Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Penny Dreadful, Season 2, Episode 5: Above the Vaulted Sky

Evelyn has finished her creepy baby hearted Vanessa doll and now turns her attention to another doll she has, cracking open its head to reveal the very real and very icky brains inside. This seems to worry her somewhat

But she gets over it when Hecate returns with Vanessa’s hair. Hecate threads the hair into the Vanessa doll while Evelyn stabs a hot needle into the exposed brain of the other doll. Elsewhere a woman wakes from sleep clutching her head and screaming in agony

At Malcolm’s house, Ethan describes them as being under siege, drawing on his own experience in the Indian wars (in a battle he says was to exterminate the Apache, something he seems to regard with disgust and in frank terms)… He describes how ruthless, how they betrayed them and how they massacred the Apaches.

Vanessa also knows what they’re doing, making a fetish with her hair, something Sembene also knows about. They prepare to defend the house with weapons, rituals and every superstition they can muster. Sembene draws on his traditions, Ethan on Native American traditions smudging away with sage and Lyle hides from the others to pull out a Torah and a Tallit, drawing upon his Jewish traditions. Vanessa bleeds everywhere. Lyle covers the mirrors and Vanessa prays.

It’s all very very ominous – and then the naked nightcomers surround Vanessa. She falls, panicked then runs to a praying Ethan. She panics, fearful for her inability to tell if the nightcomers are there or just in her heard. She despairs of ever feeling safe and refers to suicide as the only path to freedom though she clings to her faith. She asks to sleep in Ethan’s room and he agrees.

She also talks to him about faith, confronting him about his praying but he has some very deep thoughts about god and responsibility and how killing someone (“deciding my life is more important than anyone else’s”) changed him. Vanessa offers her acceptance regardless of what he has “made of himself.”

Evelyn keeps tormenting the woman with her magic pins – I think she’s Malcolm’s wife.

When Ethan wakes, Vanessa is gone leaving a book behind. When he leaves the house Inspector Rusk “asks” to speak to him. He goes to the Inspector’s office and is massively unco-operative though they do establish several reasons why he is suspicious. Not least of which because Ethan Chandler doesn’t appear to be his real name. Inspector keeps pushing him and Chandler keeps dodging him – the Inspector seems especially interested in pushing Ethan to admit he knows about Native Americans. They part company and Ethan quickly loses the man the inspector sets to follow him.

But the man from America he mauled succeeds in following him to Malcolm’s house.

Over to Frankenstein. The creature, John, is tired of Victor putting off introducing him to “Lilly” and engages in some throttling. But, as Victor points out, he can’t stop John going to see her himself, he knows the way – and John’s own fear and nervousness rises. Victor explains what he told her of John – that he was her fiancĂ© but that he didn’t know if she loved John nor that she must love him now – that’s her decision. He confronts John on whether that was wrong and John accepts that he wasn’t wrong to leave her love to her own choice. John also worries about his face – but Victor points out all Lily knows is the three of them, she has no reference for whether John’s face is handsome or repulsive.

Victor leaves them both (though eaves drops) while the awkward conversation begins. John tries to push her, pushing her to say she finds his face beautiful and trying to push their fictional history on her even though she clearly doesn’t want to hear it. After his recounting she insists they must start as friends, and reverts to last names, because she just doesn’t remember all their past together (ha!)

Vanessa has gone to have tea with Victor and Lilly. Lilly is terrified, nervous, awkward (not just about the city, but simple things like how much sugar to put in tea) while Vanessa (who doesn’t appear to recognise her) does her very best to be kind and reassuring. When Vanessa leaves there’s a lot more flirting vibe between the two – and Lilly is still nervous and desperate.

Vanessa continues to visit the cholera homeless shelter and runs into John again, discussing his name (after a poet who was also considered an outcast). They both recite beautiful poetry about the outcast. They discuss peace (and how she thinks Victor has found it because he’s fallen in love with Lilly) even while they discuss how love leaves you vulnerable and damaging while John laments how terrible he is at woo-wooing or human company in general. Vanessa decides to help teach him, starting with how to dance.

Now to Dorian and Angelique just having attended the opera and they run into a man who has paid for Angelique’s company not realising she was trans – he calls her a “freak”. Dorian steps in the way and kisses her hand in clear acceptance – and the man spits on her.

At the same opera, Malcolm is with Evelyn and he is well and truly taken with her. She talks ominous about simplifying his life and “accidentally” pricks him with her ring. At least Malcolm does seem suspicious of that.

They leave and get laughingly caught in the rain and Malcolm kisses her for some time before apologising profusely. He kisses her again and they go into a hotel together where they have sex – her taking the opportunity to prick him with her ring again.

