The lovely ladies of Penny Dreadful embrace the night in an intimate episode dedicated to personal introspection.
Let’s bitch it out…
In the wake of last week’s psychic attack, Vanessa (Eva Green) and Ethan (Josh Hartnett) escape London to seek refuge at the Cut-Wife’s cottage. It’s a decision that Malcolm (Timothy Dalton) doesn’t take lightly, deriding Vanessa’s demand for secrecy and reiterating how safe the house is (despite multiple home invasions). It’s obvious that his temperament is still being affected by Evelyn Poole’s (an unseen Helen McCrory) machinations, which everyone at this point is simply attributing to love.
‘Little Scorpion’ takes its title from the nickname provided Vanessa by her murdered mentor, the Cut-Wife. It is to her house that Vanessa and Ethan abscond and spend the rest of the episode, with occasional glimpses of the simmering tension back in London. But this episode belongs to Green and Hartnett, who are tasked with filling up the majority of the screen time in what could be a historical romance were it not for the inevitable final act descent into darkness.
Amidst the talk of demons and monsters lurking inside and another late night jaunt for a transformed Ethan, the final scene isn’t exactly surprising. Narratively ‘Little Scorpion’ is a brief respite from the terrors of the Nightcomers, but the gorgeous English countryside isn’t an idyllic vacation or a place for Vanessa and Ethan to fall in love, regardless of how much time they spend dancing or shooting. There’s intimacy, certainly, but these are clearly damaged characters who are struggling to control their emotions and their actions. Retreating to an abandoned witch’s cabin with a hanging tree out front may have seemed like a good idea initially, but the long empty nights, combustible lightning storms and unwelcome neighbours all conspire to force Vanessa and Ethan’s hand.
As a narrative development, Vanessa’s decision to embrace the dark arts and Ethan’s attempt to relieve her of the need to do so are both fairly predictable. We’ve known that Vanessa would succumb to this temptation ever since the Cut-Wife warned her in 2×03 ‘The Nightcomers’ and Ethan’s status as Vanessa’s protector has been front and centre throughout the second season. The moment that we see Vanessa reach for the book and Ethan advance on the house, it’s clear that Vanessa will beat him to the punch and murder Sir Hawkes (Ronan Vibert) – using his dogs, naturally (since Hawkes earlier made such a fuss about training them to obey).
If anything, it’s a bit of a relief to finally get things out in the open (though Ethan’s staunch refusal to admit to his transformation suggests that the writers are holding back on that particular reveal until a more opportune time). Now that Vanessa is in possession of some more powerful magic skills, we are presumably headed towards a face-off with Poole in the final episodes. Here’s hoping that Penny Dreadful still has some surprises in store; the last few episodes have been short on unexpected developments and I’m beginning to fear that the remaining episodes will play out exactly as we expect.
- Back in London, Lily (Billie Piper) rebels against Viktor’s (Harry Treadaway) good hearted possessiveness and goes out with Dorian (Reeve Carney). In one of the few twists of the episode, after the date Lily swings by a bar, picks up a john, sleeps with him and murders him. It’s unclear if Lily’s actions are the result of seeing herself in the Wax Museum’s grave robbing scene, if residual Brona memories are trickling in or if she is just embracing her “darkness” (as Ethan calls it). Either way, all of the sudden the woman is a bit of a loose cannon.
- The house of cards visual in the victim’s house is a little too obvious. It is fully constructed when they enter, and after the attack, the top half has fallen – as in the carefully orchestrated framework is starting to tumble. Get it? Yes, Penny Dreadful, we get it.
- John Clare (Rory Kinnear) spots Lily on her date with Dorian. This begs the question of who he will go after first: Dorian (thereby revealing his immortal secret), Viktor (for lying to him once again) or Lily herself (in the spirit of The Bride of Frankenstein)?
- Before Ethan departs for the country, Sembene (Danny Sapani) reassures him that the curse doesn’t make him any less of a good person. Knowing Ethan, that’s probably true, although the startling image of his transformed snout spraying blood across a full moon later in the episode might beg to differ.
- Finally, of course Vanessa has a childhood fear of dolls! Guess now we know which room she’s going to stumble into before the end of the season…
- Vanessa (after Ethan tells her the story of trying to tame El Diablo): “That’s the most unheroic story I’ve ever heard.”
- Ethan (advising Vanessa on how to shoot without compromise): “Stop being human. Become something else.”
- Vanessa (coaching Ethan how to dance): “It’s the opposite of homicide.”
- Lily (twisting the knife in Viktor): “Don’t worry cousin, I’ll come back with tales for you.”
Your turn: what did you think of Ethan and Vanessa’s trip to the country? Was the eventual murder of Fawkes too obvious? Did you anticipate Lily’s own murderous impulse? Is this Brona coming out, or something more evil? Will Clare act in retaliation and if so, on whom? And what happens next? Sound off below.
Penny Dreadful airs Sundays at 10pm EST on Showtime. Next week it looks like all of the secrets are coming out (the preview hints at multiple attacks) but most of the action is centered on the remaining characters in London. Here’s your preview