Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Penny Dreadful, Season 1, Episode 6: What Death can Join Together

After the revelations of last week, it’s much less surprising to see Vanessa and sir Michael at odds this week – he expects her to have had some kind of psychic vision of the vampire attack and she is furious by his accusations. Things are… tense and they both throw their lost families at each other.

Ethan returns to Brona who is in bed, coughing terribly. He holds her and tries to help her and she accepts his embrace – she does want to know where he’s been all night, he just says partying with Dorian. She apologises for the scene at the theatre and he accepts all the guilt but it seems to be more “I’m a bad person for bad things I’ve done” guilt rather than “I did something wrong then” guilt. She tells him what a good man he is – and he tells her how much he loves her.

But Brona is getting much much worse and she tells Ethan he needs to keep a safer distance from her. He promptly kisses her in response. She gives him her necklace to wear – St. Jude, patron saint of lost causes

Vanessa looks for Mina by dealing the tarot again – but this time she hears whispers, the cards are moved then she hears a journey by sea, an animalistic roar and screaming. Lots of screaming. She takes the vague ship reference and terrible happenings to Sir. Malcolm. When Dorian interrupts with a visit – he wants to take Vanessa on an adventure. Now (“is there any other time” which may sum up Dorian’s life quite a lot if it weren’t for his worries of mortality and his ennui.) She tries to beg off – but Sir Malcolm is happy for her to go which kind of pushes her to accept. He also makes a snarky little comment to Dorian about Vanessa always being “her own creature.”

While Vanessa is off, Victor autopsies Fenton and tells Malcolm he’s going to consult Van Helsing while Malcolm goes through a ton of shipping paperwork for Vanessa’s vision – he’s curt and preoccupied to Victor and you can almost feel Victor’s daddy issues explode.

When Victor’s gone, Sembene talks to Malcolm (HE TALKS!) and despite him being a servant there’s definitely some familiarity there. He tells Malcolm he doesn’t think Mina can be saved – some people cannot be saved. If Mina cannot be saved, if she is irredeemably a vampire, what will Malcolm do?

Dorian’s little adventure for Vanessa includes being photographed and Dorian’s musings on eternity and lots of flirting. She goes home and changes for dinner with Dorian and Malcolm is all fatherly. She goes to dinner and we have more of Dorian’s flirting and the endless, well done references to his constant searching for meaning and fulfilment in life. This goes through talk of god, to the idea of people with special abilities (like Mina) having to “endure uniqueness” as Dorian puts it – which Vanessa considers a terrible curse, to be alien from everything around you. While Dorian considers different to be powerful, seeking another like you. There is a nice byplay of Vanessa considering it lonely and pointing out his seeking is a symptom of that loneliness. And if they find someone they’re no longer unique – countered with Dorian’s “and no longer lonely”. They have some very sophisticated flirting these two.

At his home she examines his portraits and we have another golden nugget – he talks about people being the biggest mystery, while she considers them dull because they’re so obvious to her. Except Dorian. I love the byplay back and forth of understanding – when he talks about music, she knows it’s about who you want to be – there’s a definite, palpable connection there. He pokes her composure and she has a beautifully perfect line on why she is so wedded to control (because when you lose control, someone else takes over) and a really careful line on him asking to kiss her neck – she tells him not to ask permission, but adds that he must risk rejection (seemingly to do away with the overt consent, yet maintaining agency).

The end up in bed together with some kinky knife play for spice. They have sex with lots of biting and clawing from Vanessa and she enters a strange slow-motion orgasm trance and hears a very spooky voice with extra echo-reverb “hello my child, I have been waiting. What games we will have now.” Vanessa returns to herself, horrified, and runs out of the room.

With Vanessa gone, Dorian goes to look at his picture – as he stares at it, the cuts and scratches on his body disappear.

Victor is still considering kidnapping someone to create Caliban’s bride (creepily looking at ballet dancers) when he meets Van Helsing. The old man has a lecture on not living to work, but actually having a life (which, of course, means finding a love interest) and Victor is all worriedly musey about facing the consequences of his actions – which is the great big Frankenstein’s Monster in the room. And he keeps quoting Shelley’s more morbid poetry, but decides not to elaborate for Van Helsing, not yet.

At the theatre one of the actresses approaches the Creature, Caliban to fix her blood tube (their plays with all the gore need them) she tries to make conversation and asks him to use her name and not call he “ma’am”. He’s all nervous and on edge and terrified of standing too close to her. She’s sympathetic because her brother was scarred in an industrial accident (which is the story they’ve put about about Caliban). She thanks him and leaves and he tries to repress a panic attack.

Later she goes to her room to find Caliban has left her a book as a present, one with a reference to her brother (called Lucifer). Caliban stalkery watches her from the shadows and then goes full sad-panda when he sees she has a boyfriend.

