‘Penny Dreadful’ 1.07 Recap: “To Be Beautiful Is to Be Almost Dead”

Can we just give Eva Green an Emmy right now? I don’t honestly expect her to win one for a crazy genre show like ‘Penny Dreadful’, but she’s simply awesome in this week’s episode.

‘Possession’ is all about Vanessa, and goes all-out ‘Exorcist’ to fill in some of the details of what exactly is wrong with her.

As we last left her, Vanessa returned to Sir Malcolm, had some sort of seizure and levitated off the ground. Now that she’s awake again… well, she’s clearly not herself. As she toys with Malcolm, he deduces that someone or something is speaking through her. In that she knows many of his intimate secrets, he asks if it’s his daughter Mina. She replies: “Somewhat.”

Vanessa throws a fit and flings objects around the room telekinetically. Malcolm’s manservant Sembene walks calmly into the room and knocks her unconscious. What the hell kind of craziness has this guy seen in his life that he doesn’t appear to be unnerved at all by this display?

The next morning, Vanessa awakens and seems to be normal again. Dr. Frankenstein examines her, during which Vanessa stops being so normal. She knows about his secrets too, including Calaban. Frankenstein tells Malcolm that he believes she’s suffering from some sort of psychosexual neurosis. That theory goes out the window when he notices a spider crawling out from under one of her tarot cards on a table. And then another spider. And then a thousand more spiders spontaneously generating from out of nowhere and swarming the room. Yeah, this problem is not just psychological.

Ethan arrives, and she asks him about Dorian: “Did you fuck him, or did he fuck you?” Ouch.

Malcolm tells Ethan that he believes Vanessa has been possessed by the Devil. Ethan replies in exasperation: “Oh, fuck me!”

Perhaps it’s not the Devil, but at least a devil. Malcolm believes that there are a pantheon of them. He also speculates that he master vampire (which we assume is Dracula) wants Vanessa because he thinks her demon is the Egyptian goddess Amunet, the one prophesized to bring about the end of the world. Does that mean that the demon really is Amunet? We don’t know yet. Regardless, this isn’t a good sign.

Vanessa is unconscious for a week. She wakes up with Ethan sitting over her on watch. She tells him that she’s fighting the demon as much as she can, and begs him not to let her hurt anyone. She asks him to kill her if necessary.

Oh, but Ethan isn’t really Ethan. This time, it’s the demon manifesting in a new guise. (It appeared to her as Sir Malcolm in a prior episode.) He tells her that he wants her to be the mother of evil. “Together, we will conquer God.” That doesn’t sound good.

When Vanessa’s skin develops hieroglyphics, she tries to claw it off with her hands. Malcolm and the others have to tie her to the bed.

Coldly, Malcolm attempts to exploit Vanessa’s current state. He believes that she is extra sensitive to the supernatural and may be able to reach out to Mina. Ethan accuses him of intentionally allowing Vanessa’s possession to continue. He demands that Malcolm bring in a priest for an exorcism. Eventually, Malcolm relents.

When the priest, Father Matthews, arrives, he insists that he can only perform Last Rites, no exorcism. Vanessa tears off her lashes, bites the priest’s face and attacks Malcolm. Still struggling to fight the demon, she begs Ethan to kill her. Instead, he uses the St. Jude medallion that Brona had given him and quickly performs his own exorcism, casting the demon out. How the hell is he able to do this? Ethan is turning out to be an incredibly complicated character. We need to know his back story right away!

Interwoven with the intensity of the possession and the exorcism are a number of great character moments. Ethan tries to get Sembene to tell him his story, but Sembene won’t offer much. Frankenstein asks Ethan to teach him to shoot. Malcolm claims that his expedition to Africa is to bring his son Peter’s body back home, but Ethan sees through that excuse. Frankenstein gives Malcolm cocaine to stay awake. As the demon leaves her, Vanessa has a vision of Mina in the Grand Guignol theater.

This may be the show’s best episode yet. Eva Green gives a hell of a performance. Also really impressive is Josh Hartnett. I never really liked the actor before this series, but he’s damn good in it. As we get closer to the season finale, the show is really (finally) coming together.

4 comments

  1. Ryan

    For me, this was the best episode yet. I know some people are complaining that the story isn’t really moving forward, but with performances like this, I don’t care. It was a gripping hour of television.
    We do know that in the first possession, when asked if she was Amunet, the demon replied “no, much older”….but from what I know from movies is…demons like to lie. So who knows if it actually is Amunet or not. I would love more backstory on all the demon stuff.
    And hey, they actually managed to make Ethan interesting!!

    Very much looking forward to the finale

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