‘Penny Dreadful’ 2.04 Recap: “Whatever You Can Imagine, Far Worse Is True”

As I understand it, the ratings for this season of Showtime’s ‘Penny Dreadful’ have been so poor that the show’s prospects for a third season are in some doubt. Although I enjoyed the first few episodes this year, I have to admit that this week’s episode wastes a lot of time accomplishing very little.

While the overarching plot with Evelyn Poole and the witches has been pretty compelling, the show has been fragmented this year into a series of less interesting storylines that are disconnected from that narrative and don’t seem to serve much purpose. Perhaps the writers have a master plan to tie everything together by the finale, but at least so far, I’m struggling to see the point of some of them.

Take Dorian Gray, for example. Why is this character back on the show? This week, we learn that his tryst with the transvestite called Angelique is more than just a fling. He takes her out on a proper date to a fashionable ping-pong parlour and makes a show of kissing her in public, despite the dirty looks he receives from other patrons. OK, fine, but what does this tell us? We already knew that Dorian has omnivorous sexual appetites. That’s nothing new. How does this storyline have any relevance to anything else going on in the show?

Likewise, Victor Frankenstein continues to transform the revived-from-the-dead Brona into his fictional cousin Lily. Because the girl has no clothes and Victor knows nothing about women’s fashion, he nervously asks Vanessa’s help shopping for a dress. She’s delighted to help, if only because it takes her mind off being hunted by the Devil. This provides a couple moments of mild comic relief, but the only real takeaway is that Vanessa has awful taste in clothes. The outfit she selects makes Brona/Lily look hideous, even by 19th Century standards.

At the waxwork museum, Putney’s blind daughter shows Calaban some kindness, but says that she doesn’t care for the gruesome horror her father peddles. Later, Ethan walks down the street and sees a sign advertising the museum’s latest exhibit – a recreation of the dockside bar massacre that he was responsible for. That’s enough of that for one week.

The detective who’s been working the bar case is called to investigate last week’s subway car murder. He senses that the connection between the two cases may be supernatural. He pays another visit to Roper, the only survivor from the bar. (I assume he was one of the Pinkertons who came for Ethan.) The man has to wear a mask to cover the mutilated half of his face, and says that he has no memory of what happened, but the detective promises to keep asking until he does.

I imagine that Ethan will have to learn about Brona sooner or later, and that the detective will cross his path as well. Still, at best, these seem like distractions from the more interesting stuff with the witches. I can’t discern any need to keep Dorian or Calaban on the show at all.

Items of More Relevance

Last week, Vanessa told Ethan the story of her history with the witches. This week, he convinces her to repeat the tale to Malcolm, Victor, Sembene and Ferdinand Lyle so as to fill everyone in. Unfortunately, Vanessa still hasn’t explained the lingering question about why she didn’t seem to recognize Evelyn during the séance last season.

Meanwhile, Lyle has successfully deciphered some of the Verbis Diablo text, which isn’t so much a language of its own as a collection of bits and pieces of other languages, broken up and rearranged like a puzzle. He describes it as a first-person memoir, told by the Devil himself. If we’re lucky, perhaps Ol’ Nick will mention why he’s so obsessed with Vanessa.

When informed by her evil daughters that he’s a werewolf, Evelyn becomes fascinated with Ethan. She has the girls stalk him through the city. They stage a near-accident in which a frightened horse charges toward the eldest girl, Hecate, so that Ethan can rescue her.

Pretending to be a very grateful American tourist, Hecate invites Ethan to have a drink with her to thank him. He listens to her stories, but can tell that she’s lying and isn’t really American. He assumes that she was sent by his father, after the other men failed to retrieve him. He tells her to warn his father not to try again.

When Ethan tells Vanessa about this, she immediately suspects that the girl was a witch. Ethan isn’t sure. However, later that night, all three of the witch girls sneak into Malcolm’s mansion using some sort of invisibility spell that allows them to blend in with the wallpaper. Both Vanessa and Ethan sense that something is wrong.

The witches reveal themselves in their naked and scarred forms and attack, leading to a big fight in the mansion. Vanessa eventually wards them off again by speaking more of the Verbis Diablo, but one of them snatches a lock of her hair (apparently the true purpose of the invasion). Before she leaves, Hecate gleefully taunts Ethan with her true identity.

While this is certainly the best part of the episode, I have to admit that it doesn’t move the storyline very far forward. All told, this episode feels like a mere placeholder to bide our time waiting for more exciting things to happen later. I really hope that the rest of the season picks up a bit.


  1. Ryan

    Waste of an ep? I am pretty sure you and I did not see the same episode.
    Imagine this episode without Dorian visiting a ping pong table hall? You can’t…because it was AMAZING!

    Yeah…I can’t keep that up. It was a pretty boring ep. Even the attack was just a retread of the first ep with Vanessa spouting the devils’ language again and save the day.

    As for the ratings…the show barely got picked up for Season 2….so if the ratings are even worse this year, the show is done. I’d be shocked if it’s not. Which is a shame, because I really do enjoy the show

  2. JM

    Change the show’s title! Based on the seemingly unrelated, and to nonviewers, utterly baffling title,”Penny Dreadful”, I chose initially not to watch the show. It was only after discovering the high quality cast, especially Eva Green, did I give the show a chance. Now, I consider it, flaws and all.

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