One of the most successful horror series ever broadcast, Showtime’s Penny Dreadful gets its name from the Victorian penny dreadfuls. According to Judith Flanders of the British Library, these cheap, sensational, highly popular news-booklets, originally called Penny Bloods, initally concentrated on adventurous stories about pirates and highwaymen, but gradually shifted their focus onto crime and its detection. The penny dreadfuls replaced 18th century gothic horror, as they began to concentrate on supernatural and horror tales, including Varney the Vampire (cover of a vampire penny dreadful below), which influenced Bram Stoker, author of Dracula.
Showtime’s Penny Dreadful takes the Victorian penny dreadfuls, as well as the Victorian literature inspired by them, and gives us the “origin stories” of their characters. Thus, Dracula‘s Mina Murray is given an entire family, while Frankenstein‘s titular character gets to create more than one Creature.
Original characters, such as Vanessa Ives, played by the brilliant Eva Green (above, standing), and Brona Croft (Billie Piper, above seated) further flesh out the series’ exploration of evil, and of human choice to consciously do either good or evil.
The series begins with Vanessa Ives (Eva Green, above L) hiring a professional gun, Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) for some dangerous “night work.” Along with the father of her childhood friend, Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton), Vanessa is searching for her missing friend, Mina, who has been taken by some sort of Creature (also called Vampire, below).
Dr. Frakenstein (Harry Treadaway) enters the story when he is hired by Sir Malcolm to do an autopsy on one of the dead Creatures.
Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney) is also introduced in the first season, though his story isn’t as integrated into the main stories. Also, there are at least two “Creatures” initially: the Vampire Creature hunted by Sir Malcolm, as well as those created by Frankenstein, the most striking of which is played by Rory Kinnear (below).
In addition to helping Sir Malcolm search for his missing daughter Mina, Vanessa has her own dark secrets, as does everyone else in the show, including Ethan, Sir Malcolm, Frankenstein, and Dorian. Of course, readers of the books will know some of Frankenstein’s and Dorian’s secrets. And viewers may guess Ethan’s secret.
Cast of PENNY DREADFUL season 1 (L to R): Danny Sapani as Sembene, Reeve Carney as Dorian Gray, Billie Piper as Brona Croft, Josh Hartnett as Ethan Chandler, Timothy Dalton as Sir Malcolm Murray, Eva Green as Vanessa Ives, Rory Kinnear (in doorway) as Frankenstein’s Monster/Creature, Harry Treadawell as Victor Frankenstein
In any event, the show’s initial season, despite its few weaknesses, was a stunning exploration of good and evil, in which everyone has a very dark secret. My blogs do contain Spoilers, since I wrote them after watching the episodes.
If you haven’t had a chance to watch Penny Dreadful yet, you can watch the Season Premiere Episode 1 free on its homepage on Showtime. You can catch up with the remaining episodes on ShowtimeAnytime.
The premiere of season 3 is Sunday 1 May at 10 p.m. ET.
In its second season, Penny Dreadful creator-writer John Logan introduces Witches who pursue Vanessa Ives (Eva Green) for their “Master,” Lucifer. The focus of the show changes from the characters’ hunting external evil, represented by the Vampire Creatures of the first season, to protecting Vanessa from her own internal evil, which the witches wanted to “give” their Master.
The head witch, Evelyn Poole (Helen McCrory, above R) had been hunting Vanessa since season one, when she appeared at the séance as Madame Kali (below).
The storylines of Frankenstein and Dorian Gray become more complex even as they are more integrally tied to the story of Vanessa and Ethan. We also learn more about Vanessa’s past when the Cut-Wife (Patti LuPone) story appears in flashback.
My blogs do contain Spoilers, since I wrote them after watching the episodes: you have been warned.
Viewers don’t know quite what to expect from season three, although it looks like the members of the extended “family” have been scattered around the globe. Also, from the official trailer, we see that Patti Lupone, who played the Cut-Wife in season 2, is returning as Vanessa’s doctor.
You can watch both seasons of Penny Dreadful with a free trial of Showtime. The premiere of season three is already available for viewing on Showtime, but if you can wait, then the official premiere is Sunday. Afterward, you’ll be ready to join the rest of us #Dreadfuls on Twitter and buzz about the show.
Season 3 Premiere Sunday 1 May
10 p.m. ET
After you’ve watched the first two seasons, or if you’ve already seen them, you might enjoy Wired’s gifs to catch you up on what’s happened.
If you want to read the books that Penny Dreadful‘s literary characters are based on, Showtime is offering them for sale on its site, but you can get them free as ebooks: Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein. And I’ve thrown in Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde simply because no exploration of the Victorian period and its literature would be complete without it — nor would any exploration of good and evil. Besides, I simply can’t believe the character of Jekyll and Hyde won’t show up, eventually, in Penny Dreadful, though I admit I’ve been saying that since its first season.
