Tag Archives: Dracula

Yet More Free Scary Stories

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All these classic stories are in the public domain,
available in their entirety online or as free ebooks
(22-31 October 2018)

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Walking Around in Someone Else’s Skin: The Classic Film, To Kill A Mockingbird

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Usually considered to have originated with Horace Walpole’s novel The Castle of Otranto (1764), which was subtitled “A Gothic Story,” Gothic fiction is literature that attempts to combine elements of romance, mystery, and horror — without becoming either too fantastic or too realistic. Initially featuring decaying castles, curses, ghosts or other supernatural creatures and events, madness, murder, and “oft-fainting heroines,” Gothic fiction was hugely popular entertainment.

About a generation after Walpole, Ann Radcliffe introduced the brooding Gothic villain in her novel A Sicilian Romance: a tempestuous, moody, sometimes secretive, and extremely passionate male who usually encounters a heroine that completely upsets his life. Later this type of “villain” would be called the Romantic era’s “Byronic hero.” Radcliffe also introduced more independent heroines to Gothic fiction with her bestselling The Mysteries of Udolpho. Though Radcliffe’s heroines are still pretty helpless and faint far more than anyone I’ve ever encountered, they inspired “gothic feminism” which critics claim the author herself expressed as “female power through pretended and staged weakness.” Further, Radcliffe changed the infant genre of Gothic fiction by introducing the “explained supernatural,” where all the apparently supernatural events, from ghosts and moving furniture to strange knocks and cries in the dark, turn out, eventually, to have perfectly reasonable, natural explanations.

Gothic fiction and its various, evolving components spread into the literature of the Romantic era, appearing in the poetry of Keats, Shelley, Coleridge, Byron, and Poe. In the Victorian era, Gothic elements were more prominent in fiction, and are found in the work Charles Dickens (A Christmas Carol), Bram Stoker (Dracula), Robert Louis Stevenson (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde), Oscar Wilde (The Picture of Dorian Gray), Mary Shelley (Frankenstein), Emily Brontë (Wuthering Heights), and Charlotte Brontë (Jane Eyre).

Many of these Victorian authors added strong moral elements to their Gothic fiction, producing novels that questioned everything from man’s relationship with newly developing technologies and medical advances to man’s responsibility for feeding and educating the poor. Gothic literature became more than entertainment to pass the long hours of a dark and rainy night: it explored the meaning of life, morality, social responsibility, and man’s relationship to the Divine.

As Gothic fiction spread to authors in America, especially in the South, it became a sub-genre called Southern Gothic. Authors like Faulkner, Caldwell, McCullers, O’Connor, Capote, and Percy examined family relationships, sexuality, poverty, race, and the Southern myths of an idyllic antebellum past. Southern Gothic is filled with

deeply flawed, disturbing, or eccentric characters… ambivalent gender roles, decayed or derelict settings, grotesque situations, and other sinister events relating to or stemming from poverty, alienation, crime, or violence.

With its particular focus on the South’s history of slavery, Southern Gothic became a vehicle for fierce social critique.

Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird is a classic of both American fiction and Southern Gothic. A coming-of-age story set in the fictional “tired old town” of Maycomb, Alabama from 1933-1936, during the Great Depression, the novel examines everything from family relationships and mental health to societal responsibilities, poverty, violence, and crime. The 1962 film version, adapted from the novel by Horton Foote, eliminated some of the novel’s childhood adventures to concentrate on the aspects of its storyline that make To Kill a Mockingbird so important to American literature and film: the ugly and intractable racism between whites and blacks, a bigotry and intolerance that still exists over most of the country.

Mary Badham as Scout (forefront) with author Harper Lee, To Kill A Mockingbird ©

The film’s (unseen) narrator looks back on her six-year-old self and on the events that changed her from an innocent to a more mature child. In 1933, Scout (Mary Badham) and her brother Jem (Phillip Alford) live in Maycomb, Alabama with their widowed father Atticus (Gregory Peck).

Mary Badham as Scout, Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, and Phillip Alford as Jem, To Kill A Mockingbird ©

Together with a visiting neighbor, Dill (John Megna, modeled after Harper Lee’s lifelong friend Truman Capote, who spent summers next door to the Lees with his aunts), Scout and Jem roam around the neighborhood and create their own adventures.

John Megna as Dill, To Kill A Mockingbird ©

One of their most exciting “games” is scaring each other with stories about the never-seen Boo Radley (Robert Duvall, in his film debut),

Robert Duvall as Boo Radley, To Kill A Mockingbird ©

who lives just a few doors down and who is rumored to be a crazed, scissors-wielding psychopath, once locked up in the courthouse basement jail.

Paul Fix as Judge Taylor, To Kill A Mockingbird ©

Late one night, Judge Taylor (Paul Fix) comes over to request that Atticus serve as the appointed defense counsel for Tom Robinson (Brock Peters),

Gregory Peck as Atticus, and Brock Peters as Tom Robinson, To Kill A Mockingbird ©

a black man who has been accused of brutally beating and raping a white woman, Mayella Ewell (Collin Wilcox).

Collin Wilcox as Mayella Ewell (foreground), and Paul Fix as Judge Taylor (background), To Kill A Mockingbird ©

Atticus agrees, but despite his attempts to shield his children from the consequences of his decision to represent a black man in a racially charged crime, Scout and Jem soon become involved in the racial “war” brewing around them.

Collin Wilcox as Mayella, and James Anderson as Bob Ewell (both, foreground), To Kill A Mockingbird ©

In particular, the father of the ostensible rape victim, Bob Ewell (James Anderson) tries several times to intimidate Atticus into quitting the case. When that doesn’t work, Ewell threatens violence against Atticus and his children.

Phillip Alford as Jem, and Mary Badham as Scout, To Kill A Mockingbird ©

Though the children continue to find “gifts” in the hollow of a nearby tree, these gifts and their former adventures pale in significance to the events surrounding the crime concerning Tom Robinson and Mayella Ewell.

