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Penny Dreadful – Memento Mori – Review

This is my kind of Penny Dreadful episode. The pacing, for the most part, was nice and tight and it gave a quite a few shocking twists and turns. I’m also pleased that so many of our Penny Dreadful characters were showcased, though the hour belonged to Sir Malcolm which is refreshing as he tends not to be the focus of many episodes. I enjoy that Brona is owning her resurrection story line, as opposed to being a character that is there to motivate others like Frankenstein and his creature. And Dorian Gray, oh Dorian. We are now seeing just how this immortal earned the scars that adorn his portrait. If the remaining two episodes in this season of Penny Dreadful follow along with the trend “Memento Mori” sets we are sure to be in for an emotional and action packed finale.

The episode begins with a disturbing scene. We see Brona in bed with the man she killed just the other night. She is speaking to and caressing the corpse as if he is still alive, lamenting that boys eventual grow into men, before leaving the apartment humming to herself. And change has taken over Brona, though where this stems from one isn’t quite sure. Was the catalyst her introduction to the greater world and life outside the safety of Frankenstein’s walls? Or are her memories finally bubbling to the surface?

Speaking of Frankenstein, it seems he took Brona’s night out rather poorly as we see the good doctor collapsed in a drug-induced stupor on the floor. Caliban, who had observed Brona the night before with Dorian Gray, wakes his creator hastily and forcefully demands to know where Brona is. When Frankenstein doesn’t provide a satisfactory response, we see Caliban lose his temper completely for the very first time. Gone are the pretty lyrical words, they are replaced with shouting as Caliban smashes and tears apart the lab before ripping a wire out of the wall and threatening to electrocute his creator with it. It’s fitting that the method that brought Caliban into the world would be the one he threatens to use to take Frankenstein out of it. Also the level of ownership Caliban thinks he has on Brona is disturbing, insisting that the woman is “his”. Caliban vows that after he and Brona are settled in their idyllic life, he will return and show Frankenstein “the monster he has made”.

We jump to a calmer but no less menacing scene as the dutiful Inspector Rusk is still obsessed with unraveling the mysteries surrounding the Mariner’s Inn Massacre. He’s come across his predecessor’s appointment book and discovered that Sir Malcolm came to Scotland Yard, an unusual event. This is the first of many call backs to the first season and I appreciate how much this episode goes back to show our characters’ past deeds, particularly Sir Malcolm’s, coming back to haunt them. Based on this evidence, Rusk decides to call on the explorer.

Meanwhile, we see Mr. Lyle paying a visit to Evelyn Poole. Evelyn is indulging a massage, though Mr. Lyle does slyly point out the futility in such efforts towards bottling one’s youth. We are seeing more and more of Evelyn’s obsession with staying young and I wonder if by the end of the season her age will catch up to her and the witch will shrivel into an old crone as she is defeated. Evelyn pointedly asks if Mr. Lyle cares for Sir Malcolm and his team but Mr. Lyle avoids the question. I think he is just trying to survive at this point. Mr. Lyle is not forthcoming with any information regarding Ethan, Vanessa, or their whereabouts which displeases Evelyn, to put it lightly, and she threatens the linguist with one of her deadly rings. One of the things I love about Evelyn is that she can go from affable to deadly in a matter of seconds and then snap back to smiles and coyness as we see in this scene. If Vanessa is the scorpion, Evelyn is the adder waiting to strike. Evelyn decides that in order to proceed with her plans she must lure Vanessa out of hiding. However, as Mr. Lyle is dismissed he is not out of the woods, for Hecate sidelines him, blatantly making a power play against her mother. This is something that has been hinted at again and again in Penny Dreadful episodes, but in “Memento Mori” it becomes most evident that Hecate believes she is better at the craft and more powerful than her mother. Hecate is also very keen to learn about Ethan, taking the threat of Lupis Dei more seriously.

