Dark & Dreadful
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.
♦ ♦ ♦
This World is Our Hell
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
♦ ♦ ♦
No Beast So Fierce
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In the fray, Ethan shot Rusk who shot and killed Hecate.
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…
and that the love and sexual attraction between the two will be as strong as ever…
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.
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.
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,
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.
Vanessa then sought the company and advice of her Alienist (the term used before “Psychiatrist,” apparently), Dr. Seward (Patti LuPone),
who advised Vanessa to turn to Dr. Sweet (Christian Camargo),
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.”
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).
In the midst of sex with Dorian Gray, Vanessa heard the Dark Master’s voice, telling her how much he’d missed her.
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.
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).
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,
then rejected Ethan when they were staying in the Cut-Wife’s cottage.
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,
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.
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.