Gregory Peck as Atticus, To Kill A Mockingbird ©

By the time the trial starts, most of the town is divided and angry. Though Atticus warns his children to stay away from the courthouse completely, Jem refuses to be barred from the biggest event in the county, and Scout refuses to be left behind at home if Jem and Dill are going to the courthouse.

Phillip Alford as Jem, Mary Badham as Scout, and John Megna as Dill (L-R, foreground), with William Walker as Reverend Sykes (background, wearing suit and tie) To Kill A Mockingbird ©

Without Atticus’ knowledge or permission, Scout, Jem, and Dill sit in the gallery, in the “Negro section” of the court, and watch the entire trial.

William Windom as District Attorney (L), James Anderson as Bob Ewell (center), and Paul Fix as Judge Taylor (background R), To Kill A Mockingbird ©

Judge Taylor presides as the District Attorney (William Windom, in his film debut) badgers witnesses and makes his opinions about Tom Robinson’s guilt clear. Despite the fact that viewers can have no doubt whatsoever about the jury’s eventual verdict, the courtroom scenes are intensely riveting, especially when Atticus cross-examines Mayella herself.

Gregory Peck as Atticus, To Kill A Mockingbird ©

Though the verdict is not in question, Mayella’s father, angry at the Atticus’ not-so-subtle accusations of incest and child abuse, provokes Atticus repeatedly in an attempt to draw him into a physical confrontation. Then, he decides to provoke Atticus by going after his children.

Nominated for 8 Academy Awards, To Kill a Mockingbird won three Oscars:
Best Actor for Gregory Peck, Best Adapted Screenplay for Horton Foote, and Best Art Direction (set design, Black-and-White).

The film also won Golden Globes for Best Actor in a Drama (Gregory Peck), Best Original Score (Elmer Bernstein), and Best Film for Promoting International Understanding (to director Robert Mulligan).

When released, To Kill a Mockingbird was an overwhelming critical and popular success, earning more than 10 times its budget in 1962. To Kill a Mockingbird has gone on to become a classic, with the film listed 25th on the American Film Institute’s 100 Greatest American Movies of All Time (2007 list) [#34 on the 1998 list], and taking the top spot in AFI’s Top 10 Courtroom Dramas. Gregory Peck’s character Atticus Finch reigns as AFI’s 100 Greatest Heroes.

Everyone should see this film, though children under 12 may need to be cautioned about the subject matter and the language as this film deals openly with rape, clearly suggests incest, and uses language appropriate to the time and place of its story.

Be sure to watch the black-and-white version of To Kill a Mockingbird, not the colorized one: those who colorized it obviously completely missed the symbolism behind the story’s being filmed in black-and-white instead of in color. Available for rent ($2.99-3.99 SD/HD) from Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, GooglePlay, and Vudu.

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Coming-of-Age with a Vampire: Let Me In, the Film

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The concept of vampires or vampire-like beings — undead who return from the grave and exist by stealing the “life essence” (flesh or blood) of the living — has existed in the folklore of virtually all cultures for centuries. In earliest times, these blood-stealing beings were considered spirits or demons, but they have always been some of the most terrifying paranormal creatures to stalk mankind.

The vampire most familiar to many of us originated in southeastern Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries, and counted among its reviled membership suicides, revenants, people accused of practicing witchcraft, people suspected of being possessed, or anyone who might have rebelled against Christian doctrine or Church teachings. During the Age of Enlightenment, “belief in vampires increased dramatically,” and many rituals were developed to both identify and protect humans from these undead creatures, including hanging wreaths of garlic on doors or windows, blessing people, rooms, and houses with holy water, and staking or decapitating corpses to prevent the bodies from returning.

800-year-old skeleton found in Bulgaria stabbed through the chest with iron rod, via Wikipedia

Not only did these undead creatures harm and kill the living in order to maintain their own existence, they often appeared in their human form, albeit slightly changed in complexion and dental work, and lured their own loved ones to the grave. In the 18th century, vampire superstition in Europe sometimes reached mass hysteria, causing corpses to be staked or beheaded to ensure that they couldn’t rise from the dead to seek out more victims.

Originally, vampires were dark, gruesome beings: unattractive and undeniably otherworldly. In the early 19th century, with fiction, vampires changed, becoming less gruesome and more… shall we say, attractive.

The charismatic and sophisticated vampire of modern fiction was born in 1819 with the publication of The Vampyre by John Polidori; the story was highly successful and arguably the most influential vampire work of the early 19th century. Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula is remembered as the quintessential vampire novel and provided the basis of the modern vampire legend. The success of this book spawned a distinctive vampire genre, still popular in the 21st century, with books, films, and television shows. The vampire has since become a dominant figure in the horror genre.

Though vampires have long been a feature of the horror genre, there’s a strange trend in contemporary vampire fiction, and the dramas based on them, including Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight Saga and Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series. Vampires, despite needing the blood of living humans or other animals to survive, have been romanticized to the point of being almost totally non-violent. Some of the vampires in these contemporary novels are even more humane and virtuous than most human beings, which may be the point since the novels in which these vampires appear are romances and love stories. It’s a sweet interpretation of vampires: if they love you, they won’t harm you.

The Vampire, by Philip Burne-Jones, 1897

But part of the terror of really great vampire stories is that the vampires can harm or even kill you, despite their caring about you. Maybe I’m prejudiced because my earliest introduction to vampires was the dreaded Count of Stoker’s classic Dracula, and horror films where vampires, be they Dracula or not, were dangerous and monstrous creatures that would kill you even if they liked you. I agree with film critic Roger Ebert when he points out that vampire stories, whether books or films, are inherently “tragic” and “brutal.”

It’s not all fun, games, and Team Edward. No lifestyle depending on fresh human blood can be anything but desperate. A vampire, like a drug addict, is driven by need. After a certain point, all else is irrelevant, and the focus is on the craving.

The horror film Let Me In (2010), a remake of the 2008 Swedish film Let the Right One In, returns the vampire story to horror in its most horrifying manifestations. Though some critics describe this film as “romantic,” it is more a coming-of-age story than a romance, and it is a brutal coming-of-age tale. Despite the fact that several of the characters in the story love each other, most devotedly, Let Me In is a tale of isolation, alienation, brutality, helplessness, and the desperate will to survive by any means possible. These themes set this vampire film far above its contemporaries. It isn’t pretty or romantic to be a vampire or associated with a vampire in Let Me In. Instead, it’s downright lonely and scary.