◊ Penny Dreadful is rated MA for Adult Content, Brief Nudity, and Violence
The season 2 Finale of Showtime’s Penny Dreadful was gory, frightening, and sad, even if some of the characters’ actions were a bit predictable. Their ultimate fates seemed almost like an ending to the series, so it was with relief that I read — before watching — that the series has been renewed for another season. Oh, there were plenty of loose ends that would allow for a “cliffhanger” finale, and this season’s finale surpassed the first season’s in many ways. But the entire “family” that’s been formed over this season was torn apart, leaving virtually all characters completely alone, both physically and emotionally.
Yes, grab your tissues, my Dreadfuls, for Sembene (Danny Sapani) is, indeed, dead.
Not that we would have expected him to survive having his throat torn out by Ethan (Josh Hartnett) after Hecate (Sarah Greene) locked them in a narrow passage of stairs, closed off by un-breachable doorways.
Still, it’s sad. The relationship between Ethan and Sembene has been one of the most interesting stories in the season. It’s delightful to see that men can honestly and deeply love each other without sexuality being involved.
Poor Ethan was devastated by the fact that he’d killed Sembene, though he could not have prevented it. He attempted to — by trying to commit suicide before he changed into a wolf — but Sembene stopped Ethan, reminding him, “You are chosen by God.” All the while knowing that there would be no way to defend himself from Ethan.
What we didn’t know was how attached Sir Malcolm (Timothy Dalton) was to Sembene. He’s always referred to him as a servant, albeit a trusted one. But after Malcolm was released from the locked, enchanted room — where his dead family members were trying to convince him to kill himself and join them — he was shown holding Sembene in his arms. Weeping. I don’t recall seeing Sir Malcolm weep in this series, not even when his children died.
Sir Malcolm was on a boat at the end of the finale, taking Sembene’s body back to Africa.
This showed his great respect and love for Sembene, since Sir M didn’t even bring his own son’s body back from Africa for burial.
Evelyn & Hecate
I think most viewers were reasonably confident that Evelyn (Helen McCrory), the leader of the Night-Comers, would not be able to successfully capture Vanessa, and not only because her own daughter Hecate opened the door that allowed Ethan as Wolf to come into the doll-factory and tear out Evelyn’s throat.
No, Evelyn was already failing before her throat got ripped out.Because Vanessa — whether she is good or evil — proved herself more powerful than Evelyn and than the “Master.”
Evelyn had already begun to age, screaming at her failure to deliver Vanessa to Lucifer as his bride, when Hecate showed herself the more clever opponent by releasing the Lupus Dei to kill her mother. With Evelyn out of the way, Hecate packed up her mother’s box of witch-y instruments, set fire to the doll factory, and strolled out of the house, singing “The Unquiet Grave,” which we heard Evelyn singing in the premiere, as she bathed in a tub of blood.
No doubt Hecate has her own plans for serving Vanessa up to the Master, whether it be Lucifer, who rules in Hell, or his brother, the Dracula figure, whom we have not actually ever met, and who rules on earth.
Victor, Dorian, & Lily
Poor Victor (Harry Treadaway). As if being tormented by his creations in Evelyn’s locked room (while Sir M was being tormented by the ghosts of his family) wasn’t painful enough, he was released from that enchantment to a much more painful reality.
Lily (Billie Piper) does not love him.
After Victor went to Dorian’s (Reeve Carney) mansion and found the two newly pledged immortal lovers dancing, he shot Lily. Then Dorian. I guess Victor forgot that Lily, at the very least, was immortal. He quickly discovered that Dorian was as well. As he stumbled out, the two “lovers” danced on, blood spilling on the hardwood floor from their wounds.
Afterward, no doubt thinking of the lovely but heartless Lily, Victor stuffed himself with enough morphine to make me wonder if he’d die of an overdose.
Too bad it wasn’t enough to ease his broken heart.
Ethan & Vanessa
So what was Lucifer’s great temptation for Vanessa (Eva Green)?
To be normal. To have an ordinary married life with Ethan. To have children. To be happy.
And it was really creepy to have the fetish-Vanessa-doll talking in Eva’s voice as the “Master.”
How much more satisfying for the viewers and for the show itself when its entire theme is the evil within each of us. How much better than to portray some winged beastie from religious documents over the centuries. Vanessa confronts the Master of Evil, and he speaks to her in her own voice, from an image of her own face.
Only one evil could really tempt Vanessa.
The evil in herself.
Vanessa proved herself a worthy opponent to her own inner demons. Matching the devil-doll virtually word-for-word in Verbis Diablo, Vanessa was able to vanquish the doll, then crush it, saying, “No, meet your master.”
Realizing and releasing her own inner evil may have caused Vanessa to weep, but it didn’t stop her from winning.
When Vanessa found Ethan again, he was in her room at Sir Malcolm’s. She invited him to share a life with her, knowing full well what he is. And with him knowing full well of what she’s capable.
But what would any love story be without its obstacles?
