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I Ain’t Never Been No Hero: More Great Westerns

No Spoilers

I love Westerns, though most of the Westerns I favor fall into what are considered the sub-genres, with some of them not even taking place in the American West, for example, but containing iconic character motifs and themes present in Western films. My Top Ten Western films have characters, storylines, and themes make them powerful films that I watch over and over. They don’t always end happily, but they end honestly, with the finale of the movie developing out of the characters’ natures, their conflicts, and the decisions they’ve made previously — either in the film itself or in their lives before the events in the story take place. Here are more of my favorite Westerns, films I can always watch one more time.

 The Long Riders
(1980)

Starring sets of real-life brother actors as historical brother outlaws, The Long Riders explores America’s violent post-Civil War past in a unique way. The most factual of any film about the James-Younger Gang, it covers the activity of Frank and Jesse James (Stacey and James Keach); Ed and Clell Miller (Dennis and Randy Quaid); Cole, Jim, and Bob Younger (David, Keith, and Robert Carradine); and Bob and Charley Ford (Nicholas and Christopher Guest).

Jesse is the titular head of the Gang, but after he disapproves of Ed’s behavior during one of that raids/robberies, rifts begin to form among the Gang members. Pursued by posses and the Pinkertons, the Gang is nevertheless protected by family and neighbors, who consider them local heroes rather than criminals. When hiding out, the brothers court women, and are courted by them in turn, which causes added stress in the Gang. As the Gang’s crimes escalate, so does the Pinkertons’ determination to capture them. After innocent people begin to get hurt and killed, the Gang loses its local support and goes further afield to rob stages, trains, and banks, increasing the Gang’s notoriety and fame, but also increasing its risk.

Even if you know the story of the James-Younger Gang, this film is engaging and worth watching. The cinematography is very effective and powerful, especially as the Gang escalates its violence. The Long Riders is available for rent $3.99 from Amazon (free with a 7-day Starz trial) or free from Starz with a subscription.

The Professionals
(1966)

Four American “specialists,” i.e., mercenaries (Burt Lancaster, Lee Marvin, Robert Ryan, and Woody Strode), are hired for an extremely dangerous but potentially lucrative, once-in-a-lifetime mission: deliver a $100K-in-gold ransom and rescue the beautiful young wife (Claudia Cardinale) of an older, wealthy rancher (Ralph Bellamy). Because two of the professional soldiers fought in Pancho Villa’s Army during the Mexican Revolution, they’re willing yet wary, if only because they know the ostensible kidnapper Razza (Jack Palance) intimately, and “kidnapping doesn’t seem like his thing.”

Fighting the desert, weather, rogue bandits, self-doubt, and each other, the Professionals use their individual skills — with dynamite, knives, bow-and-arrow, guns — as they head for Razza’s presumed hide-out. When they come upon Razza derailing a train and executing soldiers, they realize their mission may be more dangerous than they’d originally than anticipated because “something’s dicey about this set-up.”

Lancaster as the woman-loving wit is especially entertaining. With surprising (and satisfying) plot-twists, The Professionals is an often-neglected gem of a Western. Available from Amazon available for rent $3.99 (free with a 7-day Starz trial) or free from Starz with a subscription.

The Shootist
(1976)

Opening with a montage of John Wayne’s film roles as the “history” of gunslinger J. B. Books (Wayne), narrated in Voice-Over by The Boy (Ron Howard) who idolizes him, The Shootist is my favorite role by both of these actors. Diagnosed with advanced cancer, with only about 6 weeks to live, Books settles in for a last stay in the lodging house of Widow Rogers (Lauren Bacall), mother of The Boy. Though Books wants anonymity and privacy, The Boy discovers his identity almost immediately and proudly trumpets that a famous Shootist is staying at his house. Books wants to keep him terminal illness secret, too, but he’s forced to tell people in order to stay quietly in the town till he dies.

When the stories of Books’ impending death begin to spread, other gunslingers who want to improve their own reputations by killing the famed Shootist arrive. Books’ instinct for survival and self-preservation combat with any desire he has to die quietly. Worse, he decides he doesn’t want to be alone, and the Widow Rogers and her son have caught his eye.

The chemistry between Wayne and the impressive line-up of guest stars —  James Stewart, Henry Morgan, Richard Boone, Scatman Crothers, John Carradine, Hugh O’Brien, Sheree North — is surpassed only by the chemistry between Wayne and Bacall, and by that between Wayne and Howard. This is the role that should have won Wayne the Oscar: he’s better by far as the fighting-fading Books than as True Grit‘s cantankerous Cogburn. The Shootist is available from Amazon ($3.99 to rent).

3:10 to Yuma
(2007)

Based on an Elmore Leonard short story, and a remake of the 1951 film of the same name, 3:10 to Yuma packs powerful Western icons with clever dialogue and strong performances. Civil War hero Dan (Christian Bale, in one of his best roles) is about to lose his ranch because he didn’t have enough money to pay the mortgage and to buy feed for his cattle, purchase water during the drought, and to obtain the drugs for his consumptive youngest son.

