Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Penny Dreadful, Season 2, Episode 8 Momento Mori

Lily reflects on how she likes her men boyish and full of games and… dead. Just like the corpse she created last week (and kisses his staring dead eye – uckies uckies uckies).

Back at Frankenstein’s, John comes home to find Lily missing and rages at (a probably hung over) Victor for letting her go out with a man – threatening him with a live wire. All his comments about letting Lily chose go out the window as John growls that Lily is made for him, is his – not Victor’s and not Dorian’s. He now intends to leave with her and, one day, come back to get Victor and do terrible things to him.

Lily returns to Victor the next day, surprised by all the destruction. Victor yells at her for being out all night but she is amazingly calm and collected, tells him to settle down while casually telling him about her evening. She’s also received flowers from Dorian who she considers immensely charming but just a little too sophisticated. Victor tries to convince her to run away from London with him – but she doesn’t want to go, London is her home.

Victor goes to see Sir Malcolm and I’m not sure whether to talk about opiate addiction or being in love or both (I think love) – either way he needs his surrogate father for some advice to which Malcom has little except mutual supporting confusion to offer. Malcolm reflects on his own failings – his past of cruelty which he has only recently come to recognise; he recognises how he has changed, how he is now happy but also how that, fundamentally, isn’t him.

The woo-woo seems to be fading as well, since he seems to have grasped that he was at a ball during his wife’s funeral which just Is Not Done and certainly is not him.

Lyle is visiting with Evelyn and he muses about vanity, appearance and youth – which also leads to a note on Evelyn’s youth (eternally preserved by her demonic master) and her dangling that carrot before him. He pretends not to care about Vanessa & co and cuts of her attempts to tempt him as unnecessary since he’s already her creature (after all, if she’s already blackmailing his obedience more is just gilding, or the fiction that he’s a willing accomplice). And he has absolutely no knowledge to offer her – which is why she threatens him; but he has been very careful to ensure he knows nothing to tell. She forces him to kiss her before he leaves, much to his obvious disgust – and hers. As he leaves Hecate as her own questions – and is still plotting against mother dearest

Inspector Rusk is still doing his detecting guided by his bizarre psychic instinct - which leads him to Malcolm. He wants to know why Malcolm told his predecessor to hunt a beast rather than a human killer and Malcolm tries the really terrible excuse “it was just a silly whimsy of mine.” The inspector does not buy this. The Inspector remarks about his excessive security and lack of staff (and I call shenanigans, there is no way Sembene can maintain that house by himself). He tries to confront Malcolm about the clandestine nature of his daughter’s burial which Malcolm absolutely refuses to be questioned about – and he denies knowing Ethan Chandler.

Evelyn continues her hexing of Malcolm (seeming to cause heart trouble) in time for the meeting between him, Victor, Sembene and Lyle. They have finally translated the code of the angels cast from hell – now saying they were cast down and cleaved apart: 2 brothers, one on Earth to feed on blood one in Hell to feed on souls. Both questing for the Mother of Evil who will free them and allow one of them to conquer heaven for ever lasting rule of darkness. The brothers are also feuding – the vampire tried to lure Vanessa through Mina and Lucifer tried to possess her and is now working through the witches. They discuss other potential mothers of evil through history and that they may be helped by the Wolf of God

Well that was nicely dramatic. And I think Evelyn heard every word through her magic – and then casts a spell on Malcolm. The house shakes and his eyes turn black from edge to edge as he is possessed by Lucifer. Sembene grabs him and throws him into a long disused room – yelling “know who you are.”

Evelyn seems a little stunned as Malcolm is taking into his memories, dancing with his wife among ghostly figures, his daughter, his son all dancing before his wife kisses him goodbye. Evelyn continues her spelling – and fails, her mirror breaks and tears falling down her face. Hecate decides to taunt her in her failing – but she is sure that his anger will lure him into a trap she will lay. She also takes a moment to put Hecate in her place

Malcolm is back to himself again and ominously plays with weapons before, ominously, going out armed after everyone else is in bed. He’s hunting witches. He doesn’t do that well against the witches and ends up Evelyn’s prisoner. He’s there as bait for Vanessa.

But she also wants to share her gifts with Malcolm – her loneliness is so strong, she desperately wishes to be with Malcolm as she tearfully begs him. He agrees – if she will spare Vanessa, which he cannot, will not do. His devotion for his “daughter” overwhelms all else.

He then puts a scorpion – Vanessa’s symbol – on Malcolm’s leg. He brushes it to the floor but she has also left him with painful memories – a coffin with his son’s body inside – and 2 more coffins with his wife and daughter – all rising from the grave.

