill the people in the trading post. When the two of them came together at the end of the scene, Ethan-as-the-Wolf stopped before her. And she gazed up at him, mask-free, scarred and naked, and said she’d missed him.

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Very romantic.

But has she missed him because she’s drawn to Ethan’s dark side or because she wants to use him to get to Vanessa? After all, Ethan is the Lupus Dei — the Hound (or the Wolf) of God — who protects Vanessa. And Hecate is the daughter of the murdered NightComer Evelyn Poole, who was attempting to ensnare Vanessa for the Master, Lucifer.

Hecate and Ethan may seem to have faced each other without their masks, but Hecate seems to have more than a couple masks.

Watch out, Ethan

I’m guessing, considering Ethan’s curse, it should also be, Watch out, Hecate.

Frankenstien, Jekyll,
and company

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Poor Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadawway, above R).

For a man who brings dead people back to life, he sure has crumbled emotionally after losing his lover Brona-turned-Lilly to Dorian Gray. Victor can’t eat, can’t sleep, can’t get off the morphine. And now he’s working with Dr. Jekyll (Shazad Latif, above L) on a way to “tame” Lilly.

As if…

Snort.

In a super-cool plot complication, the casting directors of Penny Dreadful used a British-Indian actor, so he gets to rant and rage about whites viewing him only by his skin color — “once a Wog, always a Wog” — and about his being an unaccepted “half-breed,” as well as permitting his character to make other political comments about British Imperialism while appearing only to be railing about racism and his selfish, white, rich, British father (who abandoned his “exotic whore” Indian mother).

Jekyll revealed last night that he works at Bedlam, not being welcome at any other British medical institution. At Bedlam, home to the most violent, crazed, and forgotten mental patients, who are treated like prison inmates, he gets to perform experiments on them. I’ve read Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde many times, and I was still creeped out by the fact that, in Penny Dreadful, Dr. Jekyll is experimenting on mental patients rather than only on himself.

Excellent writing, Mr. Logan.

Excellent socio-political commentary woven into Jekyll’s character.

Jekyll wants to put the mask of cultivated, tamed, controlled, civilized society on the most rabid and violently dangerous patients-criminals.

Victor, who helps him inject a violent, crazed criminal, and who witnesses the transformation from violent to civilized, wants to do that to Lilly.

Oh, if only he’d read the book…

Danger, Victor Frankenstein, Danger.

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To make matters worse, the love-sick Victor is stalking Lilly, sitting on a bench outside Dorian Gray’s house and watching her in her bedroom. She sees him and comes down to confront him.

Lilly warns Victor to go away, telling him that he will not like what she is becoming. We know Victor’s not going to listen to that: he wants to have Lilly-with-her-mask back in his arms and his bed again.

Despite the fact that Lilly took off her mask and told him that she is not the woman he thinks, that she is dangerous, that he would not like her, and that she is not in any way interested in him, Victor still did not get the message.

She’s taken off her mask several times.

But Victor is too blighted with unrequited love to see anything other than his unrealistic, romantic vision of her.

Much heartache and damage ahead for this fellow.

Vanessa Ives,
Dr Seward, and Dr. Sweet

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Poor, unlucky-in-love Vanessa (Eva Green, above, bottom).

The girl simply cannot win.

Despite the fact that she thinks she is filled with evil, she really tries to be a good person. Most of the time, anyway.

Like when she’s not seducing her best friend’s fiancé on the eve of the wedding.

And when she’s not setting Sir Geoffrey’s hounds on him to kill him as revenge for his burning the Cut-Wife at the stake.

This season, Vanessa has entered therapy: it’s a “new science,” and I’m not sure what name it’s called. In any event, Dr. Seward, who has already admitted to being related to the Joan Clayton (Cut-Wife) family, pushes Vanessa to discuss things “beyond murder.”

Like sin.

She’s recording all Vanessa’s sessions. Ostensibly, so she’ll save herself time taking notes. But really so that, behind her back and without her knowledge, her secretary Renfield can listen to the sessions and report back to his new Master, Dracula.

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Dr. Seward (Patti LuPone) did something beyond-strange in last night’s episode: at the end of the session, after Vanessa had her “homework” — to do something that gives her pleasure — and had left the office, Dr. Seward began to weep.

What on earth?

But perhaps that is, indeed, a mask Dr. Seward is wearing.

Perhaps she is more than “related” to Joan Clayton, the Cut-Wife who was burned at the stake for being a Witch.

Perhaps, at the last moment, as the flames engulfed her, the Cut-Wife learned that she did value life more than she’d realized.

Perhaps she finally made a bargain with the Devil.

To deliver Vanessa.

I can’t think of any other reason for a therapist to weep.

Something is going on behind that mask of hers.

