After a trio of really strong episodes, ‘Penny Dreadful’ takes a small step back this week with a new entry that, if not necessarily bad, focuses a lot of time on the show’s least interesting storyline and ends with a twist that I just don’t buy.
We’ll start with the boring part:
John Clare finally reveals to Vanessa that he’s back in town. He’s feeling pretty down in the dumps and needs a friend. For a moment, it isn’t clear whether Vanessa recognizes him as the orderly from her newly recovered memories of spending time in the loony bin, but then she directly asks him about his employment there. He seems perplexed and has no memory of that at all. He tells her about his fear of rejection from his family, and she tells him about her hesitancy to start a new relationship with Dr. Sweet. They part resolving that they both deserve happiness, which may require that they take some risks.
With great trepidation, Clare approaches his former wife, Marjorie, and announces that he has returned to her. Expecting her to scream and flee from his mutilated face, instead she immediately embraces him. She accepts him as he is, and considers his return a miracle.
Clare gets more good news when Marjorie brings him home to properly re-introduce him to their son, Jake, the boy who screeched in terror at seeing him the other night. With an explanation and a moment to prepare himself, the son also gives his dad a big hug.
Despite his disfigurement and long absence, John Clare may have finally found peace. That’s nice for him, I guess, but doesn’t make for very interesting drama. How many episodes will it be before they’re taken from him?
Victor and Lily
Lily opens the episode at a cemetery, rather ruthlessly trying to recruit a grieving mother who just buried a young daughter. Lily gives her a grand speech about how the time women and girls will have to starve and suffer is nearly over. On her way out of the cemetery, Lily drops some flowers at the grave of another child. The tombstone reads “Sara Croft,” obviously her daughter.
At the dining hall in his mansion, Dorian is bored by the endless chatter of women, and even more bored by the fiery speeches Lily delivers about their burgeoning revolution. She encourages her army of whores and wronged women to rise up and kill their male oppressors, and challenges them to fill Dorian’s banquet table with the severed hands of bad men.
Soon enough, the table is covered in bloody hands. When Justine once again challenges his authority in the house, Dorian tells her off and attempts to put her in her place. However, a moment later he tries to speak to Lily and she dismissively waves him away. Justine smirks in his direction.
Eventually, Dorian gets a moment alone with Lily and takes her for a nighttime stroll through the city. Lily still feels energized from all her big plans to take over the world. Dorian tells her that he’s disappointed by her. In his extended life, he has seen many revolutions as great and powerful social institutions have risen and fallen, and he finds them all so very boring. Lily is shocked by this. How could her lover not respect her very important cause?
Suddenly, Victor leaps out from a carriage and jabs Lily in the neck with his powerful tranquilizer shot. She wakes up later in Victor’s lab, with Victor, Jekyll and Dorian staring at her. She lunges at Victor but finds herself chained to the chair. Burning with betrayal, she asks Victor what he thinks he’s doing. He replies, “We’re going to make you into a proper woman.”
Kaetenay tells Ethan that he plans to stay at his side for “the battle ahead.” Confused, Ethan reminds him that they just killed his father and won the battle. Kaetenay insists that worse is coming: “You may be done with Hell, but Hell is not done with you.” He says that he’s had a vision of a great apocalyptic Darkness, and only the mythical “Last Apache” will be able to stop it and save the world. He believes that’s Ethan. When Ethan protests that he’s not even Apache, Kaetenay tells him that he is what his (surrogate) father has made him.
Kaetenay then plunges into a new vision. He sees Ethan back in London reuniting with Vanessa, and the both of them being attacked by a huge swarm of vampires.
The group hops a boat back to England. (From New Mexico?! We seem to have quite a bit of time compression here. It would take them days if not weeks to get back to the Atlantic coast by train.) Kaetenay asks Ethan about Vanessa, and then performs a ritual that allows him to project himself across the ocean to speak with her in a dream. As they talk, he senses darkness in her. Mincing no words, he calls her “a great, fertile bitch of evil.” Vanessa’s eyes go black and Kaetenay awakens back on the boat. He tells Ethan that they may be too late. She’s already halfway taken by the Darkness.
Following her night of passion with Dr. Sweet, Vanessa sleeps soundly on the museum floor. Creepy Renfield crawls up to her, sniffs her, and licks her neck. Dracula returns to the room and sends him scurrying. Back in his Dr. Sweet persona, he gently wakes Vanessa up and suggests that they should get dressed before the museum opens and patrons find them there.
Working late one night, Dr. Seward is surprised by Renfield, acting particularly weird. He came to listen to her recordings and didn’t expect that she’d still be at her desk. He asks about her current case, and Seward explains that she believes the patient (Vanessa) suffers from split personalities. I guess she doesn’t fully believe Vanessa’s stories after all.
Vanessa is paid a visit by Catriona Hartdegen, who has been researching Dracula for her. She says that most of the legends about him are false. The “Dragon” can’t be harmed by sunlight or garlic. Those are just tales that people invented to make themselves feel better. However, while in his human form, he can be killed by any traditional means that would take a man’s life. Catriona then says that the most reputable stories about Dracula tie him to a prophecy about the End of Days, and that he is said to dwell “in the house of the night creatures.” At this, Vanessa immediately has a flash of recognition.
Toting a pistol, Vanessa returns to the nocturnal animals exhibit at the museum, where she finds Dracula waiting for her. He knows that she knows, and they both drop any guises of ignorance. He says that he’s in love with her, that he wants her to become who she really is – the “Mother of Evil.” He doesn’t desire her to serve him like a slave. To the contrary, he wishes to serve her.
Vanessa is seduced by his evil and allows Dracula to bite her neck. The episode ends with her eyes going dark.
In a lot of ways, this is a decent enough episode. However, the John Clare storyline is dull, Lily’s betrayal by Dorian is far too predictable (I saw that coming a few episodes back), and I have a hard time accepting that Vanessa will so easily turn evil considering how fiercely she has fought it for the past three seasons. That feels like too much of a writer’s contrivance to me, in order to justify a conflict between Ethan and Vanessa to end the season.