I had some reservations about the early episodes this season, but ‘Penny Dreadful’ really pulled itself together a couple episodes ago and has been strong ever since. This week’s entry has quite a lot going on and ends with a really exciting climax.
Episode ‘No Beast So Fierce’ finally starts to converge some of the season’s fragmented storylines. For the purposes of this recap, I’ll lump them together in really broad categories.
Renfield reports to Dracula on what he’s learned so far about Vanessa. When Renfield seeks validation for his efforts, Dracula assures him that he’s the “chosen one.” As a reward, Dracula then subtly twitches his finger, which immediately scatters his vampire minions that had been disgustingly feeding on a hanging corpse, and tells Renfield that can he finish it off. What great perks this job has!
Vanessa pays a visit to Ferdinand Lyle, whom we haven’t seen since the season premiere. Lyle is in the process of packing for a trip to Cairo, ostensibly to study the tomb of Imhotep for his museum job (I sense a mummy in a future storyline), but largely because he feels that Egypt will be more accepting of his homosexuality. (How times have changed.) The trip may be quite extended. He urges Vanessa to, “Write often, and think of me only when you dance,” which is a really lovely sentiment. Before they part, he offers her the name of a contact she can call on in his absence.
Vanessa next attends a fencing match where two very skilled competitors battle fiercely. One soundly defeats the other. The loser protests that his opponent used dirty tricks and cheated, upon which the victor rips off her mask, reveals herself to be a woman, and chastises the man for being a crybaby. She claims that she merely used “creative improvisation to secure a victory.”
Vanessa introduces herself as a friend of Ferdinand Lyle afterwards. The woman’s name is Catriona Hartdegen (Perdita Weeks). When Vanessa asks if she’s also an Egyptologist, she responds that she’s a thanatologist, a scientist who studies all aspects of death. They get to talking about the legend of Dracula, the first vampire, and Hartdegen relays what she knows of his story. Vanessa tells her that she wants to locate Dracula, not in history, but right now in London, because she’s being hunted by him. Hartdegen doesn’t bat an eye at the suggestion that Dracula is more than a myth. She offers her assistance, and recommends that Vanessa seek the protection of whatever friends she may have.
Unfortunately, most of Vanessa’s friends are out of town, but she has one she can go to. She stops to talk to Dr. Seward, who tells her a story about how she had to kill her abusive husband and had no one who would stand by her. She knows what it is to be truly alone in the world, and won’t let that happen to Vanessa.
Finally, Vanessa visits Dr. Sweet, still oblivious that he’s really Dracula. She apologizes for the abruptness of the way she broke up with him and explains that she’s being hunted by a deadly creature that might put him in harm’s way. Sweet says that he isn’t scared, and offers his defenses to protect her. He professes to love her, and Vanessa realizes that she’s falling for him as well. They kiss, and then have sex right there on the floor of the museum after hours. She rolls him over and straddles him on top in the dominant position, which must be a pretty unusual experience for the Devil.
Victor & Lily
Victor and Jekyll distill a very powerful tranquilizer. Jekyll assures him that it can take down an elephant in two breaths. Victor plans to kidnap Lily and bring her back to the lab to administer their serum that will make her peaceful and demure again.
Meanwhile, Lily holds seminars in Dorian’s mansion where she teaches street whores how to murder men. She says she’s leading a revolution. Her acolyte Justine practices a move on Dorian and draws blood from his throat. Clearly a little psycho, she’s tempted to finish him off and only refrains when Lily asks her to back down.
Later that night, Victor breaks into Dorian’s mansion, presumably expecting that both Dorian and Lily will be asleep. Quite the contrary, Lily is dancing with Justine in the parlor. Dorian tries to cut in and feels spurned when Lily tells him to wait. When he finally gets a chance to talk to Lily about how Justine needs to learn her place, Lily seems to care more about Justine than about him.
Moments later, Justine and some of the whores drag in Victor, whom they caught sneaking around in the mansion. Lily exclaims, “This must be the worst kidnapping in the annals of crime!” Victor tells Lily about his serum and promises that he can restore her to the person she used to be. He doesn’t at all get that she doesn’t want to be cured. She likes who she is now.
