Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Penny Dreadful, Season 2, Episode 9: And Hell Itself My Only Foe

The mauled American hunting Ethan seems to have found him and Vanessa in their getaway on the moors. In between threatening them at gun point he also takes off his mask to show his terribly scarred face. She orders Vanessa to chain Ethan then threatens to rape Vanessa. Because, y’know in TV land it’s absolutely impossible for us to know a sinister bad guy is a sinister bad guy if he isn’t a rapist.

Ethan and Vanessa attack him, though Ethan is chained up. They get beaten up a bit and Ethan stabbed before Vanessa kills the man with repeated stabbing. Lots of repeated stabbing. Stabby stabby stabby

They bury him while morbidly accepting that they’re both murderers together – and Vanessa confronts Ethan about what he actually is. A carriage arrives before he can answer – Victor has come to collect them since Sir Malcolm got himself all kidnapped.

Malcolm is in the witches castle being tormented by the zombie ghosts of his family who all taunt him quite revoltingly.

Evelyn isn’t super happy about all this (having truly seemed to care for Malcolm) and Hecate continues to challenge her and mock her, claiming again that Evelyn is far too old (which, she does point out, it entirely because of the youth obsession that Evelyn has taught her). We also learn that Hecate knows absolutely nothing about palaeontology.

Victor, Ethan and Vanessa return to the house to find Inspector Rusk waiting for them. Ethan walks with him, carefully not letting him speak to Victor and Vanessa while continuing to refuse to answer Rusk’s questions. He rather poetically talks about something overworldly happening. Ya think? And he’s going to be stalked by the police constantly because Rusk has infinite resources. He also causes Ethan “Mr. Talbot” which strikes a nerve – his real name; Rusk is getting Ethan’s war dossier.

Ethan returns to the house looking stressed and Sembene offers to help him with that night’s full moon before the whole gang gathers for Lyle’s confession about working with Evelyn. He is now turning against Evelyn. Victor is quite judgy, but Vanessa is more forgiving, recognising their need for allies and how no-one there is a saint – she also wants to ride to Malcolm’s rescue. On the night of the full moon. She adamantly refuses to listen to Ethan’s objections or Lyle’s warnings – calling it a battle of faith: hers vs the witches

Sembene is the one who seems to settle it – they go in, during the day (per Lyle’s warning) and all of them, to save Malcolm (a subtle reminder, I think, that Vanessa isn’t the only one who cares for Malcolm) and kill Evelyn. Something he dubs an “unholy slaughter”.

Vanessa catches up with Victor injecting himself with opium, something he justifies scientifically in the face of Vanessa’s careful understanding but quiet disapproval. He compares his addiction to her addiction to god before the topic turns to how Lily broke his heart and how he isn’t unlovable – Vanessa calls him a “beautiful monster” who can be loved.

Ethan and Sembene talk about his wolf and Sembene thinks he should tell Vanessa, “she takes your pain and makes it hers” which is beautiful following from her comfort of Victor. Ethan, of course, doesn’t want to add to her worries but Sembene thinks Vanessa is limitless. Sembene also talks about his own past – he was a slave trader and has found kindness (“among the unkind”) in Malcolm’s house. Ethan makes a big deal of what a good friend Sembene is.

When Ethan goes to bed, Hecate appears to try and tempt the Wolf of God to her. She wants him to join her in glorious devil worship – which actually seems to tempt him, especially when she kisses him. He seems to struggle with the whole idea of letting his wolf run free.

Of course them all telling Vanessa not to go rescue Malcolm. Means she ignores them all and goes on her own – so the gang needs to follow her. They really should have predicted that. And Lyle has to have a ludicrous moment about the big gun Ethan gives him. Sembene also keeps trying to stop Ethan from going since it’s full moon but Ethan won’t hear it.

Vanessa arrives at the witch house to confront Evelyn who is done with Malcolm – because he’s now mad and has no dignity (I think this was supposed to be a “yay women” moment but instead reeks of ableism). Vanessa gives her the angry eyes. And no-one has angry eyes like Vanessa. Evelyn tries to taunt Vanessa and Hecate plans to defend the house against Vanessa’s friends – I don’t think Evelyn or Vanessa are impressed by her.