I’m almost afeard to know exactly what it is.

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To find some pleasure, Vanessa (Eva Green) returned to the Natural History Museum, where she once again encountered the rather self-centered milquetoast Dr. Alexander Sweet (Christian Camargo). Once again, he forgot her name.

How many times, I wondered, is this man going to forget the name of a woman who is startlingly unusual looking, given the standards of the time period, and who is clever, articulate, and intelligent?

Vanessa invited him out for a “show” about Captain Nemo, whom Sweet had revealed as one of his childhood heroes. He seemed to enjoy himself. When she asked him to join her for coffee afterward, he declined. Then he kissed her hand, vowing that he would never forget her name again.

Talk about mixed messages.

And Vanessa keeps coming back.

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I’ve known from his character’s introduction last week that Dr. Sweet had some secret. Creator-writer John Logan is far too talented and careful to introduce a character that is a throw-away. So, it was just a matter of time until we discovered Sweet’s secret.

Until he took off his mask.

In one of most astounding reveals ever, Sweet took off his mask at the conclusion of last night’s episode.

To the viewers, not to Vanessa.

When Renfield returned to Dracula’s lair with information about Vanessa, Dracula — also known as The Master by the Lost Boys, who are following Vanessa all around the city — rewarded Renfield with some of the Master’s blood. As Renfield greedily lapped up blood from Dracula’s proffered wrist, the camera pulled up and back, revealing Dracula, who let his head fall back.

Holy Wooden Stake, Batman!

Dracula is none other than Dr. Alexander Sweet.

Talk about dropping a mask.

This milquetoast who can’t remember Vanessa’s name is the Master of Darkness on earth: Dracula?

That means he can, in fact, remember her name, because he’s been hunting her.

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So, how did she just happen to end up at his museum?

Dr. Seward told Vanessa, at the end of their first session, to do something she’d never done before, and she went into the museum, where she met Dr. Sweet. Then, at the end of the next session, Seward told Vanessa to do something that would make her happy: she returned to the museum, reconnected with Dr. Sweet, asked him out for the evening, and asked him for coffee, though he declined the latter.

All this leads to many questions. Is Dr. Seward somehow connected to Dr. Sweet? He appears to be well-established at the musem, but viewers now know he is Dracula. If Dr. Seward is the Cut-Wife, Joan Clayton, did the Cut-Wife promise this Master the soul of Vanessa Ives in return for her own life? Wouldn’t the Cut-Wife have made a bargain with the Lucifer, who is the other Master in the show, reigning over Hell while his cast-out brother, Dracula, reigns on earth?

Much dropping of masks in “Predators Far and Near.”

Much shivery and shuddery happenings, my Lovelies.

Be afeard.

Related Posts

All the Unloved Ones:
Penny Dreadful, Season 3 Premiere

When Lucifer Fell:
My Penny Dreadful Blogs, Seasons 1-2

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When Lucifer Fell: My PENNY DREADFUL blogs, S1&2, Review & Recap

When Lucifer fell,
he did not fall alone

(The Cut-Wife to Vanessa, S2, Penny Dreadful)

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Spoilers,
Most Dreadful

One of the most successful horror series ever broadcast, Showtime’s Penny Dreadful gets its name from the Victorian penny dreadfuls. According to Judith Flanders of the British Library, these cheap, sensational, highly popular news-booklets, originally called Penny Bloods, initally concentrated on adventurous stories about pirates and highwaymen, but gradually shifted their focus onto crime and its detection. The penny dreadfuls replaced 18th century gothic horror, as they began to concentrate on supernatural and horror tales, including Varney the Vampire (cover of a vampire penny dreadful below), which influenced Bram Stoker, author of Dracula.

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Showtime’s Penny Dreadful takes the Victorian penny dreadfuls, as well as the Victorian literature inspired by them, and gives us the “origin stories” of their characters. Thus, Dracula‘s Mina Murray is given an entire family, while Frankenstein‘s titular character gets to create more than one Creature.

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Original characters, such as Vanessa Ives, played by the brilliant Eva Green (above, standing), and Brona Croft (Billie Piper, above seated) further flesh out the series’ exploration of evil, and of human choice to consciously do either good or evil.

Season One

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The series begins with Vanessa Ives (Eva Green, above L) hiring a professional gun, Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) for some dangerous “night work.” Along with the father of her childhood friend, Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton), Vanessa is searching for her missing friend, Mina, who has been taken by some sort of Creature (also called Vampire, below).

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Dr. Frakenstein (Harry Treadaway) enters the story when he is hired by Sir Malcolm to do an autopsy on one of the dead Creatures.

