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'Penny Dreadful' recap: 'Little Scorpion'

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Jonathan Hession/SHOWTIME

Penny Dreadful

type:
TV Show
Current Status:
In Season
seasons:
2
run date:
05/11/14
performer:
Eva Green, Josh Hartnett, Timothy Dalton
broadcaster:
Showtime Networks Inc.
genre:
Suspense, Thriller, Drama

Penny Dreadful has been flirting with other genres lately, experimenting with different tones only to inevitably twist itself back into a gothic horror in the end. What if Victor and Vanessa were in a comedy? Sure, but the witches are attacking. What if everyone had a grand time at a lavish ball? Sure, but it’s about to rain blood. And, this week: What if Vanessa and Ethan were characters in a Nicholas Sparks romance? It’s all waltzing and kissing in the rain until you potentially sell your soul to the devil.

In the aftermath of last week’s Blood Ball, Vanessa is ready to get out of town. Ethan comes along, but only Victor knows the truth about where they’re going and why Vanessa wants to go there. This has nothing to do with running and hiding. She’s going to the Cut-Wife’s cottage to retrieve a better weapon for the fight—like, presumably, the book with the scorpion on its spine. Is Vanessa ready to sacrifice her soul to win this battle? Or does she believe that her soul is already lost?

Questions of redemption are also hanging over Ethan’s head right now, as he comes to terms with what Sembene saw him become in the moonlight. Sembene still believes in Ethan’s goodness and is open to the possibility that his inner werewolf is a blessing. Ethan takes a bleaker view. In his mind, there’s no escaping “the monsters inside us.” He speaks to Vanessa in generalities, but it feels like he’s only talking about himself, given his repeated insistence that she fight the demon in her. Ethan is always telling Vanessa to open up, but he won’t do the same. He just asks her to bolt the cottage door behind him as he runs outside into the full moon, turns into a werewolf, and attacks a flock of sleep.

Vanessa finds Ethan outside the next morning, chopping at the tree where the Cut-Wife was burned. It’s a generous attempt to exorcise Vanessa’s own demons while ignoring his own. Vanessa sees what he’s doing. She puts her hand on Ethan’s neck, pulls him close, and asks him to tell her what’s going on. He responds by touching her cheek and telling her that she needs to learn how to shoot a gun. A procedural drama could drag out this kind of sexual tension for seven seasons.

Penny Dreadful moves faster. After Vanessa’s marksmanship lesson—anyone surprised that she’s a natural?—she offers to return the favor by teaching him something. Ethan suggests dancing. So begins their new normal: a happy montage of waltzing, tree chopping, cooking over a fire, and occasionally debating nature’s basest instincts. One rainy night, Vanessa comments that she loves storms for how “primordial” they are. “Every bit of civilization gone,” she says. “Everything true coming out.”

Just as they’re getting philosophical about the beginning and end of the world, lightning strikes the fireplace, setting the cottage floor on fire. With blankets and buckets of water, they snuff out the flames—then, drenched in rain, Ethan picks up Vanessa in the middle of that old house and kisses her. Are we sure we’re not watching The Notebook? Vanessa is. Just as she’s about to go in for another kiss, she pulls back. The two of them are too dangerous.

Ethan and I are both disappointed by this change of heart, but Vanessa might be onto something. As they sort out the Verbis Diablo, Lyle tells Victor about the Egyptian gods Amunet and Amun-Ra, who were believed to be immortal and in love—but if they ever became conjoined, the fallen angels would emerge and rule the world. Could a romance between Vanessa and Ethan be similarly world-ending, or could it be what protects her? Lyle believes that a fallen angel is seducing Vanessa, and “she loves him, in her way,” but that the hound of God represents a threat to the demon. Why else would his name be repeated so much?

NEXT: Secret Diary of a Resurrected Girl[pagebreak]

Ethan is definitely taking his duties as protector seriously. He tells Vanessa that if he has a purpose in life, it’s to keep her from dying or surrendering to the devil. “We are not like the others. We have claws for a reason,” he says, insinuating that she already knows what’s going on with him (although even if she does, it wouldn’t hurt for him to verbalize it). Their chat is interrupted by Sir Geoffrey, the wealthy aristocrat who killed the Cut-Wife and tried to rape Vanessa. Did she come here to kill him, too? She tells Ethan later that night that she wants to avenge the Cut-Wife and is prepared to live with the guilt. Ethan warns that if she starts killing, she won’t be able to stop.

When Vanessa ignores him, he sets off to kill Sir Geoffrey first, believing his own soul to be beyond saving already—but he’s too late. Vanessa retrieves the poetry of death from the shelf, reads it, and begins snarling the Verbis Diablo. I’m not happy for Vanessa, but I’m a little happy for Eva Green; it’s been too long since we’ve seen her throw herself into a possession. As Ethan watches, Sir Geoffrey’s dogs turn on him and tear him apart.

Is this what Vanessa means when she says that she doesn’t fear the storm? She tells Ethan that when the demons inside them are released, “We’re the most who we are. Unrestrained. Ourselves.” But Ethan doesn’t approve of who they are. It’s like they have this backward: He can protect her only by embracing his inner wolf, but she can protect herself only by fighting her inner demon. Ethan and the Cut-Wife have both argued that there’s no coming back from this. We’ll see if they’re right.

Meanwhile, Lily is off taking a dark turn of her own. She meets up with Dorian for a night on the town, and he takes her to Putney’s wax museum, where she wonders at everything she’s never seen before. Given the way Dorian stares at her at the exhibit on grave robbing (“for medical experimentation”), it’s looking more likely that he already recognizes her as Brona—or at least suspects. In any case, he finds her mysterious, and he’s right. Lily stops in a bar, meets an older gentleman, has sex with him, and chokes him to death. What is happening? Is this a response to memories of her own death, or is she just reaching out for exciting new life experiences, and murder is one of them? In any case, the women on Penny Dreadful go after what they want.

Bits and pieces:

  • Ethan felt he belonged in the graveyard of the Native Americans he killed. He really isn’t holding out hope for his own redemption.
  • “Do you know what it is to walk with someone’s body tied around your neck for the rest of your goddamned life? Do you know what that’s like, little girl?”
  • Vanessa is afraid of dolls, so taking Evelyn down should be really easy and not at all traumatic for her.
  • “I don’t know that I’m made for company. I think I’m made for something like the moors and for doing such things that hurt even as they help.”
  • Ethan’s pea coat with the plaid inside is a very good look (as are those suspenders, honestly).
  • Dance class with Vanessa: “It’s the opposite of homicide.”

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