Well, I can’t say I saw that one coming, hmm. This episode of Penny Dreadful has redeemed the series in my eyes. The mystery has deepen through the now thoroughly entangled relationships we see on our screen and for me that is the best part of this show. Four episodes in and all our characters stories and actions are beginning to weave in and out of each other, forming a net that may prove to trap them all id they are not too careful. A few favorite moments from this episode were scenes where we saw all our protagonists interacting, forming what could be deemed a big dysfunctional family. A large portion of the episode centers around the goings on at a theater performance and one doesn’t have to read too closely to see how the actions on stage reflect the story of Penny Dreadful we’ve come to know.
The episode opens with a sexy party at Dorian Gray’s home. There is flesh as far as the eye can see, and while this debauchery momentarily entertains the host, one can see Dorian’s attention quickly straying to the paintings festooned around his house. Naturally, an immortal would grow bored with even the most devious of sex acts and the audience can sense his frustration as Dorian Gray reflects upon an empty room, long after his guests have left. We then see Dorian enter a secret door concealed by one of his many beloved paintings. I have the urge to quote Young Frankenstein and tell the immortal to “Put ze candle back!” In this hidden room, at the end of a short mirrored corridor, is a painting, The Painting. Dorian removes its heavy velvet covering and gazes at his portrait. Though the audience does not see the horrors that are surely displayed on this painted flesh, one can see that this piece of art instantly enthralls Dorian. He seems to be shaken by what is presented in the painting and yet he pulls up a chair and simply observes his portrait, possibly searching for or studying some new malformation that has surfaced thanks to that night’s activities.
Dorian is taking in the sights and smells of a botanical green house, where Vanessa watches him indulging in the scent of an orchid, then stroking the petals of another. His actions and caresses are almost like those of a lover. While not poisonous, orchids come in many varieties and are delicate flowers, requiring a careful had to keep alive. After making her presence know, Vanessa is invited by Dorian to partake of something extraordinary further along in the garden. They take a moment to quite literally stop and smell the roses, though it isn’t roses that Dorian invites Vanessa to observe.
Over at Sir Malcolm’s place, Doctor Frankenstein and the hematologist are hard at work examining Fenton’s blood. The hematologist is addressed as “Professor Van Helsing” and hearing that name did give me a bit of a thrill. In the Bram Stoker novel, Van Helsing is usually addressed as “doctor”, though he carries with him a wide variety of accolades and hold many obscure interests. This is one of the reasons, in the novel, that Van Helsing is called upon to help cure Lucy Westenra’s mysterious blood aliment.
Ethan has arrived and so he, Frankenstein, and Sir Malcolm prepare Fenton for an experimental blood transfusion down in the horror basement. Sir Malcolm offers his blood for the transfusion after Ethan flat out refuses, stating that to do that would be a “bad idea”. Throughout this episode, the clues towards Ethan being a werewolf have become so frequent I’m not sure I even want to mention them all. His agitation at the discussion of the mutilation murders seen in earlier episodes is a dead giveaway. I do hope Ethan dos turn out to be a werewolf, otherwise all this foreshadowing will have gone to waste. Our trio must wait for Fenton to rouse from his sedation to see if the transfusion has had any effect, and here we come to my favorite scene of the episode.
A large portion of the episode takes place in the next scene, where Ethan treats Brona to a night on the town and takes her to The Grand Guginol Theater, Caliban’s place of employment. It is very sweet to see how much joy Ethan gets from doting on Brona, making the outing very special for her. Also, we see Caliban is still employed here, his mentor, the actor who found him in the alley still part of the theater company as well, along with the young actress he had his eye on. For some reason I had assumed that the events of Caliban’s back story had taken place sometime in the past and that some tragedy spurred him into action in finding his creator, but this isn’t the case. Caliban is still the sole stage hand, rushing about behind the scenes, bring the magic of the performance to life and one can see that he thoroughly enjoys his work. Perhaps it is this young actress who eventually falls to some awful fate and provides the “supplies” needed by Frankenstein to create the creature’s mate, but for now one cannot tell.
While everyone else is at the play, Sir Malcolm and Doctor Frankenstein are still burning the midnight oil, poring over various notes and charts. Frankenstein brings up what Vanessa said, that the expedition will not happen and Sir Malcolm keenly picks up on the fact that Frankenstein is jealous he was not asked to accompany his employer. The doctor admits to self-doubt and Sir Malcolm assures Frankenstein that her is strongly reminded of his own lost son when he interact with the doctor and assures Frankenstein of his worth. This sudden closeness in their relationship is interesting and I would like to see it develop further. One has to wonder whether Sir Malcolm is manipulating Doctor Frankenstein in order to draw him closer and gain unwavering loyalty, or if this admission is sincere.
Back at Sir Malcolm’s place, strange noises are heard upstairs. Realizing the house is empty, save for themselves and Fenton chained up in the horror basement, Frankenstein and Sir Malcolm go to investigate. In the dark. Because no one in this show has seen a horror movie and knows how bad of an idea that is. What happened was Fenton, sensing his master was near, chewed at his own wrists until he was free of his shackles. The ghoul creeps on the floor, following our protagonists up the stairs in the darkness. Fenton’s movement are unnatural and unsettling and despite the fact that there isn’t a jump scare from him, I still found myself being heavily creeped out by how he was tailing Sir Malcolm and Frankenstein.
The conversation of honesty in art moves on to music. Dorian plays for Ethan the Liberstod from Tristian and Isolde, a tragic opera similar to Romeo and Juliet. The Liberstod, as Dorian explains, literally means “love death” and refers to the theme of an erotic death, there the lovers involved consummate their love in or after their demise, again similar to Romeo and Juliet. As the music swells, it’s a bit obvious that Ethan has finished his drink and Dorian has barely touched his. Scenes from the past four episodes flash by, a mix of gore, violence, love-making, and beauty. Determined, Ethan strides up to Dorian and violently grabs his throat before kissing him with unbridled passion. Ethan aggressively disrobes Dorian, while the immortal is more careful with Ethan’s clothes and the two embrace once more. Consummating love in death indeed.
Well, what did you think of this most recent episode? Are you intrigued more than ever as to where all this is going? Let us know in the comments!
The pacing of this episode was certainly better than the last, it didn’t seem to drag and then rush as other have. We also got some wonderful visuals, the blood spatter arcing up from the rat-baiting pit, showering those well-dressed gentlemen, showing their own animal brutality unleashed in that secret bar. Fenton’s ascent up the stairs, silently stalking Sir Malcolm and Frankenstein was also good, it was nice to see a return to the creeping visuals present in the earlier episodes. Honestly, I remain unimpressed with this recent development between Caliban and Frankenstein. It’s obvious to me that either Brona or the blonde actress will meet a sticky end and become Caliban’s bride. My enjoyment of this event all hinges on how it is handled.
This episode was very light on the Victorian shout outs I’ve had so much fun dissecting, though it is nice that they finally gave Wordsworth a rest. I enjoyed very much how each character seemed to embody the idea of the demimonde, that they all had their secrets and their parallel lives. Ethan’s revelation, Brona’s daily tightrope walk between life and death, Frankenstein who all at once seems to be a cold scientist and that scared little boy who realizes that there is no serenity in death. This was a tight episode that I enjoyed very much.
Be sure to tune in next week for “Closer Than Sisters” and please leave your comments below!