When attempting to retrieve some of his cattle scattered by ne’er-do-wells, Dan and his sons run into escaped Bad Guy Ben Wade (Russell Crowe, below R) and his Gang, who have just ambushed the Pinkertons to rescue one of their Gang members. After rescuing the wounded Pinkerton McElroy (Peter Fonda), Dan, who is determined to save his ranch, offers to help escort the proverb-quoting escaped convict Wade to Detention so he can be put on the 3:10 to Yuma Prison.

The treacherous journey turns into a contest of wills between idealistic Dan, whose oldest son idolizes the criminal, and the notorious Bed Wade. As Ben’s Gang attempts to rescue its leader, Dan tries to earn his own son’s respect by completing the job he was hired to do. 3:10 to Yuma is filled with excellent writing, rousing action, and memorable characters. The scenes between Bale and Crowe are exquisite. Available from Amazon ($9.99SD-$12.99HD to purchase, or free with a 7-day Showtime trial), or free with a subscription from Showtime or DirecTV.

Salvation
(sometimes translated as The Salvation)
(2014)

Salvation, sometimes translated as The Salvation, is the Danish tribute to Sergio Leone’s classic Spaghetti Westerns, exploring some of the genre’s classic icons: The Man with No Name, The Town Besieged, The Cowardly Townspeople, The Man Seeking Vengeance. Jon (Mads Mikkelsen, below R) has come the the American West, from Denmark, with his brother Peter (Mikael Persbrandt, below L) after the disastrous War of 1864.

Seven years later, Jon has enough money to bring over his wife and 10-year-old son. Though these two characters are not developed — existing only as a reason for Jon to seek revenge for the heinous crimes against them, the film doesn’t suffer from that weakness. Instead, it plunges into Jon’s story as he and his brother seek revenge against the Bad Guys, led by DeLaRue (Jeffrey Dean Morgan).

Terrorizing a town where no one is willing to stand up to the villains but where everyone wants a Saviour, DeLaRue and his Gang rule the populace with the aid of a corrupt Mayor (Jonathan Pryce) and a milque-toast Preacher-Sheriff (Douglas Henshaw). Eventually joined by “The Princess” (Eva Green), who appears to have been the captive “wife” of one of the rapists/murderers and who had her tongue cut out by Indians when she was kidnapped as a young girl, Jon fights for justice.

The addition of the mystery-suspense sub-plot makes this Revenge Tale one of the more interesting Westerns. Everyone in the film is more realistic than iconic, as they are in some of the classic Spaghetti Westerns: it usually takes Jon several shots to put down an assailant. Moody and atmospheric, with artistic cinematography, Salvation is available from Amazon ($4.99 to rent, or free with a 7-day trial from Showtime), is available for purchase for $14.99 from iTunes, or for $12.99 from GooglePlay, and YouTube, and is available free with a subscription from Showtime, IFC, or DirecTV.

If you know of any other classic Westerns that I might enjoy, please feel free to tell me about them in comments.

My original Top 10 Westerns post 
If You’re Going to Shoot,
Shoot: Don’t Talk

is now divided into two posts,
updated with official trailers and film availability:


We All Have It Coming:
Top 5 Westerns

and


I’m Your Huckleberry:
5 More Top Westerns

(originally films #6-10)

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3 Western Coming-of-Age Films

I Ain’t Never Been No Hero:
More Great Westerns

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Why You Need to Watch HBO’s Deadwood

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Again! Still!

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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

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

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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Loving the Darkness: Penny Dreadful, season 3 episodes 5 & 6, Review & Recap

Spoilers,
Dark & Dreadful

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Despite a weak episode in “This World is Our Hell” (3:5), where there was too much telling and not enough showing, Showtime’s Penny Dreadful returned with a powerfully strong episode last night, “No Beast So Fierce” (3:6). Whenever creator-writer John Logan reverts to telling, with the characters talking too much, in a medium that is visual and should always be showing what’s happening, even if characters are narrating in a VoiceOver, I wonder what Logan thinks he’s doing: it’s not as if he’s writing fiction. Even if he were, he should be having flashbacks that show the events rather than having straight narration.

Episode 5, “This World is Our Hell,” had so much narration, without the accompanying flashback action that the visual medium can afford, that it slowed the tension down. Episode 6, “No Beast So Fierce,” packed in the visual action that only television and cinema can provide, however, which made it one of the most exciting episodes so far this season.

♦ ♦ ♦

Episode 5
This World is Our Hell

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The slowest, and thus, dullest, episode this season, “This World is Our Hell,” left Vanessa behind and returned mostly to the story of Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett, above L) who was traveling in the American West, specifically in the New Mexico Territory (which does not remotely resemble the Spanish desert landscape where the show the filmed, by the way, not even in the architecture). Ethan is going to his father’s home, ostensibly to kill him, or as Ethan likes to say, to “send his father to Hell.” Ethan, looking a lot like Zorro in his flat-topped, wide-brimmed hat and black duds, is traveling with the witch Hecate (Sarah Greene) who wants to unleash Ethan’s inner darkness so she can mate with him and “unleash” the apocalypse, where she plans to rule the Eternal Darkness at his side.

