Penny Dreadful recap: Evil Spirits in Heavenly Places
That was a breath of fresh air, wasn’t it? After last week’s hour of unrelenting trauma, just about anything would feel like a reprieve, but this episode went beyond “not quite as devastating as last week” to give us actual humor. Almost everyone had at least one dry comeback ready. Vanessa even laughed—and if anyone deserves a laugh, it’s Vanessa Ives, whose life could otherwise be summed up in the fact that as soon as she’s trusted Ethan with the story of her time with the Cut-Wife, he makes her tell it again to the class. Not his most sensitive moment. That said, they are currently trying to decipher a demon tongue and take down a coven of witches. The more Vanessa keeps her history to herself, the more she puts all of their lives in danger.
Victor dismisses Vanessa’s story on the basis that witches are a myth and heads home, complaining of a headache to the woman who can’t sleep most nights because of the literal demon in her. “You should talk to a doctor,” Vanessa jokes. She’s so far above his clueless egocentrism that she finds it entertaining. When Victor asks if he might pick her up the next morning for a little errand, she accepts, because she could use a little entertainment.
Victor and Vanessa’s Day of Fun takes them to a dress shop, where he explains that his “second cousin,” Lily, is coming in from the country. She’s very simple. (But not slow! Never slow.) He’d like to buy her a dress or two so she’ll fit in. He definitely didn’t raise her from the dead. Victor gets so flustered trying to explain himself that he bumps into a mannequin and apologizes: “Excuse me. Oh! NOT a real woman at all. The mannequin, I mean. Not my cousin. She’s a real woman.” If this is Harry Treadaway’s bid to do more comedy, it’s working.
Vanessa can’t get enough of watching him squirm, especially when she and Victor are mistaken for husband and wife. As Victor stumbles to correct the saleswoman’s error, Vanessa just pats his arm and guides him away. “We’ll look around for a bit if we may, my non-husband and I,” she smiles. (Victor, totally dead in the eyes: “This is worse than I knew it was going to be.”) Things get even more uncomfortable for the good doctor when he’s forced to confront just how much he knows about Lily’s body. As Vanessa shoots him inquiring looks, it occurs to him suddenly that it might not be normal to know so much about a female relative’s height and bust size. Victor, what you’re feeling is called self-awareness. Hold on to it.
Vanessa teases Victor about underwear, and he settles on a dress that will cover Lily’s “decolletage,” presumably cursing that Y-incision all the way home. He dresses Lily—I still want to call her Brona, but she’s not at all Brona anymore—like a proper London woman, complete with high shoes. Victor likes shoes that show off the dorsiflexion in a woman’s leg. (Lily: “That’s flattering.”) The combination of tall shoes and tight corset ignites Lily’s inner feminist: “All we do is for men, isn’t it?” she wonders. Victor tries to set himself apart from all of that by telling her that she doesn’t have to wear the corset, which earns Lily’s goodwill and inspires her to please him by keeping the uncomfortable shoes. So close.
While Victor trains Lily for a life in high society, the Creature is stuck at work in the basement of the wax museum. At least he gets a good talk about human nature out of it. The Putneys’ daughter, Lavinia, is in charge of sculpting the wax figures’ heads, but she doesn’t like doing the murder exhibits. It makes her feel like she’s torturing people. “They’re all fresh when they come out of the molds,” she says, “and then I make them suffer.” Her experience resonates with the Creature, who says that to some people, “that’s what life is: born fresh, to suffer.” He used to feel the same, but he’s not sure if he still does.
At the wax museum, appearance is reality. The wax heads are in pain because they look like they’re in pain. The same is frequently true for the Creature—his face has defined his life, however much he resists it. That tension is all over the episode, as Dorian and Angelique try to construct appearances that match how they see themselves. They define his youth and her gender as “little deceptions” and celebrate “being who we want to be, not who we are.” (A note: Actor Jonny Beauchamp recently said in an interview with TV Insider that Angelique is “absolutely” transgender, “but in a pre-transgender world before there was a name for it.”) I hope that Dorian, for whom “provocation is food and drink,” accepts Angelique because he genuinely likes her, and not just because he likes scandal.
NEXT: O beautiful, for spacious lobster fields
For now, at least, Dorian and Angelique work well together. They’re drawn to each other’s secrets, but they’re equally capable of setting them aside for a night of table tennis and champagne—which, in the Victorian parlance, is an “adventure.” (In our parlance, it’s just great.) Dorian is terrible at the game, and he shoots adorably injured looks to Angelique every time she wins another round. It’s good to see him with someone who challenges his vanity.
Elsewhere in ageless vanity, the witches are still after Vanessa and her “protector.” Hecate sets a trap for Ethan by walking in the path of a spooked horse to trick him into rescuing her. Their meet cute leads to tea, where she tells him that she’s an American out to see the world. (“I have a degree in botany, a sensible pair of shoes, and a very generous account at the American Express.”) Her accent is unconvincing, but her story is even less so. (She thinks lobsters live in fields.) Ethan sees right through it, though he assumes that Hecate is another of his father’s attempts to bring him home. “I hope you enjoy the Alhambra,” he says. “It’s supposed to be very dramatic. And honestly, those aren’t very sensible shoes.” I’m stealing this exit line.
Back at Sir Malcolm’s, Lyle and company are still working to decipher Brother Gregory’s notes. Apparently, the demon spoke to the monk in a collection of existing languages, one after the other, to tell a continuing story: the story of being cast out of heaven. These are the memoirs of the devil. Given the Cut-Wife’s warning that Lucifer didn’t fall alone, Sir Malcolm thinks that Brother Gregory’s notes might also foretell Vanessa’s future, but that’s where she draws the line. “You’ll understand I find it difficult to accept I’m the object of an eternal Satanic quest that’s so far only demonstrated in something that’s half poetry, half gibberish,” she snaps.
Vanessa decides to give it up and head to bed, even if it means missing Sembene’s buttercream tort. She’ll have some for breakfast. (Ethan: “Does she really eat dessert for breakfast?”) But the witches, whose newest power allows them to completely disappear into the wallpaper, are waiting. In what is definitely the most exquisite terror sequence ever to feature someone plating a buttercream tort, tension builds, Vanessa keeps checking over her shoulder, and the witches attack. After they’ve grabbed a lock of Vanessa’s hair, they run off, leaving everyone shaken—and Vanessa struggling again with the aftereffects of the Verbis Diablo. The day of fun was nice while it lasted.
Bits and pieces:
- Evelyn and Hecate have “no doubt” that Ethan is lupus dei now. Could he really smell her?
- Inspector Rusk is now looking into the Underground murders as well as the Mariner’s Inn massacre. I like Sherlockian crime-solvers as much as the next person, but compared to every other character on the show, he just seems so ordinary. But this could still get interesting. He already suspects magic.
- Wait, what flesh-and-blood “freaks” is Putney planning to keep in the cellar of the wax museum? Is it the Creature and Lavinia? Would he do that to his own daughter?
- When asked his secret, Dorian says, “Be careful what you wish for.” Is that the secret? Or is he telling Angelique that she doesn’t want to know the secret? IT WORKS ON BOTH LEVELS.
- “Yes, I know what it is, cousin. I’m wearing it.”
- Ethan’s confusion when Hecate cries in his chest is great. He’s used to Vanessa. Vanessa doesn’t do this.
- I spent an embarrassing amount of that last fight sequence worrying about the tort.
- “Darling, I can smell champagne at 30 yards, locked in a steamer trunk at the bottom of the ocean.”
- “You always dress so… you know, with the collars and the… black things. Always very completely dressed.”