Penny Dreadful - Episode 1...Penny Dreadful - Episodic - Unit 101 April 25th Sky Atlantic SHOWTIME 2014 No embargo

Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney) is also introduced in the first season, though his story isn’t as integrated into the main stories. Also, there are at least two “Creatures” initially: the Vampire Creature hunted by Sir Malcolm, as well as those created by Frankenstein, the most striking of which is played by Rory Kinnear (below).

Rory Kinnear as Frankenstein's Monster, also called The Creature

In addition to helping Sir Malcolm search for his missing daughter Mina, Vanessa has her own dark secrets, as does everyone else in the show, including Ethan, Sir Malcolm, Frankenstein, and Dorian. Of course, readers of the books will know some of Frankenstein’s and Dorian’s secrets. And viewers may guess Ethan’s secret.

Cast of PENNY DREADFUL season 1 (L to R): Danny Sapani as Sembene, Reeve Carney as Dorian Gray, Billie Piper as Brona Croft, Josh Hartnett as Ethan Chandler, Timothy Dalton as Sir Malcolm Murray, Eva Green as Vanessa Ives, Rory Kinnear (in doorway) as Frankenstein’s Monster/Creature, Harry Treadawell as Victor Frankenstein

In any event, the show’s initial season, despite its few weaknesses, was a stunning exploration of good and evil, in which everyone has a very dark secret. My blogs do contain Spoilers, since I wrote them after watching the episodes.

Penny Dreadful:
Be Not Afeard

So Many Monsters:
The Penny Dreadful Finale

The official season 1 trailer is below.

If you haven’t had a chance to watch Penny Dreadful yet, you can watch the Season Premiere Episode 1 free on its homepage on Showtime. You can catch up with the remaining episodes on ShowtimeAnytime.

The premiere of season 3 is Sunday 1 May at 10 p.m. ET.

Season Two

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In its second season, Penny Dreadful creator-writer John Logan introduces Witches who pursue Vanessa Ives (Eva Green) for their “Master,” Lucifer. The focus of the show changes from the characters’ hunting external evil, represented by the Vampire Creatures of the first season, to protecting Vanessa from her own internal evil, which the witches wanted to “give” their Master.

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The head witch, Evelyn Poole (Helen McCrory, above R) had been hunting Vanessa since season one, when she appeared at the séance as Madame Kali (below).

The storylines of Frankenstein and Dorian Gray become more complex even as they are more integrally tied to the story of Vanessa and Ethan. We also learn more about Vanessa’s past when the Cut-Wife (Patti LuPone) story appears in flashback.

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My blogs do contain Spoilers, since I wrote them after watching the episodes: you have been warned.

When the Hunters Become the Prey:
Showtime’s Penny Dreadful Season 2 Premiere

The Cut-Wife, The Day-Walkers,
and The Night-Comers: Penny Dreadful, s2 e3

Betrayal of the Blood:
Penny Dreadful, s2 e4-6

Welcome to the Night:
Penny Dreadful, s2 e7

The Lion Hunts Tonight:
Showtime’s Penny Dreadful
“Memento Mori,” s2 e8

Monsters, All:
Penny Dreadful, s2 e9

All By Myself:
Penny Dreadful, Season 2 Finale

Season Three

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Viewers don’t know quite what to expect from season three, although it looks like the members of the extended “family” have been scattered around the globe. Also, from the official trailer, we see that Patti Lupone, who played the Cut-Wife in season 2, is returning as Vanessa’s doctor.

You can watch both seasons of Penny Dreadful with a free trial of Showtime. The premiere of season three is already available for viewing on Showtime, but if you can wait, then the official premiere is Sunday. Afterward, you’ll be ready to join the rest of us #Dreadfuls on Twitter and buzz about the show.

Season 3 Premiere
Sunday 1 May
10 p.m. ET

After you’ve watched the first two seasons, or if you’ve already seen them, you might enjoy Wired’s gifs to catch you up on what’s happened.

The Books

If you want to read the books that Penny Dreadful‘s literary characters are based on, Showtime is offering them for sale on its site, but you can get them free as ebooks: Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein. And I’ve thrown in Robert Louis Stevenson’s  The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde simply because no exploration of the Victorian period and its literature would be complete without it — nor would any exploration of good and evil. Besides, I simply can’t believe the character of Jekyll and Hyde won’t show up, eventually, in Penny Dreadful, though I admit I’ve been saying that since its first season.


Penny Dreadful is rated MA for Adult Content, Brief Nudity, and Violence

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Welcome to the Night: Showtime’s PENNY DREADFUL, S2E7

Warning: Spoilers, Most Dreadful

images-17Showtime’s Penny Dreadful, created and written by John Logan, originally based on characters from Victorian literature — Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein — as well as on characters from the Victorian Penny Dreadfuls, like Varney the Vampire and Wagner the Werewolf, twists those characters around Logan’s principal creation, Vanessa Ives (Eva Green), in an intriguing and complex exploration of evil. Not the evil that some people insist exists only outside each of us, and call by names like the Devil or Lucifer or Satan, but the evil that exists inside us. Season 2’s Episode 7, “Little Scorpion,” returned to that theme with a vengeance.

