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Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Penny Dreadful: Good and Evil Braided Be

This was a transitional episode, which means although there isn't a huge amount to unpack, there's still forward momentum, character insight, and one heck of a great final reveal.
And the good thing about the cast being spread out across the world is that I can neatly go through them one at a time...

Ethan/Hecate
I'm still surprised by how taken I am by this pairing. Not that I'm not shipping them or anything, and I can't really be mad at all the fandom hate for Hecate (she is a murderous witch, after all) but the dynamic is really working for me. Ethan doesn’t want her around, but is so distracted he can't be bothered getting rid of her, whilst Hecate has mad ambitions when it comes to him – apparently they're gonna rule the world together or something. 
More importantly, she looks so cute in her pants and coat!  
In order to get them where they want to go, she does what witches do and murders two ranchers – though her effect on Ethan is less interesting than the one she has on Inspector Rusk and the American lawmen. They earlier deduce that Ethan had help in escaping custody (given that Hecate's kills are cleaner than his) but immediately stop shooting at him on realizing a woman is with him.
Hecate is essentially making Rusk rethink his strategies, but the fact he still seems very open to the possibility of occult powers means he could be on to her...
Of course, it also doesn't hurt that the Americans all have Stormtrooper Marksmanship.
Malcolm/Kaetenay
Malcolm certainly isn't getting a lot to do this season, for even his "big moment" when he defends Kaetenay against two racist rednecks is more about Kaetenay's stoicism than Malcolm's chivalry. For now at least, he's tagging along after Ethan's other father, who is not only calling the shots and driving the narrative, but clearly knows more about this whole business than he's letting on.
When Malcolm asked: "why'd you cross half the world to find me?," I half expected the answer to be: "you're a regular, you have to come along."
Frankenstein/Jekyll
Victor soon discovers that the effects of Jekyll's serum are very temporary, but is confident that he can make it permanent, thus creating "a choir of angels – one in particular." Oh you shit.
After slinging some poetry at each other and engaging in more loaded dialogue regarding the dual nature of mankind (I'm definitely lending towards Mr Hyde having already manifested in Jekyll's life), Victor suggests they combine their scientific knowhow. I wait upon events.  
Lily/Dorian
Here's where things get really interesting – but first, take a moment to dry your eyes after Lily speaks fondly of Ethan. Once that's done, start wondering why she hasn't sought him out and join me in worrying over my theory that he's going to be the one to eventually kill her.
The quasi-feminist bent of Lily's story arc becomes overt with the appearance of the suffragettes rallying votes for women in the street, though Lily is very careful to distance her goals and methods from theirs. According to her, they want equality whilst she wants dominion – and she seems to recognize this as a dark and disturbing thing (which is in keeping with the core characters not only being monsters, but knowing that they're monsters – she said as much to Victor last week).
So I'm grateful to John Logan for the clear differentiation between the early feminists and Lily's particular brand of misandry, especially since it reminded me deeply of the latest Sherlock Christmas Special. Remember, the one that portrayed the suffragettes as a bunch of murderers? Watch as they run around Victorian London, shooting unfaithful husbands in the head! Girl power, amirite girls?
Geez, I still get angry just thinking about it – not only that Moffat could depict the suffragettes as murderers, but honestly believe such a portrayal was a compliment.
John Logan is walking a much more nuanced path when it comes to his understanding of gender politics, though I still can't help but be a little apprehensive as to where all this is going.
Just like the women of Sherlock, Lily is thirsty for revenge and killing men that she deems undeserving of life. Unlike Moffat's woebegone attempt to present this as an act of righteous girl power, Lily's actions are certainly not being presented as good – not exactly. And yet when it comes to the men who are on the receiving end of a woman's violence, Lily's victims aren't stuffy upperclass men whose crimes are little more than chauvinistic behaviour (as they were on Sherlock). The man she presents to Justine raped her as a child, pimped her out to dozens of other men, and then invited paying guests over to watch her get butchered.
Naturally Justine slits his throat, and it's impossible to condone her for it. Maybe this is the part where I'm supposed to throw in the "great motive, still murder" GIF, but I can't really bring myself to care about the gruesome death of a child rapist.
So what ARE we meant to be taking from all this?
