Penny Dreadful belongs to Eva Green, and the second season premiere wastes no time reminding us as much—opening not on some horrifying image, but on Vanessa Ives strolling through a park, a line of dark clothes against a backdrop of snow. Watching from a distance, Evelyn Poole (Helen McCrory) chants in an unfamiliar language, and Vanessa falls to her knees. A few well-meaning passers-by try to help, but Vanessa throws out her arm to keep them back. They scurry off.
This one gesture tells new viewers everything they need to know: Even knocked down, Vanessa Ives can still terrify people into doing what she wants. She is never without power, and she uses that power to avoid putting others in danger. It’s a sentiment echoed by Ethan, who wakes up scratched and bloodied at the Mariner’s Inn, surrounded by at least seven bodies. He visits Vanessa to say goodbye before he leaves to “find a war somewhere. Join a side. Do what I’m good at.” If the scene in the park summed up Vanessa, then this sums up Ethan: He gets drawn into causes. He believes that he’s supposed to be fighting without knowing what to fight for.
But there’s a war to fight here, and Vanessa knows it isn’t over—though she probably would have preferred to make her point without an assist from the group of naked, screeching female creatures who attacked their stagecoach. Vanessa sends the last one running when she speaks its language, but the encounter leaves her so shaken that she hides in her room until Sir Malcolm arrives home from the country, where he and his wife have buried Mina. Sir Malcolm’s wife refuses to divorce him, but she wants nothing to do with him, either. She shuts him down with such glorious Victorian eloquence that I wouldn’t mind if she stood in the background of every scene, passing judgment on all of the men. Or at least on Victor and the Creature.
The Creature wants Brona as his resurrected bride, and Victor—who just wants to be left alone—promises to deliver. But Victor’s been talking to Brona when no one else is around, touching her breasts and wondering if her hand will ever know love. Meanwhile, his creation is downtown finding his dream job, which also involves touching women without their consent. Maybe this is why Victor wants the Creature out of his sight—he can’t face how similar they really are. After a grueling hour-long job hunt, the Creature wanders into Putney’s Family Waxworks, strokes a pretty wax lady on the cheek, and introduces himself to Mr. Putney without even covering up his scar. He sees something “familiar” in this pageantry of horror, where grisly murders—including Ethan’s own “Mariner’s Inn massacre”—are repackaged as entertainment.
Putney doesn’t have all of the details of the crime any more than the cops do, but he can invent those. “You tell the public a thing is real, it is,” he says. Appearance is everything here. The Creature hasn’t found unconditional acceptance at the wax museum; he’s just traded a world that rejects his appearance for one that commodifies it. Only the Putneys’ daughter, Lavinia, has no agenda. The blind girl touches his face as he recoils, then tells him sincerely that it’s nice to meet him—and for once, the Creature is at a loss for words.
NEXT: A little night music