In this case, Ethan apparently cannot live with his own inner beastie, now that he knows what it is, and now that he’s killed Sembene. Ethan turned himself in to Inspector Rusk, confessing to the murders at the Mariner’s Inn. Ethan expected to be jailed or hanged, perhaps, before the next full moon. But the Inspector had an Extradition order ready and waiting.
An extradition order for Ethan Lawrence Talbot, which is Ethan’s real name (and a tribute to the 1930s Werewolf films starring Lon Chaney, whose character’s name was Lawrence Talbot).
The final scene of Ethan was with him in a cage in the hull of a ship, his head shaved — or so it seemed — and Inspector Rusk sitting in front, watching.
On their way to America.
It was rather surprising that the Putneys, beasties though they be, were able to imprison Frankenstein’s first Creature, now going by the name of John Clare (Rory Kinnear). After all, even Lily is frightfully strong, and she was only a small female in her former life.
So it actually was not a surprise that, in the finale, Clare — after agreeing to be a “good little freak” and help train the other freaks, soon to be present in the Putney dungeons — simply broke down the doors of his cage and swiftly broke the necks of Mr. & Mrs. P.
Their blind daughter Lavinia, who had so treacherously betrayed Clare by pretending friendship before locking him in the cage herself, was left alone, unharmed, screaming for her parents as Clare walked away.
By leaving her alive, the Creature has once again proven that he is more humane than most of the human characters in the show.
One of the most poignant moments of the finale came when Clare, who has decided to leave all mankind behind, met Vanessa for the last time. He asked her to go with him. She declined.
Clare was shown on a ship in the Arctic, which is where the Creature ends up in the novel after the death of the book’s Frankenstein.
It was a sad and lonely scene.
I do hope he’ll long to return to humanity.
After all, he’s the most human of any of the characters.
And he’s one of the show’s most interesting “creations.”
No, she can’t have Ethan. Not as a normal woman with a husband and children. Perhaps, she can’t have him even though each knows the darkness and evil that lies at the other’s center.
At least, not yet.
Ethan is caged, on a boat bound for America, unbeknownst to her.
Furthermore, Sir Malcolm has abandoned his great house to take his friend and companion Sembene back to Africa. His ward, Vanessa, whom he claims to love like a daughter, is alone.
Though the penultimate episode of season two of ShowTime’s wonderful gothic horror series Penny Dreadful, created and written by John Logan, was officially titled, “And Hell Itself My Only Foe,” it actually revealed that almost all the characters are capable of being monsters.
Even those you would least suspect of having any evil intent.
Of course, we know Roper (Stephen Lord), a Pinkerton hired by Ethan’s father to bring him home, even if in manacles, was a bad guy. Even with the scars from his attack when Ethan changed into a wolf, there wasn’t much reason to empathize with the guy. After all, he threatened Ethan even after he knew what Ethan was capable of doing. Roper crawled in through the window of the Cut-Wife’s isolated cottage, indicating that he’d been following Ethan (Josh Hartnett) and Vanessa (Eva Green), and threatened to kill them both.
He ordered Vanessa to manacle Ethan, but I guess this Roper guy lost some of his brains in the attack at the Mariner’s Inn. Even manacled, Ethan proved himself a formidable foe — and that’s without his turning into a wolf. Vanessa just kicked herself some ass, too, without any spells or enchantments, and without using the gun as Ethan had taught her.
She stabbed Roper repeatedly in the chest. And if those wounds weren’t mortal, Ethan helped her out as much as he could with his hands manacled.
If I’m ever in a fight, I want these two at my back.
Though Vanessa “mourned” that they were both murderers now — almost as if she’d forgotten that she’d set Sir Geoffrey’s dogs on him and killed him by a Verbis Diablo spell in an earlier episode — the two only defended themselves against another monster: Roper.
I call self-defense.
Vanessa thinks she’s a monster now, though she’s always acknowledged that she had “demons” inside, because she murdered Roper. That must be her weak spot because that’s what Evelyn got the fetish to say to Vanessa in the basement: “Murderer.”
Vanessa was more of a monster for going alone to Evelyn’s house, ostensibly to rescue Sir Malcolm, but instead putting all her other friends and defenders in jeopardy by forcing them to go, without a clear plan, to the Night-Comer’s home to rescue Sir Malcolm and Vanessa herself.
How monstrously thoughtless of her.
Hecate & Evelyn
Oh, that Hecate (Sarah Greene), she is one wicked, little girl. Not only did she intensify the conflict with her mother Evelyn (Helen McCrory), she came right out and insulted her, calling her a “Dinosaur” and warning her that “Dinosaurs should know when Mammoths are hunting.”
Evelyn was a little too preoccupied “feeling [Vanessa] coming closer” to be on sufficient guard.
Besides, Evelyn didn’t know till later in the episode that Hecate had gone to visit Ethan, easily getting by all their defenses and fetishes, which only have power, as she told Ethan, “for those that believe in them.”
