Secrets and manipulation put our heroes in danger
Credit: Jonathan Hession/SHOWTIME

Join me in a quick, cathartic “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO,” won’t you? Two episodes into this season of Penny Dreadful, we’ve already got our first big twist: Dr. Sweet is Dracula. I’m not sure what surprises me more — the reveal or the fact that it came so soon. Sweet did seem too good to be true, but his distance from all of the “nocturnal danger” that defines Vanessa’s life also seemed to be the point. And while it’s better to rip off the bandage now when it still has the capacity to shock and we still have time to get some answers, I’m already missing the innocence of last week. How quickly new love loses its shine in the face of unchecked bloodlust.

Victor doesn’t know the feeling. Lily contemplated killing him to his face, and he’s still in love with her. How do you solve a problem like Lily? If you’re Henry Jekyll, you over-medicate. In the hopes that his friend’s experiments can “tame” the object of his affection, Victor tags along for a demonstration at Henry’s basement lab in Bedlam. An inversion of Dr. Seward’s elegant sunlit office, Bedlam is content to hide its patients away, treating people with mental illnesses like test subjects. The guards don’t ask Henry what he’s doing; they just deliver him an inmate and leave him to his business, which brings results. One injection from Henry’s serum, and a screaming “madman” is politely asking for a glass of water.

But Henry’s work relies on the duality of human nature — moderating the debate between darkness and light. Is there anything light in Lily? Victor mourns that he “wants her back as she was,” but Lily never was anything else. She woke up like this. The last time she wasn’t consumed by the desire to kill, she was Brona; the injustices she faced when she was alive still fuel her anger, but it’s her inhumanity that spurs her to action. Lily is as Victor created her, and if his guilt is any indication, he knows it. He clings to the hope that she might save him by saving herself, but she isn’t built for that.

Unless — in a quest for an exciting new way to violate the woman he claims to love, Victor sits outside Dorian’s home and watches Lily through the window. When she meets him outside, she’s softer than she has been since she dropped her innocent act. “First love, Victor,” Lily says. “You will recover. Please don’t come here again. You will not like what I’m becoming.” Until now, she’s reveled in the bodies left in her wake. Lily wants to dominate. Is she capable of remorse, or is this another act? Even if it is, it’s an act of kindness meant to push Victor away — an unexpected display of sympathy from a woman who slits throats like she’s performing at the Guignol.

Lily’s latest mission is a bloody one: She and Dorian buy their way into an underground ring that specializes in the torture and murder of women. They kill every rich, white man in the room to save the young Justine (Jessica Barden), then take her home and offer her a new life — like the Daddy Warbucks to her Annie, but with murder. Lily promises Justine “monumental revenge” against the men who wronged her, sealing that promise with a kiss while Dorian smiles helplessly in the background. The best part of this scenario is Dorian’s presumption that he has any authority in it. When Justine observes, “You killed them,” he adds, “And would have killed more.” But it’s Lily who gets the final say: “And shall.” It’s cute that Dorian thinks his ruthlessness can even compare.

Elsewhere in London, two women take a slightly less murderous approach to their problems. Vanessa’s second session with Dr. Seward is devoted to sharing her story, which could easily fill 19 sessions, give or take. It seems criminal to cut away from Eva Green and Patti LuPone in a room together, but if you must, you could do worse than Timothy Dalton and Wes Studi on a boat. The men pass the time on their passage to America by unpacking Sir Malcolm’s racism. “Do all your people speak so enigmatically?” Sir Malcolm asks. Kaetenay straightens his shoulders and tells his companion with his eyes how ridiculous he’s being: “Yes.”

NEXT: Finding Nemo

Kaetenay explains his relationship with Ethan like so: Ethan came to him after killing members of Kaetenay’s family and begged the man to scalp him in retribution. Kaetenay refused; he wanted to watch Ethan suffer through life, but eventually the anger between them — like the anger between Sir Malcolm and Vanessa — softened into something more like familial love. Can we trust his story? When Kaetenay comes to Ethan in his dreams, the reverse seems true: It’s Ethan who wants to wear Kaetenay’s scalp, and it’s Kaetenay who has taken some lives. The one constant is Ethan’s guilt, but it’s rooted in something more recent. “I’m not the man you knew,” Ethan says. “There’s blood on my teeth and in my soul, I think.”

The evidence against Kaetenay’s version of events piles up in a New Mexico trading post, where Ethan meets a member of Kaeteney’s family. He asks the woman in Apache where the “old demon” is, and she doesn’t object to the moniker. She even expresses a desire to help Ethan, which she probably wouldn’t do if he’d slaughtered her family members. Ethan resented Kaetenay’s attempts to label him an Apache or call him “son,” but he calls this woman “mother” as he shields her from the consequences of the full moon. As soon as she’s out of the room, he wolfs out, breaks free from his shackles, and kills everyone else — with help from Hecate, who’s been trailing him across the desert. This is the beginning of a terrible partnership.

I wish I didn’t have to say the same about Dr. Sweet and Vanessa. Shaken by her story, Seward asks Vanessa to do one thing that she believes will make her happy — and Vanessa marches right back to the museum. She and Sweet flirt their way through a public lecture (which isn’t supposed to be about scorpions, but he’s going to work scorpions into that lecture anyway or so help him), then flirt with even more gusto through the halls of the museum, where the conversation turns to the topic of heroes. Vanessa favors Joan of Arc. (“Dying for her beliefs and her God, true to herself no matter the darkness that gathered ‘round her.”) Sweet likes Captain Nemo, though he doesn’t claim to be personally “made for adventuring.” Aversion to sunlight and dependence on the blood of the innocent will do that to you.

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Fate intervenes in the form of a newspaper advertisement: There’s a moving picture show about Captain Nemo in the city tonight. Vanessa writes Dr. Sweet to invite him, and he marvels at her “boldness.” It’s all going well until she suggests that they continue over coffee; Sweet has to go (some extras from a Wade Robson dance routine need his blood), but he’s very sorry about it. He kisses Vanessa’s hand and tells her that he’s looking forward to the next time and he’ll never forget her name again. Why did he keep forgetting it in the first place? Is his memory affected when he’s not in his fully vampiric state, or was it all a ruse: a bumbling persona he crafted to ensure that she didn’t feel targeted?

Vanessa knows what it is to wear civilization as a veneer; Seward has called her out on it twice already. “The gloves are to remind you,” she says, “but the itch is still there.” Hiding her problems doesn’t make them go away, and while Vanessa might be settling into something that resembles “contentment,” her depression and trauma are still with her. Her stalkers are, too. Renfield listens to Vanessa’s recorded sessions and reports back to Dracula that Seward doesn’t even believe her new patient; in exchange, Dracula offers the blood from his wrist. The crash-bang reveal that Dracula is Sweet (what a name) is saved for the episode’s final seconds, leaving us all plenty of time to think this through. What does he want with Vanessa? And will she ever be allowed even one safe corner of her life? Not on this show.

In the cards:

  • Some background on Henry: His father, an English military man, kept Henry’s Indian mother as a mistress only to abandon her, leaving her untouchable and rejected by her family. She died, “truly untouchable,” of leprosy.
  • “We are all two things, in a way, are we not? Deep in the marrow? Angel and devil, light and dark. The pull between the two is the active verb which energizes our lives.”
  • “To have belief in anything with such confidence is heroic.”
  • “I need no man to save me, and I think in a way I created you more than you created me.”
  • “What’s beyond murder?”
  • “I’m a bit more concerned with that f—ing trainload of dead bodies.”

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Penny Dreadful
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