Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Penny Dreadful, Season 2, Episode 4: Evil Spirits in Heavenly Places

Vanessa finishes recounting last week’s epic episode to the whole gang and how she knows of the verbis diablo. Victor is considerably dubious about the idea of witches stalking the streets of London but even he can’t maintain scepticism in the face of Vanessa.

As Malcolm puts it, they now have a name for their enemy and even more reason to decipher the Verbis Diablo – Lyle’s turn to step up with his random collection of objects some diablo spouting monk scrawled all over in medieval times before being burned to death for defacing the furnishings (or demonic possession. One of the two).

He’s piecing together a narrative that continually switches languages – it’s the stories of angels being cast out of heaven told from the point of view of those angels. Or, as Lyle puts it with maximum drama, the memoirs of the devil.

As Victor leaves he discusses with Vanessa how his viewpoint has expanded – he believes now anything is out there, worse than they can imagine. Vanessa adds “and better” – interesting that she, of all people, clings to hope. He also asks her to go with him somewhere the next day, seeming quite awkward about the whole thing

Sembene decides to creepily hang around and watch out that night, when the witches hunt. And one of the witches does watch from outside.

Victor’s errand is, to Vanessa’s surprise, to a dress shop, to help him shop for his simple country cousin (I don’t think the “retarded” clarification was remotely necessary). Victor is ludicrously nervous and babbly –he’s a rather terrible liar. Vanessa seems to take such glee in his awkwardness (I think “my non-husband and I” may be the best line). His anatomical precision in describing “Lily” is rather creepy. He also invites Vanessa to tea to meet Lily while Vanessa enjoys herself by scandalising Victor with undergarments.

He takes his new acquisitions to Lily who complains about the tightness, impracticality and uncomfortableness of Victorian women’s clothes but Victor is well and truly smitten. There’s some nice byplay there including:
“So women wear corsets so they don’t exert themselves. What would be the danger if they did?”
“They’d take over the world.”

While saying that Victor adds they’re meant to flatter the figure and Lily, with a fresh slate of memories, notes it’s for a man’s eye – realising everything women do is for men. Keeping houses, tending children, “flattering them with our pain.” When she asks if he likes her in a corset he says yes, when she asks if he wants her to wear it he says no – not if it causes her pain, not for his vanity. Even then she still keeps the shoes – despite them hurting her feet.

To the police detectives (the ones investigating Ethan’s werewolf shenanigans) who are now examining the bodies of the couple killed by the witch in order to steal their baby. A near impossible crime from what he can see. The detective tries to connect the cases but the wounds here are precise next to the savage butchery of the kills we assume are Ethan’s. The detective comes up with the idea of magic – and I don’t know if it’s a sarcastic joke or not

They go back to the hospital to see Mr. Roper who wolfy-Ethan mauled but the terribly injured and scarred man claims he doesn’t remember anything. The detective is not having an uncooperative witness, wounded or not, not when a baby is missing but Roper won’t help and plans to leave London as soon as he can.

To the wax works where Caliban – now John Clare – works and Mr. Putney is planning on expanding his grisly displays though his wife has little faith in it doing well. He also has a more sinister plan than wax-works – a freak show where he intends to keep the “freaks” in cellar because they “don’t need the light.” His wife finds that quite shocking.

In the workshop, John is all nervous and mousey around Lavinia (who outright tells him not to be a mouse, after poking him for watching her assuming she didn’t know he was there being blind). Despite being blind, she works on the wax works, artfully aging a model of Gladstone. They talk eye colour – including John’s yellow eyes which she dubs “turmeric”. She hates creating her father’s grizzly crime scenes, much preferring to immortalise good men and women who deserve to be remembered rather than creating such suffering with her wax. John takes it and runs with some morbid philosophy while she presses for hope.

Ethan walking the streets is less thrilled to see the massacres advertised in wax work – and in the papers, especially not the Mariner’s Inn massacre he caused. As he reads a paper about the dead couple on the tube, three women set up a nice little scene where he rescues a woman from being trampled by a runaway horse – he saves her and she decorously cries pressed to his chest. Ethan finds it all quite awkward.

This leads to them having tea and the witch introducing herself as Hecate, all awkwardness gone, she’s also an American like him (or pretending to be one). She’s wealthy, educated, independent and exploring alone. But clearly needs to work on her backstory as Ethan points out her accent is wrong and she doesn’t know enough about the US to pass it off – he thinks she’s working for his father and sends her back to him with a nice death threat for daddy dearest

Of course she isn’t working for daddy dearest, she’s a witch for Evelyn Pool and goes back to admit that she made silly mistakes but also that Ethan smelled her. Which isn’t much of an excuse either, as Evelyn points out, she should have really expected that with him most definitely being lupus dei. They’re going to have to take him on. So Evelyn wants to do a ritual and sends Hecate out for shopping – and Hectate hisses. Bad Hecate, Evelyn doesn’t approve- Hecate is quick to change the subject to not trusting Lyle, well, not does Evelyn but since he’s “weak as a lily” she doesn’t worry about that. She’s also happy for all the others to die – so long as they get Vanessa.

