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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
he kept himself under control.
And she didn’t kill him.
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.)
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).
He took the gag out of her mouth,
and put some of his wife’s makeup on Vanessa, following his wife’s instructions.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
At one point, they even grasped hands, indicating that Dr. Seward is in this with Vanessa in her distress and despair.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Understandably, Vanessa freaked. He continued speaking to her. As Lucifer.
This time, the Master was more direct.
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.
His shadow turned into a giant snake and wrapped itself around Vanessa.
Talk about the serpent in the Garden.
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.
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.
When she asked what name she should call him, he told her: “I am the Demon. I am the Dragon. My name is Dracula.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
Oh, and get one ready for writer John Logan while you’re at it.