When in doubt, let Eva Green go crazy. That’s the lesson to take away from Penny Dreadful‘s penultimate episode, as the Showtime series goes full-blown Exorcist.
Let’s bitch it out…
I was pretty hard on Penny Dreadful last week for wasting our time and refusing to advance the plot (blame the hormones). This week I’m happy to say that things are in much better shape, though it’s not because the show actually moves things along. No, it appears that the secret to appeasing me when it comes to this show is simply to give Eva Green the floor and let her go crazy. I find her performance as Vanessa Ives absolutely fascinating, and I would gladly watch her scream, mutilate herself and climb the walls for an hour every week. In fact if you look back through these reviews, you’ll find high praise in both of the previous episodes that featured Ives under the influence of a demonic spirit: 1×02 ‘Séance’ and 1×05 ‘Closer Than Sisters’.
Of course there’s much more to ‘Possession’ than letting Green explore various levels of histrionics (although that montage of the nights and days spent restraining and sedating her certainly contains its fair share of yelling). No, this episode secretly belongs to the men in Vanessa’s life as they try to cope with her spiraling illness. Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) descends into morphine addiction, Sir Malcolm (Timothy Dalton) revisits his expeditions and Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) discovers just how powerful his beliefs truly are.
There’s a lot of information casually conveyed in ‘Possession.’ We learn a great deal about Sir Malcolm’s sexual proclivities from Vanessa’s possessor (who has an uncanny knack for revealing sexual secrets). Malcolm is also surprisingly forthright with Frankenstein about how drugs cost him the life of his son Peter, who died while Malcolm wandered away from camp one night. We learn that Frankenstein may – or may not – be a virgin and the truth about Ethan and Brona’s (an unseen Billie Piper) relationship with Dorian Gray (an unseen Reeve Carney) also comes to light*. In short, it’s penance and confession time – an appropriate theme considering everything circles around the religious spectacle of possession, sacrifice and exorcism.
*Anyone else surprised that Dorian was the top and Ethan the bottom? Just me? Moving on…
For me the most significant scene is the one when we see Vanessa’s struggle manifested as a conversation about temptation. It’s a simple deception to have Ethan sit at her bedside because we’ve seen all of the men talk with her and try to coax her back to sanity. It’s a shock, then, to see Ethan’s eyes darken and his voice drop; I thought that the spirit had jumped into him. Only later, when we see Ethan sitting downstairs, does it become clear that her conversation with him upstairs is reflective of her inner battle: the scratching and clawing of the demon attempting to take control of her in the form of a friend (and desired lover).The truth is revealed when she receives his kiss in defeat and the scene cuts to the den where Ethan is sitting quietly – it’s clear in that moment that he was never there in the room with her. And then she begins screaming and the cycle begins anew.
It’s a simple scene that works because of Hartnett and Green’s chemistry and because writer/creator Logan writes the scene in an understated fashion, undermining our expectations for flashy camerawork and lighting. Compare this quietly threatening conversation to the moment when Ethan finally performs his own brand of exorcism on Vanessa. There’s a clear distinction in the level of intensity of that final scene, and even the volume (both their voices and the soundtrack) increases. The climax is a more traditional scene for the show, but it’s satisfying nonetheless. After an exhausting series of days and nights, Ethan’s silent exit and Vanessa’s undisturbed sleep are quietly powerful (although I confess I could have done without the coat of fresh snow to symbolically suggest a fresh start – that’s a bit much).
- Vanessa (when Frankenstein asks about her bloody lip): “Sembene thought it necessary to sedate me”
- Frankenstein (when the priest refuses to grant an exorcism): “Give her the last rites and get the fuck out of this house, you ridiculous man.”
Your turn: were you as impressed with Eva Green’s possession the third go around? Were you shocked at the sexual secrets that emerged? Did Josh Hartnett’s performance surprise you? Were you as taken as me with the temptation scene between Hartnett and Green? And what will happen in the season finale when the team descends upon the Grand Guignol theatre next week? Sound off below.
Penny Dreadful airs its first season finale next Sunday at 10pm EST on Showtime