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Penny Dreadful – Evil Spirits in Heavenly Places – Review

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Another stellar episode of Penny Dreadful. I find that I’m enjoying this season much more than the first. This could be due to the pacing as the flow of this season has been much smoother and much tighter than season one. This could also be because of the addition of such interesting antagonists and the fact that we are learning much more about them than we did the vampiric foes of season one. I find myself connecting with the witches more and looking forward to seeing the next step in their evil plans. “Evil Spirits in Heavenly Places” left me wanting more. For every drop of information we get, there is a grievous setback. However, I do find myself caring less about the Frankenstein storyline since the love dodecahedron seems to be a bit obvious and the conflict that is growing was obvious so early. What I’m keener on is the mystery surrounding Brother Gregory’s writing. And I must say that the final scene in this episode was my favorite; the tension was built and layered to perfection.

The episode begins with Vanessa telling the story of her time with the Cut Wife to the rest of Sir Malcolm’s team. They all seem stunned at the harrowing events that took place. It’s a bit concerning that Mr. Lyle is present since we know of his alliance to Evelyn Poole and her coven. I find it interesting that Doctor Frankenstein, a man who has raised the dead on numerous occasions and been at the heart of so many supernatural events, seems skeptical that witches are walking about London. Perhaps it is the good doctor’s way of protecting himself that he relies on science over the supernatural, desiring the make the mysterious plain and give it a rational explanation. Frankenstein also makes a quip about “fairies and sprites” wandering about the city. Perhaps this is a clue as to the potential antagonists of season three?

The team knows that in order to understand this threat they need to unlock the secrets of Brother Gregory’s writings. Mr. Lyle has made some head way in this department, explaining that the writings on the various objects spread out on Sir Malcolm’s table show a variety of languages, but more importantly, they seem to be pieces of a narrative. Brother Gregory was transcribing a story not merely writing down gibberish, and not just any story but one from the Devil’s point of view. I can’t take credit for noticing it first, but it appears the Devil was aware of a creature like Ethan as one item on the table simply has “Lupus Dei” scrawled upon it. This casts a whole new light onto Brother Gregory’s writings; why was it so important to the Devil that this story be recorded? As he is leaving, Frankenstein interestingly asks Vanessa to accompany him on an errand the next day and remains rather mysterious as to its nature. As the good doctor leaves, Vanessa notices Sembene silently watching. When asked what he is doing, the manservant replies that he is watching for “lions”. I like this comparison of the weird sisters to lions as it is the lionesses that do the hunting within the prides, proving to be vicious pack hunters. Sembene is right to be watching for we see Hecate up on her perch outside, keeping an eye on Sir Malcolm’s house.

Cut to the murder scene in the train car, where Inspector Rusk is looking over the bodies of the slain mother and father. He notes how different these murders are to the ones he’s been working on and how precise the slaughter is. He also notes that the baby was taken not killed at the scene, guessing it must be alive. Sorry to disappoint you, Inspector. Rusk is stumped, however, at how the assailant came and went unobserved and uncaptured from the moving train and chalks this up to magic. Is he serious? What does Inspector Rusk know of magic? We must get a back story on this character soon as he definitely knows more about the demimonde than he lets on.

The next day, we arrive at Putney’s Waxworks, where Mr. Putney plans his next big tableau. He already is working on the Mariner’s Inn Massacre and is plotting to incorporate the slaughter in the train car into his exhibits. The missus is skeptical as to the cost, but Putney is confident that the public’s obsession with the macabre will bring in the profits. I like that Putney makes reference to the penny dreadfuls, which we know are the sensationalist paperback stories of the weird and grotesque that our show takes its name from. Putney believes that the public will be even hungrier to see such stories in three dimensions via his waxworks. He also makes reference to his wax figures as if they are people, calling them “freaks”. Hopefully this man doesn’t plan on putting live people in the cellar for display. Putney seems a little too enthusiastic about bringing horror to his clientele and that causes me to wonder at what lengths is this business man willing to go to create his next big tableau?

Speaking of freaks, Caliban is down in the cellar working on new figurines when Lavinia wanders down. Caliban stays silent, but Lavinia knows he is there, remarking as to her ability to sense others in the room. This may come in useful later on in the season. Lavinia is working on ageing a current waxwork and remarks that the key to believability is in the eyes. She is a very confident woman despite her disability and asks Caliban about his eyes, not phased to learn that they are an unnatural shade of yellow. Lavinia is also not keen on these new murder tableaus, remarking it’s as if she is bringing these creations to life and then torturing them with their suffering. Caliban can relate to this given his past and I see these two grow ever closer together.

Outside of Putney’s Waxworks, Ethan Chandler is out for a stroll. He becomes alarmed at the sign outside Putney’s advertising the Mariner’s Inn Massacre tableau. As so our world of Penny Dreadful grows a bit smaller as the various stories converge. It’s like the strings on a drawstring bag are being pulled ever tighter, trapping all our characters inside. Seeing the latest headlines detailing the murder on the train and the missing baby, Ethan buys a paper, most likely worried that he had a hand in this latest event and doesn’t remember. Unbeknownst to Ethan, while he takes in the paper he is being watched by Hecate, who signals to her sisters to set their plan into action. A horse is startled and comes careening down the street and Hecate is careful to put herself right in harm’s way, counting on the fact that Ethan will save her, which he does. I’m amused that while Hecate plays the shrinking flower, crying in the Ethan’s chest after being saved, the sharpshooter looks alarmed and almost unsure as to how to deal with this weeping woman. He’s been spoiled by his dealings with dynamic, strong women like Vanessa and Brona.

