Penny Dreadful recap: Verbis Diablo
All the world's a puppet show, staged by Evelyn.
After tonight’s episode, I’m adding public transportation and puppets to the list of reasons Penny Dreadful keeps me up at night. Vanessa isn’t sleeping either. She begs Sir Malcolm to tell her that she deserves peace, but peace hasn’t exactly been a hallmark of his life so far. He takes her instead to a soup kitchen in a dark system of tunnels, where London’s poor and sick are hidden away. Sir Malcolm views the charity as a kind of atonement. “It makes me feel like I’m a better man,” he tells Vanessa. If this show believes that redemption is possible, it’s in the act of reaching out—the witches aren’t afraid of Vanessa’s most fervent prayers, but they do fear Ethan, who actively puts his life on the line to protect her. For all of its demons, Penny Dreadful’s religion is other people.
The Creature says as much to Vanessa when she offers him some soup and stops for a chat. Introducing himself as John Clare, the name he gave the Putneys—and the name of an English poet—the Creature says that Wordsworth replaced the Bible for him. He quotes Blake: “To see a world in a grain of sand/ and heaven in a wild flower.” Vanessa sees no wild flowers here (“only pain and suffering”), but the Creature tells her to look closer. His humanism is rich, given how cynical he usually is about people. Just last week, he was shaming Victor for London’s cruelties and looking overwhelmed at the sight of a single beggar boy. Now, he reads poetry amongst the dying like a college student at Starbucks who went on a service trip once.
Despite that, it’s my favorite scene of the hour. Vanessa treats the Creature with absolute respect. Being possessed by a demon gives her every reason to scoff at other people’s problems, but it’s only made her more in tune with everyone’s suffering. The Creature wants beauty in the midst of pain, and when he can’t find it, he lashes out. Vanessa just accepts that everything around her is in pain and views it as an equalizer. She’s even empathetic for centuries-dead monks.
Egyptologist Ferdinand Lyle visits at Sir Malcolm’s request to teach them about the Verbis Diablo, which is preserved in only one written record. An 11th-century monk known as Brother Gregory claimed he was possessed by a demon. He wrote down its words on whatever he could find before his brothers locked him away. Eventually concluding that the demon was “deep within him—a curse, if you will. Seemingly inescapable,” Brother Gregory’s fellow monks burned him at the stake. Vanessa looks like she’s hearing her own worst fears for her future.
Lyle takes Ethan to retrieve Brother Gregory’s writing from the archives of the British Museum. The notes are scrawled on dozens of artifacts in English, Arabic, the Verbis Diablo, and maybe a few other tongues. Lyle calls it a Tower of Babel. Ethan just calls it a puzzle and gets to work. Like Vanessa, he needs to stay busy in order to avoid thinking about his own inescapable curse. In the archives, Ethan finds an old family crest marked by protective wolves and remembers the wolves he grew up with in the New Mexico Territory. “They didn’t protect anything,” Ethan says. “They just fed.” But the witches think of him as a protector, so a lupus dei is clearly a step up from a common timber wolf.
NEXT: Victor’s main thrill in life is a makeover.
The witches have taken a week off from actively terrorizing Vanessa in order to terrorize happy families in the London Underground (for the sake of better terrorizing Vanessa in the future). Hecate follows two young parents onto a train, kills them, and takes their baby. We’re at least spared from watching her kill the baby. She delivers its body to her mother, who carries it to a basement chamber lined with puppets made to look like our characters. Evelyn cuts open the body, pulls out the baby’s heart (how are we all watching this show?), sews it into a canvas box, and carries it to her Vanessa puppet. Across town, Vanessa takes a sharp breath. Let the voodoo begin?
Evelyn is also working her magic on Sir Malcolm, flirting with him over perfumes and whispering the Verbis Diablo in his ear. He invites her to the shooting range for what he insists isn’t a date, on account of the fact that he can never divorce his wife. Evelyn doesn’t seem deterred. She then hits a perfect target, because Evelyn Poole is the founding member of the Leslie Knope School of Seduction. (“Guys love it when you can show them that you’re better than they are at something they love.”)
Elsewhere in attempted seduction, the Creature and Victor are already fighting over Brona, even though she literally just came back from the dead. Victor worries that she’ll be simple minded. The Creature wants to fill her head with poetry. “She needs poetry!” he says as Brona reaches out to him. Victor shoos him out the door: “She needs to eat.” Alone at last, he uses Brona’s last few moments without a voice to touch her chest without her permission. Free Brona.
Language comes back to her quickly, though her memories—and her Belfast accent—do not. Victor tells Brona that she is his cousin, which doesn’t seem like the best way to strike up a romance, though it does convince her to trust him. He names her Lily, “the flower of resurrection and rebirth,” and dyes her hair blond. Brona is already catching on that he might just be remaking her into his dream girl. She’ll allow it—and because a British girl with a fun blond haircut is a character Billie Piper is much more suited to play, I’ll allow it, too. By the time Victor introduces her to the Creature, whom he claims is her intended, she looks and sounds nothing like the woman she was. Ethan could pass her and not recognize her. The question is whether she’ll ever recognize him.
Bits and pieces:
- Dorian is back. He still isn’t connected to anyone else’s story, but he has found a new love interest—and possibly the only person capable of rendering him speechless, in a good way. Angelique wants to be sure that Dorian knows what he’s bought; I have no doubt that he does. He might even trust Angelique with the truth about his portrait.
- There was one survivor of the Mariner’s Inn massacre. He might never speak again, but it feels like Rusk isn’t going to let up until he’s made an arrest.
- Lyle is in Evelyn’s pocket thanks to some indiscreet photos. Will he betray her or Vanessa?
- Ethan’s flirtation with Lyle—and Lyle’s delight—is really endearing.
- “Mischief is best enacted in small groups at very close quarters.”
- “‘Very nice.’ Such a man. Like you charge by the word.”