At a turning point in tonight’s Penny Dreadful, Dorian subjects Lily to a speech that gives the hour its title, warning, “We’re at the ebb tide, my darling.” Has anyone ever taught him how tides work? Lily’s mission — like this season of Penny Dreadful — is anything but on the ebb. What we’re moving toward feels more like high tide. Change is coming in waves, and it’s fitting that for a season so focused on mental health and memory, the action here is rooted in what people know. Vanessa, for instance, knows that Sweet is Dracula. FINALLY.
But that’s more of a relief than a surprise, which makes tonight’s bonus revelation even more charming: When the Creature comes to Vanessa’s door in search of advice, she recognizes him as the orderly. “There was a time when we were thrown together at very close quarters,” Vanessa says, hand on his hand, as I scream internally. “Do you remember?” She waits, but none of the Creature’s memories include his time at the Banning Clinic. The tragedy of their lonely relationship continues. The orderly left his job — which may have even led to his death — because he couldn’t bear to see Vanessa subjected to a treatment that he thought would rob her of herself, only to meet the fate he feared for her.
He blames his scars and memory loss on an “accident,” but if he knew her life, the Creature would tell Vanessa the truth. (Just imagine what hell there would be to pay if she found out that Victor is raising people from the dead.) The Creature asks Vanessa whether she thinks he should reintroduce himself to his family, and, thanks to her night at the museum with Dr. Sweet, she’s “almost” optimistic enough to believe herself when she tells “Mr. Clare” to take the leap. “People are better than we think,” she says. “You were very kind to me once, and I loved you for it. The man I knew deserves to be loved.” Anyway, he’s already lonely, so he’s got nothing to lose.
Vanessa’s loneliness might be driving her down a dangerous path, but it steers the Creature in the right direction. He steps out of the shadows outside his wife’s tenement building and calls out her name, and Marjorie cries as she hugs him. Before she brings him back to their son — a reunion that also goes surprisingly well, with an assist from a model ship — he tells her everything. The Creature is ashamed of the people he’s hurt, and he worries that he’s changed forever: “The sun will never shine so bright for me now that I’ve walked in darkness.” It looks like his conscience has returned with his memories. Victor argued a few weeks ago that it’s our memories that make us monsters, but he’d like to believe that, wouldn’t he? He robbed the Creature of his.
It’s all nature and nurture: Does the world instill us with kindness or rob us of it? In Lily’s case, both. She’s on a violent crusade, but it’s driven by empathy: She wants to spare future generations of women from the pain she’s experienced. Brona had a daughter who didn’t live more than a year. Lily isn’t just upset about the way men treat women in back alleys; she’s mad at how men treat women in the halls of the government. She’s mad that she lives in a society that makes it so hard for women to make any kind of life for themselves, and her mission is for the mother she meets in the cemetery — “We will not have to suffer our children to starve and freeze and die dishonored on cold hills” much longer, she promises — as much as it’s for the young women now living in Dorian’s home.
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Over dinner, Lily rouses her new army with an impassioned speech (look at Billie Piper go) about Irish women who were sentenced to death by the Catholic church when they refused to stop keening. Lily is all for singing from the gallows. “We must be bloody or nothing else,” she declares. She asks every woman in the room to prove herself by finding a bad man and cutting off his right hand, and it isn’t long before the table is littered with more severed limbs than a Romantic painting. Dorian isn’t impressed. On a walk around the city, he tells Lily that he’s “bored” by her revolution — positioning her exactly where Victor and his chloroform need her to be. Dorian is going to regret this betrayal for the rest of his very, very long life.
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Lily wakes to find herself chained to a chair in Henry’s Bedlam lab, where Henry, Victor, and Dorian watch over her. The men promise to make her “better,” like she was “before,” but Lily takes a red pen to everything they say. “Better than what?” she challenges. “As I was before what?” Lily doesn’t want to be anyone other than the person she is now. She dives ferociously at the man who brought her to life, but the chains pull her back. As defiant as she is, she seems honestly afraid of those chains, especially when Victor vows to make her “into a proper woman.” Forget monsters — the worst nightmare on Penny Dreadful is forced conformity. But Lily isn’t one to let a few chains stop her, so I wouldn’t be surprised if she has a plan. I hope it ends in setting fire to the lab and not looking back as she walks off in slow motion.
My hopes for Vanessa are pretty much the same; just replace the lab with the museum. Kaeteney’s gloom-and-doom talk may have felt overly dramatic where Ethan was concerned, but when he says that Vanessa’s soul is in danger, I believe him. Kaeteney has two visions: In one, Vanessa and Ethan reunite “too late,” and in the other, her eyes go demonically black. That boat back to London had better hurry. At least Cat is here; she shows up when Vanessa is deep in her Dracula research to tell her that all of the books about vampires are wrong. The myths about sunlight, reflections, and wooden stakes are just that — myths — invented by people “trying to make sense of something utterly inexplicable to them.” You can’t get the right answers unless you ask the right questions.
Cat takes Vanessa back to square one, walking her through what they already know to be true. When Cat says that Dracula “dwells in the house of the night creatures,” it all clicks. That’s exactly the name Sweet chose for his exhibit at the museum. Did he want Vanessa to figure it out? If so, mission accomplished: Vanessa grabs a gun, steadies herself for a minute, and heads for the museum. And maybe Sweet has been waiting for Vanessa to put the pieces together, because neither one of them bothers to pretend not to know why she’s here. He tries the old “I was sent to possess you, but I never counted on falling in love” argument; it doesn’t work. “How dare you speak of love?” Vanessa snaps, citing what he did to Mina. She raises her gun.
But Dracula doesn’t quit. Appealing to the part of her that has always felt broken, he argues that the only one Vanessa is really denying is herself. “You have tried for so long to be what everyone wants you to be,” Dracula urges. “What you thought you ought to be. What your church and your family and your doctor said you must be. Why not be who you are instead?” He asks Vanessa if she’ll accept him. “I accept myself,” she says — and offers him her neck. Dracula feeds as the fog from Kaeteney’s vision rolls over London.
Would this all have gone differently if Cat tagged along? According to our newest ally, “This is not the work of a soldier. It’s the work of a spy. You must get close enough to look into his damned eyes and then have the grit to do it.” Dracula’s weapon is his hold on Vanessa; she can only defeat him by deciding that she wants to defeat him. He’s almost a side player in all of this; she’s falling from grace because, in her own words, she accepts herself. In this season for lost souls, what does it mean to be found? Do you have to find yourself? Even Ethan had to decide on his own to walk away from his father. He had no control over what Malcolm did. But he was better off with Malcolm there — and I’ve got a feeling that Vanessa would be better off if they were both with her.
In the cards:
- How did Vanessa sleep through THE NECK-LICKING?
- I realize that he’s been adopted into the tribe, but the fact that Ethan, a white man, is the Apache destined to save humanity still feels a little sad, no?
- “There was a moment in my life I had a chance for something different. A woman offered me her heart, a woman I love, and I walked away. I have to try to make that right.”
- Dorian is so miserable at that banquet table. I love it.
- “Ooh, spoken like a man. All women are cats and prone to backstabbing and treachery, is that it?”
- “He created life but had no care for its nurturing. A young man’s ambition to be known, not to be good.”
- “You are a great fertile bitch of evil, and I love you for your fertility and your power. You are the woman of all our dreams and all our night terrors.” Well.
- I just want to point out that Cat told Vanessa to call her by a nickname inspired by a whip.
- I’m going to start describing my days in the style of the Creature’s son, Jack: “Tolerable. I had half that orange.”
- “And if I know anything it is this: You are made for the day, not the night.”