Justine wants to kill Victor and won’t listen to Dorian when he tells her to stand down. She won’t take orders from any man. Lily has to call her off again. She tells Victor to, “Mend your broken heart elsewhere,” and threatens to kill him if she ever sees him again. On the way out, Victor thanks Dorian for intervening before Justine could kill him. He tells Dorian that he’s in his debt. Dorian says that he has every intention of calling that debt in the near future.
John Clare continues to spy on his sickly son. The boy is wracked by fever and coughing while he tries to sleep. Clare steps out of hiding to bring him some water and talk soothingly to him. The son, who can barely open his eyes, recognizes the voice as his father. He assumes he’s an angel. Clare promises to return with medicine. The boy finally opens his eyes, sees his father’s scarred face, and is terrified. He thinks he’s a monster and screams bloody murder. Clare runs off crying.
As last we saw them, Ethan’s father, Jared Talbot (Brian Cox), pulled a gun on his son and demanded that he repent. Ethan refused. Before anything can happen, Jared is interrupted by the announcement that someone has arrived to see him. It’s Inspector Rusk and Marshal Ostow. Rusk ask if he’s Ethan’s father, and when Jared confirms as much, Rusk tells him that he’s under arrest.
All of their men having been killed in the desert, the Inspector and Marshal are alone and can’t actually back up their threat. Jared brings everyone to the dining room to sit down for a very awkward dinner, during which he blames Ethan for the deaths of his wife (Ethan’s mother) and other son. Malcolm interjects that he knows Ethan to be a good man, but Jared won’t hear it and Inspector Rusk scoffs. Jared orders his son to say Grace before the meal. Ethan changes the words to thank Satan for leading them into temptation, and his father screams at him to stop. Ethan and Hecate dig into their meal.
Marshal Ostow speaks up. He swears that there will be a reckoning for the murders of all the marshals on the train that Jared’s men killed while kidnapping Ethan. Jared draws a gun and shoots Ostow in the head, then cuts into his steak as if nothing happened.
At this point, the only ones eating are Ethan, Hecate and Jared. Rusk tells Ethan that he knows he and his evil whore are responsible for the snakes that attacked him in the desert. Jared is confused and has no idea what Rusk is talking about. At this, Hecate morphs into witch form. She and Ethan strike and attack Jared’s men standing around the table. Taking advantage of the chaos, Rusk and Malcolm likewise spring into action, killing some henchmen and taking their guns.
Rusk gets Ethan at gunpoint and threatens to shoot. When Hecate leaps at him, he turns and shoots her in the gut instead. Ethan then shoots Rusk.
Malcolm is cornered by one of Jared’s men, but is rescued at the last second by Kaetenay, who (unsurprisingly) survived being left for dead in the desert.
Ethan goes to Hecate. She dies, telling him that, “Hell awaits us both.”
Jared and the last of his men retreat to a chapel on the property (the same place where his wife and son were murdered by Apaches) and set an ambush. Ethan expects it and sees through it. He, Malcolm and Kaetenay charge in, guns blazing. A big shootout commences, until all of Jared’s men are killed and Ethan holds his father at gunpoint.
Jared dares Ethan to kill him, thus proving that he’s exactly the evil monster he knows him to be. Ethan ultimately can’t do it. He lowers his gun and turns to leave. As Jared rants about how he will torment his son until his dying breath, Malcolm shoots the man in the head, killing him mid-sentence. Ethan is dumbstruck by what just happened.
I’m a little sad to see Hecate and Rusk go (assuming that Rusk is dead, which he appears to be). They were both great characters and their deaths seem premature, if well handled.
The only part of the episode I didn’t care for is John Clare’s story, which is kind of boring. I’m especially disappointed to say this given how terrific Rory Kinnear was in the asylum episode a couple weeks ago. Now that I’ve seen what the actor is really capable of, I wish John Clare were a more interesting character. Sadly, he never has been.
I really liked the introduction of the Catriona character, and the standoff between Ethan and his father is pretty rousing stuff. From the preview, it looks like Ethan and Malcolm will return to England next week to merge their storyline with Vanessa’s. I’ve really liked these last few episodes and hope the show can keep the momentum going.