The Lion Still Hunted

images-10After the blood-soaked hallucination that ended the grand ball at Dorian’s mansion in E6, Vanessa decided that she was not safe in London. Museum curator and closet-homosexual Ferdinand Lyle (Simon Russell Beale) immediately seconded her wish to go away, advising her to go away now and to not tell any of them where she was going. Despite Eveyln Poole’s (Helen McCrory) blackmail of him (because of his sexual orientation) to help her get Vanessa, Lyle occasionally surprises us by his affection for and attachment to Vanessa. At the ball, he was upset that she was without an escort, and offered to see her home, telling her outright that it wasn’t safe for her there. Now, he was strongly advising her to go away without telling anyone her location. Mrs. Poole would be understandably upset at his “betrayal.”

images-11Sir Malcolm (Timothy Dalton), who is literally bewitched by Mrs. Poole, was upset at his exclusion from Vanessa’s plans. He asked if they were no longer to trust each other, especially after Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) and Lyle both agreed that Vanessa should go away without revealing her destination. Ethan (Josh Hartnett) insisted that he was going with her. Sembene (Danny Sapani) seemed to approve of Ethan as her companion. When Sir Malcolm asked, rather petulantly, why Ethan got to accompany her and no one else did, Vanessa summed it up very simply, saying that all — except Ethan and Sembene — had been present at the ball, and “yet the lion still hunted.”

The Warriors

images-5Though Sir Malcolm may feel piqued at not being considered Vanessa’s sole or ultimate protector, he is actually not one of the warriors in the show. The only true warriors, given their histories, are Ethan and Sembene. Ethan hunted Indians in North America, sometimes infiltrating and destroying whole tribes who refused to be relocated to reservations. Semebene, whose face is marked with tribal “coming of age” scars, knows what it is like to hunt and fight. He was the only one Ethan trusted to watch his transformation, which, as he learned in the morning, was into a Wolf.

Sembene was not afraid, telling Ethan that he saw beyond the crocodile (who ate) the monkey (who ate) the whatever, each higher predator absorbing the prey lower in the food-chain. Sembene told Ethan that he also saw beyond the Wolf, and was not afraid because he sees the good in Ethan.

In effect, Sembene and Ethan are the warriors in Penny Dreadful, and they have now bonded as such.

UnknownSir Malcolm, who literally and metaphorically raped his way across Africa (Vanessa accused him of S1E7, “Possession,” saying that he also insisted that his son Peter have sexual relations with the women against his will, to prove his manhood) is an imperialist, not a warrior. He conquers. He orders. He commands. He takes. He controls. Hence, his condescending remark that Vanessa may have imagined the blood-bath at the ball.

images-2Despite Sir Malcolm’s being under a love-spell cast by the head Night-Comer, or witch, Evelyn Poole, his dismissal of Vanessa’s vision and its implications for her own safety are typical Sir Malcolm. Later, Vanessa revealed to Ethan her disappointment, and perhaps resentment, that the relationship between her and Sir Malcolm has changed since Mrs. Poole came into his life and he “fell in love.”

But I don’t see that the relationship between Vanessa and Malcolm has changed: he was always using her for his own ends. Just because his daughter Mina is now dead and Vanessa thinks he “chose her” over Mina, doesn’t mean Sir Malcolm has ever changed his basic imperialistic character. Or his attitude toward Vanessa and the others.

imagesSembene and Ethan, who have bonded over Ethan’s secret as well as over their own individual but similar pasts as hunters and warriors, are the ones who have now been revealed as the two characters most capable of good, although, of course, each is capable of killing another creature to ensure his own survival.

Little Scorpions

UnknownDespite the episode’s title and the Cut-Wife’s (Patti LuPone) reference to Vanessa as her “Little Scorpion,” quite a few of the characters are dangerous creatures who “sting whether you believe in them or not,” as Lyle explained to Victor, when he and Lyle were discussing good and evil, the Devil and God, Amu-net and Amun-ra. Lyle said the Egyptians called love the “Scorpion’s Sting,” insisting that it would infiltrate your entire system and last forever.