Kodi Smit-McPhee as Owen, Let Me In © Overture Films

In a fictional version of Los Alamos, a small village in New Mexico, a string of grisly murders causes the community to lock its doors and become uncommonly wary. Twelve-year-old Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a lonely social outcast, neglected by his divorcing parents and bullied by his classmates.

Chloë Grace Moretz as Abby, Let Me In © Overture Films

Owen becomes friendly with his new neighbor Abby (Chloë Grace Moretz), who lives in the adjoining apartment with a man that Owen assumes is her father (Richard Jenkins), and who seems to have some unnatural, even pedophiliac feelings for Abby.

Richard Jenkins and Chloë‘ Grace Moretz, Let Me In © Overture Films

Owen and Abby communicate by tapping Morse code on the walls at night, and they become extremely close to each other, if only because each is a loner: each is isolated from everyone else at school, and each seems to have a distant relationship with the parent figure in their lives. Though Owen and Abby like each other,  Abby’s father-guardian doesn’t want her to spend any time with Owen.

Kodi Smit-McPhee as Owen, Let Me In © Overture Films

As the bullying against Owen increases and gets more physically violent, he confides in Abby, rather than in his own mother. Abby encourages Owen to stand up for himself, to retaliate against the bullies, and, most important, vows to protect him.

Chloë Grace Moretz as Abby, Let Me In © Overture Films

When Abby’s father-guardian kills himself, she is as alone in the world as Owen perceives himself to be, and the pair becomes closer to each other. Abby promises to be Owen’s girlfriend.

Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloë Grace Moretz, Let Me In © Overture Films

When Owen becomes violent, in self-defense, to the boys who are bullying him, the story of the local murders and of his own coming-of-age combine: the detective (Elias Koteas) investigating the murders has begun investigating Abby.

Elias Koteas as the detective, Let Me In © Overture Films

After Owen sees Abby do something violent, and she asks for his help, he is forced to re-evaluate his own morality. Owen has formed a profound and protective bond with Abby, but he must now consider the possibility that she may be responsible for the gruesome killings that are terrorizing his small community.

[Very] close to the much-loved, critically acclaimed” Swedish original Let the Right One In, and equally critically acclaimed itself, Let Me In is a coming-of-age story about isolation and loneliness, about alienation and a need to connect, about brutality and the primitive need to exist. It’s a coming-of-age story with a paranormal twist. Featuring great performances by the child-actors, and a completely unexpected ending, Let Me In is available for rent ($2.99-3.99 SD/HD) from Amazon, YouTube, iTunes, GooglePlay, and Vudu.

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This is The End, My Only Friend, The End: Penny Dreadful Series Finale, Episodes 8-9, “Perpetual Night” and “Blessed Dark,” Review & Recap

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Spoilers,
Most Dreadfully Dreadful

Josh Hartnett as Ethan and Eva Green as Vanessa Ives in Penny Dreadful (season 3, episode 9). - Photo: Patrick Redmond/SHOWTIME - Photo ID: PennyDreadful_309_1596
We knew it would end some time, that deliciously dark and dreadful exploration into faith, into good and evil, and into mankind’s choice to do moral or immoral acts. The end came last night when Penny Dreadful completed its three-season run with a two-part finale, including episodes 8 and 9: “Perpetual Night” and “Blessed Dark.”  John Logan’s thrilling horror story Penny Dreadful did not end because of low ratings, series cancellation, or unavailability of the actors. Instead, like Soderbergh’s and Cinemax’s 2-year series The Knick,  the series Penny Dreadful ended because its creator and writer ended it, because he had always intended ending it at the conclusion of the third season, because it was the logical and reasonable end to the stories of its characters.

There is much grief among viewers over the loss of Vanessa (Eva Green), one of the belovèd characters of fictional drama. There is grief and mourning over the fact that the star-crossed lovers, Ethan (Josh Hartnett) and Vanessa did not, in fact, end up together, despite their great love for each other. There is some disbelief, and outrage, about Vanessa’s choosing the darkness, in the form of Dracula (Christian Camargo), because she is such a good person.

Those “outraged” viewers are ignoring or forgetting the evil in Vanessa herself. They’re also forgetting Vanessa’s previous choices to consciously do evil. Vanessa seduced her best friend’s fiancé on the eve of their wedding, knowing full well that the infidelity would betray her friend Mina and pollute the marriage, even if the act itself were never discovered. When Vanessa confronted the fetish of herself in the basement of Night-Walker Evelyn Poole’s mansion, she told it to “meet [its] Master” just before she destroyed it, proving pretty well that she could take care of herself when confronted with evil. When Vanessa intentionally said the Verbis Diablo in a spell that set Sir Geoffrey’s hounds on him,  she embraced the evil within her, knowing that she could never go back from that act. It was, fact, this evil act that turned Ethan away from her morally. Vanessa has consistently proven that she can consciously choose to do evil, especially when it benefits her. Even if those benefits are short-term.

Of course, the Apocalypse is not supposed to be short-term: it’s supposed to be the End of everything. Once again, in “Blessed Dark,” Vanessa displayed her moral ambivalence about the evil inside her by using her own death to subvert her previously conscious choices.

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Like all the characters in Logan’s Penny Dreadful, Vanessa is both good and evil, and she made a choice, earlier, to abandon her faith, to abandon God, and to embrace her dark destiny as well as her evil nature. For three seasons, we have seen Vanessa struggle against the two Dark Masters who have been hunting her as their Bride. The “fallen angel brothers,” Dracula and Lucifer have been sparring over her soul and her body for the entire run of Penny Dreadful.

It wasn’t really such a surprise that she eventually gave in to Dracula, who promised her eternal love, devotion, and companionship. However heart-wrenching it was for viewers who knew that Vanessa’s surrender to Dracula meant the End of Days for everyone else, it seemed a logical emotional choice for Vanessa.

