Damn I love this show. It has everything I never even knew I wanted: campy gay curators teaming up with werewolf protectors, Victorian patriarchs getting everything they deserve, Eva Green storming/gliding/strolling about in period garb, and an evil villainess who has no sign of a tragic backstory but is just delightfully, unabashedly evil.
Again, this will have to be a "cliff notes" version of my usual episode reviews, but hopefully quantity will make up for quality as there's a LOT to say about this episode.
As should be clear by now, Penny Dreadful is not about the story or even the characters so much as it's about the relationships, performances and atmosphere. It's all in Sir Malcolm's hand hovering over his foster daughter's while they're still in their dressing gowns, in Ethan openly flirting with Ferdinand without the slightest hint of "no homo" paranoia, and in the suspense being racketed up so high in Hecate's stalking of a happy couple and their infant daughter that it almost comes as a relief when she finally slashes their throats.
Vanessa's terror over the witch coven is certainly something new; even in her darkest moments of last season I never felt she was ever this distressed at her circumstances. It makes me wonder: why is she more terrified of Lucifer's witchy minions than of the fallen angel himself? My working theory is that there's something personal between Vanessa and Evelyn Poole – after all, the latter seems very Affably Evil with everyone she meets, but gets instantaneously vindictive when Vanessa's name is mentioned (calling her a wicked c**t when Ferdinand asks after her). So what's the deal with these two?
I still find the Frankenstein plot a little uninteresting, though it's probably the plot-line that has both a clear purpose and a visible end goal (in other words, it is to this season what the search for Mina was in the first – though hopefully with more emotional payoff). As it happens, I'm not totally adverse to a Love Triangle between Victor/Brona/Caliban, mainly because I'm sure John Logan is well aware of the ghastly implications of all this (both men seeing Brona as little more than a plaything; Frankenstein projecting his own childhood all over her) and has plans to deconstruct it all in due course (hopefully culminating in Brona regaining her memories, asserting her agency, and burning everything down behind her).
Also, RIP Brona's awful Irish accent. It was almost funny how they handwaved its inexplicable (but entirely welcome) disappearance.
I like that Caliban and Vanessa have met, all the more so that it was by coincidence rather than as an introduction via Frankenstein, and by the end of their short conversation they both seemed fascinated by the other – he because she wasn't repulsed by his appearance, and she because he speaks of a world that isn't dominated by the forces of heaven and hell.
Caliban has met three women now who haven't freaked out upon meeting him: one who sees him clearly, one who can't see at all, and one who is more-or-less a doll made for his own gratification – I get the feeling he'll quickly lose interest in that last one when up against the freedom of choice inherent in the first two (anyone else feel strongly reminded of Warren Mears and his robotic girlfriend fromBuffy the Vampire Slayer?)
In any case, it was interesting to watch the weight of the conversation tip from her to him, and Vanesa's parting shot: "you have beautiful eyes" will surely be swirling around in his head for some time to come. I just hope it's not going to be another case of Maude, in which he mistakes simple kindness for "I LOVE YOU LET'S GET MARRIED!"
Some interesting hints here and there regarding Ethan, in which he discovers a shield with a wolf motif and the motto "the wolves will protect". A "protector" is how the witches described him in the last episode, and yet the anecdote he tells about the predatory killers he witnessed in his childhood belies this role. Evelyn already seems to know more about Ethan that he does, so I'm curious as to how he'll eventually reconcile these two halves of himself.
In the same episode, the police investigator comes a step closer what with the slow recovery of a victim from the Mariner's Inn – though I wonder, is the man's red eye down to the injuries he sustained, or a sign that he's inherited the werewolf curse?
And who was Ethan writing that letter to? Best bet is his father, so hopefully we get some backstory soon. At this point I'm not even sure whether or not Ethan knows he's a werewolf. I mean, he knows something is wrong with him, and he's clearly drawn to wolves – but has he put two and two together?
I could watch Helen McCrory all day, every day. Every syllable, every gesture, each and every smile – she's glorious. And my God, she's having fun with this role. I said it earlier, but it's so refreshing to have a female villainess who is just plain evil. No tragic backstory or terrible past, just a woman who calmly cuts out the heart of an infant to place into a life-sized doll of the woman she plans to offer up to her master. Another normal Tuesday night for Evelyn Poole.
It's hard to say who I love more; her or Simon Russell Beale as Ferdinand Lyle. Possibly Ferdinand edges out in front just a little bit because of the sheer magnetism of his performance – the accent, the lisp, the camp. It's so much fun!
And what a great storyteller! I found myself leaning forward when he started the tale of Brother Gregory and the Verbis Diablo. Speaking of which, I LOVE the idea of a mad monk scribbling the words of a demon language across any object at hand, resulting in a collection of random artefacts that have to be pieced together like a jigsaw puzzle with no edges. God, Ilivefor this kind of thing. My fingers are itching just looking at this image:
Regarding Ferdinand/Evelyn and the reveal that the two of them are working together (however reluctantly on Ferdinand's behalf), there was talk of a deleted scene involving them from season one that was shown at Comic Con 2014. I can't be sure, but there's a chance that the scene we saw between them in this episode (or at least the first half of it) was that deleted scene, having been pushed back into season two. If so, it was integrated quite well, though it would be nice to get confirmation of whether or not this is the first canonical time the audience is meant to have seen them together (as it clearly wasn't their first meeting).
But Ferdinand's life expectancy is now considerably shorter – traitors and informantsalwaysend up dead, no matter how coerced they are into betraying the good guys. Don't do it, show!
And then there's Dorian, and I'm still not sure how he fits into all this show. I'm not going to complain about the still very-rare sight of full-frontal male nudity on television, but I'll confess I'm more interested in Dorian's portrait than his sexual proclivities. I mean, I'm assuming that he signed a Deal With The Devil in order to stay young and beautiful forever – so technically that means he's in cahoots with the same entity that's currently trying to impregnate Vanessa and bring about the end of the world. Surely that's a connection worth pursuing.
But Sembele is once again relegated to taking coats and standing around in the background. STOP WASTING HIM!