‘Penny Dreadful’ 2.05 Recap: “We Defend Our Cliff”

This season of ‘Penny Dreadful’ has been confusing and frustrating. Although generally an improvement over last week’s disappointing episode, the latest entry spends a lot of time setting up for a climax it then forgets to deliver.

After the break-in by the witch daughters, Ethan warns Malcolm and the others that they must prepare for an impending siege. He gives them a little hint of his backstory by telling them about his time in the American cavalry, where he participated in the massacre of an Apache tribe. He seems haunted by his involvement in that, and doesn’t want to get caught on the other end of a similar raid. As such, the group immediately gets to work installing a sturdier door, arming themselves, and preparing every spell, talisman, ritual or prayer they can muster for protection.

Nevertheless, Vanessa comes face-to-face with a pair of the witches in her room. They freak her out but vanish without touching her. Vanessa runs to Ethan, unsure whether the witches were real or just a hallucination. She doesn’t trust her own mind anymore.

All of this is pretty gripping stuff. Then daybreak comes, and everyone puts the witches out of mind and goes about their business as if nothing had happened.

Vanessa goes out for a spot of tea with Victor and Lily (nee Brona), who’s incredibly nervous during her first public outing. Vanessa assumes this is because she’s a country bumpkin unused to the hustle and bustle of the city, but she can immediately tell that Victor is in love with the girl.

Later, Vanessa stops by the soup kitchen and has a conversation with Calaban about their mutual interest in poetry. When he expresses that he gets awkward and clumsy around women, she teaches him to dance. Considering that he’s been spurned by Brona (she just wants to be friends), it looks like Calaban will turn his obsessive attention to Vanessa – if he doesn’t get caught up with the blind girl at the wax museum first.

Still unaware that she’s evil, Sir Malcolm goes out on a date with Evelyn. She pricks his flesh with a spiky ring dosed with a magic love potion that causes him to fall head-over-heels for her. He insists that “I have to be with you!” and ravishes her.

This is intercut with another pointless, dull storyline with Dorian Gray and his transvestite girlfriend Angelique. He takes her to the opera, where she gets recognized and spit on by society bullies. Angelique laments that she has no place in this world. Dorian consoles her with his penis.

All this leads to an overheated montage of sexual passion, cross-cutting between the elderly couple and the gay couple, each goin’ at it. Then, as if that’s not enough gratuitous humping, the episode throws in some necrophilia too when Brona, afraid of the sounds of thunder (the very thing that brought her back to life) climbs into bed with Victor and they finally succumb to their desire for each other.

Other Things of More Interest

The best parts of the episode involve the fetish doll that Evelyn has made of Sir Malcolm’s wife Gladys. She cracks its skull and sticks needles into the real brain inside. This causes the woman searing agony. She’s hospitalized, but goes mad from the pain. Tormented by a vision of her dead children rising from their graves, Gladys slits her own throat with a straight razor. That should conveniently take her out of the picture so that Evelyn can marry Malcolm.

Elsewhere, Ethan goes on a supply run to the city when he’s picked up for questioning by Inspector Rusk. He finds Ethan to be a mystery, and he doesn’t like mysteries. He wants to know Ethan’s real name and his story. Having not been caught doing anything illegal, Ethan doesn’t offer much help, but is clearly troubled that someone has gotten so close to him.

Scenes like these are great. It’s just a shame that the episode loses its way and gets sidetracked yet again when it should remain focused on the storylines that viewers actually care about.


  1. It’s a shame this show has gone so far downhill in my opinion. I found myself fast forwarding a lot this episode simply because I have no interest in certain storylines. Like you said they built up this tension at the beginning of the episode and then *poof* everyone goes back to boring storylines.
    It used to be I couldn’t wait for each episode, now I casually watch while toying with my phone. Shame.

  2. agentalbert

    Hadn’t Vanessa and Brone met before? I thought that when Ethan took Brona out to a show they ran into Dorian and Vanessa? I understand why Brona (now Lilly) wouldn’t recognize Vanessa, but Vanessa seems to have a problem associating faces she’s met in the past.

    • Josh Zyber

      I had forgotten about that, but yes, someone on another forum pointed out that Vanessa met Brona at the opera last season. Vanessa and Dorian ran into Ethan and Brona there. That she doesn’t recognize her now seems to be yet another inconsistency this season.

      • NLE

        I think the fact that Vanessa did not recognize Brona is hardly an inconsistency, given that she only briefly met Brona and was preoccupied (and temporarily blinded) at the time with her Dorian-infatuation. The fact that Brona now speaks with a different accent and has short hair of a completely different shade also helps to conceal her. Even if Vanessa recognized the girl’s facial features (which again is pushing it given the circumstances under which they met), she believes Brona to be dead and has no reason to suspect that Victor is creating some elaborate story around his ‘cousin’s’ origins.

  3. NLE

    I thought the sex scenes were gratuitous and arguably pornographic in this latest episode. I’m not sure I understand the point of them yet. The Angelique story is probably leading up to murder. I’ve visited other sites discussing Dorian as though he were some tortured and lonely soul and I wonder if any of these people are familiar with Oscar Wilde’s original work? Dorian is one of the villains here. I thought that was made clear through his behavior with Brona at the beginning of the series or his attempts to draw Vanessa into his snares despite her assertion that their relationship was bringing out something unhealthy in her, making her behave as someone other than who she wants to be – but, apparently not. Maybe John Logan is attempting to make us empathize with Angelique enough to make Dorian’s murder of him/her all the more heinous? Dorian is going to need another soul soon to keep himself young and ‘beautiful’ – and who in London is going to miss the outcast and despised Angelique?

    The relationship between Vanessa and Ethan is very beautiful – and while that long glance on the stairwell amidst all the cuts to Mrs. Murray’s demise and raunchy sex, etc. could be romantically interpreted, I think that Vanessa’s discussion with Calaban early on was very telling. She cannot afford to lose her self-control – she cannot cast her boat on that sea (at least, not at this point). Ethan is an alley and dear friend. There is likely a genuine love developing between them – certainly Ethan’s actions towards Vanessa have been nothing but loving so far. He’s seen her at her very worst – but, she has yet to see him at his and she doesn’t yet know his full tale (none of us do, actually). If they’d “hopped in the sack” like the rest of the lot in this episode, I would have been thoroughly disappointed – not to mention confused. The Lovers tarot card that Ethan pulled in Season One can have many meanings. I’ve seen another blogger allude to Ethan’s role as the Wolf of God, his path of redemption relying on his becoming a lover of God – just as Vanessa has pledged herself. I subscribe to this interpretation, because neither of these characters are the anti-heroes they’ve been labeled as in certain other reviews, but long-suffering, tragic heroes striving for the Light – that is what separates them from characters like Dorian and Mrs. Poole.

  4. Victor

    I agree that this episode was disappointing. I thought Ethan’s story about wiping out the Apaches was also the story about how he became a werewolf? He was cursed by the Apaches and is forever tormented by his crimes against them? Also, won’t the guy who survived Ethan’s last wolfiness become a werewolf himself?

    Also, I’m getting tired of Dorian Gray and his she-male. They have nothing to do with the main story, and having to watch homosexual sex is kind of gross. I’m not a homophobe, but I really don’t want it shoved in my face every episode.

    The translator character is quite interesting (forgot his name). I wonder whose side he will choose in the end.

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