How long can one person be expected to hold out against the eternal forces of Darkness, especially when said forced are continually presented as physically and emotionally attractive, as unwavering and articulate lovers, as devoted companions, as eternal and never-ending love?

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Vanessa tried to bind her destiny to that of Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett), but at the conclusion of season 2, Ethan left her and turned himself in for his crimes, ostensibly because he expected to be executed immediately, not extradited back to America to face his crimes there, or to face his father. It doesn’t matter to Vanessa why Ethan left her: only that he left her, and that she felt abandoned. That is one of the things that clearly shaped her decision to give in to her fate, her destiny, her tragic and ominous union with the Dark Master.

Dracula knew all about the Lupus Dei, the Hound of God who protects Vanessa and who threatens Dracula himself. He knew that Ethan is the Hound of God, though he often called him the “Wolf of God” instead. Dracula knew, furthermore, that Ethan was no longer there to protect Vanessa. When Dracula asked her about her former love, she said he had abandoned her. Dracula knew exactly what to say to the damaged and vulnerable Vanessa.

Dracula won the Vanessa-prize because everyone else abandoned Vanessa: Ethan, Sir Malcolm, Lyle. There was no one to whom she could turn except Dr. Seward (Patti LuPone), who unwittingly advised her to seek out Dr. Alexander Sweet, who was Dracula in his human form.

That doesn’t mean Vanessa was entirely happy with Dracula. After all, she embraced him saying that she was “accepting herself,” rather than “accepting him,” as he’d asked. I suppose he took her words to mean what he wanted them to mean, not a surprising thing given the Victorian setting of the drama, and the way men often treated women they desire. The Dark Master got what Vanessa gave him: it may have been only her body, it may have been the Apocalypse, it may have been her soul, albeit briefly (he claimed in The White Room that he had no need for her soul, and that, furthermore, his brother Lucifer was “welcome to it”).

We got a brief glimpse of something less than accord between Vanessa and Dracula when one of the Lost Boys reported on the Wolf-induced carnage outside the abandoned slaughterhouse. With her hand on his shoulder, Vanessa told Dracula that she could smell “the fear” on him. When he moved his hand to take hers, she moved away, while he looked vaguely surprised and distressed. It seems that all was not well in Apocalypto-Land, despite Dracula’s having the woman he’d searched for since the beginning of time.

Despite Vanessa’s being the Mother of all Evil, despite her being worshiped by all Dracula’s minions and Lost Boys, despite her being with the companion of her choice, Vanessa is not entirely happy.

This is one of the common themes in literature of the Victorian era, no matter the country of the author’s origin, and no matter the gender of the author. No matter what a fictional Victorian woman chooses, she will not be completely happy. No matter what a woman does, she will be “punished.” No matter a woman’s choices, her life is, in fact, severely constricted by her society. A woman must pay for whatever freedom and happiness she manages to attain.

Consider Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, where Emma’s adulterous affairs and self-indulgent debt lead to her husband’s ruin financial ruin. None of Emma’s lovers care for anything but their own self-satisfaction. Once they have Emma sexually, she loses attraction for them. Eventually, in despair, she commits suicide.

In Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Anna’s adulterous affair with the love of her life, Vronsky, leads to Anna’s loss of her son as well as to the loss of her status in Russian society. Eventually, it leads to her drug use, jealous rages that alienate her lover, and to her eventual suicide.

In Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urdervilles, the young and naïve Tess falls in love with her “cousin,” gives in to him sexually, and bears a child that dies shortly after; later, after marrying and revealing to her husband her initial sexual relationship, she is abandoned by her husband because of her “immorality;” Tess kills her first lover in the hopes that it will bring her husband back to her. Instead, she is executed for her crimes.

In Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, Jane must first “pay penance” for loving a married man, despite the fact that she did not know he was married when she fell in love with and agreed to marry him herself. She “punishes” herself for her “sins” by leaving him and by being unhappy. Even after she returns to Mr. Rochester, he is blind, and needs her as much as a caregiver as a companion. Jane’s ultimate “happiness” is purchased at a great price.

In Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, Catherine and Heathcliff never do find happiness; instead, Catherine dies giving birth to (their?) child, cursing Heathcliff for having abandoned her, though he insists that it was Catherine who initially abandoned him by claiming she could never marry Heathcliff. She haunts Heathcliff after her death: the two are never together in life.

Even in American literature, women of the literary era are punished for sexual alliances and for love. Hawthorne’s heroine Hester, in The Scarlet Letter, bears her lover’s child after the older husband of her arranged marriage is pronounced dead. Because Hester will not reveal the name of her illicit lover, and because he never comes forward to claim her and the child, Hester is forced to endure the public scorn and repudiation of her society. Her lover dies without ever claiming the two of them. Hester’s “reward” for her loyalty and her love is a lifetime alone.

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One could argue that, in making Vanessa Ives choose death as the logical conclusion of her moral choices, creator-writer Logan was merely creating yet another doomed Victorian heroine. Furthermore, by  having Vanessa request that the love-of-her-life Ethan kill her, to release her from her own moral choices, Logan is showing that Vanessa must have a man help her “atone” for her life choices and actions, as though she is unable to do so on her own.

I realize that death seemed the sole, logical conclusion for Vanessa’s moral choices, according to Penny Dreadful’s male creator. I realize that having the Apocalypse and the death of all mankind on one’s conscience would be an extremely heavy burden. But what happened to the Vanessa who “accepted [herself]”? Where was the woman who consciously embraced her dark side?

She defined herself, again, by a man, and by a man’s actions.

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Ethan may be considered her “saviour,” but, in the end of Vanessa’s story, he was simply the man who decided her fate: it was Ethan who ultimately pulled the trigger and killed her. One could argue that Vanessa decided her own fate by asking Ethan to kill her, but other Victorian heroines have chosen to end their own lives, and not asked that a man do it for them.

What was Vanessa but another Victorian heroine who had to suffer for being different? A Victorian heroine who could not fit in to society’s definition of a “proper woman.” A heroine of Victorian-era literature who was not “allowed” to be happy, who was not permitted to be either sexually or emotionally content.

