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'Penny Dreadful' recap: 'Fresh Hell'

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SHOWTIME/Jonathan Hession

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 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[pagebreak] 

The Creature is a tragic character; he could be a sympathetic one, too, if he didn’t believe he were owed a woman for his suffering. But he does, and when a lightning storm hits its peak, Victor delivers. He zaps Brona back to life, and she pulls herself out of the water to stand shivering before them. Does she remember anything about herself? Will she? Victor hopes that she won’t—he says that it’s because she had so few opportunities in life, but the fact that he killed her would probably also put a damper on this Frankenstein love triangle. And if she remembers Ethan, that only complicates things further.

Ethan has moved on quickly from his former love, throwing all of his energy into caring for Vanessa. She tells Sir Malcolm that the women who attacked them were witches marked by the devil, and that their language—which came to her blindly—was the Verbis Diablo. Ethan and Victor both know the story. According to Biblical law, the Verbis Diablo is a corruption of angelical speech. Victor scoffs that it’s all a myth, but Victor is also currently in the middle of raising someone from the dead. When Vanessa argues that she has to fight this battle alone, Ethan helps himself to Sir Malcolm’s guest room.

Across town, the woman at the other end of this fight reclines in a literal blood bath, singing an old English folk song called, appropriately, “The Unquiet Grave.” Evelyn Poole does not play around, and neither does Helen McCrory. She commands the room, coolly berating her coven for their earlier failure with Vanessa. They blame the Verbis Diablo, but Evelyn and her daughter, Hecate (Sarah Greene), are equally concerned by the fact that Vanessa has Ethan as a protector. Hecate calls him a powerful “lupus dei” (Latin for “wolf of God”). She’ll go after Ethan while Evelyn takes Vanessa—by way of Sir Malcolm.

When another witch asks for a second chance, Evelyn turns to more Latin, recalling the Roman tradition of “memento mori”—reminders of death meant to temper the pride of victorious generals upon their return from war. She then winks and slits the witch’s throat with her ring. That war Vanessa talked about in the stagecoach? It’s here. As Evelyn chants in the Verbis Diablo, vowing not to allow Vanessa a moment of peace, Vanessa traces a scorpion on the floor with her own blood and prays in Latin. The witches appear behind her, but by the time she turns around, they’ve disappeared.

Bits and pieces:

  • I missed this opening credit sequence almost as much as I missed Vanessa’s outfits.
  • “I don’t know which makes me sadder—Mina’s full coffin, or Peter’s empty one.” What has more power—the horrors we know, or the ones we imagine? That’s a question for Ethan at the moment. Will the truth of what he is live up to his worst fears?
  • With the exception of her last scene, Billie Piper’s entire job in this episode was to act like she wasn’t holding her breath underwater.
  • “We are bound on a wheel of pain, thee and me. I ask you, what is Dr. Frankenstein without his Creature?” 

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