These are the episodes I enjoy more, the ones that showcase each character. And yet it seems that as the season draws to an end an awful lot of events are occurring and yet nothing is happening. All our characters, despite the audience gaining further insight to their lives and motivations, are still in the place they were at the start of the season. While this is promising for the second season, I can’t help but wonder how long this search for Mina will drag out, how many near misses will occur. Despite this, the episode seemed to move along at a faster, tighter pace than what we’ve seen in the past. There definitely were some great bits too. The vampire melee scene was one for sure. It was very well choreographed and exciting. I also enjoyed what we saw of Van Helsing in this episode, as well as the nods to Victorian literature that I love so much.
This week’s episode opens on the evidence in Vanessa’s room of the fatal battle with the vampire master. No one has though to tidy up the window cell where Fenton met his end, so there is still blood everywhere. In fact, Vanessa seems disgusted by the whole thing, which makes me wonder where exactly she was writing her letter in the last episode. I assume the letter writing was meant to have taken place at any time recent to the events of the episode. Sir Malcolm asks Vanessa if she senses anything since the vampire has been in the house and Vanessa reminds Sir Malcolm that her “power” cannot be flicked on and off like a light switch. There is a tension between these two that is all the more obvious now that we the audience are aware of their shared past. I feel that they were not always so aggressive with each other in past episodes though. There always seemed to be an uneasy alliance between these two, each holding cards the other could not see. Now that we know the wrongs of Vanessa’s past, I feel the writers might be playing that up a bit in this scene. In the end Vanessa agrees to try and channel what information she can through her own methods.
Back to Vanessa, who is at her cards, trying to divine any information she can. We see the beginning of the Celtic Cross once more, with four cards drawn in a plus sign. Suddenly, Mina’s ethereal voice can be heard calling out for the spiritualist and two cards a jarred out of place. They are the Five of Cups in the spot signifying the recent past and the Moon in the place signifying the immediate future. The Five of Cups is often depicted with contents spilling from some of the vessels and usually a figure is present. This card signifies loss and regret, “crying over spilt milk” as it were. The Moon carries the meaning of fear, anxiety, and insecurity. It can also point to illusion, which does not bode well for any truth-seeking that may occur. Vanessa ruminates on these cards and while she does we hear various maritime noises along with blood curdling screams that grow in volume and intensity. Vanessa reports to Sir Malcolm that her readings suggest a ship, though in my opinion the cards more than likely point to her own past and future and not to the goings-on at Sir Malcolm’s house.
Meanwhile, Frankenstein is performing Fenton’s autopsy in the horror basement and finds nothing out of the ordinary with the ghoul, other than malnutrition and anemia. I could go on about porphyria here, a disease that mimics the symptoms of classic vampirism, but I feel that there is indeed a supernatural reason behind Fenton’s behavior. Frankenstein reports his findings and desire to confer with Van Helsing to Sir Malcolm, who has every newspaper and ledger with a nautical mention spread out around him in the parlor. With this new lead from Vanessa the explorer mentions that another spot of “night work” will probably be in order. And that the good doctor’s services will not be needed for it.
Later on Sembene lays down a heaping helping of the truth to Sir Malcolm. He bring up the obvious question; what if Mina cannot be saved, what if she is already too far in the clutches of their supernatural enemy? He urges Sir Malcolm to make peace with what he must do if this is the case. It is quite obvious Sembene and Sir Malcolm have a history and not just because the manservant alludes to it. He addresses his employer simply as “Malcolm” without reproach from the explorer. This degree of familiarly tells me that these two have weather many storms together. I would like to know more about this character and how he got wrangled into Sir Malcolm’s crazy affairs.
Meanwhile, Dorian Gray has taken Vanessa to indulge in his favorite past time, getting her picture taken. Vanessa admits that she has never had this done before and alludes to something I brought up in my "Séance" review, the idea that one’s soul is ensnared by the photograph. Dorian admits that he prefers paintings as they can “capture eternity”. Well, he would know, wouldn’t he? I’m still dying to see how his portrait is portrayed on Penny Dreadful. As Vanessa prepares for the snapshot, an interesting shot of the camera lens is seen. Vanessa has a double reflection, and while this can simply be attributed to the lenses at work in the camera, I find it to also be a nod to the duality of her nature, that fact that she has made her deal with the devil and carries him with her always. I would be very interested to see what Vanessa Ives’s portrait will look like and whether or not something else is lurking within the frame.
Elsewhere, Frankenstein is seen sketching the most beautifully detailed anatomical drawing’s in his note book. The cardiovascular system is his subject, given all this talk about blood that’s understandable. He also has his eye on the window of a ballet school where we see many a petite ballerina practicing. Obviously the doctor is still on the lookout for a subject for his latest work. Frankenstein’s window shopping his interrupted by Professor Van Helsing, and the two indulge in dinner as they discuss their work. Van Helsing urges Frankenstein to enjoy life more, to not let his work control him.
