Previously on Penny Dreadful, “Predators Near and Far”
Three episodes in and already the playing fields narrow considerably as our characters cross paths, once unexpectedly, and the alchemy of their abilities starts percolating. Hecate presses her powers upon Ethan towards their future ruling alliance, forging their bond with more murder. Vanessa uses her abilities to read Seward’s past and enlists the doctor’s hypnosis skills to return to her own past for answers. Malcolm and Kaetenay rush into the West to beat Rusk, who helps the Marshall begin to see what is truly happening with Ethan. Dorian and Lily formally enroll Justine with a bloody threesome, while Victor posits that he can meld his skills with Jekyll’s to create perfection. Lastly, John Clare crosses Vanessa’s path and spots her with Sweet, and then again in a memory… Intriguing.
Waking from a dream featuring Kaetenay’s bloody face, Ethan finds Hecate demure, supportive, and determined. She won’t be shaken from his trail, nor is she phased by his hatred or the desert trip. I mean, really… she’s a demon…witch…thing.
“I will follow you to hell. I’ll lead the way, Wolf of God.”
Seeking horses, she dispatches a farmer and his wife with nary a splatter on her linen, and eventually she admits to her goal of liberating his “true self” to rule the darkness at his side, slighting Vanessa. Ethan commands her to keep Vanessa’s name out of her mouth, but interestingly doesn’t deny his wish to rule the darkness, only that he might not want a partner. I again wish we were getting a bit more from Ethan in these scenes, but Sarah Greene as Hecate is taking a decisive lead, and doing a bang up job of it. Like Dracula to Vanessa, Hecate styles herself as Ethan prefers: plain and ladylike, but unconventionally strong and slightly improper.
Two sets of men race through the desert toward Ethan. Rusk and the Marshall find Ethan’s full moon saloon carnage, noting that he had help. Rusk advises the Marshall to start believing in the occult. On the train, Kaetenay confesses that he needs Malcolm for Ethan’s trust, especially now that a witch is involved, and they must join to save Ethan and prevent the apocalypse. Their conversation is interrupted by cowboy racism, which Malcolm stamps down easily with his cool Bond-voice menace.
“Do you favor growing old to teach your ugly, inbred children your grotesque manners?”
Rusk’s group comes closest to Ethan, shooting at them from a ridge, but he and Hecate ride away unscathed. I continue to be surprised and delighted by these close calls.
On a coach outside of London, John Clare remembers building a model ship with his son in their flat in Chinatown. Finding the spot as best he can recall, he spots Vanessa meeting Sweet and smiles affectionately at her happiness, a change from his emo jealousy. Seeking out the proprietor in a mahjong den, JC inquires into the previous owners of his now empty flat, throwing the rude, unhelpful owner against the wall. He follows the trail to a dirty slum across from a smoky factory and crawls into the attic to spy on his wife and son, who’s now dying of consumption. Saddened, JC mugs a drunk and leaves the expensive watch for his wife.
Consistent with style, Penny Dreadful manages to demonstrate the harsh reality of the Industrial Revolution in all of its grimy, unhealthy glory while capturing the sweet simplicity of a mother’s love for her son. We feel her true goodness with barely a word and empathize with what John Clare has lost. A lovely set of scenes indeed.
After Dr. Seward dismisses Vanessa’s tales as the mind giving order to disorder, Vanessa grabs her hand and reads her past: a scar on the neck, train cars, blood, and the murder of a man who hurt her.
“Such things have a name. They are those things which walk in your nightmares. Shall we walk together?”
Later on a date, Sweet (Dracula) puts forth his sob story: his wife died a year ago, so he’s been in mourning but is seeking new horizons. She had a voice like a bell, he says, and she’d want him to be happy. Exactly what Vanessa wants to hear. He smoothly drops that she’s beautiful, dragging her into a hall of mirrors at a street carnival.
Though he has a reflection, they lose each other and the Flock of Seagulls thrall moves in. Vanessa demands to know where his master is. He answers that he’ll find her again, after their previous encounter “in the white room, you and he and the other.” The thrall is summoned away, but the run-in shakes her, and she leaves Sweet at tea, breaking their dalliance off to protect him.
Sweet crushes the tea cup in his hand, his monstrous nature breaking forth, and returns to the nest to destroy the thrall for being Team Too Much. Not until she’s begging for him will they have her.
Vanessa dictates that Seward help her uncover her memories of the Banning Clinic through hypnosis, and together they travel back into the room to find that her orderly… was John Clare. What does this mean?! Was he a thrall, or a force of good to foil Dracula’s plan? Did Dracula kill him for interfering? Did Vanessa kill him?! So many possibilities! At last I can put to rest my annoyance that Vanessa would run into John Clare under the streets of London last season, as it is now apparent that their destinies are interwoven. I love it.
Victor and Henry
Last week’s patient, Mr. Balfour, tells Victor that only remembers his sane periods and vice versa as a dream (not unlike Vanessa’s hypnosis session and JC’s living memories). His insanity returns with a super-speed vengeance, and he’s led howling unnaturally back to his cell. Jekyll rants that though we are “beast and angel,” one must be subverted for social graces. Victor huffs,
“If you cannot endure the nightmare then you should not lie down for the sleep.”
More sure than he’s been in a while, he declares that he alone can balance Jekyll’s equation with electricity, adding permanence to their future Choir of Angels. It is clear from this conversation that Jekyll isn’t yet taking his own serum, but is close to losing control… and that it is Victor’s destiny to ruin yet another life with his twisted genius.
Lily and Dorian
Leading her new charge through tea, Lily scoffs at the hapless nature of men, but remembers Ethan fondly. Disgusted by the public nature of a suffragette protest and their goal of equality, she prefers mastery and stealth. Continuing to serve only as facilitator, Dorian cites the bloody pledges of historical nuns and Legionnaires and presents the girl, Justine, with the dungeon manager, who bought her at 12. She rushes to kill him savagely, and, covered in his blood, the three share a menage a trois. To build an empire and/or religion, Lily says, you must start with one, and Justine will help bring in the “invisible women.”
“Liberty is a bitch who must be bedded on a mattress of corpses.”
I couldn’t help but laugh a bit at the head-to-toe blood which seemed to get more/less thorough and more/less dry with each take, but it is, after all, Penny Dreadful, and some things must be over the top. Nevertheless, Jessica Barden as Justine is doing a lovely job as an intense devotee, quivering with barely contained rage, not unlike a few of the other players.
Flourishes, Symbols, & Questions
- So much gray with splashes of red in most scenes
- Spiders and flies: Spider web in the slum attic, Renfield eats a fly
- Jack, JC’s son, is reading Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson
- Hecate continually places herself at Ethan’s right hand, as she hoped last season
- Where did Sweet go in the House of Mirrors?!
- Mirrors, mirrors, everywhere: yet more references to the journey inward, seeing who you are, and being who you are
- Why Chinatown? Is there more meaning to the Dragon dance we see twice this episode?
- The tea cup of sanity: crushed
- How did Seward get her scar?
- Gaslights covered in mesh: both in Jekyll’s lab and in Vanessa’s padded cell
- 3 days through the desert to Ethan’s destination
- Kaetenay does not have good intentions for Ethan, right?
- Was he dead previously? What was that bloody dream about?
- Renfield writing Vanessa over and over in his notebook
- Sweet’s wife’s “voice was like a little bell” and the bells toll as John Clare looks at London from his carriage
- Sweet takes Vanessa’s hand, but she’s too upset to use her abilities
Penny Dreadful S3E3 = 9/10