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Penny Dreadful recap: Verbis Diablo

All the world’s a puppet show, staged by Evelyn.

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Jonathan Hession/SHOWTIME

Penny Dreadful

TV Show
Current Status:
In Season
run date:
Eva Green, Josh Hartnett, Timothy Dalton
Showtime Networks Inc.
Suspense, Thriller, Drama

After tonight’s episode, I’m adding public transportation and puppets to the list of reasons Penny Dreadful keeps me up at night. Vanessa isn’t sleeping either. She begs Sir Malcolm to tell her that she deserves peace, but peace hasn’t exactly been a hallmark of his life so far. He takes her instead to a soup kitchen in a dark system of tunnels, where London’s poor and sick are hidden away. Sir Malcolm views the charity as a kind of atonement. “It makes me feel like I’m a better man,” he tells Vanessa. If this show believes that redemption is possible, it’s in the act of reaching out—the witches aren’t afraid of Vanessa’s most fervent prayers, but they do fear Ethan, who actively puts his life on the line to protect her. For all of its demons, Penny Dreadful’s religion is other people.

The Creature says as much to Vanessa when she offers him some soup and stops for a chat. Introducing himself as John Clare, the name he gave the Putneys—and the name of an English poet—the Creature says that Wordsworth replaced the Bible for him. He quotes Blake: “To see a world in a grain of sand/ and heaven in a wild flower.” Vanessa sees no wild flowers here (“only pain and suffering”), but the Creature tells her to look closer. His humanism is rich, given how cynical he usually is about people. Just last week, he was shaming Victor for London’s cruelties and looking overwhelmed at the sight of a single beggar boy. Now, he reads poetry amongst the dying like a college student at Starbucks who went on a service trip once.

Despite that, it’s my favorite scene of the hour. Vanessa treats the Creature with absolute respect. Being possessed by a demon gives her every reason to scoff at other people’s problems, but it’s only made her more in tune with everyone’s suffering. The Creature wants beauty in the midst of pain, and when he can’t find it, he lashes out. Vanessa just accepts that everything around her is in pain and views it as an equalizer. She’s even empathetic for centuries-dead monks.

Egyptologist Ferdinand Lyle visits at Sir Malcolm’s request to teach them about the Verbis Diablo, which is preserved in only one written record. An 11th-century monk known as Brother Gregory claimed he was possessed by a demon. He wrote down its words on whatever he could find before his brothers locked him away. Eventually concluding that the demon was “deep within him—a curse, if you will. Seemingly inescapable,” Brother Gregory’s fellow monks burned him at the stake. Vanessa looks like she’s hearing her own worst fears for her future.

Lyle takes Ethan to retrieve Brother Gregory’s writing from the archives of the British Museum. The notes are scrawled on dozens of artifacts in English, Arabic, the Verbis Diablo, and maybe a few other tongues. Lyle calls it a Tower of Babel. Ethan just calls it a puzzle and gets to work. Like Vanessa, he needs to stay busy in order to avoid thinking about his own inescapable curse. In the archives, Ethan finds an old family crest marked by protective wolves and remembers the wolves he grew up with in the New Mexico Territory. “They didn’t protect anything,” Ethan says. “They just fed.” But the witches think of him as a protector, so a lupus dei is clearly a step up from a common timber wolf.

NEXT: Victor’s main thrill in life is a makeover.