Back at Sir Malcolm’s home, the explorer seems more himself. He is examining pictures of his deceased family when he is interrupted by Inspector Rusk. I notice that Rusk’s missing arm is pointed out rather obviously when Sir Malcolm goes to shake the inspector’s hand, so I wonder if the circumstances surrounding the missing limb will come into play soon. Rusk pries into Sir Malcolm’s personal life with fervor, trying to figure out why the explorer visited Scotland Yard and his connection to Ethan Chandler. Sir Malcolm is evasive, but through Rusk’s questions is forced to admit some of the circumstances surrounding Mina’s death. Sir Malcolm’s emotions leave him at a disadvantage and Rusk seems to be holding all the cards here.

Over at the Frankenstein place, Brona has finally returned home, telling a false tale about how she spent her night. She seems to give little regard to how upset Frankenstein is over her absence and he remains occupied by Caliban’s threat hanging over his head. Did you catch the fact that Brona kept a playing card from the scene of her crime as a memento? The good doctor wants to take Brona out of the city, but she isn’t having any of that. Brona has other plans it seems and is fully aware of the sway she holds over the doctor. I love the overhead shot of the bouquet of flowers from Dorian tumbling into the vase.

Frankenstein heads over to Sir Malcolm’s and has a talk with the explorer, mentioning his addiction, a subject that hasn’t been mentioned since season one. The past is haunting the doctor as well, not just in the physical representation of his creations, but in the choices he made by pumping his veins full of poison. Frankenstein reflects that he doesn’t have the tools or the skill to save himself, angry that he has conquered even death itself and yet this newest obstacle stands in his way and in the way of his new found love. Sir Malcolm takes this moment to reflect himself, speaking about how he fed on his rage, just as Vanessa had mentioned last episode. Even under the veneer of contentment with Evelyn Poole, Sir Malcolm knows at his core he is not a happy man. We find that in his conversation with Dr. Frankenstein the explorer knows how callous an act it was to ignore his wife’s funeral. The magic must be wearing off or the real Sir Malcolm, the unhappy man, is shining through.

Speaking of magic, Evelyn is once again in her chamber of terror dolls. We see her grasp the beating heart in the Sir Malcolm doll, putting the explorer under further spells. Indeed, this scene is tense as we see Sir Malcolm grasps his chest, his companions who have gathered to hear the final deciphering of Brother Gregory’s writings, completely unaware of the change. Mr. Lyle explains the tale scattered across the objects, of how Lucifer was cast out of heaven. The kicker here is that there were two cast down, two brothers. The room expresses surprise that Satan had a brother and surmise that he was the vampire foe they fought back in season one. Both brothers sought the Mother of Evil who would allow one of them to rise and take God’s throne and bring about a great darkness. Both brothers failed, again as we saw in season one, which is where the witches come into play, pawns of Satan to do his bidding and ensnare Vanessa. Sir Malcolm mentions that a woman has been prophesized due to the erotic power they held over men. We’ve seen plenty examples of that in this season alone. The breakthrough I’m most interested in is Sir Malcolm correcting the Lupis Dei translation, saying it is the “Wolf of God” not the hound. This grabs Sembene’s attention right away and I could kiss the manservant because someone is finally putting the pieces together.

However, this triumph is short lived for Evelyn’s spell is complete, opening Sir Malcolm as a vessel for the Devil. The table quakes and Sir Malcolm’s eyes go inky black as we’ve seen in previous possessions. There is a heavy pause before the explorer unleashes his rage, toppling the table before them. It takes Sembene tackling his master and throwing him into an unused room of the house, bellowing for Sir Malcolm to know who he is to reach the man trapped by the demon. Sembene taking charge like that, coupled with his realization of just who Ethan Chandler is in relation to all this mysticism, endears the character to me very much in this episode. I mean, the man tackled the Devil which is quite an achievement. The room Sembene thrusts Sir Malcolm into is a ballroom, dusty and still with disuse. Here, Sir Malcolm relieves a happier time when he family was alive and well. The use of color here is very striking, with the apparitions of Sir Malcolm’s family appearing washed out and greyed, just like the ghosts they are. The tone of Sir Malcolm's voice as he addresses his children breaks my heart. There is also a wonderful short pan across the profiles of Sembene, Frankenstein, and Mr. Lyle as they gaze at Sir Malcolm collecting himself from his past. “Memento Mori” is shot brilliantly.