Even when Hecate told Vanessa, in front of Evelyn, that she’d gone to Ethan and kissed him, she neglected to mention that she’d also told Ethan, who is clearly now regarded as the Lupus Dei, that she would worship him and help him destroy God.
I guess she didn’t think that information was important to her mother, revealing Hecate’s treachery goes deeper than Evelyn thinks.
I suppose Hecate’s also missed the definition of Lupus Dei — The Wolf of God — and the fact that he is a Protector. Lyle (Ferdinand Russell Beale) explained this when he and Ethan were in the basement of the museum, gettting ready to steal Father Gregory’s “puzzle” of Verbis Diablo and Ethan saw the shield (or family motto) with Latin on it about wolves. Lyle said the mottoes and shields weren’t so much to scare the enemy as to protect the bearer.
Ethan is the Protector.
Too bad little monster Hecate doesn’t know that.
All the viewers have probably been thinking that Lyle was a monstrous bad guy, what with his letting himself be blackmailed by Evelyn into betraying Vanessa.
Of course, the other characters and most of the viewers probably guessed that he was a closet-homosexual long ago: he has a terrible crush on Ethan, and flirted outrageously with him, which Ethan seemed to mostly find amusing.
None but the viewers knew Lyle is Jewish until this episode, and viewers only discovered it after Ethan instructed everyone to use every spiritual practice and belief he knew to help protect Vanessa from the Night-Comers. While Ethan was using Native American chants and passing smoke over himself and the entry-way, Lyle snuck down to the basement where, glancing around beforehand, he donned his yarmulke, kissed his prayerbook, draped his prayer shawl over his head, and began to daven and pray in Hebrew.
When Lyle and Dr. Frankenstein were left alone at the front of Evelyn’s house — while Ethan and Sembene went to find a back entrance — Lyle paused to say the opening lines of the Kaddish, also known as the “Mourner’s Kaddish,” the Jewish prayer for the dead, which is actually more about praising God than about the dead, so it was literally and symbolically appropriate considering they’re entering a witch’s house and facing death. Afterward, when Lyle looked at him, Victor made a comment like, “Far be it from me…”
None of the characters surrounding Vanessa knew that he was “in league,” albeit involuntarily, with Evelyn, to help her capture Vanessa, but the viewers knew his secret.
For the last couple episodes, however, he’s shown that he’s actually on Vanessa’s side: he urged her to leave the ball, telling her she wasn’t safe there; when Vanessa said she had to leave London, he encouraged it, telling her that she should go immediately and without telling any of them her destination; and since he actually didn’t know where Vanessa had gone, Evelyn was unable to get that information out of him with her threats of torture.
In E9, he confessed his duplicity. After Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) questioned their ability to trust him now, Vanessa was quick to forgive him, saying, “No one here is above guilt.”
When the men went to “rescue” Vanessa from Evelyn’s house/castle, where Vanessa had gone alone to “rescue” Sir Malcolm (Timothy Dalton), Lyle went with them. Though he declined Ethan’s offer of a gun and took what looked like a pocket-knife.
Lyle’s consistently been demonstrating that he is not, in fact, a monster.
Just a man with secrets.
And jittery nerves.
How ’bout them Putneys, eh?
Them Putneys (David Haig as Oscar P, above R; and Ruth Gemmell as his wife, Octavia) with their wax museum of horrors and crime scenes and “beasties.”
Them Putneys with their pretty, blind daughter Lavinia (Tamsin Topolski) who’s so sweet to the Creature, now going by the name John Clare (Rory Kinnear)…
Sweet, blind Lavinia, who made no comments when she touched Clare’s face, but “grew uneasy” when she felt how cold his hand was, and told her parents there was something wrong, something “dead” about him…
That Lavinia showed herself to be one of the most vicious monsters of all, along with her parents, when she lied and manipulated John Clare into a “secret” part of the museum, claiming to want to know what her father was building, telling Clare, “You are my true friend,” just before she locked him in a cage.
He’s going to be part of their “Freak Show.”
Against his will.
If that weren’t bad enough, Lavinia, little horror-show that she is, insulted his poetry, too.
Poor John Clare (Rory Kinnear), Frankenstein’s first Creature. All he wants is love. All he wants is companionship. All he wants is poetry. All he wants is to “fit in,” even if it means learning how to dance.
What does he get?
Nothing but betrayal.
He’s metaphorically been in behind bars for the entire two seasons.
At the theatre watching the performers,
In his basement “living quarters,” sobbing after the “ingenue” Maude rejected his advances,
Watching Lily (Billie Piper) go out with Dorian (Reeve Carney) after Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) made her specifically to be Clare’s mate.
Now Clare is in a real cage.
Imprisoned by real monsters, who consider him nothing more than a freak, when he is the most loyal, loving, passionate “creature” of them all.
Sir Malcolm (Timothy Dalton) should be a monster. After all, he did rape and pillage and murder his way across Africa. He did neglect and emotionally abuse his family. He did use Vanessa to find his lost daughter Mina. He did shoot his own daughter in the head, to protect Vanessa.