I think top of the do-not-trust list needs to be hissy Hecate. And she pauses in her chores to pose dramatically in front of the fireplace (though, to be honest that fireplace positively demands dramatic posing, It must really get in the way, no-one can cross the room without pausing a little and ensuring the look suitably ominous in front of the fine décor).

Back at the house they continue to decipher script (and Lyle archly gives Sir Malcolm glasses which amused me far too much). Lyle has great fun showing Malcolm a new quest, a new purpose, now he’s given up exploration – and chides him for being vain over needed spectacles. Lyle is much more disturbed to hear that Malcolm is courting Mrs. Poole. He, at least, advices cautions.

Ethan tells Vanessa all about Hecate and Vanessa rightly guesses she has nothing to do with his dad and is actually a witch. She broods by the fireplace briefly (damn these dramatic furnishings requiring posing!) before hey brain storm the message they have from the verbis diablo. But beyond knowing that more than one angel fell they have few answers – not even why a demon would want to dictate his memoirs. Malcolm suggests that it’s all a prophecy about Vanessa and she angrily rejects it – she’s not going to accept she’s being hunted by the devil based on guesses and gibberish! No, face the power of her denial and despair. And her apologies for being over tired because that was super rude and if there’s one thing a Victorian lady knows, demon’s hunting one is no excuse for rudeness.

Ethan takes away the tray and begins to wash up, which Sembene objects to. Ethan tries to ask Sembene questions about his past which Sembene doesn’t answer. Does this count as characterisation now? He does make a buttercream torte which Vanessa will have for breakfast (if you’re going to be hunted by demons you get to have cake for breakfast damn it – something, according to Sembene, she always does).

There’s also a chameleon witch lurking around for tension during the evening filler scene

Finally the witches appear – one with Ethan, one facing Malcolm and Lyle and one in Vanessa’s room. Vanessa pulls out the Verbis Diablo and drives her enemy off in seconds because she is not putting up with these hair snatching shenanigans. Sembene tackles Ethan’s while Lyle finds that a crucifix doesn’t do much. But it seems they’re only there for the chunk of hair the grabbed from Vanessa and they run from the building.

To side plot – Dorian and Angelique are exploring a Victorian funfair while he tries to guess her birth name (which she definitely will not tell him). Dorian throws in several secrets – not telling his age or his secret. People stare at them – but Dorian says “provocation is food and drink to me.” They go for the adventurous new pass time of table tennis – with Angelique definitely playing to win. And win she does, gracefully rubbing his nose in his epic epic defeat. They kiss in the games room in front of everyone.

I am reminded how important the last episode was for Vanessa. Now when she says surprising things like being positive and having faith with Victor we can see that in the context of someone who has to cling to the good or who may fall into the abyss of the temptation the dark magic represents. She “chooses to” see the good because the alternative is her choosing darkness – and I think that choice there is a deliberate word usage.

One thing I like about this show – but I think it may very much be a case of taste – are the little philosophical asides like the conversation between Lavinia and The Creature. These little conversations with so many angles and little things to mentally chew over which also reveal a lot about the characters

I think this show does a good job of showing lots of little character scenes – like Victor’s intense awkwardness in the dress shop contrasting with Vanessa’s extreme confidence even in the face of his tongue-tripping awkwardness – there’s that underlying knowledge that Vanessa has been through so much that a little social awkwardness (and walking around with a “non-husband” is just so beneath her notice and concern).

It says a lot to how we’ve evolved as a society that at one point a new adventure to amuse the jaded and cynical and terminally bored Dorian was table tennis. If he lives to the 20th century, Playstation may make him spontaneously orgasm

I’m glad Angelique is still around, I’m glad she’s a love interest, I love her confidence and that her being a sex worker is downplayed. I don’t love that we get lines like “provocation is my meat and drink” from Dorian because, coupled with the now two dubious interviews, it sounds so much like she’s there to SHOCK. And that her being so shocking and “provocative” is why Dorian is interested. It suggests that at least part of his interest in her is poking staid mores and pushing the envelope a little more. Similarly I like how she makes the point of being who she wants to be – but not that Dorian denies her femaleness (defencelessness, fine) and keeps poking for her "real" name, like he cannot move past framing her as other. His every interaction with her seems to involve her being Angelique, just existing as herself - and rocking it while he does his very best to make her existence a riot of provocation and shock value and otherness. I get the huge impression he's just not interested in Angelique the woman, but in Angelique the new experience, Angelique the Other which he constantly emphasises

I’d also like them to be part of the plot rather than so separate

Same goes for Sembene – the trick of making your POC taciturn and private to prevent any development is an old one and we see right though it.

Lily is presenting a refreshing opportunity – free from the preconceptions of her time with a blank memory she is a great vehicle for applying an unbiased lens to the time and calling it on its bullshit.