Evelyn Poole is shocked that Sir Malcolm was able to snap out of the enchantment. Hecate is simply bemused, truly overstepping herself when she claims she can do a better job than her mother. Evelyn, again playing the long game, knows Sir Malcolm is the type who will strike back from such an attack and will wait for the explorer to come to her. Hecate’s impertinence grows though Evelyn still holds all the power and I find myself actually rooting for Evelyn to recognize the danger her daughter poses.

The episode takes a detour as Sir Malcolm sets out to Evelyn Poole’s home to show us Dorian Gray leaving Angelique at home in favor of meeting Brona once again. The roguish version of Dorian is absent in this episode. Here we see him as a man who flits callously from one new fancy to the other. The music in this scene is from Dido and Aeneas Act III, Scene II, and more specifically the final aria known as “Dido’s Lament”. Act III Scene II is the final portion of Dido and Aeneas and tells of how Aeneas leaves Dido and despite his returning and his reasons for disappearing in the first place, Dido rejects him and forces him to leave for good. The final aria is Dido welcoming death as she wishes her wrongs to cause no distress and to be remembered. This fits the scene beautifully as it plays over shots of Dorian adorning Brona with gifts as the distraught Caliban watches from the street, of Frankenstein appearing to slumber peacefully, escaping his tortured mind for a few moment’s rest, and finally of a neglected Angelique discovering Dorian’s secret room. The very same room that we know holds his titular portrait, as hinted at in season one. Again, the past comes rushing back. The aria echoing into silence as Angelique discovers the secret door is a nice touch.

When Dorian returns and notices Angelique missing and the secret door ajar, simply the way he removes his scarf lets the audience in on his true feelings and intentions. He joins Angelique in the portrait chamber with a pair of drinks in hand. She is stock still, mesmerized by the painting. There is no music here, just the eerie whistling of the wind. That, the anticipation of maybe catching a glimpse of that painting, and Dorian’s potential reaction all heighten the tension in this scene. Dorian explains that the painting has captured all of his sins and sometimes he pretends he is not the man in the portrait. But like Sir Malcolm, he knows who he is inside.
This expression of wanting to portray oneself as something different and better also strikes a chord with Angelique. Dorian asks his companion to accept him and Angelique finally speaks, saying yes she can love all of him. They toast with the beverages Dorian brought, but it is a short lived conclusion for soon Angelique collapses struggling for breath, clearly poisoned. In truth, Dorian did not believe that she could accept the man in the portrait. I’m very sad to see Angelique go as I grew to enjoy her character. However, this callous, selfish act is much more in line with the Dorian Gray found throughout pop culture. Despite his evil deed, I’m relieved he’s being shown unsympathetically, reminding the audience of who and what Dorian is. We get another striking example of this as we finally see the painting. I don’t know what I expected but it wasn’t the putrid, wizen, feral creature we see. However, the depiction grows on me. It’s a unique take on such a famous portrait, showing with little flourish just how base a being Dorian really is. The chains are a nice touch, showing Dorian bound by his actions. And good god I almost jumped out of my skin when the painting actually moved, snapping its head up to regard Dorian Gray. Dorian is also startled, but he still smiles at the painting.

Sir Malcolm makes his assault alone on Evelyn Poole’s abode, but as we already know the witches are ready for him. They attack all his senses, cackling and screeching as they use their chameleon powers to appear and disappear, catching the explorer off guard. They caught me off guard as well as I jumped a fair few times, not knowing from where the witches would strike next. Sir Malcolm has wandered into a hive of hornets searching for their queen. In the end, the witches get the best of Sir Malcolm, causing him to tumble down a staircase and fall unconscious. I like that his weapon, the very picture of the industrialism of that era, is no match for the witches’ magic.

