Previously on Penny Dreadful, “The Day Tennyson Died”
Surprise! Quickly fulfilling the promise of the parallels between Victor and Vanessa’s partners, Penny Dreadful revealed the season 3 big bad Dracula as Doctor Sweet, the passionate, suspiciously forgetful zoologist. Did anyone really believe he couldn’t remember Vanessa’s name? Nice try, sir! After writing last week’s review, I suspected that Christian Camargo’s hypnotic voice and gravitas might be key, and, in retrospect, it makes sense that his thralls were lurking about the museum gates to herd Vanessa along and cause her to linger a bit, inspiring her entry. Hardly a coincidence. Even his restrained interest is just tantalizing enough for Vanessa to latch onto, she who is attracted to the dark and difficult. More on that in a moment.
Vanessa begins opening up to Doctor Seward, who uses an early cylinder recorder instrumental to the nervously traitorous Renfield’s purposes. Starting with her sins against Mina, Vanessa’s session leaves Seward shaken and privately tearful. Did she include the supernatural aspects, or was the human tragedy alone enough to throw the good doctor? Seward urges her patient to do one thing that makes her happy, inadvertently sending Vanessa back into the museum for Sweets’ weekly lecture. Seeing her entry, he changes the topic from red fox to Deathstalker scorpion, lobbing question after question her way flirtatiously. Afterward he names Captain Nemo his hero, although he doesn’t undertake expeditions himself (ahem, because he can’t cross bodies of water), while she names Joan of Arc as hers…
“…true to herself no matter the darkness that gathered around her.”
Later overseeing the questionable taxidermy of a tiger in a callback to season 1 Vanessa’s quest for “the spark of life” and adding his own “nocturnal danger,” he opens her invitation to a magic lantern/phantasmagoria presentation of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. She openly stares at him, but he declines coffee afterward, leaving her however with a promisingly lingering kiss to the hand and a promise never to forget her name again, disappearing into the night… because he has to meet with Renfield and give him more blood, revealing his true red eyes. While some fans seem to be disappointed by the “milquetoast” Sweet’s turn, I may have evil-scientist laughed for a cool 10 minutes after this reveal.
Ethan, Malcolm, & Kaetenay
Drifting into his seemingly shortening fate, Ethan appears to be in double trouble, still in the grips of the rustlers and ever closer to Talbot Range while Rusk closes in towards the nearby town of Cascabel (“rattlesnake”). Unfortunately for Ethan’s captors, who’ve parked him in a saloon while they try to scrounge up some water, it’s about that time of the month. He tells an Apache woman there that he’s in this predicament for “killing a senator’s son”—is that his former identity?—and urges her to leave the room, calling her Mother. He shifts and slaughters most of the room, while Hecate finishes the last two and, witch to wolf, purrs,
“How I’ve missed you.”
I’m… kind of here for this? While this set and action sequence was not as impressive as his previous Saloon Slaughter, nor did it have the crackling danger of his standoff with Vanessa in the finale, this pair plays well together. The New Mexico landscape, by the way, is actually Andalucia, which for me added an unsettling, dreamy quality to the setting as the location and lighting felt not quite right.
Meanwhile, in an ocean liner on the stormy Atlantic, Kaetenay explains that his relationship with Ethan, like Malcolm’s with Vanessa, is a kind of paternal love developed from the cruelty of allowing one’s enemy to live with their guilt. Lighting a pipe over spiritual emblems and crystals, Kaetenay visits Ethan’s dream state to reinforce his adopted Apache identity and let him know they are coming.
“You are an Apache or you are nothing. Be nothing then.”
Though theirs has a more violent slant, the relationship between Kaetenay and Ethan is immediately understandable thanks to this parallel, although I had a bit of trouble following Ethan’s side of both conversations and I’m not yet sure if that is out of intentional vagueness. Of interest, the primary images in the vision are a striking rattlesnake, a wolf, and a scorpion, all representative items that Vanessa focused on in the museum—Dracula, Ethan, and Vanessa.
Frankenstein and Jekyll
Back home, Doctor Jekyll does his part to bring his old friend back to health with breakfast before Bedlam—Asylum, that is. Jekyll’s anger, borne early of his white British father’s abandonment of his mother who then died destitute of leprosy, is stoked daily by the insults to his intelligence and race. Appropriately, his extensive laboratory centers around a flaming boiler and a dental chair, as he comments pointedly…
“What we won’t do for love.”
Oh, indeed. He demonstrates his studies for the conflicted Victor on a violently deranged patient, formerly a failed assassin turned maniac by his imprisonment. After an injection, pulsing forehead veins give way to super-speed convulsions… and the man is in his right mind again, for the moment. Is Jekyll experimenting on himself already? Or will Mr. Hyde prove to be another one of Victor’s unhappy accidents?
Lily and Dorian
Speaking of, Lily leads Dorian into an underground torture club for the rich and perverse. Before the show gets started, they murder the entire lot in a well-choreographed action sequence, claiming the victim, appropriately an older match for Kirsten Dunst in Interview with a Vampire. When the girl awakes to find herself in Lily’s lace gown while the dastardly duo turn a waltz, Lily proposes that together they exact “a monumental revenge,” sealing the deal with a kiss. The club did not quite work as a tangible reality, but Billie Piper’s Lily has an increasingly refined menace (and toned-down eyebrows) that is a great deal more compelling than last season, yet not as skin-crawling as Dorian’s angel-faced demon.
Night finds the weepy-eyed Victor on a bench outside of her bedroom. She emerges to warn him off and shake him out of his stolid paternalistic creator mindset, dismissing their situation as nothing more than a failed first love.
“I need no man to save me. And I think, in a way, I created you more than you created me.”
And that is what Penny Dreadful does best, bringing the theme back to creators and creations, the ever spinning wheel that grows increasingly dangerous with power and destruction. As I mentioned last episode, I expected quite a bit more foundation before the distances closed between parties and the villain was revealed, but the speed with which the season is bringing them together feels promising and exciting. Perhaps only another episode or two remains before a major confrontation, hopefully between Ethan and whoever, or whatever, his father is, followed by act two where the majority of the Dreadfuls are together once more.
Flourishes & Possible Symbols
- Both Ethan and Lily/Dorian kill 7 victims
- Lily’s rescue is named Justine, the main character and victim of sexual sadism in The Misfortunes of Justice by the Marquis de Sade
- Vanessa’s focus on a pair of otters
- Red foxes are shapeshifters in Native American lore
- Nemo is the only missing archetype from recreating this bunch into the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
- Malcolm Murray’s parallel fear of crossing the ocean
- Rusk’s amusingly blase determination to bring Ethan “to heel”
- Vanessa’s feathery black cape
- “Then you are the Apache I need.”
- The young thrall, Sebastian Croft, recently appeared as early Ned Stark in Game of Thrones.
- Vanessa’s dress!
Penny Dreadful S3E2 = 8.5