In only its second episode of the season, Penny Dreadful is killing it (both figuratively and literally)
Let’s bitch it out…
The second episode of Penny Dreadful‘s first season was ‘Séance’, the episode that introduced Vanessa Ives’ (Eva Green) dark passenger during a heart stopping possession sequence that anticipated the madness to come. The same episode also introduced Madame Kali (Helen McCrory), the spiritualist who presided over the séance and recurred a few times as a friend of Sir Malcolm (Timothy Dalton) in a role that didn’t really amount to much.
Flashforward one year and suddenly ‘Séance’ seems like the episode that laid the groundwork for the entire second season. We’re only two episodes in, but so far Kali, aka Evelyn Poole, has proven to be an incomparable villain and manipulator. The way that she has inserted herself into the narrative is sinister and calculated, particularly her machinations with Malcolm at both the store and the gun range. The ruse with the perfume is classic film noir femme fatale (wrapped in Victorian trappings and supernatural devil-speak), and the way she picks away to uncover the details of Malcolm’s failed marriage is cruel. She is superior in every way to last season’s villain and has brought a dark, new, vibrant energy to a show that I didn’t even realize was needed.
‘Verbis Diablo’ advances every story line in compelling and satisfying ways, taking the reintroduced elements that produced a solid, albeit perfunctory premiere and launches them into the ether. I won’t lie: the return of noted Egyptologist, linguist and – as we learn – blackmailed sodomite Ferdinand Lyle (Simon Russell Beale) is a big plus. Penny Dreadful oozes atmosphere, tension and even horror (the train sequence is a masterclass in creating both of the latter), but there’s often very little room for humour, as a result. Lyle’s ridiculous accent, his playful flirtations with a bemused Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) and his general air at times seem as though they’ve been imported from another show entirely, but writer and series creator John Logan strikes an effortless balance between the humour and the horror.
And what horror it is! In addition to Hecate’s (Sarah Greene) Cat People / Val Lewton-inspired stalking of the young couple on the train, the episode ends with what may be the most gruesome (and non-US friendly) plot development possible: the murder of an infant. The fact that said child is subsequently cut open, has its heart removed and the organ inserted into a realistic looking doll of Vanessa Ives, the subject of Poole’s devilish infatuation, is appropriately gruesome (and awesome). As though a room full of the lifelike dolls isn’t creepy enough! I can only imagine the nightmares that this sequence gave to the squeamish, and I love Penny Dreadful all the more for going there.
- I fretted last week about my disinterest for the Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) / Creature (Rory Kinnear) storyline, but ‘Verbis Diablo’ goes a long way to addressing those concerns. Sure it is unfolding predictably by having
BronaLily (Billie Piper) bond with Viktor, but his creepy fascination with her is, in its own way, a doll-like fascination that mirrors and foreshadows Poole’s reveal later in the episode. As I seem to say in most of my reviews for this series, this will not end well.
- Dorian (Reeve Carney) returns for his own B-plot, pining for Vanessa before he is propositioned by a transgender prostitute named Angelique (Jonny Beauchamp). I’m uncertain if the reveal is meant to shock and/or titillate; it did neither for me because Angelique’s sex / anatomy is obvious the moment she sits down. It’s a curious narrative direction to take Dorian down and makes me wonder if this will be explored further. Is Angelique meant to be special and unique enough to prompt Dorian to move on, or is this simply Dorian indulging in his sexual propensity for bedding anything and everything remotely out of the ordinary?
- Side Bar: I had the pleasure of watching Angelique’s “reveal” on public transit coming from from work, which immediately made me feel like a perverted public menace. Thanks Penny Dreadful!
- Scotland Yard Inspector Rusk (Douglas Hodge) investigates the Mariner’s Inn Massacre by visiting its sole survivor in hospital, an unrecognizable man missing most of his face. There’s little more to the story than that since the man (obviously) isn’t up for questioning, but it seems inevitable that Chandler will be identified by this man as the beast responsible at the worst possible time in the future.
- Shockingly my favourite scene of the week involves the Creature! In search of something to calm her nerves, Malcolm takes Vanessa into the Cholera-plagued pits of London where volunteers feed the sick. There she meets the Creature for the first time and the pair share a beautiful conversation about the nature of poetry, religion and Hell. The Creature’s eloquence has long been my favourite characteristic and partnering him with Ives results in an emotionally rich scene that burrows into the heart of Penny Dreadful‘s obsession with the soul and the nature of evil. As Poole might exclaim, “Brava!”
Your turn: are you loving Poole as much as me? Did you appreciate Lyle’s humour? Are you becoming invested in the Frankenstein/Creature/Lily love triangle? Curious about where Dorian and Ethan’s B-plots are headed? And how did you react to that final macabre scene in Poole’s doll room? Sound off below.
Penny Dreadful airs Sundays at 10pm EST on Showtime. Next week looks like a Vanessa flashback as we learn how she came to the witches’ attention seven years earlier