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Ethan resisted Hecate’s sexual and love advances pretty well until after she saved him by releasing rattlesnakes on Inspector Rusk the Intrepid (Douglas Hodge) and all the other lawmen following him. After Ethan and Hecate got to a cave with ancient Apache paintings which supposedly represented their Creation Story (and which were, by themselves, pretty Coolio and the Beans), Ethan suddenly dropped all his resistance to Hecate — and to his inner darkness. To Hecate’s unbridled joy, he announced that he was rejecting God and embracing his own inner demons. They had sexual relations in the cave, and were super-bonded afterward, even if Hecate is obviously one-sided infatuated with Ethan, who, though attracted enough to Hecate, may still be pining after Vanessa.

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The pair lost their horses and eventually collapsed in the desert. Their collapse was from a lack of canteen-water, from a lack of liquid-rich cactus (which Spain apparently does not have and which New Mexico has by the butt-ful, and which can sometimes pierce clothes, gloves, and those pretty designer boots Hecate’s wearing), and from traveling in the day when the desert is at its hottest, rather than in the night when it’s at its coolest, despite Ethan’s supposed desert experience (okay, maybe I’m being too picky here, but how much work would it have taken Logan to research the New Mexican desert?)

Ethan and Hecate were discovered by Sir Malcolm (Timothy Dalton), who gave Ethan water but was going to shoot Hecate, and by a snake-bit Kaetaney (Wes Studi), before being taken captive by Ethan’s father’s men (they’re everywhere; they’re everywhere). When questioned about what to do with Kaetenay, Ethan said, “Let him die slow,” but we all had the feeling that the tough old guy would survive.

When I leave out all the talkity-talk, it looks like a lot happened in that episode with Ethan and those surrounding him, but it didn’t. I mean, you just read everything that happened in about… what… a minute? Though I admit that once the show finally got going, it improved.

And once Ethan was back on the ol’ homestead, reunited with his father (Brian Cox, below), we found out that lots of Ethan’s anger is not solely from his being a wolf-man/were-wolf but genetic: inherited from his racist and very full of rage Daddy, Jared, who, after talking Ethan’s ear off by telling him the long, drawn-out story of how everyone else in the family got killed in the Chapel by the Apaches due to Ethan’s (remorseful) treachery, threatened to blow him to Hell unless he repented.

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The episode concentrated on Ethan’s storyline, leaving the other characters only minor moments. At Bedlam, Dr. Henry Jekyll (Shazad Latif) is letting more of his rage out, especially since his pal and colleague Dr. Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) has made it clear that he thinks Jekyll has totally missed the scientific boat on his character-altering serum by not using electricity. In a tummy-turning scene, Victor injected the new and improved version of the serum into the eye (okay, he’s aiming for the cerebral cortex or the frontal lobe or somewhere in the brain that he gets to through the eye-socket) of poor Mr. Balfour. (I admit I was really freaked out by this scene, — by the idea of the scene, which was not, in itself, graphic: when Frankenstein got that needle close to Balfour’s eyeball or eye-socket, the camera was then trained on Victor, not on the needle or on Balfour.)

Whether or not the new and improved serum works on Balfour, we know that it won’t work forever, and it won’t work on Lily, Victor’s unrequited love-interest, which is Victor’s ultimate goal. Why Jekyll is participating in this Things-I-wanna-do-to-Lily experiment is unclear, unless he actually does not think he can succeed on his own. Though he realizes that his serum has limitations — impermanence being the main one — Jekyll apparently does not believe he can perfect it himself. Thus, despite his growing annoyance with Victor’s “smarter than thou” attitude, Henry not only puts up with Victor, but is allowing Victor to do all the distilling of the final serum in Henry Jekyll’s lab at Bedlam, not in Victor Frankenstein’s own lab.

Will Jekyll let Victor inject him in the cerebral cortex or frontal lobe or wherever in order to test the serum, as happens in the Robert Louis Stevenson novel when Jekyll experiments on himself (becoming the unmitigatedly evil Mr. Hyde)? That’s unclear. But Jekyll is clearly encouraging Frankenstein to think he can get Lily back by injecting her with Jekyll’s serum.

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Meanwhile, back at ye olde Gray manse, Lily (Billie Piper, above L) is starting her Whore University where Anger Management 101 will most assuredly not be included in the curriculum, and Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney, above R) thinks he’s going to continue to be an integral part of all Lily’s plans. I guess Dorian forgot that Lily has much more rage against men than Dorian seems to have ever had for anyone, that Dorian himself is one of the guys that Lily really hates. Generally, because he’s a male, and, less generally, because he’s a male who hired prostitutes, and, even less generally and much more specifically, because he’s a guy who hired a prostitute named Brona, who was Lily in her former, pre-Frankenstein-Monster life, and forced her to do sexual things for money in  order to survive. Yeah, that Dorian, he’s seeming pretty oblivious to the fact that when somebody else has that much rage and is planning to fire off heat-seeking missiles against men, any male in the vicinity is a potential target. In short, Dorian forgot that one of the reasons he’s so attracted to Lily is because she’s just like him.

