After side-stepping around the rest of the storylines for an extended flashback last week, ‘Penny Dreadful’ gets back to the business of moving the plot forward again. I have to say, I’m beginning to worry that the show’s mythology is so confusing not just to tease us along, but because the writers may not really know what they want to do yet.
Take, for example, the rules of vampirism. Are there any rules in this show? This week, the word “vampire” is uttered for the first time (from Prof. Van Helsing to Dr. Frankenstein). We’ve seen a couple of full-on, inhuman monsters (including one presumed to be Dracula). Are they monsters full time, or can they morph to human form? Are there different stages of being a vampire? Was Dracula’s acolyte Fenton a vampire or not? I assumed so previously, but Frankenstein can’t find anything unusual about him in the autopsy. Perhaps he was just a human under the spell of a vampire. What about Malcolm’s daughter Mina? Clearly, something weird is going on with her, but has she actually been turned?
How do the signs of vampirism manifest? What are a vampire’s powers? What are its weaknesses? Do you have to stake one through the heart to kill it? It sure seems like simply shooting them has been pretty effective so far. We’re six episodes in, and these issues are still ill-defined. I’m willing to give the show the benefit of the doubt that series creator John Logan has a plan for all of this, but I think he really needs to start laying down some rules for how his universe works.
With that said, episode ‘What Death Can Join Together’ brings some pretty interesting twists. Frankenstein has become fast friends with Van Helsing (David Warner), who acts as a mentor taking him under his wing. Just as he starts to teach Frankenstein the various things he has learned about the supernatural, however, Frankenstein’s monster Calaban snatches Van Helsing off the street, drags him into an alley, and snaps his neck. He does this for no other reason than because he’s impatient with Frankenstein (who has not yet created a companion for Calaban like he promised) and wants to teach him a lesson about dilly-dallying. I assumed that an iconic character like Van Helsing would play a prominent role in the show, but the episode yanks the rug out from under us in that respect. Are any of the other characters truly safe?
Late at night, Malcolm takes his manservant Sembene and Ethan on a secret mission to investigate a mysterious plague ship that has been quarantined in harbor after arriving from Cairo. Inside the creepy ship, they’re swarmed by a host of female vampires (I think?). Ethan guns them down left and right. Malcolm spots Dracula holding his daughter, but they disappear before he can react.
Vanessa continues to be wooed by Dorian Gray, who takes her on a proper dinner date and then has kinky sex with her. It seems that he has a fetish for cutting himself, and Vanessa licks his blood. Ick. In the throes of passion, Vanessa hears a scary voice in her head and has to run off. She returns home to Malcolm, seizes up in front of him and levitates off the ground. The details of Vanessa’s possession also require quite a bit of clarification.
Misc. Bits and Bobs
- Brona apologizes to Ethan for fighting with him the night before. Ethan tells her that he loves her. He neglects to mention that he had sex with Dorian, though.
- The actress that Calaban pines after pays him a visit below the theater stage to get his help with a broken prop. She’s very kind to him and tells him a story about how her brother was disfigured in an industrial accident. Calaban leaves a book of poetry for her and spies on her when she finds it, only to discover that she has a boyfriend. Calaban is heartbroken and cries pathetically. I’m sure this means that he will eventually kill her and force Frankenstein to resurrect her as his companion. (I had previously assumed that Brona would be his bride. We’ll have to see where that goes.)
- After Vanessa leaves him, Dorian goes to his secret room to stare at his portrait (which we still haven’t been allowed to see). His cutting wounds immediately heal.
- Eva Green keeps her bustier on while having sex. What’s up with that? We saw her naked just last week, under less appealing circumstances.
Despite my griping, this was a pretty good episode. This show is taking us on quite a ride, and I’ve enjoyed it so far.