Previously on Penny Dreadful, “No Beast So Fierce”
Women, Penny Dreadful wants you to know that it is OK for you to accept yourself, even if you’re unhappy, unless of course you happen to be a Fertile Bitch of Evil. In that case, maybe don’t be yourself. Nobody likes an Apocalypse.
The final episode before the two-episode season finale next week enters with the cold light of new dawn, winds its way through the day with typically extraordinary lighting, and ends with the night we’ve feared for three seasons. Lily kickstarts her reign of terror, releasing her crew of murderous whores into the street, but Dorian gets bored and hires Victor and Jekyll to force her back into the proper mold. After Catriona disabuses her of preconceptions, Vanessa confronts Sweet/Dracula with intentions of killing him, but instead accepts the darkness beneath her skin and unleashes night everlasting… Or at least until Ethan and Malcolm get there. This is what I love about Penny Dreadful: it allows its stars to go darker than we could ever expect.
After this episode, a great deal of fandom anger seems to stem from Vanessa’s decision, but I would ask, is this not what this episode is questioning, our desire to thrust someone into our picture of them and hold them there? Vanessa’s struggle against the darkness has certainly formed the central theme of Penny Dreadful from the beginning, but is this darkness an act of sin, or simply her true nature asserting itself over her human form? As I hypothesized in my review for “This World Is Our Hell,” Vanessa is most likely the latest “shabby identity,” as Dracula would put it, of an ancient power like Lilith, perhaps even of the darkness itself. Did Dracula really smooth talk her into making the wrong decision or did he simply say what we’d all say to someone we love? Be Yourself.
Likewise we get a glimpse into Lily’s deep mourning at the cold open, a tiny grave for her baby daughter, Sarah Croft, dated two years ago. No wonder Brona was happy to let the consumption do its dark work. She compares herself and her women to the keening women of Ireland, then sends them to cut off bad men’s slapping hands. While anarchy is morally a step too far, a part of us still whispers, “Is it, though?” The depraved Dorian conspires with Victor and Jekyll to take her sadness from her, a sadness that is so deeply etched into her, that is so innate that it is her very name, leaving her to either stand at his side for world domination or to live limply at Victor’s, laundering his pajamas. As Lily reframes each well-meant statement back to them, exposing their self-interest and privilege, the horror of three smirking men looming over her with plans to make her “better” was skin-crawling.
Conversely, what lies beneath John Clare’s scarred exterior is a heart still yearning for his family, and thankfully, he was apparently married to the kindest woman ever. Vanessa encourages him to dare to love, so he confesses the entire incident to his wife who not only accepts him home, but reminds him that his scars are not him (…but aren’t they?). This entire sequence was heartrendingly beautiful, and the warm firelight on his face as he presents himself to his son recalls his humanity over all. Similarly, Kaetenay and Malcolm help Ethan reaffirm the goodness living under his own changeable skin, and pull spiritual and monetary strings to get him back to London before the darkness is complete. Good luck, boys.
For me, this episode was quite nearly perfect on all fronts. Slight downsides once again came with mildly awkward lines from Josh Hartnett, like when he called Kaetenay, “pal.” The revelation from Catriona that Dracula would live “in the House of the Night Creatures” was also a bit of a clunker, too on the nose. Otherwise, “Ebb Tide” was a feast for the eyes and ears, with a host of quotable lines and symbols and Wes Studi’s unsettling cadence making everyone question their lives and choices. Let’s recap.
Mother of Evil
While Vanessa sleeps in the Night Creatures room, Renfield crawls over to her body and licks her throat, but is gripped up by Dracula. Props to Samuel Barnett for his disintegrating Renfield. John Clare awaits her at home, needing a friend. They decide to take the chance to love again.
Can we be more lonely than we are now?
Then let us dare.
And may the lost souls be found.
Seward listens to Vanessa’s session cylinders, telling Renfield that she’s most likely a genuine split personality, as Dracula’s words drone from the recording in Vanessa’s voice. Catriona, or “Cat o’ nine tails” (Um, ain’t nobody ask you all that.), dismisses all of Vanessa’s history book findings as prejudice and misunderstanding, pointing her only to what the demon has told her of himself: a fallen angel, unremarkable, a spy, a seducer, killable in human form only, living in the House of the Night Creatures… *RECORD SCRATCH* Morose, Vanessa quotes from the Shelley poem Alastor:
I have made my bed in charnels and on coffins, where Black Death keeps record of its trophies won…
AKA, the Dead Zoo.