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The characters of Penny Dreadful might have believed that their histories and their pasts made “This World [Their] Hell,” but the extended narration-only scenes of episode 5 made it hell for the viewers: the talkity-talk-talk scenes slowed the tension and the plot down significantly. On the other hand, the action-packed and more character-and-conflict-driven scenes of “No Beast So Fierce” made it one of the most exciting episodes this season.

♦ ♦ ♦

Episode 6
No Beast So Fierce

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Lily (Billie Piper, above R) continued her Whore University with a packed class on Killing a Man 101. After she demonstrated on Dorian (Reeve Carney, above L), she asked someone in the class to volunteer to practice. Super-ambitious student-acolyte Justine (Jessica Barden) volunteered but then actually pricked Dorian with the blade, not stopping until Lily herself told her to stop because the other students would have no one to practice on without Dorian.

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Then Victor, super-cool undercover dude that he is, broke into Dorian’s mansion, while everybody, including the whore classmates, was currently in the place. That Victor, he just doesn’t know what he’s about since Lily dumped him and broke his heart. Laughing in his face, Lily said his act had to be “the worst kidnapping ever.” She got that right.

Then Justine wanted to kill Victor. Both Lily and Dorian objected to that, but in a preview of surely coming attractions, Justine told Dorian she doesn’t take orders from a man and waited for Lily’s instructions. Lily told Justine that they might need Victor’s services, and I assume she meant his services as a re-animator of the dead rather than as a medical doctor. On his way out of the mansion, Victor asked Dorian if he expected Victor’s gratitude, or something very similar, and Dorian told Victor he was in Dorian’s debt.

Of course, with the way creator-writer John Logan re-invents the literary characters on which some of the show is based, I don’t know if Dorian is truly immortal: in the book, he’s immortal as long as the portrait is not destroyed; in the show, he’s made remarks to Lily that he and she are alike in that way, though he used different words. His remark to Frankenstein that Victor is in Dorian’s debt made me wonder if Dorian thinks he’ll need Victor’s re-animation services himself.

If that’s the case, does Dorian think he’ll need them for himself or for Lily?

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Briefly, Frankenstein’s first Creature (Rory Kinnear) visited his consumptive, mostly unconscious son, attempting to ease his suffering. With his eyes closed, the boy recognized his father’s voice, asked him if he were an angel, said that one of his mother’s friends said the angels would be coming for [the boy] soon, and that he’d hoped his father would be the angel who came. The Creature, who was going by the name John Clare last season, and who has been revealed as the (unnamed) Orderly in the Banning Clinic who took care of Vanessa (from season 1), but who has had no name this third season, took his son in his arms and held him. When he laid the boy back on the pillow, the boy opened his eyes, saw his father — re-animated by Frankenstein as The Creature — and began screaming. The Creature ran, collapsing into the alley, where he wept in grief.

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Anyone who watches the show regularly knows that he is one of writer Logan’s favorite characters. Despite his occasional acts of violence, The Creature is also one of the most consistently sympathetic and empathetic characters in Penny Dreadful. Along with Ethan Chandler, the Creature is one of the few characters who is almost always decent. He behaves humanely and (relatively) morally; he almost always acts according to his own conscience. I didn’t think he’d ever reveal himself to his son and wife, who obviously know he’s dead. Further, I don’t believe he meant to reveal himself to his boy: the child was suffering and The Creature was attempting to comfort him. The boy’s reaction grieved The Creature / John Clare.

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One of the most exciting parts of episode 6 involved Ethan’s story. At dinner with the family patriarch — surrounded by gunmen — Ethan was asked to say “Grace.” He didn’t comply with the request. Daddy Talbot started in on the usual, and, viewers suspect, eternal emotional abuse. Hecate (Sarah Greene) whispered to Ethan that he only had to give the word, and she would take action against Big Daddy. She is obviously devoted to Ethan.

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Sir Malcolm (Timothy Dalton) immediately volunteered to say Grace for Ethan, and, furthermore, strongly cautioned Daddy Talbot against his continued verbal abuse of son Ethan, stating that Malcolm had treated his own son that way, attempting to make him the son Malcolm had always wanted instead of the son he actually had, and urging Big Daddy to learn from Malcolm’s mistakes. It was a big no-go with The Big Daddy. His continued abuse prompted Ethan to say a parody of the Lord’s Prayer as Grace, a parody which included lines like “May Your name be reviled” instead of “Hallowed be Thy Name.” Big Daddy erupted, and so did everyone else present.

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Big Daddy shot the Marshal accompanying Inspector Rusk dead without warning. In the ensuing shoot-out at Talbot House, Big Daddy escaped to the Chapel with bodyguards, Hecate unamsked herself and got witchy with everybody, Rusk threatened to kill Ethan if Hecate came closer, and Sir Malcolm took on one of the bodyguards.

