Let’s say you’re an ancient, bloodsucking fiend. Say you’ve got a reputation. If you’re smart, you use it — you play against type. History reports that you strike when your victims are isolated, so you become someone your prey can trust. When she hears that you’ll seek her out when she’s alone, she protects herself from you by running right to you.
Dracula is a genius. After centuries in the vampire business, he’s turned the one chink in his armor — word of mouth — into an advantage, building up the myth of “Dracula” to disguise the more dangerous reality. His name is his weapon as much as it’s Vanessa’s. Penny Dreadful is concerned with what it means to live out in the open, where the power of owning your story puts a target on your back, but Dracula has his blood bag and eats it, too: He lets his story spread, and he hides in its shadow.
But if he cheats, so will Vanessa — or at least, in the words of new ally Catriona Hartdegen (Perdita Weeks), she’ll employ some “creative improvisation.” Armed with her stalker’s identity, Vanessa heads to Lyle to learn more, but he’s packing for a jaunt to Cairo, which might just be extended indefinitely. This had better not be the last we see of Vanessa’s mustachioed friend, who leaves her with a farewell so lovely, I think I’ll have to steal it: “Condemn me to the sand and dust, write often, and think of me only when you dance.” But while he’s away, Catriona should do quite nicely.
Vanessa finds Lyle’s associate at a fencing match, which she wins with the help of some of that creative improv. Catriona’s duel is an obvious analog for Vanessa’s upcoming showdown with the OG vampire, and it points toward a clear-cut future for a battle that has so far been defined by illusions and funhouse mirrors. “Every decision reduced to back and forth, thrust or parry,” Catriona says. “A clarity forms during it that the rest of the world is sadly lacking in. Life and death without the death — most of the time.” Even there, the analogy is accurate: As Vanessa explains to Catriona, Dracula doesn’t want her death. He wants her submission. At least for now.
Vanessa and Catriona are a pair, instantly impressed and intrigued by one other. Vanessa doesn’t run away from Catriona’s unconventional career as a thanatologist (“I study death. Its every ritual, every guise. The great hereafter, if there is such a thing”), and Catriona doesn’t blink at the fact that Vanessa is being hunted by Dracula. Over drinks and a smoke in a pair of leather armchairs, the women agree to team up against the man who once started a whole war between the Ottomans and the Holy Roman Empire just because he liked the taste of blood. While Catriona sees what she can do, she asks Vanessa to surround herself with people who care about her — just as Dracula knows she will. “There is only one defense against isolation,” Catriona says. “Be with those you love.” She’d better mean that innocently, because I like her and her Dana Scully hair.
Even with Catriona’s urging, Vanessa is still too committed to keeping Sweet safe from harm to run right to him. She makes the much better choice and has fireside drinks with Dr. Seward, who tells her all about murdering her abusive husband with a cleaver. (“Cell Block Tango,” but with the women of Penny Dreadful: I need it.) “Trust me, honey,” Seward says. “When you kill your husband with a cleaver and then stand trial for it in New York City, you know what it is to be alone.” In a world that would institutionalize Vanessa for having sex with her friend’s fiancé, how did Seward avoid jail time after killing a man?
Seward might have favored self-sufficiency since then, and she might tell her patients that she isn’t their friend, but it’s time for her to face facts: She’s friends with Vanessa. Like any good wingwoman, Seward pushes Vanessa to have drinks with “that handsome doctor from the museum,” shooting down the excuse that he’d never believe Vanessa’s story with, “I’ll give you a note.” No one will ever be able to surprise Vanessa if she doesn’t give them the chance; like Lyle in his move to a country more accepting of his “particular way of life,” she has to take leaps if she wants to find love. This would all be great advice if not for the fact that Sweet IS DRACULA. And it doesn’t seem like Lyle is moving of his own accord, anyway.
NEXT: Night at the museum