Now Sir Malcolm’s cowering in a locked room in Evelyn’s house, surrounded by the ghosts of his family, all of them reminding him of his past misdeeds.
Instead of dancing at a phantom ball with his family members, which is how he broke Evelyn’s enchantment last episode,
Sir Malcolm is trapped with the ghosts of his family, screaming so loudly that the other characters can hear it all through the house.
This is the only part of the show that didn’t work for me.
Unless his “breakdown” is due, in part, to more enchantment, Sir Malcolm is too much of a monster himself to be broken by ghosts, even if they are the ghosts of his family, and even if they are telling him the “monstrous” things he did to them.
Because, you see, Sir Malcolm already knows what he is.
And he already knows what he’s done.
If, despite her brilliant tirade against men and how they “use” women in e8, if any viewers or other characters had any doubts that Brona-turned-Lily (Billie Piper) is, indeed, a monster, they can toss those doubts out with the metaphorical window. This episode, Lily sought out Dorian (Reeve Carney) herself.
Taunting him with the line, “You tell me your secret, and I’ll tell you mine,” she made love to him on the floor of his portrait gallery, then bit off his ear.
She called him her “Monster” and told him to go heal himself.
Any viewers who had not read the book The Picture of Dorian Gray got to see his own portrait in the episode when he killed his transgender lover Angelique (Johnny Beauchamp) for discovering it. Anyone who didn’t know he was a monster before certainly knew it then.
In e9, we learned that Lily knows perfectly well that she was Brona in her former life, that she was a prostitute in her previous life, and that Frankenstein did something “monstrous” to her.
Looks like she’s out for revenge, this little Monster.
Against all men, whom she wants to “kneel before [her].”
As Dorian so obligingly did.
Before she bit off his ear, of course.
For two seasons now, Sembene (Danny Sapani) has claimed that he “had no story,” as he told Ethan when asked. But since they are the only two real warriors in the show, they have become close. Ethan trusted Sembene to tell him what happened during Ethan’s blackouts.
Sembene revealed that the scars on his face are not tribal initiation marks, as I’d thought and stated in a previous blog, but marks of a slave trader.
Hated by his own people as well as by whites.
In short, Sembene has been a monster for most of his life, even if he’s attempting to atone for his sins and treachery now.
The growing bond between Sembene and Ethan has been marvelous.
Hecate ended that by trapping the two of them in a narrow passage of stairs, knowing that the moon was going to be full that night. Realizing that he could not stop the change, and not wanting to hurt Sembene, Ethan attempted to commit suicide.
Sembene prevented it, reminding Ethan that he was “chosen by God.”
Then, as Sembene braced himself for the inevitable, Ethan changed into the monster-wolf that he is, and tore out Sembene’s throat.
Even if Sembene claimed that he, too, had once been a monster, I’m so sad…
I have no predictions about what will happen in the Penny Dreadful Season 2 Finale — my heart’s still broken because Ethan killed Sembene — so I’ll leave you with this teaser from ShowTime.
Wow, I didn’t think Showtime’s brilliant series Penny Dreadful, created and written by John Logan, could get any better this season, but last night’s episode, “Memento Mori,” was stunning and relentless. Actually, only one person got killed, but everyone was reminded of death because the lions were relentlessly hunting.
Many people have expressed their disappointment that Vanessa (Eva Green) and Ethan (Josh Hartnett) were not in “Memento Mori,” but they had virtually the entire previous episode, “Little Scorpion,” to themselves, so I found it rather refreshing to concentrate on some of the other characters, most of whom are directly involved in the storyline which involves Vanessa and Ethan, but almost all of whom are peripherally involved.
So Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway, above L) has gotten his heart broken by a lying Lily (Billie Piper, first photo, center), who had sexual relations with a stranger whom she strangled during intercourse. Victor confessed his suffering to Sir Malcolm (Timothy Dalton, R), who then explained that he, too, is suffering from the disease of love.
In previous episodes, however, Sir Malcolm has been happy and carefree in his love for Mrs. Poole (Helen McCrory). Not so in “Memento Mori.” He expressed his dismay that he is no longer his “mono-maniacal self,” since that’s who he really is. He was so much a comfort to poor Victor as a fellow traveler on the path of those who suffer for love.
Sir Malcolm is also missing his dead family members, like his wife Gladys, daughter Mina, and son Peter. All of his family, actually. He was glancing sadly and pensively through their photos. His own personality and ego may be much stronger than the Night-Comer (witch) Evelyn Poole imagined when she enchanted him.
Despite massaging the heart of his fetish, then ripping it from the doll’s body and holding it in her hand while she attempted to completely submerge Sir Malcolm in her spell, he was able to break free, with Sembene’s (Danny Sapani, below) help: Sembene wrestled Sir Malcolm after he went nuts and tossed over the table containing the story of the Verbis Diablo, scattering their carefully constructed puzzle; dragged Sir Malcolm across the hall, kicked open a door, pushed Sir Malcolm in, and shouted, “Know who you are.”