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In the fray, Ethan shot Rusk who shot and killed Hecate.

WTH?

I mean, that’s all it takes to kill a witch? A single gunshot?

Dang, too bad Ethan et al didn’t know that in season two, where those bad-ass scarred Baldies were constantly attacking Vanessa and her protectors in the Murray mansion. Life would have been so much easier…

So, yeah, Hecate died.

In Ethan’s arms, no less.

Saying something like she’d wait for him in Hell.

Poor Hecate, she’s got it so bad for Ethan. Of course, since she died, she hadn’t the chance to see the previews for future episodes of Penny Dreadful, where it’s clear that Ethan forgets Hecate pretty quickly and returns to her rival, Vanessa…

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and that the love and sexual attraction between the two will be as strong as ever…

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but that didn’t happen in last night’s episode, so more on that later.

Meanwhile, in “No Beast So Fierce,” Kaetenay (Wes Studi), who’d been the one causing the ruckus with the horses outside during dinner, appeared and saved Malcolm, who didn’t have a gun, having brought a knife to the gunfight. Malcolm thanked Kaetenay by saying, “I knew you were too mean to die.” The two of them then joined Ethan, who instructed them on Big Daddy’s predictable fortification of the Chapel.

When Malcolm asked what Kaetenay should do, Ethan’s reply — “He knows what to do: he’s been here before” —  revealed to viewers that Kaetenay was a member of the raiding party that killed Ethan’s mother and siblings, for which Big Daddy (justifiably) blames Ethan himself since it was Ethan who gave them the location of ammuniton, weapons, horses, etc. (And that’s the kind of dialogue that the show usually has: one that reveals characters’ pasts, natures, conflicts, not just monologues about the characters’ pasts, which seem to bore the other characters as much as it slows down the drama’s forward momentum.)

Kaetenay took the lead in the present Chapel-killing, leaving Big Daddy to berate Ethan, goading and badgering Ethan in an attempt to get him to kill his own father. It didn’t work.

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Ethan, with tears in his eyes, turned and walked away. This fits Ethan’s character in the show, where he does not consciously choose to kill or perform evil unless it is for his own self-survival (I’m interpreting his killing for money in season 1 as his need to survive financially).

Sir Malcolm shot Big Daddy dead. This not only gives us further information about Malcolm’s character but supports Kaetenay’s continued assertions that Ethan is Sir Malcolm’s spiritual or “surrogate” son. Just as Malcolm killed his own biological daughter Mina when she threatened the life of his surrogate daughter Vanessa, Malcolm killed Big Daddy Talbot when his abuse against his own biological son threatened Malcolm’s spiritual son. True to his conquering, imperialistic nature — shoot first, ask no questions later — Sir Malcolm shot Big Daddy dead when he continued to berate Ethan but Ethan had turned away.

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In an emotionally powerful and disturbing storyline, Vanessa (Eva Green, above) continued to search for Dracula, whom she knows has been seeking her. Vanessa enlisted the help of several old friends and one new one. In a brief scene with Ferdinand Lyle (Simon Russell Beale), who revealed that he is going to Egypt for an indefinite period,

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Vanessa said good-bye to her old friend and supporter. (I do hope that Lyle will return: not only is the character himself endearing, but the actor portraying him is brilliantly talented. I would hate it if Lyle/Beale never appears in Penny Dreadful again.) Before their farewell, however, Lyle gave her the name of someone he believed could help her: Catriona Hartdegan (Perdita Weeks, below L), a thanatologist with expert knowledge of the supernatural, in general, and of Dracula, in particular.

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Vanessa then sought the company and advice of her Alienist (the term used before “Psychiatrist,” apparently), Dr. Seward (Patti LuPone),

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who advised Vanessa to turn to Dr. Sweet (Christian Camargo),

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whom the viewers know is Dracula himself.

Urged by Dr. Seward to give Dr. Sweet a chance to make an informed decision about having a relationship with Vanessa, Vanessa went to him and revealed all.

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He told her he loved her, accepted her as she is not as the world wants her to be, and then he kissed her. Next thing you know, Vanessa and Sweet were down on the floor, making love.

Wowza!

Talk about your dangers: unprotected sex, sex in the workplace, sex with Dracula.

Okay, Vanessa doesn’t know about the last part, but she certainly knows about the first two…

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Afterward, weeping, Vanessa held Sweet in her arms.

Oh, boy, there are so many warning signs that Vanessa hasn’t seen.

First of all, whenever Vanessa has had sexual intercourse with a man before, the demons have been unleashed. In particular, some Dark Master who speaks to Vanessa gets released.

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After Vanessa seduced the fiancé of her best friend Mina on the eve of their wedding, the Dark Master came to Vanessa in the guise of Sir Malcolm Murray, quoting Keats’ poetry and sexually seducing her.

Vanessa said, “So, the Darkness spoke.”

And the Master, in the guise of Sir Malcolm replied, “Yes, but you listened.”