I have no idea. Clearly we're not meant to cheer on Victor's efforts to drug Lily into a placid little sex toy, but at the same time Lily is open about the dark path she's walking down, with plans to use "craft, stealth and poison" to build an army and go to war. All this is markedly and explicitly removed from what the suffragettes are trying to achieve (thank goodness) and yet most of my sympathy still lies with Lily.
Whether or not that's the rational or moral or correct interpretation of this particular subplot relies entirely on how Logan plans to resolve it – but for now, good and evil braided be.
***
Oh, and Dorian is here also. But let's face it, he's just in it for the blood-covered three-way orgies.
John Clare
Frankenstein's Creature is remembering his first life, and things go suspiciously well for him as he tries to track down his family. Turns out his wife and son are still living, and though the boy is sick (yet not aged a day from when we saw him in John's flashbacks) he's well-read and surprisingly chipper.
Naturally John decides to be a creeper about the whole thing and climbs up into the attic crawlspace to spy on them. Later he starts mugging people on the street to provide for them – but dude, you couldn't at least pawn that watch first? What are the odds it's engraved and the police will come a-knocking in search of it?
One other notable event is that John sees Vanessa in Chinatown and almost approaches before he sees Doctor Sweet join her. Does he scowl and kick his feet? No! He's happy for her. Awww.
And yes, there is that other other notable event, but I'll save that for last. For now I'm left with the lingering question of how long it's been since John's resurrection. And how Victor got a hold of his body. I was initially under the impression that John worked in the factory he passes, but that's clearly not the case by the end of the episode.
Vanessa/Doctor Sweet
Their courtship is still going well, at least from Vanessa's point-of-view, though I was intrigued by Alexander's revelation that he had once had a wife "who passed away a year ago." Is he referring to Mina? Because that's twisted and cruel on so many levels.
Vanessa decides to go into the Hall of Mirrors (oh honey, you must have known that would lead to trouble) and sure enough it gets creepy very quickly. Once inside, Dracula's minion – the guy with the vertical hairstyle – approaches her for absolutely no reason and triggers a memory she once had of her time in the asylum. There's literally no reason for him to do this beyond the fact the plot needs him to, but hey – to complain about the plot of Penny Dreadful is to miss the point of its existence.
In any case, we learn that apparently Vanessa was visited by "the master" during her time in the white room; a memory she's since repressed. This holds the possibility for a retcon, but – well, see above.
In any case, Dracula isn't at all pleased with his pointy-haired servant, as the encounter leads to Vanessa breaking up with Alexander and making a dash for the safety of Doctor Seward.
Okay, three things:
1. Again with the vampires repeating themselves. This time it was: "my lady, my lady" What's up with that?
2. These vampires have reflections, which means either they're powerful enough to cast illusions, the effect of removing said reflections is too expensive, or the show just doesn't care about this particular bit of vampire lore. It's probably the last one.
3. Dracula feeds his plot convenient vampire to the rest of his brood, which shouldn't be possible. Don't they need blood from the living? Isn't that the whole point? And why do none of them look like the vampires in season one? Never mind, I love the way Christian Camargo's voice changes when he assumes his Dracula persona.
Vanessa/Seward
Interestingly (or perhaps strangely) Vanessa seems to truly believe that Doctor Seward is Joan Clayton ("without the abortions" she notes drolly, and I snort into my tea). Seward clearly doesn't believe anything she's being told, but Vanessa manages to unsettle her by taking her hand and using her psychic powers to learn Seward once killed a man to save herself. Seriously, I had actually forgotten Vanessa could do this sort of thing.
She demands that Seward hypnotise her so she can access her memories of the white room, and perhaps learn more about her latest foe. We've all seen the promotional picture of Vanessa in a straightjacket, and I was afraid it meant Doctor Seward would commit her. This scenario is much better.
But the real talking point here is that while she was in the white room, Vanessa was attended by an orderly – and it was John Clare! This show does a lot of predictable things, and yet when the surprises come, they really surprise.
Whether it's a coincidence or fate, this throws their first meeting as John Clare and post-asylum Vanessa into an entirely new light. Perhaps they established such a quick rapport because they subconsciously knew each other from an earlier time in their lives, though we have yet to see how they related to each other as orderly and mental patient. But the real question on everyone's mind is: did Vanessa have something to do with John Clare's death?  
Renfield
Is obsessively writing "Vanessa" in his notebook and eating bugs. I can relate.

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