As Lyle (Simon Russell Beale), Victor, and Sembene (L to R, below) watched, Sir Malcolm roamed around an empty, dusty room, where — in his mind — he was seeing and interacting, in a miniature ball, with his own dead family members.
He broke free of Evelyn’s enchantment, she was aware of it, and fought with her daughter over that fact when her daughter suggested rather brazenly that her mother was perhaps too old and not attractive enough to maintain her hold on Sir Malcolm. Maybe, the daughter Hecate (Sarah Greene) suggested, she herself should give it a try with Sir Malcolm. She got shoved out of the room by her face for that impertinence.
Actually, the only person who got killed last night — though they all might have been reminded that death is always imminent — was poor transgendered Angelique (Johnny Beauchamp), left alone for the second night in a row while her lover Dorian (Reeve Carney) took Lily (Billie Piper) out to dinner again.
Alas for poor Angelique, she’s inquisitive and clever as well as beautiful: when the wind in a room without windows blew out some candles, she discovered the secret door that led to the room which hides the picture of Dorian Gray.
The picture that allows Dorian to remain forever young, beautiful, immortal — unmarked physically by all his internal ugliness. When Dorian returned home and found that Angelique had discovered his secret, he poisoned her, despite the fact that she said she could still love him.
The picture itself, shown for the first time last night, wasn’t that interesting. But then, unless you’ve read the book, you wouldn’t think Dorian had ever done anything except drink and eat to excess, have sex with members of both sexes and genders. You wouldn’t know the lies, betrayals, murders, drug use, alcohol abuse, etc because Dorian’s a rather minor character in this show, and his story isn’t much tied in to that of the other characters, except peripherally.
The only thing that was interesting about Dorian’s portrait — and I was the only one in our household who found it interesting because I’m the only one who’s read the book and who’s also seen previous film adaptations of it — was the chains on Dorian in the painting. That was an intriguing touch, since Picture-Dorian was pretty tame and dull, to be completely honest. It looked like a ragged mummy or dirty ghost.
The chains symbolized Dorian’s evil being trapped in the portrait, but they also represent the fact that Dorian is chained to the portrait of himself: if anything happens to it, Dorian ages, gets ugly, and could die.
The most stunning part of “Memento Mori” was Lily (Billy Piper), who should have looked like the demonic photo below instead of the sweet one above.
She’s broken Victor’s heart and caused him to attempt suicide (there seemed to be pills on the floor around his unconscious form when the Creature (Rory Kinnear) threw a bucket of water on him to wake him: then Victor vomited, which made me suspect he’s attempted suicide out of despair).
Lily is a Creature, like her intended, the original Frankenstein creation, now going by the name of John Clare (Rory Kinnear, first photo above R, and below), who, despite his rages at Frankenstein himself, has often shown himself more passionate, loyal, loving, and decent than many of the human beings in the show.
His love for poetry, his philosophical musings, his intellect, his suffering all make him a tragic hero extra-ordinaire, and I compliment creator-writer John Logan for his brilliant interpretation of this Creature, so different from the origin source, Frankenstein by Mary Wollestonecraft Shelley, so much more sophisticated, and so wonderfully acted by Kinnear. The Creature is one of the most fascinating and interesting characters in the series.
Lily, however, was the surprise of the night. Not only did she seem to prefer her murdered stranger dead, nuzzling and love-talking his nude body after she killed him, she blatantly lied to Victor about where she’d been all night, then turned Monster herself when the Creature came calling.
It was a tour-de-force performance, with Creature-Clare dumbfounded — even, perhaps, frightened — as his Intended Bride, Lily, ranted about how women suffer because of men; as she tossed him about as if he were a rag-doll; as she questioned him about his dream that they’d walk country fields “quoting f***ing poetry to f***ing cows.”
Her rant against the societal expectations of women, the inequities they suffer, and men’s roles in all of it — with a few hints of dead prostitute Brona’s Irish accent — was phenomenal writing, social commentary, and acting. Then, as if Creature-Clare weren’t terrified enough, and the viewers not shocked enough, Lily then started making love to him, literally and figuratively, calling him her “ugly little monster” and saying that no one would ever love him like she did.
She also said lots of things about their having children, taking over the world, and being the future, but I’m not sure if the Creature got all that since she was sitting on his lap, making the beast with two backs, as she predicted their glorious future together.
Showtime’s Penny Dreadful, created and written by John Logan, originally based on characters from Victorian literature — Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein — as well as on characters from the Victorian Penny Dreadfuls, like Varney the Vampire and Wagner the Werewolf, twists those characters around Logan’s principal creation, Vanessa Ives (Eva Green), in an intriguing and complex exploration of evil. Not the evil that some people insist exists only outside each of us, and call by names like the Devil or Lucifer or Satan, but the evil that exists inside us. Season 2’s Episode 7, “Little Scorpion,” returned to that theme with a vengeance.