Vanessa pulls a gun from her stash of hidden things, placing her hand on the empty wall where her crucifix hung, then goes to the museum. She confronts Dracula/Sweet from afar for his cruelty and lies, but he counters that he’s not lied, but is in love with her. He wants to serve her, the “Mother of Evil,” as she spits and holds a gun to his chest.
There’s one monster who loves you for who you are, and here he stands. I don’t want to make you good. I don’t want you to be normal. I only want you to be who you truly are.
She swoons at his words and turns her neck to him, declaring, “I accept myself.” He bites her, the sky clouding over as she voices:
Such is our power. Such is our kingdom. Such is my kiss.
The Last Apache
Ethan naively tells Kaetenay that the battle is over, declaring that his family is now with Vanessa. Kaetenay blows him off, saying Ethan is the Apache that must end the Apocalypse. (Is this an Impossible White Man Moment?) Spirits throw Kaetenay into a vision where he sees Ethan walking into Vanessa’s arms only to be told it is too late, the thralls breaking through windows. Sadly, the best shipping moment from the season preview proves to be this vision, not a real event at all. Alas.
On the ocean liner back to England, Kaetenay lays out his emblems once more and asks the two men about Vanessa. Does she have a feeling for the supernatural? They answer simultaneously, “Yes.” (squee!) He vision-approaches her as she studies books on the end of days and she urges them to hurry, the Dragon is close. He laughs at her protests that she cannot speak the future.
You are a great fertile bitch of evil and I love you for your fertility and your power. You are the woman of all our dreams and all our night terrors…. You are for the day, not the night.
There, sir. You are wrong.
Her eyes turn red and he’s thrown out of the vision, pressing Malcolm to use his money to speed their voyage along. Kaetenay acknowledges Ethan’s love for her, but says she is doomed.
Not while I walk this earth.
Malcolm verifies that killing Ethan’s father was indeed an act of mercy, saying he should be thankful to still have a soul and kindness, or turn out to be like himself. Ethan is grateful for the grace he’s known with Vanessa.
At a long table of Lily’s converts, Dorian attempts to toast her, but she rips it from his hand and sends them out to kill. Upon their return, a pile of severed hands mars the dinner table and Justine snarls at Dorian, who grabs her by the throat and dismisses her infantile games. After Lily shuts him out once more, he leaves, resolved. Later on a walk, he compares her army to inmates, lions, slaves in a foundering ship. He’s disappointed in her lack of vision, with the potential for “cosmic darkness.”
We’re at the ebb tide, my darling. One of us should change our ways. I think it should be you.
He pushes her into a stagecoach manned by Victor and Jekyll. She wakes in the lab, chained to the chair, and they promise to make her into a proper woman. Gross.
John Clare finds his wife, Marjorie, leaving the factory and is stunned when she accepts him. Of Victor, he says,
He had no goal beyond resurrection, at which he’s excelled. It was the consequences therein that escaped him. He created life yet had no care for its nurturing. A young man’s ambition to be known, not to be good.
Nevertheless, she willingly invites him back into their lives, preparing Jack for the shock. JC stoops to help the boy with the boat rigging, allowing him a long look at his livid scars. Finally Jack folds into his arms, tearful.
Flourishes, Symbols, Parallels, etc.
- Some interesting bits about language. Ethan seems more serious when he and Kaetenay speak Apache. Dracula speaks Vanessa’s “language.” Dorian says Justine is “learning the language.”
- Air: “Your words are air.” “The air is pestilence.”
- Happy: Victor says Lily will be happy. Marjorie tells Jack they’ll be happy.
- Dragon: Dracula and Ethan’s father
- Land: Catriona cites the Scottish Highlands as producing her. Lily points to Ireland as her source. Ethan says, “The land that reared me.”
- Diamonds: The diamonds in the infinity of posts behind Dracula and Vanessa can be seen as feminine and masculine aspects of the divine, joined. (Thank The DaVinci Code & its ilk for that bit.)
- Word of the day: “scrofulous“
- All in favor of seeing Catriona with a claymore, say Aye! like you’ve been watching too much Outlander.
- Ethan rolls up the snake skin = the story of his past is over. I think it’s time we accept that we’ve gotten as much backstory as we’re going to and assume Kaetenay was the source of his wolfiness.
- I was not able to find any historical accounts of Irish keeners being executed. However, there are heavy parallels of their existence to the demimonde, to Vanessa in appearance, to Catriona in expertise, and to the theme of one’s true nature, as they were said to embody the deep anger stemming from the land itself. The supernatural equivalent is a banshee.
Penny Dreadful S3E7 = 9.8/10