Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Penny Dreadful, Season 1, Episode 7: Possession

The disturbing and possessed Vanessa waxes lyrically (and insightfully) about the Victorian ideal of the passive woman and compares it to being almost dead or actually dead. Sir Malcolm tries to gently talk to her, to see what she remembers – but she focuses on the fact he dressed her and seems almost childishly gleeful. She speaks as Mina, Malcolm’s daughter

Let the scenery chewing commence! And no-one scenery chews like Vanessa (Eva Green should have “Best Scenery Chewer ever!” on her CV). Hang on for the ride – she talks as Mina, of her dad always been away, of her mother crying, of Malcolm’s affairs and disdain for her mother because her mother was fat all the while giggling away. Then turning demonic and demanding to know about the other women – and lashing out at Malcolm for not going to Vanessa’s mother’s funeral.

There then follows a racist tirade of Malcolm’s women, though the slur is used to describe how Malcolm treats the various native peoples he commanded and used while an explorer, it’s still grossly unnecessary. She continues to rant about the women he had sex with throughout his travels, the prostitutes he visited, forcing Peter to visit the same to “prove” his manhood – and things start flying, papers, books, cabinet doors… until Sembene runs in and knocks her out

While the rest of the cast stand around looking shocked and stunned, Sembene tends to act.

Vanessa is taken to her room and is examined by a adorkably awkward Victor (who isn’t used to treating the living) with fun moments like “I fear I do not look my best” “your visual responses are perfectly adequate” “no wonder you’re not married.”

She has a brief moment of sanity when she worries about Victor bringing in an alienist, before the scenery chewing begins anew! Speculating about Victor’s virginity and quoting Shelley  - the same quote Victor always uses “No more let life divide what death can join together.” Victor is duly shaken

Malcolm and Victor consult, thinking that it’s a psychological problem. And since this is Victorian, that means “evil lady sexing is evil”. After asking a series of questions (Malcolm doesn’t think Vanessa is a virgin and doesn’t care), Victor comes up with the idea that Vanessa is suffering from huge sexual guilt, probably triggered by having sex with Dorian.

Then her tarot cards spawn a wave of 8 bajillion spiders  and Vanessa screams/roars all demonically. I believe the demon just disagreed with Victor’s diagnosis.

Ethan arrives (Malcolm makes sure he’s armed) and they all pile into Vanessa’s room. Vanessa… does not look good. She looks all pitiable and Ethan goes to her – and she asks about him having sex with Dorian, demon’s back in charge who also knows Brona slept with Dorian. She completely loses it and lashes out at everyone until Victor sedates her while she babbles in Arabic.

The guys conclude demonic possession and Malcolm spills about the whole Amaunet thing Vanessa has. Ethan suggests a priest which Victor disdains, Malcolm opts to them all staying and supporting Vanessa while she fights – going back to her words of the people they trust and are loyal too. Also, Vanessa was saying “let me die.”

Montage of lots of battling with Vanessa while possessed until a week passes. She wakes up to some clarity and she and Ethan have a touching moment in which she says she may be in love with him. And then it all goes to pot because it isn’t Ethan – it’s Demonic Ethan, like invisible Demonic Malcolm! After spitting gross slurs at god, and tries to make her give in and become the Mother of Evil. His co-ruler in darkness. They kiss and hold each other

Downstairs, Ethan and Malcolm have it out. Ethan doesn’t want to go to Africa with Malcolm and doesn’t want another father figure since he doesn’t like the one he’s got – and Malcolm’s own treatment of his son was so lacking. This is something Malcolm admits, even when he buried his son he did it in Africa so he could continue searching for the source of the Nile – and even though he says he’s going to bring his son’s body back, it could be just another excuse in that search.

Daddy issues shelved for more Vanessa scenery chewing, including black veins and hieroglyphs this time

A brief moment for Victor – who takes morphine (for “pain” is all he says, and acknowledges it’s an addiction). His monster, Caliban, is still lurking outside. He and Ethan talk about Vanessa maybe being beyond help and Ethan thinks Malcolm is hiding something about why he wants Vanessa to live. Ethan brings up the horrific treatment of Native Americans in the US, including the removal of children and stripping them of their culture, language and history which they somehow compare to Vanessa (Victor goes to look at Caliban, seeming to make some connection to the “not fitting in either world” thing).

Victor asks Ethan to teach him how to shoot – he’s enthusiastic. And Ethan shows off his own impressive skills (and yes, I smiled when Sembene questioned the noise on Sir Malcolm’s behalf and Ethan says “we’re in trouble with dad.”)

Next little moment is, surprisingly, between Ethan and Sembene – Sembene resists any personal questions so Ethan makes a guess – Sir Malcolm saved his life so Sembene owes him. Sembene flips it round with a completely different cultural context and suggests he saved Sir Malcolm’s life and now Malcolm is his responsibility. Sembene also votes for a priest.

And Malcolm is an arsehole – seeing Vanessa in her distress, he tries to use her horrendous state to get her to reach Mina. Vanessa is not impressed by his ruthless cruelty and she wonders if he caused this or let it happen just so he could get her in this state. Ethan intervenes, Ethan and Victor confronting Malcolm she needs a priest or, if she wants to die, she needs to be allowed to do so. Them calling for a priest? That’s for the last rites – but Malcolm realises an exorcism  might help. Victor considers it obscene and asks Malcolm if this is what happens when you “murder your way across a continent”. Malcolm goes for him and Ethan intervenes, yelling at Malcolm that if he wants a daughter so badly, he has one right in there, dying.

Malcolm calls for a priest – and Ethan threatens to rip his throat out if Vanessa is right and Malcolm let all this happen. Malcolm and Victor have a moment with more musings about Malcolm’s dead son and naming a mountain (putting a “proper English name” on one).

They call the priest and he refuses to perform an exorcism – it’s forbidden without permission from Rome. He is adamant and Victor loses patience with the man, not having much with priests in the first place. They take him upstairs and he’s all very disturbed but prepares the Last Rites when Ethan stops him leaving – Vanessa throws out some Biblical references then bites off the priest’s ear. Then jumps onto the ceiling


She shatters all the windows and throws people around the room with the power of her mind. Ethan points a gun at her and seems to get through – and she begs him to kill her. Instead he reaches for the amulet of St Jude that Brona gave him and prayers over it in Latin, pressing it to Vanessa’s head. Demonic voices echo his shouting

Wait, Ethan knows the exorcism ritual? And can pull it off with a borrowed amulet in a minute? This would have been nice to know a week ago!

Vanessa collapses and they put her to bed.

When she wakes, she says she knows where Mina is

No-one, ever can match Eva Green when it comes to sheer, unnerving intensity.

And yes, the whole setting was beautiful and intense. The music was perfect. The acting, as ever, excellent. The melt down, the possession was powerful and sad and desperate. But… what was the point? This is a 10 episode season – do we have time for the characters to watch Vanessa show how amazingly well she does freak out while everyone else shares little vignettes of things we’ve already covered and developed and explored several times over?

I appreciate them pointing out the many racist horrors of this time – the genocide of the Native Americans, Malcolm murdering and sexing his way across Africa – it’s nice to have all of these evil called out for what it was. But all they are is used as rhetorical flourishes for white people drama. They’re mentioned, but only as a way to add some grossly inappropriate context to whatever they’re talking about or whatever point they’re trying to make or to try and establish some kind of characterisation. While the actual POC character still stands in the background and says so very little and does less.