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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Penny Dreadful: Evil Spirits in Heavenly Places

I feel like this was the lightest Penny Dreadful has ever been. And that it was the lightest it's ever going to be. It also felt like something of a fourth-episode breather before everything gets geared up for the second half of the season, though the final act certainly brought things to a head more quickly than I had anticipated.

So we start with Vanessa finishing her story to the menfolk, with a round of expressions from everyone that neatly conveys a) their awareness that they're not the biggest badass in the room, and b) "oh crap."

Actual penny dreadfuls (the magazines) were mentioned a couple of times throughout this episode, and I wonder if that's to gently remind us of their inherent inconsistency – of which there seemed to be a fair amount in this particular storyline. For instance, Vanessa seemed shocked and horrified at Malcolm's idea that she could be the subject of a demonic plot, even though Lucifer himself has appeared to her on at least two occasions to inform her of precisely this, and Malcolm's theory that Brother Gregory's testimony is actually a prophecy goes curiously unlinked with the fact that both he and Ferdinand already know there's a prophecy out there (the Amon-Net/Amon-Ra business).
But hey, like I said last week, this show is about relationships and atmosphere. We probably shouldn't get too invested in the actual plot.
Ferdinand has figured out (or been told, and is just pretending to have figured out) that Brother Gregory's artefacts are inscribed with a variety of different languages, with a narration that moves from one item to another. Assuming that there was no way a simple monk knew all these languages, they conclude that the words were written by the demon itself, detailing its own fall from heaven. It's as awesomely creepy as I could have hoped for.
Later we get some rare one-on-one interaction between Vanessa and Frankenstein, reminding us that you could throw any two characters in this show together and end up with a riveting scene. It turns out that these two are a recipe for hilarity, in which Victor asks Vanessa to accompany him to pick out clothing for a mysterious cousin who is coming to stay with him, all while being as conspicuously nervous about this as humanly possible.
Vanessa decides not to help.
Not only does Vanessa take every opportunity to make him squirm, but I wriggle with glee in knowing something Victor does not when he requests the two of them have tea together: that Vanessa has met Brona before. Oh boy, this is gonna be good...
Elsewhere in the Frankenstein subplot, Mr Putnam and his wife are making plans for the waxwork museum, and again we're given hints that despite Mrs Putnam's Apron Matron demeanour, it's her otherwise jovial husband that appears to be the real villain. At least she's exactly what she appears to be, whereas he hides his true intentions behind that smile. 
Not the face of a generous man.
What else are we meant to take from this dialogue between them:
"You're going to keep them in the cellar? All the time?"
"Of course. They don't need the light. They're freaks."
He can't be talking about waxworks here, right? It feels like he's discussing real people, as who describes inanimate objects as "freaks"? Besides, there was a certain amount of venom injected into that word. I get the sense Caliban is heading towards another confrontation with the ugly side of human nature.
But for now at least, Caliban and Frankenstein are on very different trajectories, what with Caliban engaging in conversation with Lavinia that presents her to him as an actual human being and not the toy that's currently being dressed up back at the lab. Lavinia's story about Gladstone and the fallen women feels like a reflection of this: that women are their own creatures deserving of respect. All-in-all, the entire discussion presented Lavinia as her own person with her own opinions. Back in season one, I recall that all of Maude's talk eventually looped back to Caliban, even her anecdote about her wounded brother.
(One other thing about Lavinia – she questioned Caliban about his eye colours, which suggests she was not always blind. Relevant?)
Meanwhile, the writing for Frankenstein and Lily is a bit more heavy-handed in its message, what with Lily's tottering high-heels and her Lament of the Corset, having gotten all dressed up for Victor's perusal. Also, she seemed to be visibly/audibly shivering throughout the entire scene, and I can't decide if it was a conscious acting choice, or whether Billie Piper was actually just really cold.
But there's a strange sense of self-awareness between the two of them. As it stands, Victor has dyed Lily's hair, given her clothes that he finds appealing, and given her a new name. In this scene he's kneeling at her feet while she stands on a makeshift pedestal.
Yet on some level, he does seem to recognize that he's being a major creeper, whilst she's given the line: "all we do is for men, keep their houses, raise their children, flatter them with our pain." She's either more perceptive than he realizes, or she has lingering memories of her life as Brona.
In the same scene he wryly tells her that "women would take over the world" (if they were not corseted) and yet the whole thing ends with Lily conceding to wear the uncomfortable shoes because he likes them. It's all an odd mix of way-obvious and too-subtle, but somewhere between those two extremes is an interesting and unique sequence; one that I'm not entirely sure how to read.
Reflections of a creepy creepster.
Outside, in what feels like "the real world", Inspector Rusk is looking over the dead bodies left in Hecate's wake. We know what happened, so this scene mainly serves to tell us something about him instead: namely that he's smart enough to realize this isn't the Mariner's Inn killer, rooted enough in his time to automatically use the pronoun "he" when speculating about said killer, decent enough to close the woman's eyes, and – most surprisingly – able to introduce the word "magic" as a possible solution without a hint of embarrassment.
And is it just me, or does he look excited about the possibility?
Hecate makes her move on Ethan by playing a Decoy Damsel, and fails hilariously badly simply because she knows nothing about America. There I was thinking that Ethan was hardly the sort of man who would be at all interested in a weeping woman clinging to him, only to feel amusement when it's revealed he knew it was a set-up (even though he wrongly assumes Hecate was sent by his father).
And again, Josh Hartnett surprised me. The second time around, it's clear that he knew the whole time that she was a liar. Look at this face. He's pissed.
There's something a bit odd though when Hecate recounts the story to her mother, telling her that "he smelled me." Huh? Smelled... her lies? Because at that point he had no idea she was a witch. Later he definitely felt their presence in the house, so perhaps by "smell" she meant "sensed," though what exactly he's sensing remains to be seen.
And I'm still not entirely sure why the witches seem so intimidated by a werewolf, especially one that doesn't even turn when he's attacked. Maybe it's just under the full moon that he transforms, but if so – they just have to make sure they stay out of his way on certain nights.
Finally, some Sembene! There is a level of fondness depicted between himself and Vanessa that wasn't apparent before this episode (though there's been no indication they weren't close) and I'm more desperate than ever to get some insight into how he came to Malcolm's household. There certainly wasn't any sign of him when Vanessa was a child, so when exactly did it occur?  
In any case, he takes watch on the stairs for "lions" right before the camera pans outside to where Hecate is watching the house beside a giant stone lion. A coincidence, a deliberate visual cue, or some sort of deeper premonition? Because later he says of Vanessa: "She's a lioness. She does not worry me."

