Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Penny Dreadful, Season 1, Episode 4: Demimonde

Dorian’s having a little bit of an orgy, with lots of naked women and half-dressed men (oh Penny Dreadful, you’re usually better than that), and Dorian is getting quite close with another male guest – but seems far more absorbed with the portraits of the must more prim figures that line the room, looking down on the debauchery. Afterwards, when alone, he goes into a secret room to sit and examine a portrait (which we don’t get to see but should be able to guess as to the subject matter).

On to Vanessa looking soulfully at a church but not daring to go in, as a precious little girl helps us exposit in a scene that somehow works really well – before it gets morbid and creepy when the little girl says her dead mother won’t stay buried (she’s just talking about Heaven and not being creepy. Honest. But Victorian children have to be creepy. It‘s a rule).

After creepy child has had her say, Vanessa sees Dorian walk past and follows him into a flower show where he’s getting all close and gleeful with the blooms; he takes her on a seductive tour of the flowers, encouraging her to evocative description. He leads her to an orchid that takes 15 years, a lifetime, to perfect itself to bloom for a moment and when she asks if it’s poisonous he says “like all beautiful things, I hope so.” (oh the subtexts on this show!)

Victor finally consults the haematologist that Malcolm said he would hire to study the vampire blood. A Professor Van Helsing. He points out the blood contains a chemical he discovered that prevents coagulation. A very useful property for a creature that feeds on blood – and yes, Van Helsing is somewhat experienced with such creatures though he thinks Malcolm is out of his depth. So is Victor, for different reasons – his first creation, Caliban, is watching him.

Caliban isn’t pleased with the delay, he wants a mate, a beautiful one, and now – victor makes the point that Caliban himself isn’t beautiful to which Caliban points out how very very fragile Victor is and how Caliban and his ilk are the future.

In their room at the Maritime Inn, Brona and Ethan talk about Brona’s past, she talks about the abusive, brutal man she was expected to marry – no matter how brutal he was because in her poverty, her choice was to marry or become a sex worker. She chose the latter. In response to the sad story Ethan reflects on his own past deeds and promises to take her out after work

Speaking of that work, Malcolm and Victor are examining Fenton who is obsessed with Vanessa (“mother”) and they sedate him – while Ethan continues to have attacks of conscience. He’s also very unwilling to give a blood sample to help the experiment for ominous reasons (werewolf?)

While they wait for the experiment to progress, Victor and Malcolm discuss the latest news – the brutal serial killing. Malcolm rules out the vampires since there was no blood drained and Ethan who-is-totally-not-a-werewolf-honest looks uncomfortable and short tempered. Malcolm diffuses the tension with his exploring dreams and the Nile. Vanessa arrives and is almost playful, and punctures Malcolm’s dreams of exploring (“leave the mad larks to the boys”)

Sembene tells them Fenton is awake so it’s down to more prisoner tormenting. After a promising start, he freaks out when offered and apple, ranting and raving for the need for blood. I don’t think the cure worked. Ethan leaves with Vanessa to woe about how far they’ll go while Victor and Malcolm wonder how they’re going to get Fenton blood. Sembene calmly arrives with a cat he kills and hands over (alas he doesn’t speak, but I can almost hear “you’re having to debate an answer to this?!”)

That’s how far they will go, Ethan – killing a cat. The murder and torture was one thing, but cat killing? This will not stand! (The look Victor and Malcolm give Sembene is priceless though).

Ethan goes for his night out with Brona – to the theatre. Caliban’s theatre. She’s gloriously delighted by it all as the play begins, Caliban running around backstage handling all the mechanics. Up on the balcony, Vanessa and Dorian are also watching the play.

A play which involves a man turning into a werewolf and killing his true love with lots and lots of gore (Ethan finds the play amusing). Sembene is also watching from a corner.

Malcolm and Victor are not involved in such frippery, of course, but Malcolm is definitely planning an expedition in a few months once he has everything arranged – including travelling companions. Victor is clearly jealous that he isn’t considered and he’s considered physically incapable, but Malcolm compares Victor to his son, who he lost in Africa. Ethan can come because he’s a disposable tool who means nothing to Malcolm: Victor is not.

In his cell, Fenton again talks to his master and tears into his wrists with his teeth. He manages to escape. Victor and Malcolm hear  noise in Vanessa’s room and go to investigate, stalked by Fenton. In her room they find a vampire – red eyes, milk pale skin, fangs, no hair – he leaps out the window when Fenton yells that Vanessa isn’t there. Malcolm struggles with Fenton – and accidently kills him. Oops.

Back at the theatre it’s intermission and everyone is having drinks and Ethan introduces a very nervous and class conscious Brona to Vanessa; she becomes only more nervous when Dorian joins them. Brona runs out angry, telling Ethan to stay with his friends. When he tries to talk to her she throws her dying in his face – there’s no future for them. She hits him when he tries to touch her and she makes it clear, if he wants to have sex with her again, he’s paying for it.