A crackle and flicker of electric lights in the laboratory brings us to Dr. Frankenstein’s abode, where we see Brona returning from her evening out. She begin to undress when it’s revealed that Caliban is watching close by. Barely keeping his anger in check, Caliban makes himself known, startling Brona and he leans right in her face demanding to know who she is, who she really is. Brona reminds Caliban she remembers nothing of her past and is troubled when the creature reveals his jealousy by admitting he had been watching Brona all evening. Caliban practically chases Brona around the lab in their confrontation, but the tables turn when Brona shatters Caliban’s bucolic dreams of their potential future together. Her tone and demeanor change as she tears down his romantic ideals and it’s clear who is now in control of the situation. Caliban said he knew he and Brona could never be, but hearing the cold unrelenting words pour out of her mouth make this a reality. She goes on to verbally spit on the ideas of what it means to be a “lady” in this society, the indignities a woman must go through to please men. This part of Brona’s diatribe comes off heavy handed to me, but it’s interesting that Brona’s old accent comes forth as she shouts at Caliban, throwing him around the room with her undead strength.

There was some imagery earlier on where Brona’s refection was cast in a shattered mirror and that’s just what this woman is, shattered. It’s as if two different women are fighting for control in her head and what comes forth, the mixture of old and new memories, experiences, and pain, is a conniving seductress who switches tactics once more, offering herself to Caliban and stating they will kill Frankenstein together. Brona believes they were created not for infinite sadness and loneliness, but to rule and lord over mere living men before she passionately kisses the creature, who had been struck dumb by this sudden change. This scene is incredible powerful and Billie Piper’s performance is excellent. The most striking line is where she states that she and Caliban are “steel and sinew, the next thousand years” embracing her rebirth just as Caliban rejected it for so long.

Back at Evelyn Poole’s mansion, she and Sir Malcolm are sitting by the fire. The explorer doesn’t appear to be in immediate danger, but appearances can be deceiving. The witch wants Sir Malcolm to lead Vanessa to her and even goes so far as to offer the explorer her gift from the Devil, eternal life, so long as he stays with her and delivers the medium. There is sincerity in her desire to no longer remain alone. I love the line where Sir Malcolm declares he would like nothing more than to tear Evelyn’s head from her shoulders and laugh. This is the Sir Malcolm I remember, always getting the best lines. The explorer will stay with Evelyn only if she abandons her quest for Vanessa, the one thing she cannot do. Evelyn immediately grows cold, calling into question the propriety of Sir Malcolm’s relationship with Vanessa. The witch conjures a scorpion to add injury to her insults, and leaves the room. She also tells Sir Malcolm she will leave him with a few stinging memories as well, and we see exactly what she means for when Sir Malcolm is alone in the room, three coffins appear. The explorer opens them and reveals his dead family in their shrouds. These ghosts from his past are powerful and rise up out of their coffins to confront a heartbroken Sir Malcolm for his sins.

And that was “Memento Mori”. How did you like it, be sure to leave a comment below!

This episode was evenly paced and balanced the deeper character moments with the action and suspense well. Every moment had a purpose and added something to the world of Penny Dreadful. I look forward to the return of Vanessa and Ethan next episode and what they will make of everything that transpired, as well as what they will add to the situation now that the season long confrontation with Evelyn Poole and her coven is coming to a head. I hope the finale follows in the footsteps of this episode and I find myself wondering more and more if Sir Malcolm’s team will manage to come out ahead. And at what cost.

I enjoy that throughout “Memento Mori” each of our Penny Dreadful characters is forced to reflect upon who they really are. For so long each of them has shown a different guise to the world, but just as the demimonde slithers beneath the surface, so do each of these characters’ true selves. And just as the demimonde has bled out into the open, now we’ve also seen the monsters each person has kept at bay come tumbling out.

Tune in Sunday for the penultimate episode “And Hell Itself My Only Foe”!

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.
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