Ah, well… we could wonder all we want at what Logan was attempting to do. I would argue that Logan, while re-inventing some of the characters from the literature of the Victorian era, fell into the same constricted societal judgements of all persons, but especially of women, who are different from that which society expects.

A woman without a man is incomplete.

A woman who chooses sexual independence is morally repugnant.

A woman who chooses sexual or moral freedom must be punished.

Logan and Penny Dreadful gave us yet another doomed Victorian woman who must die, or otherwise by “punished,” for her sexual and moral choices.

That doesn’t mean I don’t love Vanessa Ives and Penny Dreadful. I think she is one of the finest characters ever created, and the series is one of the best ever written. I’m devastated to see it end. It simply means that, as a woman, I’m saddened to see yet another fictional heroine forced to “choose” death as the “punishment” or as the ultimate end of her moral and sexual choices.

Still, Vanessa’s fate was, no doubt, decided long beforehand, and with her constant pleas to others, and especially to Ethan, to end her “suffering,” her death shouldn’t have been a surprise to any viewers.

Vanessa died. By Ethan’s hand. At her request.

Then, to appease anyone who was too tremendously upset about Vanessa’s having chosen Dracula and the Darkness instead of waiting for Ethan to return (though mating with him would have also been a morally dubious choice, given that he’s a WolfMan), Vanessa began to pray again, half-way through Ethan’s recitation of The Lord’s Prayer, while he remained silent, just before he shot her.

As if her being able to pray again weren’t clear enough for viewers, Vanessa claimed to see “our Lord” as she was dying.

In case anyone thought that Lucifer might scoop her up as she attempted to avoid the consequences of her having chosen, in life, his earthly brother of Darkness, Dracula.

It was sad to lose her.

But, somehow, it was not a surprise.

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Meanwhile…
The Remaining Stories

Dorian (Reeve Carney), having given Lily to the love-lorn Victor Frankenstein so that Victor and his colleague Henry Jekyll could “make her into a proper woman,” returned to his mansion, threw out all the whores, and killed Justine (Jessica Barden), who didn’t want to live in a world without Lily. When Lily returned, she viewed Justine as another “dead child,” having related earlier, to Victor, her loss of her natural born child, Sarah. Despite Dorian’s assurance that life without emotional engagement was the only way to survive immortality, and that he was the only partner suited for her, Lily left Dorian alone.

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Dorian’s story has never been as integrally woven with the story of Vanessa and the others, and this end was no different. Despite Dorian’s being sexually involved with Vanessa in season one, Dorian is ultimately alone. An outsider in the world of Penny Dreadful.

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Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway, above L) gave up trying to mold Lily (Billie Piper) into a “perfect woman,” by which he meant a woman who loved him but had no independent thoughts, life, or impulses. After Lily begged him not to take away the memory of her dead child Sarah, Victor finally saw her as a human being with desires and a life separate from his own.

Despite Jekyll’s (Shazad Latif, above R) insistence that Lily could have been changed, and Jekyll’s lament that he never should have left Victor alone with Lily, Victor won the moral high ground in this “battle” over good and evil. Though Jekyll gloated that he, at last, had inherited his father’s estate and title, and would thereby achieve societal acceptance as “Lord Hyde,” viewers probably guessed that Jekyll-Hyde would never be part of the society as he wished, even if they’ve never read the book on which his character was based.

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Frankenstein’s first Creature (Rory Kinnear, above, center), also sometimes known as John Clare, was reunited with his family only to be confronted with the death of his young son. After his wife insisted that he take the boy’s body to Dr. Frankenstein so that the boy could be re-animated as was the Creature himself, Clare was faced with a moral decision. He had to choose life with the woman who claimed to love him and accept him totally, but who insisted that he have their son “re-animated” so that she could love him again, “better this time,” or Clare had to choose life alone. He chose to “bury” his son in the ocean rather than to have him re-animated and to suffer as the Creature himself had.

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Dr. Seward (Patti LuPone) was not revealed as the re-incarnated Joan Clayton, which LuPone played in Season 2, but she did come to Vanessa’s aid. She acquitted herself admirably alongside Sir Malcolm (Timothy Dalton), Ethan, Catriona (Perdita Weeks, below), Frankenstein, and Kaetenay as they fought Dracula’s minions, the Lost Boys.

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After Vanessa’s death, Sir Malcolm, who was wounded by a vampire but had his wound cauterized by thanatologist Cat, bonded with Ethan. Each affirmed that they had to find a new life now that Vanessa was no longer alive, but that they considered each other family. Malcolm and Ethan have become the ideal father and son that neither had in reality.

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After finding a dead wolf hanging in Vanessa’s room at Sir Malcolm’s mansion, but before finding Vanessa herself, Ethan learned that it was his spiritual father Kaetenay (Wes Studi) who turned Ethan into a WolfMan. Though Ethan’s hostility toward Kaetaney has been present from the beginning of the season, if only in visions, Ethan did not know that Kaetenay intentionally turned (and cursed) him until last night.

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(I’m actually not sure what happened to Kaetenay, which could mean I was too absorbed in the group’s search for Vanessa to notice. On the other hand, it could mean that Kaetanay’s fate was not remarkable enough for me to notice. I’ll update the post after I watch the episode again.)

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Dracula (Christian Camargo) vanished tout de suite after Ethan appeared, bearing Vanessa’s body. Everyone else seemed to be paying too much attention to Ethan to notice that Dracula had escaped. He was never mentioned again.

Rory Kinnear as The Creature in Penny Dreadful (season 3, episode 9). - Photo: Jonathan Hession/SHOWTIME - Photo ID: PennyDreadful_309_3197

The Creature appeared at the cemetery during Vanessa’s funeral, and his poignant Voice-Over of Wordsworth’s famous “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood” was a lovely tribute to the entire show.

