Frankly, I was grateful that Dorian Gray didn’t appear in the season premiere of ‘Penny Dreadful’ last week. He was the show’s most annoying character last season. As I feared, unfortunately, he’s back this week and is even set up to be a major player for the new season. To my surprise, he may actually wind up being a little bit interesting this time around.
I don’t want to jump the gun, of course. We don’t see a whole lot of him in the premiere. It’s very possible he could turn into an irritant again. For the moment, I’m trying to remain cautiously optimistic.
Episode ‘Predators Far and Near’ opens with Dorian and Lily (née Brona) buying their way into an underground sex club where rich perverts pay to watch a poor naked girl get brutally beaten, tortured, and likely murdered. That certainly seems like the sort of thing that would be right up their alley since deciding that they’re immortal supervillains. Just as the hooded torturer is about to get started, however, Lily and Dorian spring into action, whipping out a knife and pistol respectively, and murder everyone in the room except the girl in a swirling ballet of ass-kickery. The scene is pretty impressive and certainly perked up my attention.
Much later in the episode, the rescued girl wakes up (dressed) on a plush bed in Dorian’s mansion. Confused, she makes her way downstairs and encounters Dorian and Lily in the ballroom, dancing, which seems to be how they spend most of their free time whenever we see them. (To be fair, perhaps they’re practicing another elaborate assassination routine?) The girl is obviously lower class street trash, and speaks with a thick Irish accent. When asked, she admits how miserable her life is, so the pair offer her a new one. “We shall have, my dear, a monumental revenge,” Lily tells her and plants a kiss right on the girl’s lips.
Ethan & Malcolm
Somewhere in New Mexico, Inspector Rusk tells a local sheriff what happened during the train heist. They’re brusquely interrupted by a man who introduces himself as Federal Marshal Franklin Ostow and informs them that he will take over from here. Rusk won’t be dismissed. He refuses to relinquish the case until Ethan is captured again and hanged. He insists that he knows exactly where Ethan is going: “The wolf is returning to his den.” Outside the sheriff’s office, the witch Hecate eavesdrops and hears this entire conversation.
Meanwhile, Sir Malcolm and his new Apache friend Kaetenay (Wes Studi) sail for America on a ship that hits very rough seas. For all his reputation as a great explorer and adventurer, Malcolm admits that he hates boats. To fill in some important backstory, Kaetenay explains that Ethan murdered his family, but that eventually he became a mentor and father figure to the troubled young man.
Proficient in some native magic, Kaetenay casts a spell that allows him to contact Ethan in a vision. Ethan isn’t exactly happy to see him. He immediately attacks and threatens Kaetenay, warning him to stay away. Kaetenay won’t give up so easily. He’s not searching for Ethan out of affection. He needs something from him.
Much later, Ethan’s captors bring him to a trading post in handcuffs, but unknowingly do so on the night of a full moon. A Native American woman sweeping the floor recognizes Ethan and says a few kind words to him. He warns her to leave the room. As the moon comes out, Ethan goes full wolf and breaks his chains. He attacks and slaughters everyone in the trading post, with a little help from Hecate, who reveals herself (she blended into the wall again) and kills some of his captors for him.
Frankenstein & Jekyll
Dr. Jekyll tries to sober up his friend Frankenstein by taking him out to lunch. Jekyll talks about his family and how much he hates his father. He says that he came to London to bide his time and wait for his father to die so that he can collect his inheritance, which he’ll use to fund his research. In the meantime, he’s working as a somnambulist (basically an anesthesiologist) at the loony bin in Bedlam Asylum. He babbles a lot about the duality of man, good and evil, and angels and devils.
Jekyll brings Frankenstein to his lab in the basement of the asylum and explains that his job grants him great latitude in experimenting on the nutcases imprisoned there. He demonstrates this by strapping a raving lunatic into a modified barber’s chair and injecting him with a serum that causes the man to have a violent seizure, after which the patient has an immediate transformation and turns very calm. He politely asks if he might have a drink of water. Frankenstein hopes he might be able to use this to bring his sweet Lily back to him.
That night, Lily catches Victor spying on her and walks up to him. She tells him that she doesn’t want to be saved and ominously warns, “You will not like what I’m becoming.”
I was unclear on this last episode, but it appears that Renfield is the secretary to Dr. Seward, Vanessa’s alienist (psychiatrist). He’s a very nervous bird and makes awkward conversation with Vanessa as she waits for the doctor.
Seward records her sessions on cylinders to replay later. She makes Vanessa talk about sin. Although Vanessa starts by admitting to a small indiscretion (seducing her friend Mina’s fiancé), she soon spills the beans on all the horrible things she’s experienced. This leaves her an emotional wreck afterwards. Seward tells her that she must do one thing today that will make her happy, even if in some small way. When Vanessa leaves the room, even the stone-faced doctor is visibly shaken by what she’s heard.
As Vanessa leaves the office, she’s stalked on the street by a young child. For her one piece of happiness, she decides to visit the museum again and sit in on a lecture by the adorable Dr. Sweet. Vanessa impresses him by demonstrating quite a bit of knowledge about scorpions, and Joan of Arc. They talk and flirt afterwards. He mentions that his favorite book is ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’.
Later, Vanessa sends the doctor an invitation to join her at a slide show recounting the tale of Capt. Nemo. (In Victorian-era London, that’s the equivalent of seeing a big blockbuster movie.) Seward is dazzled by the show. When they part after the date, Vanessa senses someone spying on her. She returns home and writes a letter to Sir Malcolm.
Renfield sneaks into Dr. Seward’s office and listens to the recordings of Vanessa’s session. As ordered, he reports everything he’s learned to Dracula at Bedlam Asylum. Apparently addicted to it, Renfield begs for blood. Dracula lets him drink from his wrist, upon which the camera pulls back to reveal that Dracula is… Dr. Sweet. Uh oh. Poor Vanessa just can’t catch a break.
I’m not sure that I like the way this season is fractured by splitting up all the main characters. The individual storylines are interesting enough, but I hope they join back up together sooner rather than later. Ironically, the Dorian and Lily storyline might be the most compelling of the bunch so far.
In last week’s recap, I mentioned my ambivalence toward introducing Dracula as a villain. While that’s still true, the revelation that he’s seducing Vanessa as the kindly Dr. Sweet is a good twist.
The season still feels like it’s only barely starting to get warmed up. I look forward to it kicking into gear.