She storms off, leaving him a little stunned and Dorian arrives to inform him the next act is starting. Ethan talks about wanting to be someone else, just running away from his life; apparently something Dorian sympathises with and invites Ethan off somewhere involving copious drink

Brona runs off, collapsing in a doorway to cough up blood.

That leaves Vanessa alone in the theatre (except for the lurking Sembene who is… lurking).

Dorian’s entertainment is an underground ring where crowds of people gamble on dogs killing rats in a pit in a set number of time. Good ol’ wholesome entertainment then. While everyone screams at the spectacle, Ethan seems rather disturbed at the sight of a canine killing helpless creatures and seems to be having… problems. He leaves the crowd and goes to get whiskey – only to be bothered by some annoying arrogant upper class fools looking for someone to push around. A bar fight follows in which Ethan doesn’t do particularly well.

Decamp to Dorian’s place and his AWESOME BATHROOM THAT I WANT NOW! *ahem* for Ethan to clean up. Dorian again discusses his ennui and his attempts to feel different things, to adopt different roles (he pegs Ethan as play acting the rugged Westerner, while he plays at being human). Time for absinthe (despite doing the sugar and water they fail to produce decent louche) and art appreciation and toasting Vanessa.

Who has just returned to Sir Malcolm to learn about Dracula paying a visit and we get a bit more exposition: apparently Mina may be working for Dracula because she hates them both, Sir Malcolm for neglect and Vanessa for a betrayal. The two snarl at each other and Malcolm wishes Mina was as cruel as Vanessa because she’s the daughter he deserves. Oh, the layers of issues there!

Back to Dorian and Ethan making allusions to Dorian’s painting and Ethan talks Native American art from extinct tribes. They move on to music, more of Dorian’s morbid ennui. We have lots of images of Ethan’s struggles (including what looks like a death he caused in the US – and some wolfy elements) and Dorian’s knowing looks. Ethan grabs Dorian by the throat then kisses him. he rips of Dorian’s shirt and Dorian gently removes Ethan’s before Dorian kisses Ethan again.

I… did not see that coming.

I think that was one of the best kisses between 2 men I’ve seen in all the shows we’ve watched (admittedly out of a VERY small pool) – this level of actual passion and actual half-decent lighting! And showing the kiss not just the back of a head!

I expected Dorian to be bisexual. No, let’s qualify – I was ready to be monumentally pissed off if Dorian WASN’T bisexual. But I didn’t think they’d go there with Ethan.

Ethan actually interests me more than Dorian – because Dorian does fit a strong bisexual trope. We see a lot of anarchistic, swashbuckling, adventurous, promiscuous bisexuals. Bisexuals who are massive fun, don’t follow the rules, buck society and convention and are more than a little bit of a scoundrel: Bo from Lost Girl, Jack from Torchwood, Oberyn and Ellia from Game of Thrones, H.G. Wells in Warehouse 13. Dorian is a strong example – unbound by rules, hedonistic, fun, a little dark and edgy, multiple lovers. Ethan is much more of a break from the swashbuckling mold. I want to see where this goes

Of course, both of them do kind of have primary love interests already writ large – Brona and Vanessa – which is also a common trope - but I am eager to see more (and not just for the eye candy). Very very eager indeed.

Dorian is also, I think, pulling of the incredibly compelling super-charming element of his character much better with his little flower seduction but also really pulling out a rather excellent portrayal of ennui. Dorian is a man who has done everything and it’s just all so very dull now and it screams from him in every conversation and every act.

Brona’s scene in the theatres was an excellent portrayal of class, mortality and sex worker prejudice combined, especially following on from her story of how she became a sex worker. She’s so angry, enraged with Ethan, because he lied to her and his lies were exposed with Vanessa and Dorian. Not out right and probably not in a way he can understand – but he approached Brona as an equal. His American accent likely leaves Brona unable to tell his class, as do his rough and ready clothes. Every indicator of his class, all the signs Brona needs to be able to tell how to treat and relate to him are missing – hidden. She treats him as a peer, as someone she may have a future with or be able to relate to in an equal fashion – and then she meets Vanessa and (worse) Dorian and can tell their class instantly, voice and clothes; and she reacts accordingly. She curtsies to Vanessa, calls her ma’am and is horribly outside her comfort zone not just with them but Ethan as well – because he treats Vanessa and Dorian as peers. It puts the lie to the idea that their relationship has a future because there’s this sudden, hidden class divide; which in turn feeds into the already doomed relationship because of her dying of consumption. And all that adds into the fact that Dorian, an acquaintance of Ethan’s, is also a client – so she can’t even pull off a “poor woman of good character” in front of them as well as it putting some doubt on her happenstance meeting with Ethan as well.

Add to this some more wonderful hints from Vanessa and Malcolm and the atmosphere that makes me love this show. I also just kind of love how the show isn’t even being subtle with the whole werewolf thing…

Aaaand, Sembene. The silent, lurking cat killer. Is his lurking in the theatre a sign of his own agenda? Is he actually going to do something? Is he going to rise above being the help? Is he ever going to get some decent damn lines?! This is the very essence of appalling tokenism.