Back at Sir Malcolm's place, Vanessa is showing off her outfit for her evening with Mr. Gray. There is an interesting camera pan down to her descending the staircase that gives us a glimpse of the Murray coat of arms. I checked some of the heraldry symbols and they all point to strength, endurance, protection, and an unwillingness to give up what one is seeking. If that isn’t Sir Malcolm Murray then I must be watching the wrong show. If you are interested in looking up the individual meanings of each color and symbol, a link to a guide can be found here. It soon becomes obvious that the fatherly approval Sir Malcolm bestowed upon Vanessa, that the two seemed almost to be slipping into their former roles before all the drama between their families, was for another purpose. As soon as Vanessa is out the door, Sir Malcolm grabs his hat and coat from a waiting Sembene. They are off to meet with Ethan Chandler for another hunt. Chicanery indeed.
While Vanessa and Dorian are on date night and Sir Malcolm and the gang are investigating the ship, Van Helsing is busy supplementing Frankenstein’s education on the supernatural. Van Helsing warns the doctor that while Sir Malcolm doesn’t truly understand what he is dealing with, it is not for them to enlighten him as the truth of the monsters they face is “unendurable”. He should know, as a result of knowing the nature of his wife’s “disease” Professor Van Helsing employed all the traditional methods of slaying a vampire. I should point out that this is not how his wife meets her end in the Bram Stoker novel; she simply goes insane after their son’s death. Van Helsing asks if Frankenstein knows the word “vampire” and to my knowledge this is the first time those creatures have been called by name on Penny Dreadful. Van Helsing isn’t surprised Frankenstein is clueless when it comes to these supernatural beings, attributing their appeal to a “small percentage of the reading public with a taste in a certain kind of literature”. That’s you, dear reader!
review of the pilot episode of Penny Dreadful. I cannot express how delighted I was to see this reference on screen. Van Helsing goes on to educate Frankenstein with common vampire facts, bringing the doctor up to speed at how dire the situation with Sir Malcolm really is. Van Helsing sums up their situation with a quote that came as a pleasant surprise to me. “Denn die todten reiten schnell” is a line from Gottfried August Burger’s poem Lenore and has been immortalized in Bram Stoker’s Dracula as a line uttered early on in the novel by one of Jonathan Harker’s traveling companions as the vampiric count makes his first appearance. How apt for Penny Dreadful’s Van Helsing to have this line, for as he and Frankenstein are walking home, the former showering the doctor with praise and advising him that he deserves a long life, Caliban swoops out of nowhere, drags Van Helsing into an alley, and breaks his neck. Honestly, with Van Helsing admitting his life is almost over due to his old age, I figured he wouldn’t survive the first season, but the dead indeed traveled fast here. This is especially a shame since it seemed Doctor Frankenstein was finally getting the fatherly approval he so eagerly sought. Caliban repeats his warning to Frankenstein; build him a bride or everyone the doctor loves will suffer the same fate as Professor Van Helsing.
Back at his London estate and after a dressing down from Ethan Chandler, echoing Sembene’s words that one can’t win every battle or control every outcome, Sir Malcolm broods by the fire as he does at the end of most episodes. Vanessa barges into the room, half dressed and barefoot and before Sir Malcolm can get two words out about the night’s events, the spiritualist’s head lolls back and her body begins to levitate off the ground, like a puppet being dangled by its strings. Clearly Vanessa is no longer home.
And there you have it, readers. What did you think, be sure to share your thoughts in the comment section!
Ethan said something very interesting to Sir Malcolm as they headed out on their hunt. Referring to Brona and her dwindling health, Sir Malcolm mentioned that the disease and pain will change her, to which Ethan assures the explorer “then I will love who she becomes”. I feel the sentiment can be applied to all of the characters in Penny Dreadful. Obviously Ethan hides a darker nature, as does Dorian, and certainly Vanessa with her most recent transformation. Even Sir Malcolm will have to face a changed Mina should he retrieve her. Past episodes have been about exploring that darker side, but this one certainly was about embracing it.
I may criticize the slower pace that Penny Dreadful is moving at, but I am really glad to understand the deeper aspects of the characters, particularly the cold demeanor Vanessa usually displays. Without her back story one would not have appreciated the control she must always put herself under, nor understand the repercussions of her letting go of that control. Now I wonder, did Dorian want Vanessa to abandon her composure because he had found a kindred spirit or because he was more interested in the darkness bubbling below the surface?
Next week’s episode is entitled “Possession” which means I’m sure we will get another show-stopping performance from Eva Green.