To the surprise of many, myself included, Showtime has officially renewed ‘Penny Dreadful’ for a third season despite the show’s downturn in ratings this year. That should come as some relief to those of us who’ve stuck with it through this bumpy season. In the meantime, this week’s episode is actually the best the series has had in quite a while.
Last week, we spent an entire episode with just Vanessa and Ethan. Those two characters, normally the most interesting on the show, don’t appear at all this week. Even though that sounds like a bad omen, this is the first episode of the season that feels like the various storylines are finally coming together.
Lily & Calaban
We open on Lily (or Brona, or whatever you want to call her) rather disturbingly cuddling with the corpse of the man she murdered. Meanwhile, Calaban (or John Claire, or whatever) throws a massive hissy-fit to Victor for letting Lily go out on a date. “She is mine. I will take her,” he demands. By the time Lily returns home to Victor, she has clearly had a major personality change and is no longer the innocent and naïve girl she’s been acting like ever since he resurrected her.
When Lily catches Calaban peeping on her, she turns the tables on him and is extremely cruel, enough so that she completely emasculates all his macho bullshit posturing and makes it clear that she is the real monster, and he’s nothing. She knows exactly what she is, and vows, “Never again will I kneel to any man!”
Inspector Rusk pays Malcolm a visit to question him about Ethan. Malcolm denies knowing him. It’s not a very convincing lie.
Slowly, Malcolm starts to come out of the spell Evelyn has placed on him and return to his senses. When Victor confides in him that he feels addicted to Lily, Malcolm realizes that his own feelings for Evelyn are unnatural.
Ferdinand Lyle finishes his translation of the Verbis Diablo and reveals that it’s the story of two brothers, both fallen angels. One was banished to Hell (Lucifer) while the other fell to Earth (the vampire master who kidnapped Mina). Their feud for Vanessa’s soul may bring about an apocalypse.
Just then, Evelyn toys with the heart inside her voodoo doll of Sir Malcolm. His eyes go black and he becomes momentarily possessed. He tosses a table over and announces, “Meet your master!” The spell is short-lived, however. Sembene grabs Malcolm and tosses him into an unused ballroom in the mansion, screaming “Know who you are!” Malcolm looks around the room and has flashback visions to happier times with his wife and children. He then snaps completely out of the spell.
When the heart in the voodoo doll stops beating, Evelyn immediately realizes that she’s lost Malcolm. Her spiteful daughter Hecate tries to gloat, until Evelyn puts her in her place. Realizing that Malcolm’s next move will be to attack, Evelyn prepares for his arrival.
Sure enough, Malcolm tries to break things off with Evelyn – permanently – by charging to her mansion with a gun in hand. He finds the door unlocked and skulks through the creepy abode until one of the witch sisters pushes him down the stairs.
Malcolm wakes up face-to-face with Evelyn. She actually cries, and says that she genuinely wanted his love and companionship. When Malcolm threatens to kill her, Evelyn explains that she plans to use him as bait to lure Vanessa to her. She then leaves him alone in a room with a casket. Inside is the body of Malcolm’s son Peter. Two more caskets appear, with his daughter Mina and his wife. Suddenly, all three corpses awaken. Are they zombies now, or vampires, or just visions in his head?
When Dorian goes out on another date with Lily, he leaves the jealous Angelique home alone to sulk. Angelique notices a draft and follows it to a secret doorway in Dorian’s art gallery.
Later that night, Dorian returns home and finds the door open. Angelique is downstairs staring at something. (Obviously, anyone familiar with the Oscar Wilde story knows that it’s his portrait.) Dorian explains that it’s his true self, a collection of all the terrible things he’s done that he keeps hidden from the world. He asks Angelique if she can still love him. She responds that she can, and Dorian hands her a glass of wine. Angelique drinks it and falls to the floor dead. Dorian merely shrugs that he doesn’t believe her. The painting, a hideously old and scarred man wrapped in chains, turns to stare directly at him.
Billie Piper’s performance in this episode is a real tour-de-force and, for the first time, puts her on even standing with Eva Green as a powerhouse female presence. Now that he’s revealed as a villain, Dorian Gray finally seems to serve some purpose on this show. The other storylines also appear to be making real progress. It’s just too bad that it took 4/5 of the season for that to happen.
I can only hope that the show’s renewal for a third season causes writer and show-runner John Logan to buckle down and focus more on his plotting next year. This season has been kind of a mess.