We jump to Inspector Rusk at hospital on the hunt for information, visiting the recovering Roper. Roper claims he can’t remember what occurred at the Mariner’s Inn and whether this is true or not remains to be seen. Roper is decidedly uncooperative and eager to leave London, and Rusk vows to get information from him somehow. Roper’s face is as bad as the surgeon had described and what we see of it now is mostly covered by some sort of poultice or artificial skin, no doubt to help the healing. I’m getting a strong Phantom of the Opera vibe when I look at him, though I doubt Penny Dreadful will go so far as incorporate that tale into its story. It just wouldn’t fit well.

And so we see Vanessa and Doctor Frankenstein on their errand. They are out buying clothes for Frankenstein’s “cousin” aka Brona. Vanessa knows this is more than meets the eye since the good doctor is so ready with this cousin’s measurements and bosom size. Doctor Frankenstein’s uncomfortableness at shopping for women’s clothes is a riot to see and Vanessa taking every opportunity to tease the doctor only makes it better. I love how Frankenstein remarks on Vanessa’s choice of dress, the “collars and such” and Vanessa giving him grief by presenting women’s underwear is hilarious. It’s also interesting that Frankenstein suggests his “cousin” and Vanessa meet. He seems to have plans for the newly minted young woman, treating her as more his charge than Caliban’s.

Back to Ethan and Hecate, who are sharing a laugh after the thwarted accident. It seems that Hecate, posing as an American, has the sharpshooter wrapped around her finger as she tells stories of where she’s been in America and the reason she is in London. She plays the part of a simpering school girl quite well, but not well enough as Ethan leans in and in a low voice picks apart all the inconsistencies with her stories, as well as her accent. I adore this simply because I didn’t want Ethan to fall so easily into Evelyn Poole’s trap and as we can see, the sharpshooter is very much on his game. And pointing out the accent is a clever touch as I would have been inclined to remark in this review at how inconsistent it was, but knowing that was intentional is so much better. Same goes for her misinforming Ethan that her name comes from an ancient goddess of the sea. Ethan believes that his father and the Pinkertons sent Hecate to get him to return home. Remember, the Pinkertons were a detective agency established in the USA circa 1850 and were well known in history for tracking outlaws and breaking up unions. The agency is still active today. Ethan leaves Hecate with a warning for his father, that he will kill the man the next time he tries to bring his son home.

On to a lighter scene, which begins with a shot of a puppet show, complete with puppets that look suspiciously like Mr. Lyle and Vanessa, that pulls out to show a carnival or world’s fair exhibition. The music in this scene is beautiful, my favorite piece of the episode. We see Dorian and Angelique walking arm in arm. I’m glad Angelique is not a one off character for shock value and appreciate how accepting Dorian is of her, jovially trying to guess her male name and weathering the disapproving looks of passersby. Dorian has brought Angelique to a hall where they can play gossima tennis, or as we know it, ping pong. Dorian correctly states that British soldiers developed the game overseas and brought it back to England where it became a popular after dinner parlor past time. Angelique proves to be a natural and whoops Dorian’s butt at the game. It’s rather nice to see Dorian, so perfect and unflappable, brought down to human status by a simple game. If this is what Angelique brings out in the immortal, then I’d like to see more of this pair. Dorian and Angelique discuss how deception and secrets give spice to life and throw Victorian conventions out the window as they kiss passionately in the middle of the hall.

Elsewhere, Evelyn Poole is displeased that Hecate failed in her mission so spectacularly. Hecate admits her errors, but seems to believe that Ethan “smelled” her. I wonder if this was conscious or unconscious on Ethan’s part. Evelyn knows now that to deal with Lupus Dei her coven must go with more aggressive tactics. Evelyn commands Hecate to bring her something while she prepares an enchantment. The fact that Evelyn already has a backup plan is frightening. This witch is so many steps ahead of Sir Malcolm and his team it’s going to take a miracle for our protagonists to survive. Evelyn admonishes Hecate to not disappoint her again and in an uncharacteristic display of disobedience, Hecate actually uses her feral hiss on Evelyn. The younger witch knows she is out of line and there is a tension in the air as Evelyn approaches her. She lets this outburst slide and seals our protagonists’ fates, telling Hecate she can do what she likes with everyone but Vanessa. I wonder if Hecate is getting too full of herself, if she will eventually be cut down by Evelyn should a challenge between them arise.