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She seemed to be having sexual relations with the Master afterward, which caused her mother to fall down dead (from shock, I suppose, though it could have been plain horror at seeing Vanessa’s white eyes).

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In the midst of sex with Dorian Gray, Vanessa heard the Dark Master’s voice, telling her how much he’d missed her.

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Vanessa doesn’t even have to engage in sex to have the Dark Master appear. All she has to do is think about it, or talk about it, as she did in the séance (season 1), and she goes off the edge of darkness.

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For Vanessa, sex and possession and the darkness within her and the Dark Master are all integrally interwoven. After being possessed at the séance and revealing, to Sir Malcolm, who was present, that she’d seen him having adulterous sex with her mother in the maze on Sir Malcolm’s country estate, Vanessa leaves the “party,” goes out into the pouring rain, seeks a complete stranger, and has sex with him (which Dorian, unobserved, observes).

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So Vanessa clearly knows that the demon comes to her, in many guises, when she has sexual intercourse. But she also knows that it comes when she talks about or recalls sexual acts (even other people’s), or when she’s tempted to have sexual relations. That’s the reason she avoided Ethan when he was staying in Sir Malcolm’s mansion with her,

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then rejected Ethan when they were staying in the Cut-Wife’s cottage.

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Though the two were clearly attracted to, and in love with, each other,

Vanessa felt they were “too dangerous” to be together.

I realize that Vanessa may have rejected Ethan because she already suspected that he was a werewolf (later confirmed when Ethan broke in Evelyn Poole’s house and killed her in order to protect Vanessa), and, as a wolf-man or werewol, he’s as dangerous as she believes herself to be. And we can’t expect Vanessa to know that Sweet is Dracula. Viewers know it, but she does not. She thinks he’s a mild-mannered milquetoast.

But while she was having sex with him, and after she had sex with him, she did not hear the voice of the Dark Master.

Hello, Vanessa, anybody home?

Because of the hypnosis-retrieved memory of her time in The White Room at the Banning Clinic, where both Dark Masters — Lucifer and his fallen-angel brother Dracula — appeared to her in the form of the Orderly,

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telling her that they both desire her, and that they both want her to embrace them — one spiritually (Lucifer) and the other physically (Dracula) — Vanessa already knows that Dracula wants her physically.

That means sexually.

Vanessa told the thanatologist Hartdegan that Dracula doesn’t want Vanessa dead: he wants her submission. That means sexual submission. Vanessa knows this.

Does she think because, as with Dorian, she got on top during the sexual act that she is not submitting to Dracula… I mean, to Sweet? Even if she believes she’s not submitting and is in control, she still did not hear the voice of the Dark Master as she has whenever she has had sex in the past. (Maybe she didn’t hear the voice when she was seducing her best friend’s fiancé, but then, Vanessa was intentionally destroying her friend’s life and happiness. In short, bad things happen when Vanessa has sexual relations.)

So, Vanessa has sex with Dr. Sweet but does not hear the voice of the Dark Master?

Oh, Vanessa, how could you have missed that?

How could you possibly think that some ostensible milquetoast, whom you’ve been pursuing, is everything that he appears to be?

Oh, what dangers are in store for our belovèd Vanessa.

And haven’t even begun to contemplate what dangers await her if her Alienist, Dr. Seward, is also much more than she appears.

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Is Dr. Seward, who encouraged Vanessa to go back to Dr. Sweet and “give him a chance,” really a re-incarnation of the Cut-Wife Joan Clayton (Patti LuPone, above), who taught Vanessa about being a Witch before being burned at the stake herself, and who knew that the Dark Master Lucifer was seeking Vanessa?

If Seward is the re-incarnated Joan Clayton, whom Seward claims is her ancestor, did Clayton, in those final moments of life, while she was burning, trade her own soul for Vanessa’s, enabling Clayton to return to life?

Does Seward, in actuality, know that Dr. Sweet is Dracula?

Is that, in fact, why she’s encouraged Vanessa to “give him another chance,” knowing full well that Sweet would not only accept but welcome the chance to gain Vanessa’s trust, love, body, soul?

Oy, vey, given the secrets that every single other character in the show has, my head is spinning.

Shivery and shuddery, my Dreadfuls.

Vanessa did more than just embrace the Darkness: she… uhm… made love to it.

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Related Posts

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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Embracing the Darkness: Penny Dreadful s3e4, Review & Recap “A Blade of Grass”

Spoilers,
Most Dreadful

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Viewers of Showtime’s Penny Dreadful, created and written by John Logan, were treated to an acting tour de force in “A Blade of Grass.” Despite the episode’s rather innocuous name, which made me think more of poet Walt Whitman than of any of the Victorian horror writers whose work is featured and imaginatively re-invented on the show, the third season returned to Vanessa Ives’ past once again. And what a scary return it was.