We know Mrs. Poole has stung Sir Malcolm, literally, with her ring, several times, sucking his blood as the vampire Creature did from his victims in S1 of Penny Dreadful; and perhaps injecting him with love’s venom, metaphorically.

images-27Dorian (Reeve Carney), who is supposed to be in love with transgendered Angelique (Johnny Beauchamp), has already been technically unfaithful to her, though I’m not sure he ever actually promised her fidelity. images-44Not only did he “forget” Angelique at the coming-out ball he threw in her honor by becoming virtually obsessed with Lily (Billie Piper), formerly Ethan’s lover Brona, whom Frankenstein smothered to make her into a Bride for the Creature (Rory Kinnear), but Dorian further betrayed Angelique by taking Lily out on a date. Dorian stings anyone involved with him, too.images-14Despite Victor’s obvious distress at the events at the ball, as well as at the invitation from Dorian, Lily was delighted by both and went out with Dorian. Victor has been stung by the scorpion of love, but Lily apparently has not. She not only spent the day with Dorian, she picked up a stranger afterward and, while having sex with him, choked him to death, her face expressionless throughout.

images-15Her transformation into a Creature-Bride seemed to have left only amnesia and the visible scars over her breasts and down the center of her chest and abdomen (and what they represent, I have no idea, unless Victor replaced her consumption-damaged lungs). But the scars over her breasts were clearly visible as she choked the man while she was having intercourse with him. One scar over each breast, connected to the main, body scar. Rather like a scorpion’s claws, eh?

images-15Despite the fact that Vanessa was called “Little Scorpion” by the Cut-Wife, and despite Vanessa’s using the symbol of the scorpion as her badge of protection, she still stings. For one thing, she can shoot flawlessly, apparently without ever having had lessons.

images-25And though she claims to accept Ethan completely, she accepts then immediately rejects any physical or sexual advances, saying, “We’re dangerous.”

Has she stung him? It would seem so.

Has he stung her? Perhaps.

But she’s maintaining control over her emotions and her sexuality.

Welcome to the Night

images-30The bulk of the episode dealt with Vanessa’s and Ethan’s doomed Romeo & Juliet romance. Despite the fact that he chopped down the tree from which the Cut-Wife was manacled and burned alive,

images-31despite all their revelations about their own sorrows and brief moments of happiness or safety in the past as they walked the fields, searching for herbs, and setting rabbit snares,

images-28despite her teaching him to dance in return for the shooting lessons, and despite his proficiency in dancing, leading to closer physical proximity between the two,

images-24the evil in each of them comes between them.

By Vanessa’s choice.

imagesAfter being confronted and threatened, once again, by Sir Geoffrey in his woods, Ethan goes to Sir Geoffrey’s mansion, intent on killing him: not as a werewolf, but as a man, with a pistol, to protect Vanessa. He is stunned to witness, as he aims the gun, Sir Geoffrey’s own hounds turn and devour him.

images-12Though Vanessa was warned not to use the Book with the glyph on its spine unless she felt completely abandoned and lost, since once she used it, she would “have turned forever from God,” that is exactly what Vanessa did.

In a scene eerily reminiscent of Evelyn Poole’s incantation to the Devil,

images-7Vanessa got out the book and started chanting its spells.

images-1To have Sir Geoffrey’s dogs kill him in retaliation for his killing the Cut-Wife.

images-29Whoa.

Vanessa sold her soul to the Devil, turned her back on God, to get even with a worm like Sir Geoffrey?

Sure, she shed a few tears after she collapsed.

But Ethan, he was madder than hell.

He returned to the Cut-Wife’s cottage, calling Vanessa a “little girl” as he berated her for the evil thing she’d done. After all, he’d not only taught her to shoot, “to protect herself,” but he’d gone, as her protector, to do the deed himself.

Ethan hadn’t gone to do “evil,” in his opinion: he was an animal, trying to survive; he was defending the life of someone he loved from a predator. Ethan may, in fact, be the Lupus Dei — The Hound of God — repeated in the puzzle that Lyle and the others are attempting to solve in order to understand the Verbis Diablo — the language of the Devil which the Night-Comers use, and which is in the book Vanessa used to turn Sir Geoffrey’s hounds against him.

Furthermore, if Ethan is the Lupus Dei of the puzzle-tale, it may be his job to protect Vanessa. He certainly seems to see it that way, even though there is also now a sexual attraction there.

(Remember that the two of them had no relationship last season beyond employer-recruiter and hired gun. Sir Malcolm needed more guns to kill the Creature in his hunt for his daughter Mina, and Vanessa found and hired Ethan Chandler. Ethan was emotionally involved with Brona Croft (Billie Piper), who was dying of consumption but whose death was hurried by Frankenstein’s holding a pillow over her face so he could transform her into Lily, the Creature-Bride. Vanessa attempted a sexual liaison with Dorian, but in the midst of intercourse, her participation in the sex act unleashed the demons that the Victorians associated with female sexuality, and she became possessed.)

images-32Now, however, Vanessa has once again chosen to do evil, just as she did when she seduced her best friend Mina’s fiancé the night before the wedding, causing a permanent rift between Mina and Vanessa, as well as between the two families. In “Little Scorpion,” Vanessa’s choice to do evil, when she knew she had a protector, when she’d learned how to shoot, when Sir Geoffrey was not actively harming her, infuriated Ethan and caused a rift between them.