Over at the Frankenstein place, Brona is getting dressed in her new clothes, courtesy of the good doctor, while Frankenstein waits to hem her dress. Brona remarks at how uncomfortable and unfamiliar these garments are and how she can scarcely move in them. Frankenstein replies that ladies aren’t expected to exert themselves. When Brona finally steps out in her new outfit, Frankenstein is speechless. Brona has some trouble with the height of her shoes, but Frankenstein remarks he likes that in a woman, he enjoys how high heels “display the talocrural region (the ankle) and the leg’s dorsal flexion”. Basically the good doctor likes how her legs look in heels. Brona has opinions on all this high fashion as well, not thinking much of corsets or the idea that women should wear them for the sake of men. Brona is not going to be content to be Frankenstein’s little china doll, to be kept as a trophy. There is conflict brewing here. Frankenstein wisely does not insist Brona wear the corset, but she opts to keep the high heels since the good doctor enjoys them. The electricity, pun intended, between this pair is growing. We are headed for one hell of a conflict between Caliban and Frankenstein. Or, we might not be given the creature’s bond with Lavinia. Only time will tell.

At Sir Malcolm’s house, he and Mr. Lyle are still tirelessly at work trying to piece together the Devil’s memoirs from bits of skull and the bodies of birds. Sir Malcolm is a bit hesitant to admit he needs spectacles to make out an inscription, claiming vanity as he explains he is courting Evelyn Poole. Mr. Lyle does a good job of keeping a straight face, but cautions Sir Malcolm to be careful with that woman. I’m a bit more concerned that the explorer’s eyesight is going. This could mean trouble in future episodes. While Sir Malcom and Mr. Lyle slowly uncover the Devil’s story, Ethan is telling Vanessa of his encounter with Hecate that afternoon. Vanessa sets the record straight, informing Ethan that “Hecate” is a goddess of magic. Ethan is skeptical that Hecate is a witch but Vanessa knows better, telling the sharpshooter her kind can assume many guises. Sir Malcolm calls Vanessa over to the table and reads what they have uncovered so far from Brother Gregory’s writings, asking if any of the story rings a bell with her. Sir Malcolm thinks the tale is a prophecy, that the story is relevant and continues to side eye Vanessa has he explains his theory. The explorer believes the prophecy has to do with her. Vanessa grows irritated, not wishing to be the center of these events. She stalks away, regaining her calm long enough to tell everyone she is going to bed.

Now comes my favorite scene of “Evil Spirits in Heavenly Places”. Throughout the house, the weird sisters are hiding like chameleons, blending in with the wallpaper. Waiting. Vanessa sensed that something was amiss before she retired and Ethan even managed to smell one with his superhuman senses, but neither of our heroes knew the source of their suspicion until it was too late. How long were these witches in the house and what did they hear? Without any dialogue, our focus jumps from Vanessa preparing for bed, to Ethan and Sembene in the kitchen making dessert, to Sir Malcolm and Mr. Lyle working at the table. We know the weird sisters are there a breath away, waiting to pounce, but our heroes remain oblivious. The tension in this scene, as nerve wracking as an overwound watch, is some of the best we’ve had on Penny Dreadful. The anticipation of waiting for one of the witches to spring is almost unbearable. The moments stretch and stretch and just when you think you can’t take it anymore it’s as if a bomb goes off. The house explodes into action as all three witches attack at once, the one in Vanessa’s room snatching a lock of hair from her head while the others battle our protagonists. Unfortunately, the witches are incredibly strong and once the hair is secured, they flee, leaving our heroes and the audience breathless.

And that was “Evil Spirits in Heavenly Places”. What did you think? Be sure to comment below!

The past three Penny Dreadful episodes have ended with a bang and that just makes me want more and more. This most recent ending is now one of my favorite moments in the series. The balance in this season is remarkably better than that of last, giving us funny moments like Frankenstein’s adventure in the dress shop as well as tense ones like the battle at the end of the episode, proving an equilibrium between horror and delight. These episodes aren’t bogged down with pointless scenes; every action has a meaning now and even if it’s initially unclear the viewer can tell that they must pay attention. I wonder why Evelyn needs a piece of Vanessa since she already has her creepy Vanessa doll. Perhaps this final touch will seal the magic and allow Evelyn to have more control over Vanessa, which is a chilling thought given the medium’s power.

I find myself less intrigued with Caliban and Frankenstein’s story lines and more invested in the main plot regarding the Verbis Diablo and the witches. This could be because I find the subplot with Brona, Caliban, and Frankenstein to be rather predictable. What I am interested in is Inspector Rusk. I must know more about this character and what he knows of the demimonde. And in turn, I continue to wait like a kid on Christmas Eve for Ethan’s back story and a better explanation of what “Lupus Dei” actually is. We know he is a protector, but how did he come to be one? We are almost halfway through this season and it’s plain to see that unless our protagonists make some headway soon, the witches will continue to have the upper hand and demolish Sir Malcolm and his team.

Tune in next week for “Above the Vaulted Sky”!

About the Author – Ashley B
Ashley is as serious as a sleeping curse when she says television is her life. Professional event planner, avid movie viewer, convention enthusiast, and resident sass master, Ashley writes reviews for ABC's Once Upon a Time, Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, and Galavant, as well as Showtime’s Penny Dreadful. She looks forward each week to the weird and wonderful world her favorite television programs provide.
Recent Reviews by Ashley B (All Reviews)

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