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As in season 1 episode 5, “Closer than Sisters,” we were given another glimpse into Dr. Christopher Banning’s Clinic for those suffering from psychiatric maladies, which really meant for women, especially, who’d done something society disapproved of, or who didn’t fit in. After Vanessa (Eva Green, above L) seduced her best friend’s fiancé on the eve of their wedding, losing her friendship and destroying the relationship between the two families, Vanessa’s parents put her into the clinic, not knowing what else to do.

Viewers already knew some of what had happened to Vanessa there, and it was horrifying.

What viewers didn’t know — ostensibly because Vanessa had repressed the memories of it — was that she had met the evil “Master” while in “the white room” at the clinic. Told this by one of the Lost Boys in an earlier episode this season,

Vanessa insisted that Dr. Seward (Patti LuPone, below L) hypnotize her so that she could remember the events in the white room: a padded cell.

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The first thing Vanessa recalled was that she was alone there in the white room.

Except for the orderly who’d brought her the food.

So, the first shock the viewers got was at the end of the previous episode, when the Orderly with the food turned out to be Frankenstein’s Creature, also called John Clare in season 2.

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Since Penny Dreadful had been showing us images of actor Rory Kinnear, who plays the Creature, without his creature-makeup, with his family before he died and was transformed into Frankenstein’s Creature, we knew what he looked like.

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Though Vanessa had a relationship of sorts with John Clare in the second season, she could not have recognized him as the Orderly since she would have known the Orderly before she helped serve meals to the homeless, which is where she met John Clare.

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I feared that Vanessa was going to kill the Orderly, if only because she gets violent when she’s being hunted by the Master, and because we know that Rory Kinnear’s character has to have died in order for Frankenstein to have had his corpse available to re-animate it into his first Creature.

While Vanessa did attack the Orderly, who never gave his name since it was “against regulations,” and he briefly gave us a glimpse of his underlying violence by making a fist after she jumped him,

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he kept himself under control.

And she didn’t kill him.

Yet.

Whew.

Still, the chemistry between Green and Kinnear, who had virtually the entire episode to themselves, set the screen on fire.

First the Orderly just wanted Vanessa to eat. So there wouldn’t be consequences. Which meant so he wouldn’t have to put a tube down her throat to force-feed her. (It was a most dreadful scene, and had me grabbing my own throat protectively.)

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He gave her a blanket when she was shivering on the floor of the padded cell after the “hydro-therapy” (though he had to take it away from her in the morning before he left).

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He took the gag out of her mouth,

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and put some of his wife’s makeup on Vanessa, following his wife’s instructions.

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He fed her with a wooden spoon he’d brought from home; he read poetry to her from a book that someone gave his family after his son was born.

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He resisted her when she took off her gown and tried to seduce him, although he did begin to return her kisses and put his arms around her.

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Altogether, the Orderly appears to have been the most humane and decent person in the Banning Clinic. This fits with his character even as the Creature, who is consistently one of the most humane and decent characters in Penny Dreadful, despite his technically being a monster.

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With the help of the Orderly, who admitted that he loved her at the end of the episode, after telling her that he was no longer going to work there — with the implication being that he wouldn’t be able to bear to see her after the “brain surgery” which might make her a vegetable — Vanessa learned to be kinder.

To him.

To herself.

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The development of the relationship between the Orderly and Vanessa alone was worth an entire episode. But viewers got even more than they’d bargained for.

Throughout the episode, Dr. Seward’s voice — then Dr. Seward herself — came into Vanessa’s memories. Sometimes, Dr. Seward simply questioned Vanessa, e.g., asking her why she had wanted to starve herself.

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At other times, more poignantly, Vanessa begged to be brought out of the hypnotic trance, and Dr. Seward told Vanessa she was in a “fugue state,” from which Dr. Seward, who had even burned Vanessa on the back of the hand with a cigarette, could not awaken her.

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Each time Dr. Seward was with Vanessa, the two of them were physically closer, symbolic of Dr. Seward’s dropping her professional distance and becoming emotionally closer to Vanessa.

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At one point, they even grasped hands, indicating that Dr. Seward is in this with Vanessa in her distress and despair.

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Then  Dr. Seward asked Vanessa what her “friend, Joan Clayton, the Cut-Wife” would have said to Vanessa if she had been in the White Room with her. “Be true,” said Vanessa, as she laid her head on Dr. Seward’s leg. Dr. Seward stroked Vanessa’s face, comforting her physically, while she comforted her emotionally with Joan Clayton’s words, “Be true.” Dr. Seward told Vanessa that the two of them would get through this emotionally traumatizing event together.

It’s the most human and vulnerable Dr. Seward has even been in Vanessa’s presence.

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But creator-writer wasn’t done with the scenes between actors Green and Kinnear. After the Orderly offered to try and help Vanessa by simply listening to her, their relationship exploded in completely unexpected ways.

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Initially, when she told the Orderly that she’d been chosen by Lucifer, she said she couldn’t talk to him about it because the Orderly didn’t even believe in God. He suggested that she tell him anyway. When he asked why Lucifer would have chosen her, she explained that God had abandoned her, that she had done bad things to the people she loved (like her best friend Mina), and that she hadn’t resisted Lucifer and his evil attraction hard enough.