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Were there loose ends? Unfortunately. We never got to see how Amunet or Amun-ra were related to either Dracula, Vanessa, or Lucifer, the other Prince of Darkness. As I wrote earlier in this post, Dorian’s story was never as integrally tied into the remaining tales, but we know that he’s alone. We don’t know what happened to Lily, but if she’s like Frankenstein’s other Creature, she’s going to be roaming the world an an immortal being, always alone. Frankenstein himself, after pining after and plotting over Lily all season, seemed relatively quickly resigned to life without her. Jekyll’s story didn’t have near the moral consequences that it does in the novel, when its protagonist tries to separate his evil impulses from the good ones, failing when the evil side cannot be conquered unless the physical body is destroyed. Renfield ended up in a cell in Bedlam. What happened to Dr. Seward and Catriona, the other two strong women in the show? They helped save Vanessa. That seems to be their sole purpose. What happened to Dracula? We’ll never know.

It’s over, my fellow Dreadfuls.

It’s been quite a tumultuous ride.

Related Posts

May the Lost Souls Be Found:
Penny Dreadful, Season 3 Episode 7,
“Ebb Tide” Review & Recap

Loving the Darkness:
Penny Dreadful, Season 3, Episodes 5-6,
Review and Recap

Embracing the Darkness:
Penny Dreadful, Season 3, Episode 4,
Review and Recap of “A Blade of Grass”

No Mercy Anywhere:
Penny Dreadful, season 3 episode 4,
“Good and Evil Braided Be,”
Review and Recap

Behind the Masks:
Penny Dreadful, Season 3, Episode 2,
“Predators Far and Near,”
Review and Recap

All the Unloved Ones:
Penny Dreadful, Season 3 Premiere,
“The Day Tennyson Died,”
Review and Recap

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

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Filed under Actors, Authors, Books, Classics, Movies/Television, Penny Dreadful, Recap, Review, Violence

May the Lost Souls Be Found: Penny Dreadful, season 3 episode 7, “Ebb Tide,” Review and Recap

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Spoilers:
Dark, Dreadful, Delish

“Ebb Tide,” the 7th episode of Showtime’s deliciously dark homage to Victorian horror literature Penny Dreadful, created and written by John Logan, left viewers breathless as it rushed down the strait, shadowy corridors toward its 2-episode, season 3 finale (Sunday 19 June). Virtually everyone was in danger, and because at least one of the storylines was neatly (and happily) tied up — without the show’s being renewed for a 4th season — I fear that the series, not just the season, may be coming to an end.

John Clare
aka The Creature
aka The Orderly

John Clare (Rory Kinnear), also known, this season, as the Orderly from the Banning Clinic, and as Frankenstein’s first Creature, visited Vanessa Ives last night, telling her he was in need of a friend. He told her he’d found his family but feared that they would reject him, given his appearance “from the accident.” Vanessa was as loving and accepting as she always is: she told him she saw the man he is inside, and urged him to give his family a chance to take him back into their lives. She also revealed that she knew the scarred man before her is the same man who was the Orderly at the Clinic. John Clare did not recall her from the time in the clinic, nor did he recall the clinic, but she assured him that he had been good to her and that she loved him for it. It was typical non-demon-possessed Vanessa: loving and accepting of the shunned, the different, the alienated.

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Part of Clare’s fear regarding his family was his own looks. Part of it was his son’s reaction from last episode: while Clare cared for the consumptive boy, who had his eyes closed, the boy spoke affectionately and longingly to his father. When the boy opened his eyes, however, he began to scream, causing Clare to run out into the streets, into an alley, where he grieved.

(These scenes as the Creature, along with those of Kinnear as the Orderly who is possessed by both Lucifer and Dracula as they attempt to seduce Vanessa, should, at the very least, garner Kinnear some award nominations. He is consistently strong and powerful in this role.)

Last night, after what seemed like hesitation but what ultimately may have been disbelief and shock, Clare’s wife threw her arms around Clare and hugged him tightly. She listened to his story, then assured him that he was the same man she had always loved. He told her he’d done things that were cruel and unnecessary — out of rage — but she said that he was now back home. Then she took him to the flat and told their son, Jake, that someone had come to visit, to stay, and Clare entered the room. The boy was silent and wide-eyed for a while, but when Clare knelt and helped with the model-ship, the boy grasped his hand, then hugged him. Clare was moved to tears, though this time from happiness over the love and acceptance of his family.

I was moved to tears, too (though it’s this happy ending for one of creator-writer Logan’s favorite characters that makes me fear, along with the fact that season 4 of Penny Dreadful has not been announced, that this may be the final season of the series).

Lily, Dorian,
Frankenstein, & Jekyll

Billie Piper has really come into her own since she was “transformed” from Brona to Lily. As Brona, she only had a relatively small part — as the consumptive lover of Ethan, as the presumptive bride-to-be of Frankenstein. As the re-animated Lily, Billie has been able to embody female rage at societal restrictions and at males’ abuse of females. Billie Piper may join Eva Green in the Emmy and Golden Globe nominations this season.

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Over at La Maison Gray, Lily (Billie Piper) gave the entire graduating class of Whore University their first “world experience” assignment: find “a bad man” and cut off his right hand. Dorian looked mighty uncomfortable as all the whores cheered.

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Next scene with the group, the women were “blood-drunk” and having an orgy,

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while a pile of bloody hands was shown on the table. Dorian seemed repulsed, though that may not be the right word for the look on his face, since he’s not a man who is easily revolted. Justine (Jessica Barden) asked him for a dance, which he declined, then taunted him about his manners, which are always perfect and upper-class.

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Dorian confronted her and eventually grabbed her throat; he told her that she was just learning the language of violence but he’d written the book on it; he called her “Kitten” and told her that if she wanted to play with him, she’d better show him her claws.

Since Dorian has his portrait to help him maintain immortality, Justine will not be able to defeat him. If she tries to kill him, it will just make a wound in the portrait, which viewers rarely get to see anyway, and which I know more about from the novel on which Dorian’s character is based than on the show itself. Take my word for it, however: the hidden portrait is the secret of Dorian’s longevity, beauty, and disdain for the rest of the world. I don’t believe Lily knows about it. Justine certainly doesn’t. If she did, she wouldn’t waste her time threatening Dorian: she’d just destroy the portrait, which would kill Dorian.