It’s a rift far wider than that between Romeo and Juliet’s families. After all, the Montagues and the Capulets can’t even remember what started the feud in the first place: they just recall that their families are ancient enemies.

Vanessa consciously chose to do evil, to use the book of spells and the Verbis Diablo — which she was warned would separate her forever from God — for something as petty as revenge.

“We have claws for a reason,” Ethan told Vanessa earlier.

But after she used a Night-Comer’s spell to kill Sir Geoffrey, Ethan angrily told her that she could never go back to what she was before.

“Welcome to the Night, Vanessa,” he said, before turning away.

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The Cut-Wife, the Day-Walkers, & the Night-Comers: PENNY DREADFUL S2E3

Warning: Spoilers

When Lucifer fell, he did not fall alone;
they will hunt you till they end of days.
(Cut-Wife to Vanessa)

960 Last night’s episode of Showtime’s hit show Penny Dreadful, “Night-Comers” (S2E3), took viewers on another flashback into Vanessa’s past, and an engrossing journey it was. From the beginning of the show last year, creator/writer John Logan has said that the emphasis of the show would be on Vanessa Ives, and the flashback in season 1 (E5), “Closer than Sisters,” involving Vanessa’s intentional betrayal of her best friend Mina was one of the finest shows of the season (followed closely by “Séance” [E2] and “Possession” [E7], both of which concentrated on Vanessa and her “demons”).

 One reviewer, Scott von Doviak, who felt the episode last night “stalled the momentum” of the show, compared “Night-Comers” to Star Wars, saying that the Cut-Wife Joan Clayton (magnetically performed by guest star Patti LuPone, above R)) was no more than Vanessa’s “Yoda” and that the episode was “too grounded in traditional archetypes” — in this instance, the Wise Old One teaching the worthy Young Seeker — to be as interesting as other episodes.

images-18Von Doviak also insisted that “strictly speaking, [the episode] can’t be Vanessa’s flashbacks… [because it included her] new nemesis Evelyn Poole” (Helen McCrory, above, with cows in field) when she came to her sister’s house. images-10Despite that reviewer’s unfounded objections, “Night-Comers” was the most dread-filled episode of the second season thus far, gave viewers some fine acting by the females in the series, and provided some excellent back-story to the main female character, Vanessa Ives (Eva Green, above), one of the most interesting fictional women ever created.

The Flashback

images-13The flashback begins after Ethan sees the bloody scorpion drawn on Vanessa’s bedroom floor and asks her what it’s about. After she reveals that she’s never told anyone the story, Ethan suggests that it’s a good reason to tell him (though I’m not sure why that would be so).

images-11Despite von Doviak’s claim that “strictly speaking, what follows can’t be Vanessa’s flashbacks as they include people and events about which she would have had no knowledge, most notably her new nemesis Evelyn Poole,”  this episode was a flashback, for many reasons. Any time a story leaves its “present” timeline to reveal an episode from the past of any of the characters, that episode is, technically, a “flashback” in literary terms.

UnknownMore important, however, the reviewer who said it wasn’t a “flashback” confused the story’s timeline. He claimed that because Vanessa didn’t recognize “Evelyn Poole” (Helen McCrory, above center) when she came to the Cut-Wife’s house with 2 other Night-Comers,  “it wasn’t a “flashback.” Evelyn Poole (I believe she was unnamed in last night’s episode) is Cut-Wife Joan Clayton’s  sister, and is, literally, at least as old as she is. When Vanessa saw Evelyn Poole in S2E3, it would have been the first time Vanessa had ever seen her.

The story with the Cut-Wife happens in the past, as is the meaning of flashbacks in fiction. After Vanessa has betrayed Mina, had her “breakdown,” met the Keats-quoting Devil in the guise of Sir Malcolm, and seen Mina on the beach begging for help…

images-21but before Vanessa has gone to Sir Malcolm’s house in London and told him that Mina needs their help (we must assume that this visit to Sir Malcolm is after the apprenticeship with the Cut-Wife because Vanessa knows how to read Tarot, etc when she goes to Sir Malcolm, and now believes that she can help find Mina, which is one of the reasons she gives the Cut-Wife for wishing to learn from her). So, between this sequence of events, Vanessa apparently went to the Cut-Wife, whose reputation is well-known, to discover her own story and who she is. The Cut-Wife story is a flashback.