Over to Dorian and Angelique – and Dorian is going to dine with Lily again, much to Angelique’s irritation. Dorian takes Lily out shopping, watched by John the monster

Left at Dorian’s, Angelique notices a draft which leads her to Dorian’s secret passage and Dorian’s painting. Dorian comes in as she’s staring at the painting that shows his true self, his sins manifest. He asks if she can accept him knowing who he truly is – and love him. She says yes and drinks the wine. The poisoned wine as she falls Dorian says “I don’t think you can.”

Lily goes home to be stalked by John who is ominously silent around her. She is scared of him – and he insists she’s just pretending. He talks about how they belong together but she cruelly sets him back – his face does not belong side her beautiful face. She snarls about his verses and his demands and when he rushes at her she throws him back with strength equal to his. She has an epicly glorious rant about the way men treat, use and abuse women, how women are dolls, enslaved, subject to violence and abuse and rape.

And as she talks her accent changes from English to Irish and she throws him across the room. “Never again will I kneel to any man. Now they shall kneel to me, as you do monster.” She then talks about their clever creator – and how he has made demons. She’s stark about them being undead monsters while John cowers in the corner. She asks their purpose – is it to suffer – he says yes, she asks why it has to be so. But then turns it seductive and talks about them being together along with speeches about suffering and ugliness and poetry – the whole line is epic. And how they will kill Victor and then they will rule over humans, conquer them. With yet another truly epic speech

By the end she has utterly claimed John.

One thing I do like about Penny Dreadful is these little conversations the characters have that carry so much. Take Malcolm and Victor – Malcolm talks about being happy and content – and also how he was cruel, angry and generally unpleasant before. Yet at the same time he talks about the happiness being untrue to him (and not just because of the magic. Look at the layers implied but this – the questions raised. Is inauthentic happiness more valuable than being your true, unhappy self? What if you unhappy self harms others while this new façade is more approachable? Is this an inevitable of love changing him or a fundamental loss of self and identity? And will your happiness last or will reality and your true self-reassert

Demonic female sexuality has been an issue with Penny Dreadful and certainly in the Victorian mindset – still there is a difference between saying “people had this ridiculous notion” and having a world setting where it is true: where all the potential vessels for evil are female and Malcolm outright linking it to straight female sexuality. This is not “historical prejudice of the time” because it is not presented as an opinion or prejudice but as an iron fact of the world itself.

Malcolm’s memories, the ghostliness were really well done – they grey really worked. But, again, it screams for Sembene to be developed – if he has this knowledge/skill/power he simply must be a full member of the cast, not this long neglected servant

Angelique is dead…she has had a rocky road. She has been a bold, determined, courageous figure – and one seeking love and affection, facing prejudice but holding her own in the face of it. She was interesting, she was powerful. She is dead – and I kind of expected that, her tragic death was on the cards in Victorian Gothic for some time – but the manner of it was poor and fed badly into how Dorian treated her. Despite one episode pushing against it (and the seeming call back to that with the last conversation about acceptance) Dorian’s interest in Angelique from the beginning has been one of fetishism. He revels in how new and exotic and Other she is, he basks in the condemnation they receive, he revels in making a display of their relationship so he can hear the shocked gasps and muttered tuts. Even as she insists on being treated as a person, he treats her as a hobby, an experience, an adventure. And could this be clearer than when the undead Brona shows up and Dorian’s fickle interest is attracted elsewhere. This could work if we saw Angelique challenging this and even dump Dorian and develop her own storyline separate from him and rejecting his condescending curiosity – but instead she is used to show his pathos over his painting and she is killed off to make from for Dorian/Brona. Just as Anglique is getting in the way she conveniently finds the painting so we can skip to her tragic death – and that is classic fridging. Killed to establish another’s storyline. Killed because her character is getting in the way. Killed because she is part of Dorian’s story and, when his moves on, there’s no further place for her.

I also think it was a mistake to show the painting. It was far more ominous when we didn’t know what it looked like, when we could imagine the picture was horrific beyond all possible imaginings.

And now can we just bask in the epicness of Brona? From the beginning we have had a trainwreck of consent as they treated her as a thing, a toy. She is turning the tables – she will not kneel, she will not be owned. This whole scene is incredible and immensely powerful. Even when she turns to him sexually the whole shift has changed – he will be hers, she will take him and she moves on him while he lays passive. She will have things on her terms.

The acting of this show is gloriously intense – and it couldn’t be any other way to make it work.