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.