The Lion Still Hunted
After the blood-soaked hallucination that ended the grand ball at Dorian’s mansion in E6, Vanessa decided that she was not safe in London. Museum curator and closet-homosexual Ferdinand Lyle (Simon Russell Beale) immediately seconded her wish to go away, advising her to go away now and to not tell any of them where she was going. Despite Eveyln Poole’s (Helen McCrory) blackmail of him (because of his sexual orientation) to help her get Vanessa, Lyle occasionally surprises us by his affection for and attachment to Vanessa. At the ball, he was upset that she was without an escort, and offered to see her home, telling her outright that it wasn’t safe for her there. Now, he was strongly advising her to go away without telling anyone her location. Mrs. Poole would be understandably upset at his “betrayal.”
Sir Malcolm (Timothy Dalton), who is literally bewitched by Mrs. Poole, was upset at his exclusion from Vanessa’s plans. He asked if they were no longer to trust each other, especially after Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) and Lyle both agreed that Vanessa should go away without revealing her destination. Ethan (Josh Hartnett) insisted that he was going with her. Sembene (Danny Sapani) seemed to approve of Ethan as her companion. When Sir Malcolm asked, rather petulantly, why Ethan got to accompany her and no one else did, Vanessa summed it up very simply, saying that all — except Ethan and Sembene — had been present at the ball, and “yet the lion still hunted.”
Though Sir Malcolm may feel piqued at not being considered Vanessa’s sole or ultimate protector, he is actually not one of the warriors in the show. The only true warriors, given their histories, are Ethan and Sembene. Ethan hunted Indians in North America, sometimes infiltrating and destroying whole tribes who refused to be relocated to reservations. Semebene, whose face is marked with tribal “coming of age” scars, knows what it is like to hunt and fight. He was the only one Ethan trusted to watch his transformation, which, as he learned in the morning, was into a Wolf.
Sembene was not afraid, telling Ethan that he saw beyond the crocodile (who ate) the monkey (who ate) the whatever, each higher predator absorbing the prey lower in the food-chain. Sembene told Ethan that he also saw beyond the Wolf, and was not afraid because he sees the good in Ethan.
In effect, Sembene and Ethan are the warriors in Penny Dreadful, and they have now bonded as such.
Sir Malcolm, who literally and metaphorically raped his way across Africa (Vanessa accused him of S1E7, “Possession,” saying that he also insisted that his son Peter have sexual relations with the women against his will, to prove his manhood) is an imperialist, not a warrior. He conquers. He orders. He commands. He takes. He controls. Hence, his condescending remark that Vanessa may have imagined the blood-bath at the ball.
Despite Sir Malcolm’s being under a love-spell cast by the head Night-Comer, or witch, Evelyn Poole, his dismissal of Vanessa’s vision and its implications for her own safety are typical Sir Malcolm. Later, Vanessa revealed to Ethan her disappointment, and perhaps resentment, that the relationship between her and Sir Malcolm has changed since Mrs. Poole came into his life and he “fell in love.”
But I don’t see that the relationship between Vanessa and Malcolm has changed: he was always using her for his own ends. Just because his daughter Mina is now dead and Vanessa thinks he “chose her” over Mina, doesn’t mean Sir Malcolm has ever changed his basic imperialistic character. Or his attitude toward Vanessa and the others.
Sembene and Ethan, who have bonded over Ethan’s secret as well as over their own individual but similar pasts as hunters and warriors, are the ones who have now been revealed as the two characters most capable of good, although, of course, each is capable of killing another creature to ensure his own survival.
Despite the episode’s title and the Cut-Wife’s (Patti LuPone) reference to Vanessa as her “Little Scorpion,” quite a few of the characters are dangerous creatures who “sting whether you believe in them or not,” as Lyle explained to Victor, when he and Lyle were discussing good and evil, the Devil and God, Amu-net and Amun-ra. Lyle said the Egyptians called love the “Scorpion’s Sting,” insisting that it would infiltrate your entire system and last forever.
We know Mrs. Poole has stung Sir Malcolm, literally, with her ring, several times, sucking his blood as the vampire Creature did from his victims in S1 of Penny Dreadful; and perhaps injecting him with love’s venom, metaphorically.
Dorian (Reeve Carney), who is supposed to be in love with transgendered Angelique (Johnny Beauchamp), has already been technically unfaithful to her, though I’m not sure he ever actually promised her fidelity. Not only did he “forget” Angelique at the coming-out ball he threw in her honor by becoming virtually obsessed with Lily (Billie Piper), formerly Ethan’s lover Brona, whom Frankenstein smothered to make her into a Bride for the Creature (Rory Kinnear), but Dorian further betrayed Angelique by taking Lily out on a date. Dorian stings anyone involved with him, too.Despite Victor’s obvious distress at the events at the ball, as well as at the invitation from Dorian, Lily was delighted by both and went out with Dorian. Victor has been stung by the scorpion of love, but Lily apparently has not. She not only spent the day with Dorian, she picked up a stranger afterward and, while having sex with him, choked him to death, her face expressionless throughout.