In the past, when Vanessa went to the Cut-Wife, she could not have recognized Evelyn Poole as one of the Night-Comers — the show’s name for Witches — even if Vanessa had seen “Evelyn Poole” (there is some debate on whether Vanessa saw Evelyn well in the past because she kept covering her face with her hood or walking away when Vanessa came around, but Evelyn was present at the burning, and two men were holding Vanessa’s head so she had to watch). After Vanessa is alone in the house, she checks outside at night. The three women are there, including “Evelyn Poole.” Still, Vanessa would have known only that woman as the one who had come to the house and who was the sister of the Cut-Wife, and that all three of the women out there were Night-Comers.

images-22Any “problem” with the flashback — and I don’t think there is one —  would come with the fact that Vanessa had no reaction to “Madame Kali” in last year’s E2 “Séance” when Madame Kali aka Evelyn Poole walked openly into the party, showing her face, and then chanted things like “Amunet, Amun-ra” which sent Vanessa into her trance and eerie performance. Madame Kali’s face was clearly visible, especially when Vanessa was sitting directly across the table from her.images-4I can only put Vanessa’s lack of reaction last season to the fact that creator/writer John Logan didn’t know where the story was going to go this season, since all the other action in “Séance” (S1E2) concerned events that came up later in the first season (Peter’s death, Sir Malcolm’s infidelity with Vanessa’s mother, Vanessa’s catching them in the hedge maze, etc) though the viewers did not know about everything that was going to happen in the season and so may not have necessarily understood all that Vanessa said during her trance.

images-9Last night’s episode was a valid flashback since, this season, Vanessa has only seen Evelyn Poole’s minions as Night-Comers (above), and not as they appeared at the side of the street after their initial attack (i.e., with clothes and hair) or at Evelyn’s house (below),

images-20nor has Vanessa seen Evelyn Poole as anything except Madame Kali: only Sir Malcolm has (below).

images-14The only problem with the “Night-Comers” flashback, therefore, would be Vanessa’s lack of reaction when she saw Madame Kali in LAST season’s E2 “Séance” because Vanessa didn’t recognize Madame Kali as the Night-Comer from her past who was the Cut-Wife’s sister.

I can forgive that error, given the powerful story from last night’s show. And given the fact that I don’t believe creator John Logan had season 2 entirely written last year.

(As for the reviewer’s comparing the episode’s archetypes to those of  Star Wars… this episode of Penny Dreadful was so much more sophisticated, less in-the-viewer’s-face allegorical and more symbolic, and better acted, that I simply don’t think there’s any comparison to comment on.)

The Cut-Wife
& the Night-Comers

images-14After waiting for days in the rain outside the Cut-Wife’s house, Vanessa basically collapsed from exhaustion. Despite that, and despite being told to leave by the Cut-Wife (who aborts unwanted pregnancies), Vanessa stayed. Despite being sexually man-handled (“examined”) by the Cut-Wife, Vanessa stayed.

images-21After the Cut-Wife bit her own thumb, smeared the blood on Vanessa’s forehead, and ordered her to “see” what was on the Cut-Wife’s back, she allowed Vanessa to enter, telling her to leave behind “everything you were,” bringing in only “everything you are.”

images-17Having proved her worth to the Cut-Wife by detailing the fact that she was branded on the back by her own sister (before Vanessa actually saw the brand when she was helping the old woman undress, above), Vanessa was permitted to begin her “apprenticeship,” exploring her untapped and unfamiliar “dark” powers. Vanessa’s lessons begin with “seeing” the brand on the old woman’s back before the Cut-Wife let Vanessa enter, and continue with the Tarot cards, where the first card she draws is The Devil.

Unknown-3During her apprenticeship, which lasts long enough for people to hear that someone is living with the Cut-Wife, Vanessa was almost raped by Sir Geoffrey, Evelyn Poole’s lover in that time-period, but she  turned the attack back on him. She not only bit his hand hard enough to draw blood, but she pulled a knife on him.

Vanessa didn’t know that he was the lover of the sister of the Cut-Wife, i.e., the lover of one of the Night-Comers who was seeking her, since Vanessa never saw the two together. The only thing she knew about Sir Geoffrey was that he wanted to have the land on which the Cut-Wife’s house sat, land which she’d been granted in perpetuity by Cromwell in the 1640s — and the show is set in the late 1800s. But I don’t think Vanessa needed to know he was Evelyn Poole’s lover to draw a knife on him when he attempted to rape her.

