Penny Dreadful recap: And Hell Itself My Only Foe
Hold on to your ears.
Midway through tonight’s penultimate episode, the Creature tells Putney that he believes Pandora’s box contained a mirror. Nothing more — just a mirror. In the Creature’s mythology, evil wasn’t released upon the world; it was a fundamental part of human nature from the beginning. I imagine our heroes would find something familiar in that self-loathing. They see the worst of humanity reflected back at them, and it makes them all a little reckless.
After tracking Ethan to the cottage, Roper orders Vanessa to cuff her “boyfriend” behind his back. Note to all future Pinkerton agents: If you want Ethan to come with you quietly, don’t even think about harming Vanessa. When Roper threatens to rape her, Vanessa grabs a knife — and in the course of the ensuing fight, Ethan bites Roper’s ear. Roper lodges the knife in Ethan’s shoulder, so Vanessa removes it and stabs Roper to death. She’s surprisingly conflicted about it, given that she’s already used an unforgivable spell to kill a man. Wasn’t there supposed to be no turning back from that? The rules of inner battles don’t apply to Vanessa Ives.
Her guilt trip is interrupted by Victor, who arrives by stagecoach with the news that Sir Malcolm is in trouble. Vacation’s over, kids. Vanessa is eager to mount a full-fledged assault on Evelyn’s castle as soon as they’re back in London, but Ethan protests. Tonight isn’t a good night for him; he’s a little tied up with the full moon. Leaving out the part where he becomes a werewolf, he argues that they should wait for daylight and embark on their rescue mission tomorrow, when the witches will have less power.
But is it actually the rising of the sun that saps their energy? While Evelyn seems exhausted at the start of the hour, standing motionless in an alcove of her puppet room and listening to Sir Malcolm’s screams, Hecate is fine. As far as Hecate is concerned, if anything is wrong with her mother, it’s age — because that’s what her mother taught her. Youth is paramount. Taking matters into her own hands, Hecate pays Ethan a visit. It turns out all of those protective totems around the room mean nothing if you don’t believe in them, which makes this whole battle feel that much more hopeless. How do you fight what disregards the only defense you have? Does disbelief always cancel out belief?
Hecate seems to think so, arguing that Ethan’s power is bound to be used for evil. He is meant “to strike with impunity, to feed at will.” As she kisses him, Hecate asks if he can feel in his heart that she’s speaking the truth. Ethan says that he can, but of course he can — she’s verbalizing his worst fears about himself. Having never heard Lyle’s theory that the wolf of God is the devil’s greatest hangup, he accepts that he’s fated to be the devil’s ally. The phrase “wolf of God” should be a dead giveaway to the contrary, but Ethan has always been quick to believe that he’s meant to hurt the ones he loves.
This is what the witches do best: prey on our team’s most human weaknesses. Even their devotion to each other can be used against them — Evelyn has no doubt that despite her friends’ warnings, Vanessa will come for Sir Malcolm tonight. She’s right, obviously, and Vanessa’s display of blind loyalty inspires another. Ignoring Sembene’s warnings, Ethan foregoes his plan to stay chained up in the basement and joins the expedition to recover his friends, knowing full well what could happen.
NEXT: Orange is the new Creature
Is Ethan only ready to reveal his true nature because he believes it to be evil? If so, he’s still got a lot in common with his former girlfriend. Lily is done playing innocent with Dorian, who drops hints about photography sessions before calling her Brona. (He may be a killer, but at least he can remember a face.) She demands to know his secret, then bites off most of his ear. “Now let me see your power,” she purrs. “Go heal yourself, my beloved immortal.” Lily is really turned on by cheating death. When Dorian returns from his portrait room, ear restored, she pulls back her skirts for him. I’m not going to be the one to tell the Creature that he’s not Lily’s only immortal bedfellow.
The Creature has enough trouble to contend with as it is. Won over by Lavinia Putney’s kindness, he agrees to take her to see the newest wing of the wax museum, which turns out to be a row of cells. A single book sits alone in the middle of one of the cells, but when the Creature goes to see what it might be, Lavinia locks the door on him. The Putneys intend to keep him locked up like a zoo animal in order to increase their profits. That’s cold. But that’s what they believe all Londoners to be — cold. The Creature really might be onto something with that mirror theory.
His fellow self-loathers roll up to Evelyn’s castle and splits into pairs: Sembene and Ethan go one way; Lyle and Victor go another. They track Sir Malcolm by his moans, but as soon as Victor enters the room, a witch locks him in, pinning Lyle to the wall. Now all of the witches will know that he’s betrayed their cause. Victor, meanwhile, tries to help Sir Malcolm, but the room’s enchantment is contagious. Lily, Proteus, and the Creature appear before him.
Sembene and Ethan are in for an even worse fight. A trap door pins them in a small space, and the moon is rising. All of Ethan’s conversations with Sembene over the course of the hour — Sembene’s repeated declarations of friendship, Ethan’s plea to Sembene that he keep him from hurting his friends — are about to take on a new level of tragedy. Ethan tries to kill himself, but Sembene won’t let him. “I am just a man,” he says. “You have been chosen by God, my friend, Ethan Chandler.” Ethan turns into a werewolf and lunges at him, tearing into his face and neck (and presumably his ear, since that’s become a motif tonight). Upstairs, Vanessa finds herself in her worse nightmare: a room full of puppets. The one that looks like her opens its mouth and calls her a murderer. Is this the Master speaking? We’ll find out soon enough.
Bits and pieces:
- It looks like Sembene is really dead, and that’s a shame. We only just learned what the marks on his face mean! (He was a slave trader.)
- I jumped when Lavinia slammed the door on the Creature. I’m not his biggest fan, but this is a cruel twist.
- The cheese in the Creature’s mouse trap is literally a book of poetry. How fitting.
- “Not everyone shares your mania for poetry.”
- This week in Rusk’s investigation: Ethan’s real name is Ethan Lawrence Talbot, and Rusk knows it.
- Vanessa demonstrates her compassion in spades tonight — first with Lyle, whose betrayal she’s quick to forgive, and then with Victor, who reveals his drug addiction: “I’m sorry you feel so unloved. You are a beautiful monster and there are those who could love you and shall.”
- Victor says that Vanessa’s addiction is her belief in God.
- “True evil is above all things seductive. When the devil knocks at your door, he doesn’t have cloven hooves. He is beautiful and offers you your heart’s desire in whispered airs like a siren, beckoning you to her ruinous shore.”
- Vanessa has no time to be jealous that Hecate kissed Ethan. She’s got bigger concerns.
- “More and more I think this is all some sort of phantom limb. Something is going on here which is not an actual arm or leg — something not quite real but completely true.”