This week’s episode of ‘Penny Dreadful’ brings back a couple of characters I didn’t much care for during the first season. One of them is growing on me, but the other, unfortunately, still bores me.
Ferdinand Lyle, the foppish antiquities expert and occasional occult dabbler, is obviously intended to be comic relief for the show, but the caricature is too broad and over-the-top. The actor playing the role is working at a completely different pitch than anyone around him. I’ve felt since the pilot episode that he needs to be reined in. While that’s still the case, I suppose it’s a measure of how much I’ve given in to the show that I kind of enjoyed his scenes this week.
Sir Malcolm asks Lyle to assist with translating the Verbis Diablo that the witches spoke to Vanessa. Lyle claims that, when it was in use, the language was passed as an oral tradition. The only known written record of it currently resides in storage in a forgotten corner of the basement of the British Museum. Ethan volunteers to go retrieve it with him, which delights Lyle, who’s clearly in love with the young gunslinger. To his credit, Ethan finds Lyle harmless and is amused by his advances. (As I think of it, Ethan’s sexuality swung both directions last season.)
They return with a box that contains not a book but a collection of pottery, plates and other odds-and-ends, all with words written on them, some appearing to be in Latin and some in other languages. Lyle explains that the medieval priest who heard the Verbis Diablo scrawled his description of it on whatever he could before he died. Reconstructing the account will be a puzzle that will take some time to solve.
Later, Lyle is brought before the evil witch Evelyn Poole. Evelyn threatens to blackmail him with compromising photos of his sexual habits (simple death threats wouldn’t work?) unless he tells her exactly how much Sir Malcolm knows. She’s also interested to know more about Ethan.
Their conversation is interrupted when one of Evelyn’s daughters, who had stalked a couple with an infant and slaughtered them on an empty subway car, arrives with a package for her mother. Evelyn excuses herself to a ceremonial chamber filled with creepy dolls. As they watch on, she opens the package and pulls out a dead baby. Evelyn cuts open its chest and pulls out its heart with her hand, then sews it into the body of a puppet that looks exactly like Vanessa.
Back at Malcolm’s estate, Vanessa is jolted by a feeling of… something. Does this mean she’s possessed now?
The Bride to Be
Brona is alive but uncommunicative. Calaban is in love anyway. Victor, acting pragmatic, insists that he has a lot of hard work to do teaching her to speak again.
In fact, after Calaban leaves, Brona becomes quite articulate, though she has no memories of her previous life. Victor tells her that she’s his cousin “Lily,” and that she’d been in an accident. He feeds her stories about how close the two of them were in youth. He’s obviously in love with her, and she has strong feelings for him as well. When she asks about Calaban (or “John Claire” as he’s now going by), Victor says that he was her fiancé. He tells her this very coldly and matter-of-factly, and claims that he doesn’t know whether she was really in love.
Eventually, Victor is forced to officially introduce the two of them. He cleans up Brona and dyes her hair blonde. He has fulfilled his obligation to Calaban, but at the same time has effectively alienated the girl from him.
The Weeping Competition
Dorian Gray is back. He didn’t have much of any purpose last season, and that doesn’t appear to be changing yet. Wherever he is (I get the sense that he’s in another country, but don’t believe that was confirmed), he’s approached at a café by what we’re supposed to think is a flirtatious woman, but is clearly a ladyboy. She leaves him a business card with her name, Angelique.
Dorian tracks her later to a brothel, where he’s ushered into a private room and Angelique disrobes to reveal her Jaye Davidson. Rather than be shocked or outraged, Dorian is totally cool with it.
What any of this has to do with the rest of the show, I have no idea.
- To get her mind off all this witch business, Malcolm brings Vanessa to a soup kitchen for the needy, where cholera runs rampant. He tells her it will be good for her soul to volunteer for an afternoon. She meets Calaban/John Claire there and takes a moment to have a nice chat with him without ever mentioning his disfigurement. Could Vanessa be his next obsession?
- The police inspector investigating the murders at the bar visits the only surviving victim, a man named Roper, at the hospital. The man is completed wrapped in bandages from head to toe. The doctor says that he’s badly mutilated and may never speak again, but the detective is confident that they’ll find a way to communicate.
- Evelyn makes it a point to casually bump into Malcolm while he’s out shopping. She surreptitiously casts a spell and whispers something demonic in his ear that leaves him utterly charmed by her. He later invites her on an outing to go target shooting, and she demonstrates that she’s a crack shot.
I could do without Dorian Gray returning. He seems to be completely extraneous to anything else going in the show right now. I’m sure that the writers have some plan to tie him in with the main storylines, but he’s simply never been a very interesting character.
Aside from that, I like everything else about this episode, even if the baby sacrifice sequence pushes all sorts of boundaries of good taste. I’ve seen countless movies and TV shows that use creepy dolls as a horror trope, but the ones here are truly terrifying.