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Later, walking with Lily, Dorian told her that he was bored with her “revolution,” having been through so many of them before, and that one of them “had to change.” Then a carriage stopped and out jumped Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway, below R) with Jekyll (Shazad Latif, below L) driving.

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Dorian seemed to be doing just another break-up with one of the women in his life, but he was actually helping Frankenstein and Jekyll kidnap Lily and take her to Bedlam. When she recovered consciousness, she was understandably frightened, and that was before she discovered that she was chained by the ankle. Bedlam (St. Bethlehem’s) is such a frightening institution that even Americans know what “Bedlam” stands for: insanity, imprisonment, no escape. Lily was reduced to “rebelling” by calling Dorian the nastiest name she could think of for a man, which he found amusing. Then the Boys told her they were going to “cure her, make her well, restore her,” etc.

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With fear on her face, Lily asked them what they were going to make her “better than,” and told Victor again that he had been the happy one in their relationship: not both of them, i.e., not Lily herself. They ended the scene with the nightmare-words heard by every woman who has ever not fit into society’s prescribed female role: we’re going to make you a proper lady.

Nightmare-City, Lil.

Ethan, Sir Malcolm,
& Kaetenay

Back in the Spanish-desert-pretending-to-be-the-American-Southwest, Ethan (Josh Hartnett), no longer dressed like Zorro but now going hatless in the desert heat, and his Apache surrogate father Kaetenay (Wes Studi), also hatless, argued about whether or not Ethan was “done with Hell.” Ethan claimed that he was, but Kaetenay informed Ethan that Hell wasn’t done with him. It was one of the better lines of the evening.

Then Kaetenay proved his status as the current season’s Wise Old Man archetype by falling back against a fence and having a vision.

A vision of Vanessa, whom he doesn’t even know.

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In the vision, Kaetenay saw Ethan return to Vanessa, whom he loves, as he informed Kaetenay last night. (And viewers finally got to see the much-anticipated “reunion” of Ethanessa: these photos have been circulating the ‘Net since before the series began its third season.)

The doomed couple’s feelings for each other are still strong.

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However, when Ethan went to Vanessa in the vision, though they love each other, she told him it was “too late.” Then the Lost Boys broke through the windows of Sir Malcolm’s mansion, where Vanessa is now living alone.

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That first vision was involuntary. Once Sir Malcolm (Timothy Dalton, below, background), Ethan, and Kaetenay were on the ship, Kaetenay induced a vision with his “bones” and “trinkets.”

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In this vision, Kaetenay himself was with Vanessa. At first, he seemed to want to help her.

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Then he called her a few TV-MA-rated words, saying that he loved her for who she was. That seems to be Vanessa’s theme song this season, although it may have always been her tune.

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In any event, Kaetenay ended the vision by saying that he knew Vanessa was made for the “day,” not for the night. Her eyes turned red like the vampire-Creature’s as she told him he was mistaken.

Kaetenay was freaked by the vision. He told Malcolm to get the Captain to hurry up, ’cause, you know, if you have a boatload of monies, you can get a ship to go faster across the Atlantic…

Anyhow, while Kaetenay was taking a post-vision nap in the cabin, Sir Malcolm (Timothy Dalton) and Ethan got caught up on some surrogate-father-son bonding, each revealing that they now feel themselves family to each other. It was a touching moment, but it made me wonder which one of them is going to get killed in the finale.

Not that I want to lose either of them: Ethan is, after all, the Lupus Dei, the Hound of God that protects Vanessa from Lucifer and Dracula, as well as an important component of Ethanessa; and Malcolm is, well, he’s played by Timothy Dalton, the only really sexy man my age on the show… sigh…

Vanessa & Dracula et al

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 In addition to appearing in Kaetenay’s visions, Vanessa was briefly mentioned by Dr. Seward (Patti LuPone), who was listening to the recordings made while Vanessa was hypnotized. Seward thought she was alone in the office at night, but Renfield (Samuel Barnett), in a super-spooky scene, appeared at the doorway.

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After Seward claimed that Vanessa was a multiple personality — in a serious breech of professional ethics, even if it was a new field –Renfield startled Seward with his creepy, non-sensical talk (à la the Lost Boy who cornered Vanessa in the Hall of Mirrors and told her that the Master had already visited her in the White Room).

If Dr. Seward is more than she seems to be, or if she has any of her “ancestor” Joan Clayton the Cut-Wife in her, Seward better do something quick, or Renfield is going to have her as his “sweetie,” and I don’t mean in the metaphorical or romantic sense, but in the same way as he meant when he asked Dracula for some “sweeties” and gorged himself, with Dracula’s permission, on the body of the dead man hanging in the warehouse.

The actor playing Renfield doesn’t have much of a part, but Barnett does a super-creepy job with his few scenes. Renfield is traditionally portrayed as deranged — that’s how he is after his encounter with Dracula in the Bram Stoker novel — and Penny Dreadful’s Renfield seemed to be going that direction earlier this season when he was sitting at his desk, writing Vanessa over and over and over, right before he snatched up and fly and crammed it into his mouth. Last night’s episode let the actor revel in the creepity-creeps while still acting scared bloodless himself by the appearance of his Master, Dracula. Renfield crawled up to the sleeping Vanessa (Eva Green), posed like Sleeping Beauty on a Victorian Fainting Couch in the Museum, licked her neck, then appeared to be about to bite her with his baby vampire teeth…

But wait…

Who’s that creeping up behind you, Renfield?

 A not too happy Dracula, still in the guise of Dr. Sweet (Christian Camargo).

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I gotta tellya, having grown up in the fang-baring, cape-as-bat-wings, bug-eyed era of Dracula (Bela Lugosi, in his iconic role, below),

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I’m fascinated by Camargo’s performance as the Master of all Darkness on the face of the earth. He rarely raises his voice, only occasionally tosses minions across rooms, and seldom is seen is the presence of extremely-recently-dead creatures. Furthermore, when the recently dead animals are human, this Master of Darkness on the earth is not feeding on the humans himself: instead, he’s talking about Vanessa.

