Penny Dreadful opened this season with multiple Tennyson quotes. The debt it owes classic literature grows by the week. It’s dealing deftly with mental health issues and crises of faith, and it’s shining a light on abuse against women as a horror more real than Frankenstein’s monster. But no matter how serious this show can be, there is one thing it needs you to know: It will never be too serious for a blood threesome.
To groom her young acolyte for the war ahead, Lily takes Justine out for some tea. (I can’t wait until we bookend this scene with Lily and Justine nonchalantly sipping tea while the world burns around them.) As they debate how different Dorian really is from other men, a crowd of suffragettes marches into the square. The police throw the women to the ground, giving Lily a chance to outline the way her strategy diverges from theirs: The suffragettes are too noisy. “How do you accomplish anything in this life?” Lily asks. “By craft, by stealth, by poison, by the throat quietly slit in the dead of the night. By the careful and silent accumulation of power.” As soon as they have that power, they’re going to war.
Lily doesn’t want the same rights as men; she wants to rule over them — and the difference between equality and mastery is the difference between picketing for votes and stabbing men to death. Now that Justine knows what they’re about, Lily and Dorian need her to make a choice. In a kind of induction ceremony, they present her with two gifts: a dagger and the man who bought her as his “pet whore” when she was 12. After listing his crimes against her, Justine slits his throat, then releases her anger by stabbing his body until she’s covered in his blood. Dorian kisses her. And then he, Justine, and Lily all paint themselves in blood and have a threesome.
This is one artistic threesome. I mean, this is some kaleidoscopic, Bryan Fuller-taunting-standards-and-practices-on-Hannibal sex happening here. They’re all kissing each other at once. What a show. The next morning, in no hurry to wash their sheets or themselves, Lily, Dorian, and Justine plan for their future. “To build an empire,” Lily says, “you start with a single soldier.” Justine is their first, but she’ll help them recruit more to their cause, with a focus on “all those invisible women who move unseen through this great city.” They’re out for a violent end, but their reasons are human. See for example: Lily’s tears as Justine tells her story. Real pain fuels this mission.
This is why Lily’s extreme methods make for such a satisfying narrative, while the Creature — for whom the ends also justify the means — is so much less fun. Lily draws on the suffering of a persecuted segment of the population; the Creature draws on his suffering alone. That’s also why his journey this season is a step in the right direction: It isn’t about what he believes he’s owed. The Creature’s memories lead him straight to his family, now scratching out a living in a rundown, working-class housing unit by the factories, but he doesn’t make contact. He just watches through a hole in the ceiling as his presumed wife cares for his sick son, then steals a pocket watch and leaves it for the woman to sell. So he’s still the kind of man who shoves people against walls to get what he wants. He’s still a voyeur. But was I moved by his smile when his wife found the watch? YES, FINE, I was.
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Across the Atlantic, Ethan is stuck with someone else who’s willing to use violence to reach her goals. He wakes from his latest wolf attack with Hecate by his side, and she’s not going anywhere. Ethan accepts her help on the grounds that his Apache father taught him to believe in things beyond his understanding, and he definitely doesn’t understand Hecate. But aren’t her motives pretty clear? “I want you to liberate your truest self,” Hecate says. “The beast that prowls around your heart. And when you are truly yourself and we are painted with blood, I want to rule the darkness at your side.” Lily and Dorian talk about being “painted with blood” as a rite of passage: Willful violence unlocks the darkness that, as Victor and Henry won’t let us forget, we all possess. It’s just that Ethan would rather not unlock it.
NEXT: In every generation…