Unknown-2 In any event, “Evelyn Poole” did not give up in her attempt to get at Vanessa, which she accomplished by manipulating Sir Geoffrey’s pride, killing his cattle, and using her powers to “suggest” that a girl in the mob — who’d had her baby aborted by the Cut-Wife — shout out, “Burn the Witch.”

images-6Unfortunately, Vanessa’s protection of herself from rape by Sir Geoffrey in the woods would come back to hurt her severely at the end, when he had her branded on the back with a cross, after the mob tarred and burned the Cut-Wife as a witch (in one of the most gruesome yet haunting scenes ever: sorry I couldn’t find an image that wasn’t a meme, because it was so well done that you deserve to see it without silly words on it).

images

Women,
Historically Speaking

This episode not only accurately showed how women who were different, unusual, or too independent (i.e., without male protectors) were often tormented, isolated, raped, tortured, and even killed, often as “witches.” Since there was no reliable birth-control, girls and women or all ages were often forced to seek out painful and dangerous solutions to their problems: despite the males’ role in the women’s pregnancies, it was the women who were blamed for the pregnancies, and further blamed for ending them.

Meanwhile, any women who aided these women or girls, whether through herbal concoctions or through abortions (horrifyingly and realistically depicted in last night’s episode), were considered evil, in league with the devil, or to be witches, and persecuted for their role in ending the unwanted pregnancies. Any women associated with such “evil” women, like Vanessa with the Cut-Wife, were treated as demonic and “un-Christian” as well.

All About the Girls

After Episode 2 this season, I thought Penny Dreadful was going to be all about the girls, rather than mostly about the boys, as it was last season. Of course, Vanessa will always be one of the girls — probably the most important one — whether it’s with Sir Malcolm (Timothy Dalton),

images-26with Ethan (Josh Hartnett),

Unknownas Dorian (Reeve Carney)’s latest obsession,

images-18with Frankenstein’s Creature (Rory Kinnear), who is, surprisingly, her intellectual, theological, and philosophical equal,

images-23or as the prey of Evelyn Poole, the leader of the coven of witches, who intends to capture Vanessa and give her to The Master as his bride.MV5BMTg2OTgwNjU4MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODgwMzI1NTE@._V1_SY317_CR131,0,214,317_AL_Some of the other girls this season will clearly include the Creature’s “intended” Lily (Billie Piper), formerly Ethan’s lover Brona, whom Frankenstein wants for himself.
images-12Dorian’s new sexual interest Angelique (below) pretends to be one of the girls but s/he’s a man, so I’m not sure where that story will go.

images-10(Again, this season, I’m not sure why Dorian Gray is even in the show, since he’s so unimportant and not integrated well into any of the other remaining stories.)

images-6One of the most amusing “girls” so far this season is Museum Curator Ferdinand Lyle (Simon Russel Beale, above), who has a tremendous crush on Ethan — and his pistols — and who’s being blackmailed by Evelyn Poole / Madame Kali to aid her in her conquest-capture of Vanessa.

images-17

Season 2 Predictions:
Vanessa as “Day-Walker”

I suspect that the episode with the Cut-Wife, wherein Vanessa learned to somewhat harness her dark powers — though that obviously doesn’t protect her, either from possession or from attacks by Night-Comers — is key to this second season of Penny Dreadful.

The Cut-Wife claimed that Vanessa is still a Day-Walker, as is the Cut-Wife, because they still believe in God and in good, and have not given themselves completely over to the Devil. One of the reasons the Cut-Wife’s sister still looks so young and lovely despite their both being at least 250+ years old is because she (and her coven) decided to abandon God and follow the Devil. It was her own sister who branded the Cut-Wife and cast her out of the “Coven of Sisters” because she chose not to follow the Devil and to do evil.

Interestingly, the Night-Comers were not able to cross the stones protecting the path to the Cut-Wife’s house. Neither, however, was Vanessa. This may be why the Cut-Wife told Vanessa that she herself had learned to become a witch, but Vanessa had been born one. I would have liked to learn more about why Vanessa was unable to cross the “magic” barrier, but there was no further information beyond showing her unable to do so, and the Cut-Wife’s saying that the Night-Comers could not do so: only ordinary humans could (or something similar to that).

The Sign of the Scorpion

images-3The scorpion, which was present last season and seemed to be a symbol of evil and of possession, became a symbol of good and of protection in last night’s episode. (It was unclear why Vanessa cut her thumb and put the scorpion on the floor of her room in S2E1.)

images-2The Cut-Wife called Vanessa “my little Scorpion” because of her ability to see the unseen world and the past when she identified the person who had branded the Cut-Wife. By the end of the show, the scorpion had become a symbol of protection for Vanessa, who left it on a stone in blood to guard the house.

images-2 It looks as if Vanessa will slowly become the major focus of the series, while all the other stories, whether involving boys or girls, will become mere tangents as creator-writer John Logan further explores his incredible character Vanessa, played by the supremely talented Eva Green.

 ♥

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