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Vanessa then asked the Orderly, “If you were Lucifer, why would you want me?” In a moment so brief that some viewers missed it the first time around, the Orderly’s eyes turned black, and his voice deepened slightly as he told Vanessa that he would want her “because [he] loved her.”

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Understandably, Vanessa freaked. He continued speaking to her. As Lucifer.

This time, the Master was more direct.

Give-me-your-name.

When she asked what his name was, he told her that her favorite, of all his names, was “Lucifer.” While she cowered in the opposite corner, he spread his arms wide and told her he wanted her he wanted her to embrace him.

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His shadow turned into a giant snake and wrapped itself around Vanessa.

Holy-moly.

Talk about the serpent in the Garden.

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In a super-creepy scene, he got down on the floor of the padded room, and, like some sort of snake or scorpion, crawled toward Vanessa — who crawled toward him in the same way.

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While he regaled her with “visions” of their being together long ago in the past, and with visions of what it would be like if they were together now, the two actors contorted their bodies in a pose that mimicked the Yoga “Cobra” before grasping each other’s hands in a sort of ecstasy.

It was the creepity-creeps and the shivery shivers, my lovely Dreadfuls,

And if that weren’t enough to scare the bejesus out of Vanessa, the Master appeared in his other guise — as his twin brother  — and tried to seduce her.

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When she asked what name she should call him, he told her: “I am the Demon. I am the Dragon. My name is Dracula.”

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As the two brothers argued over her in that claustrophobia-inducing white room — one wants her physically, the other wants her spiritually — Vanessa figured out what the other characters in the show determined from the “puzzle” last season.

They are brothers.

They are two of the fallen angels who were ostensibly cast out by God from heaven: two brother angels who seemed to have led the rebellion against God (originally, this concept of Lucifer rebelling against God and being cast out of Heaven appeared in John Milton’s Paradise Lost, 1674).

In Penny Dreadful, one rebellious bother-angel was cast to Hell: his name is Lucifer.

The other rebel-brother-angel was cast to earth, to reign in darkness and to feed off humans and their blood: his name is Dracula.

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Though viewers know that Dracula is also the milquetoast Dr. Sweet (Christian Camargo), whom Vanessa believes that she has been courting, Vanessa herself does not yet know that Dr. Sweet is, in reality, Dracula.

Therefore, in the fourth episode of this season, when Dracula appeared to Vanessa in the White Room, he had the face and body of “his brother” Lucifer, who had the face and body of the Orderly.

Dr. Seward insisted that Vanessa was putting the Orderly’s face on Lucifer — and thus, on Dracula — because it was the only face she recalled from the White Room.

That didn’t make those scenes between Eva Green and Rory Kinnear any less spooky and hair-raising, you can bet on that.

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Then the scene snapped to the Orderly, sitting in the chair beside the bed, asking Vanessa why Lucifer would want her. This could lead viewers — and Vanessa herself — to believe that all the visits from Lucifer and from Dracula were nothing more than Vanessa’s imagination. Though other characters in the series have seen her levitate, heard her speak in tongues, and listened in shock while she revealed very private things about their own lives to them, no one, as far as I can recall, has actually seen Lucifer other than Vanessa. Renfield and the Lost Boys have seen Dracula, but when he was played by Christian Camargo.

In the White Room, having the same actor play both Lucifer and Dracula — and play the Orderly who “nourished” inmate Vanessa physically and emotionally, besides — was a coup on the part of creator John Logan. That way, Vanessa does not know whether or not she has imagined the visitation. The viewers don’t know about Lucifer, but we know that if Dracula did come to her in the White Room, he looked different from how he appears as Dr. Sweet. So, what does he really look like?

While Vanessa may know that both Dracula and Lucifer want her to be the Bride, but she still doesn’t know who Dracula is, although he was revealed to viewers at the end of the second episode. Neither Vanessa nor the viewers know what Lucifer himself looks like.

We got the names, but we don’t got the faces.

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Still, our Vanessa is one feisty little thing.

She threatened both Dracula and Lucifer.

She told them they didn’t know evil at all.

Then she started her speaking-in-tongues routine and levitated right up off the floor.

The evil, fallen-angel brothers seemed awed.

Viewers were understandably awed by the fact that entire episode, featuring only two actors for about 95% of the show, was as frightening and breath-taking as any of the more violent scenes, as any of the scenes with Creatures and monsters, as any of the previous scenes concerning the Banning Clinic and psychiatric “therapy.”

Polish up those Golden Globes and Emmys, Hollywood.

We believe in curses. We believe in demons. We believe in monsters. We believe that Eva Green (Vanessa) and Rory Kinnear (the Creature, John Clare, the Orderly) deserve to win both awards this season.

Each.

Oh, and get one ready for writer John Logan while you’re at it.

Related Posts

No Mercy Anywhere:
Penny Dreadful, s3 e4

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

All the Unloved Ones:
Penny Dreadful, Season 3 Premiere

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

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