No matter what the love-of-his-undead-life Vanessa tells him, like that “a Creature” is seeking her for his bride,

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Camargo doesn’t blink an eye.

Metaphorically, that is.

And his sexier-than-dark-chocolate voice is super-duper-calm when he asks her quasi-outré things (that he already knows the answer to), like, “And does this Creature have a name?

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Yowza!

This is why I’m a writer and not an actor. How does Camargo do it? I don’t have a clue, but he’s really spooky good at it, my lovely Dreadfuls. With writer John Logan’s script as the basis, Camargo has totally re-invented Dracula and put new spin on the spook factor.

But back to “Ebb Tide”…

Eva Green as Vanessa Ives and Samuel Barnett as Renfield in Penny Dreadful (season 3, episode 7). - Photo: Patrick Redmond/SHOWTIME - Photo ID: PennyDreadful_307_0478

Renfield was doing the kissy-neck on Sleeping Beauty when Dracula (Christian Camargo) walked in behind Renfield, grabbed him by the throat, lifted him off the ground — just enough to let the minion know that the Master was none too happy about the physical-sexual intimacy with the Girl of his dreams — and, while holding Renfield by the throat, Dracula ever so slightly shook his head in warning.

You can bet Renfield took off as soon as Dracula released him.

Then Dracula played the lovey-dovey-sweetie role for Vanessa, who said he was “too good” to her, to which Dracula-Sweetie replied, “I hope you’ll always think that.”

Poor girl.

Reeled in by the very best of them.

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Back at Sir Malcolm’s Manse, Vanessa has been doing all this research on Dracula, which the thanatologist Catriona Hartdegen (Perdita Weeks) dismisses as superstition, myth, literature, and a lot like “reading the Bible for history.”

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Cat  then told Van that Dracula would be “unexceptionable” so that he would, in effect, blend in. I mis-heard that line originally, thinking she said “unremarkable,” and it made me laugh since Camargo as Sweet-Dracula is most decidedly not “unremarkable looking.” His eyes alone are “remarkable,”

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and his voice is unusual enough to make him stand out.

Note: When I watched “Ebb Tide”  for the third time, I realized that Cat said “unexceptional” rather than “unremarkable.” I tried to think only of the character instead of the actor playing Dracula. Is the Director of the Natural History Museum “unexceptional”? I understand what Cat was trying to tell Vanessa, but it seemed an odd choice of words: whether it’s “unexceptional” or understood as “unremarkable:” Cat was telling Vanessa that Dracula will blend in. (Okay, perhaps it’s being picky, but when things bounce out at you like that, it means that something is “off,” whether or not you originally mis-heard the line. Thus, my reaction to the line.) End Note.

That issue aside, when Cat tells Vanessa that Dracula will “live among the Night Creatures,” you can bet she recalls that Dr. Sweet is preparing an exhibition of the Night Creatures — how can she forget since that’s where the two of them made passionate love and spent the night together?

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Now Vanessa knows that Dr. Sweet and Dracula — the mild-mannered milquetoast who kept forgetting her name, and the Dark Master of the earthly realm who has been seeking her — are one and the same. Armed in a low-cut gown and sporting a pistol, Vanessa returns to the museum to confront Sweet.

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He’s waiting for her.

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She makes the mistake that far too many people with pistols in dramas make: she doesn’t go ahead and shoot. She talks to him first. She tells him how hurt she is, how truly cruel he is (even more so than she ever imagined he would be), how he twisted her heart, blah blah blah. 

First mistake in drama when a character has a pistol: too much talk.

Then Vanessa makes an even more serious mistake: she lets him talk.

Oh, Vanessa, when will you learn not to listen to the Darkness?

Of course, he tells everything she wants to hear.

He tells her everything she’s always wanted to hear.

He loves her just as she is, how he doesn’t want her to change for him, how he doesn’t want her to be as society-family-doctors expect her to be, how he doesn’t even want her to be good, how he wants her just the way she is.

He admits that he was “seeking” her, but insists that he fell in love instead.

He doesn’t want her to “serve him” — instead, he wants to “serve” her, as the Mother of All Darkness…

Oy, vey, what red-blooded woman could resist?

Even if their union would start the Apocalypse.

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Meanwhile, with every line, he’s walking closer and closer.

She points the gun at him.

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He tells her to go ahead and shoot, saying something like, if he can’t have her the way he wants, then what’s the point of living any longer?

Does she shoot him?

No, she does not.

Instead, she lets him get even closer, like this.

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He keeps right on talking in that sexy-smooth totally “unexceptional” (cough, cough) voice that he has, telling her that she’s all he’s ever wanted, and that he only wants her just the way she is. He tells her that she will never be alone again. He says he will love her until “time ceases to exist.”

He keeps talking in that unexceptional voice until she’s like this:

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“Do you accept me?” he says.

“I accept,” she says, “myself.”

Dracula bares his teeth and bites her neck.

Vanessa’s voice comes over the two of them — as they stand there in some sort of erotic ecstasy — saying something about the end of life-as-we-know-it on earth and all the Darkness in the universe settling on the face of the world or something very like that.

If Logan had made that the cliff-hanger, I would’ve gone berserkers.

Fortunately, though season 4 of Penny Dreadful has not yet been announced and though the Creature’s storyline seems to have closed for all time and on a happy note, we have at least one more, 2-hour, season finale episode remaining.

Be there, my Dreadfuls, or be very scared.

Related Posts

Loving the Darkness:
Penny Dreadful, Season 3, Episodes 5-6,
Review and Recap

Embracing the Darkness:
Penny Dreadful, Season 3, Episode 4,
Review and Recap of “A Blade of Grass”

No Mercy Anywhere:
Penny Dreadful, season 3 episode 4,
“Good and Evil Braided Be,”
Review and Recap

Behind the Masks:
Penny Dreadful, Season 3, Episode 2,
“Predators Far and Near,”
Review and Recap

All the Unloved Ones:
Penny Dreadful, Season 3 Premiere,
“The Day Tennyson Died,”
Review and Recap

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

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