At the house Lyle is bemused by one often repeated phrase among the Verbis Diablo they’re reading – Lupus Dei (albeit in several languages). Hound of god.

Back at Dorian’s, Angelique comes into his room dressed as a man in Dorian’s clothes – Dorian tells her it’s not really her, but Angelique tells her story: how she came to London to escape her parents but being Angelique forced her to become a sex worker and faced endless degradation – and how Dorian is so lucky to live his charmed life (even as Dorian challenges the idea that he doesn’t know what it is to be different or that he’s “normal”.) Angelique tells Dorian how tired she is, so tired of fighting and Dorian offers to fight with her – and says he cares about who she is as a person rather than the novelty. They kiss and have sex (and unlike Dorian and Ethan’s fade to black, this is every bit as explicit as any sex scene on the show)

Vanessa and Ethan meet at the house and she gives him one of her shatter-the-walls intense stares (seriously I think that would actually back fire as seduction, her stare is terrifying) and touches his hair. They don’t have sex – I thought we were going for a full set

Especially when, during the storm, Lilly is terrified and runs to hide in Victor’s bed. He holds and comforts her – and she kisses him. After kissing, Victor jerks away but Lilly then unties her nightgown and puts his hand on her breast – and they have sex.

Vanessa and Ethan, you’re letting the side down.

Malcolm’s wife is bedevilled by terrible images of her dead children rising from the grave. In her desperation and horror, she slits her own throat

Penny Dreadful you finally give Sembene some input and it’s because he knows about dark cannibalistic magic, really? He’s allowed to step up with woo-woo?

Similarly while I’m, glad Ethan is harsh and stark in his description and dislike of the massacres of the Native Americans, this experience is being drawn upon in a cast that has no Native American characters or presence; their massacre is an object lesson even while it is being condemned. Especially since this seems to be used as a stepping stone for Ethan to pull out some Native American woo-woo.

Ethan’s view of death and killing is a deep one though and there’s a lot of knotty conflict I want to tease out there. His line “deciding my life is more important than anyone else’s” really pokes an unpleasant spike into the idea of killing in self-defence, one of the few acts of killing most people would agree is justified. It reminds me of the Cut Wife telling Vanessa she was selfish for helping her friend rather than the many girls who needed her – harsh moral choices and complete shredding of illusions and the justifications we tell ourselves seems to be something Penny Dreadful is good at.

Victor and John very belatedly decide to recognise Lily’s autonomy and agency – which is good but also so very little so very late. The flip side is I think the show did a good job of showing how little agency Lily has – or is even capable of. When John asks if she likes her dress she just repeats “Victor picked it out.” Victor himself points out she’s only ever seen three people so has no concept on whether Victor’s face is noteworthy or not. She’s so lacking in any kind of grounding or experience that she’s not even capable of expressing or understanding preference. Of course, all of that makes Victor having sex with Lilly all the more gross – even if she is the instigator, everything she knows about him, herself, the world is based on a lie. She is in a position of such profound ignorance has been so massively manipulated it is beyond impossible for her to give any kind of informed consent.

Angelique facing hatred is unsurprising, but I do wish there was more to her story than facing prejudice and Dorian vicariously revelling in it – though I am glad that Dorian actually focuses on comforting and affirming Angelique, centring his attention on her rather than the bigot and he didn’t try to emphasise her other-ness as he has been doing or enjoy the moment as I rather feared he would. I’m also glad that Angelique openly called Dorian out on his behaviour- that he is revelling in her otherness which led to him finally addressing his problematic behaviour and caring for Angelique as a person. That has been desperately needed in their storyline – he has treated her as a novelty, the next taboo to break (not helped by interviews where the actor said the same thing about Dorian’s bisexuality) – as a fetish more than a person. This challenge was just what was needed

I’m also glad we saw them have sex without the fade (and, if anything, their sex was much more explicit than anyone else’s) – with all this show has shown, Dorian and Ethan kissing then fade-to-black with only the implication of more was glaring.

I’m unsure what woo-woo Evelyn’s ring is causing – but I suspect it may be coercing Malcolm or it may be part of cursing his wife with the zombie kids

I wonder if that won’t backfire. I mean, Malcolm and his wife being estranged and he continuing a discreet (or even not very discreet) affair in those circumstances probably wouldn’t raise too many eyebrows (against him, anyway), but holding an affair, especially an overt affair with view to be more than affair, so shortly after one’s wife has kicked the bucket? Apart from the tastelessness of it, I suspect Malcolm himself would pull away from Evelyn for a while because of it.