Hmmm. So Vanessa is a lioness, but the witches are lions? Why the difference in gender to describe them?
The only other thing we learn is that he was "partly" a hunter where he came from and that the other part is "private." Helpful.
Finally, the last act involves the witches attacking the house. The image of them hiding in the wallpaper reminded me of Peter Jackson's The Frighteners, but apparently there's a short story called The Yellow Wallpaper that's more likely to have been the inspiration.
All the men prove themselves to be fairly helpless until Vanessa pulls out the Verbis Diablo and sends them running – though the trio get what they came for and escape with a strand of Vanessa's hair. Surely there had to be an easier way of achieving that end (especially since her bedroom window was open and her hair brush was sitting on the dresser – remember that episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer when Buffy had to get some of Amy's hair?) but hey, I guess there was the need for a closing action sequence.
Still, about halfway through I realized the sight of nude, bald witches sprinting around the house looked utterly ridiculous. Seriously, it was downright funny when Sembene tackled Hecate.
Miscellaneous Observations:
Caliban tells Lavinia that his eyes are "not beautiful" despite the exact opposite being told to him by Vanessa last week. Women keep being kind to him by their own volition, and his wallowing in self-pity is getting a little frustrating. He's not even that bad looking, though judging from Rory Kinnear's performance I think it's starting to get through to him that things could be a lot worse. At the very least, the fact that he carried on a conversation with a blind woman has made him realize appearances aren't everything.
We learn that the survivor of the Mariner's Inn massacre was one of the men sent by Ethan's father – and he's keeping quiet about what happened there. I suspect he has plans for blackmail, though whether he'll level this at Ethan or his father remains to be seen. 
Odd that Hecate gave her name away so freely; true names are important magic after all, and even Ethan thought it was an alias. Naturally Vanessa recognizes it as belonging to the Greek goddess of night and witches, and it was a risk Hecate took in assuming Ethan wouldn't do the same.
Though perhaps more interesting is the fact that the cross (wielded by Ferdinand Lyle) didn't repel the witches, and yet the Verbis Diablo did.
Dorian Gray is unfortunately relegated to miscellaneous observations this week. We get a few little tidbits, such as the fact he wasn't born rich and that he's "older than I look", but for now we'll just have to make do with a cute date night and a little historical insight on the popularity of table-tennis in the Victorian era.
Enough with the hissing, Hecate!
Frankenstein gets the line: "I'm good with stitching." I think most people missed this one.
Not much from Sir Malcolm this week, but a single scene speaks volumes: that his masculinity is dented by something as simple as being offered eye glasses. Oy.
Finally, I think it's a testimony to all these actors that most of the screencaps I take are of their faces. I'm not entirely sure how any of this material would read were it not in the hands of such capable thespians, though I expect the ever-increasing insanity of Salem is a fair comparison.
Mmm, Sembene's buttercream torte looked AMAZING! I hope it didn't get damaged in the fight.

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