Her transformation into a Creature-Bride seemed to have left only amnesia and the visible scars over her breasts and down the center of her chest and abdomen (and what they represent, I have no idea, unless Victor replaced her consumption-damaged lungs). But the scars over her breasts were clearly visible as she choked the man while she was having intercourse with him. One scar over each breast, connected to the main, body scar. Rather like a scorpion’s claws, eh?
Despite the fact that Vanessa was called “Little Scorpion” by the Cut-Wife, and despite Vanessa’s using the symbol of the scorpion as her badge of protection, she still stings. For one thing, she can shoot flawlessly, apparently without ever having had lessons.
And though she claims to accept Ethan completely, she accepts then immediately rejects any physical or sexual advances, saying, “We’re dangerous.”
Has she stung him? It would seem so.
Has he stung her? Perhaps.
But she’s maintaining control over her emotions and her sexuality.
Welcome to the Night
The bulk of the episode dealt with Vanessa’s and Ethan’s doomed Romeo & Juliet romance. Despite the fact that he chopped down the tree from which the Cut-Wife was manacled and burned alive,
despite all their revelations about their own sorrows and brief moments of happiness or safety in the past as they walked the fields, searching for herbs, and setting rabbit snares,
despite her teaching him to dance in return for the shooting lessons, and despite his proficiency in dancing, leading to closer physical proximity between the two,
the evil in each of them comes between them.
By Vanessa’s choice.
After being confronted and threatened, once again, by Sir Geoffrey in his woods, Ethan goes to Sir Geoffrey’s mansion, intent on killing him: not as a werewolf, but as a man, with a pistol, to protect Vanessa. He is stunned to witness, as he aims the gun, Sir Geoffrey’s own hounds turn and devour him.
Though Vanessa was warned not to use the Book with the glyph on its spine unless she felt completely abandoned and lost, since once she used it, she would “have turned forever from God,” that is exactly what Vanessa did.
In a scene eerily reminiscent of Evelyn Poole’s incantation to the Devil,
Vanessa got out the book and started chanting its spells.
To have Sir Geoffrey’s dogs kill him in retaliation for his killing the Cut-Wife.
Vanessa sold her soul to the Devil, turned her back on God, to get even with a worm like Sir Geoffrey?
Sure, she shed a few tears after she collapsed.
But Ethan, he was madder than hell.
He returned to the Cut-Wife’s cottage, calling Vanessa a “little girl” as he berated her for the evil thing she’d done. After all, he’d not only taught her to shoot, “to protect herself,” but he’d gone, as her protector, to do the deed himself.
Ethan hadn’t gone to do “evil,” in his opinion: he was an animal, trying to survive; he was defending the life of someone he loved from a predator. Ethan may, in fact, be the Lupus Dei — The Hound of God — repeated in the puzzle that Lyle and the others are attempting to solve in order to understand the Verbis Diablo — the language of the Devil which the Night-Comers use, and which is in the book Vanessa used to turn Sir Geoffrey’s hounds against him.
Furthermore, if Ethan is the Lupus Dei of the puzzle-tale, it may be his job to protect Vanessa. He certainly seems to see it that way, even though there is also now a sexual attraction there.
(Remember that the two of them had no relationship last season beyond employer-recruiter and hired gun. Sir Malcolm needed more guns to kill the Creature in his hunt for his daughter Mina, and Vanessa found and hired Ethan Chandler. Ethan was emotionally involved with Brona Croft (Billie Piper), who was dying of consumption but whose death was hurried by Frankenstein’s holding a pillow over her face so he could transform her into Lily, the Creature-Bride. Vanessa attempted a sexual liaison with Dorian, but in the midst of intercourse, her participation in the sex act unleashed the demons that the Victorians associated with female sexuality, and she became possessed.)
Now, however, Vanessa has once again chosen to do evil, just as she did when she seduced her best friend Mina’s fiancé the night before the wedding, causing a permanent rift between Mina and Vanessa, as well as between the two families. In “Little Scorpion,” Vanessa’s choice to do evil, when she knew she had a protector, when she’d learned how to shoot, when Sir Geoffrey was not actively harming her, infuriated Ethan and caused a rift between them.
It’s a rift far wider than that between Romeo and Juliet’s families. After all, the Montagues and the Capulets can’t even remember what started the feud in the first place: they just recall that their families are ancient enemies.
Vanessa consciously chose to do evil, to use the book of spells and the Verbis Diablo — which she was warned would separate her forever from God — for something as petty as revenge.
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Copyright and All That Jazz
Copyright 2012-2020 by Alexandria Constantinova Szeman, Ph.D. All rights reserved. No content may be copied, excerpted, or distributed without express written consent of the author and publisher, with full copyright credit to the author. Please, don’t support the piracy of Intellectual Property.
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