Van Helsing tells Victor about vampires, about having to kill his own wife and why this all needs keeping from Malcolm (because it pretty much agrees with Sembene, Mina cannot be saved). He’s told Victor this because he’s another father figure and he’s trying to protect him because Victor is too important to waste his life on demon hunting. Right before Caliban grabs Van Helsing and kills him because Victor is moving too slowly for his liking (and Caliban is all sore about the actress)

While Vanessa is out, Malcolm, Sembene and Ethan set off to explore a plague ship Malcolm has found. On the way, Ethan and Malcolm discuss Brona and private sanatoriums but they’re all very unpleasant places, Ethan would rather she have dignity at home even with Malcolm offering to pay. He mentions medicine but how the medicine may change her – but Ethan says “I will love who she becomes.”

On the ship they find a number of women’s bodies – bodies that have been changed by the vampire (claws for example). Just as Malcolm decides Mina isn’t there, the vampire in the hold and all the women wake up. The women attack and we have a huge and epic fight scene with lots of gun play. A lantern is knocked over in the fight. With all the women, the brides, dead the vampire emerges among the fire. He’s carrying Mina who has not yet been changed – the fire stops Malcolm from reaching the vampire

Back at Sir Malcolm’s house, Ethan tries to find some words of comfort for the seething Malcolm. When Malcolm isn’t comforted he goes for the slap instead, comparing Malcolm to his father and delivering the lesson that you do not, cannot win every battle; but you have the people you trust. Including Vanessa – who Malcolm needs to trust more (he did keep her out of this fight).

He takes this lesson to heart and, when Vanessa returns, he resolves to confess all to her – until he sees what a state she’s in. She levitates and starts twirling around the ceiling like a much much much more gothic Mary Poppins.

The on going theme of Penny Dreadful that is really brought out in this episode is, I think, the Outcast, the different. And how this leaves them all, to a degree, lonely.

Caliban, the Creature, is the most obvious – disfigured, outcast, alien. He wallows in his otherness and isolation, his whole identity is defined and fed by it.

Vanessa, made different by her abilities and her history, denies her difference, suppresses it, hates it and deifies normality; her being unique makes her unable to connect to others, making her lonely

Dorian, made different by his immortality and his passions, revels in it, glories in it but is, ultimately, disappointed by it because it’s not enough. He is rendered lonely because the connections he makes are never up to the standards set by his difference.

Ethan, made different by some nebulous ill-defined history that-probably-involves-werewolves, is haunted by his otherness, it’s a shadow of guilt and preoccupation that never seems to leave him, it preys on him – he’s left his home and his family apparently because of that.

Victor, made different by his obsession, is consumed by difference, sometimes not even seeming to realise how is alienates him from others yet still seeking a connection (his desperate seeking for a father figure, for example)

Brona is made different by her illness, her dying is isolating, she is afraid and self-conscious and constantly expects people to turn away from her, to flee from her, to reject her. Not only expects it, but almost wants it, fearing bringing others down with her.

I want to love Ethan and Dorian’s bisexuality. I want to. I’m trying to. Buuuut… even before they kissed, Dorian made a big thing about how Vanessa was the most fascinating person in London. And Ethan comes straight from Dorian’s bed to Brona’s to say he loves her. It’s like a quick need to assert that opposite-sex sexing will be dominant, the primary love interests WILL be male/female, don’t worry folks, we’ve done the man/man stuff distraction, you can start watching again.

Especially since I’m not even sure they had sex. Did they just kiss? I’ve see Ethan’s naked arse shagging a nameless woman in the first episode and him naked having sex with Brona. I’ve seen Malcolm have sex with Vanessa’s mother. I’ve seen Vanessa have sex with a stranger, with Mina’s fiancé, an invisible demon and Dorian. And I’ve seen Dorian having sex with Brona and Vanessa. This show does not flinch from graphic sex. But Ethan and Dorian… a kiss and fade to black? Because that’s really not OK. Was it just a kiss? Did they actually have sex? And if so, why in a show that is happy to show so much sex flinch away from showing 2 men? There’s time to pull this back… but I am Concerned

We need to poke the idea that Caliban is pitiable – or rather, how this scene shows his pitiableness. We’ve seen him shunned and ignored, we’ve seen him attacked. We’ve seen him afraid to let his face be seen. These are pitiable moments. A woman showing him kindness but not wanting to date him is not a pitiable moment. She offered compassion, understanding and friendship – this was a moment of warmth – but the fact she’s not in the market for a love interest makes it tragic?

Sembene got a speaking line and a teeny tiny eeny-weeny hint that he’s more than just the help. This is far too little far too late – we need far far more than that.