Vanessa is taken into her room of dolls – where the Vanessa doll calls her a murderer.

The gang arrives – Victor and Lyle going to the front while Ethan and Sembene take the back. Lyle pauses to pray in Hebrew, probably realising Ethan has, for some reason, decided to put both the fighters in one team and it’s not his. Lyle looks at Victor, expecting comment but he just says “far be it from me” it’s the last thing Victor cares about. Of course Ethan has taken Sembene to make sure he doesn’t hurt anyone else when he goes all wolfy.

Victor and Lyle are split up – Victor trapped in the room with Malcolm who is wailing and cowering and broken by madness. Just as Victor is confronted by his own demons – Proteus, John Clare and Lily.

They move through the house – and Ethan and Sembene are trapped in a tower. Unable to get out, Ethan tries to shoot himself rather than change – and Sembene stops him. He refuses, calling Ethan chosen by god while he is just a man. Ethan turns wolfy and attacks Semebene – and kills him?

Over to John Clare at the waxworks where the owner, Oscar, asks him his opinion on his monsters. John has a big speech on how evil isn’t ugly – it’s beautiful and seductive (which sounds like a not-at-all subtle reference to Brona). He debates losing his soul and being damned – but not being alone with extra pathos of him describing that he would depict Pandora’s box containing a mirror. Nothing but a mirror.

Lavinia, Oscar’s daughter, asks John what he knows of her father’s new attractions since he’s had workmen hammering away but has asked her to make no new waxworks. She wants to nosy – and needs his help to do it since she’s blind. There they discover a range of empty cells with heavy iron doors and a book – when he goes to see the book, Lavinia locks the door behind him.

She then gets to mock him for being led in – especially since she’s had to endure his repeated ramblings about poetry. The rest of the Putney’s arrive to tell him he’s imprisoned for a freak show – and no-one will care about his plight anyway.

Brona/Lily herself visits Dorian who tries to poke her memories with (photography sessions). She’s very good at fencing with him – and he calls her Brona to which she says “or is it Lily now? Or is it some divine admixture of both?”. She wants all his secrets – um, he does tend to kill people for that. She also orders him to kneel – and he does; and offers her own secrets in exchange for his own.

This includes sex, strangling and her asking questions – how old are you? (Ancient) and can you die (find out). She decides not to – because this world is “outs” and then bites a chunk of his ear off and demands he heal himself so she can see it.

He goes, alone, to his picture and comes back uninjured.

Sembene – no. No, we’re going to need a hell of a lot more information on his background before we accept this as his backstory – the only POC character is a slave trader?

You want to make everyone in this show have dark pasts? This is clear – Vanessa is fighting her darkness and betrayal of Mina, Malcolm left his family a ruin and was an imperialist explorer rampaging his way across the planet, Ethan has his history in the war slaughtering Native Americans as well as the whole werewolf thing and Victor’s darkness is obvious. So, Sembene having a dark and terrible history? I expected that – I was more than ready for that. But they’ve deliberately chosen a crime that is racially charged and made a Black man the perpetrator which clashes clumsily with Ethan and Malcolm’s histories whose dark pasts are related to the privileges they have and the prejudices of the time they engaged in. Sembene could have had a hundred different dark pasts – this is just about the worst one they could have chosen.

We also really need Ethan to stop saying what a great friend Sembene is when we have seen none of that. On a show that has presented us with epic, impressive, awesome relationships constantly telling this one instead of showing it is lacking.

All of this becomes 8 times more unacceptable and more racist when Sembene willingly sacrifices himself for Ethan. For a friendship we have never seen, in the name of a god we’re not even sure Sembene follows, after a belated backstory that adds nothing and a long presence that has had minimal portrayal. It’s an insulting end to a terrible character – and only making him live next episode will do anything to pull this back. This one moment, frankly, dragged the rating of an otherwise excellent episode down considerably

I am really liking Brona/Lily – as I thought from last week she isn’t either of her personalities but both together and something more. She uses her sexuality as a weapon but it’s more than corruption as John puts it – it’s power and a quest for power, especially over men who are particularly unique and powerful (like John and Dorian) which follows from her epic rant in the last episode. Her memories are of a woman constantly abused, used and controlled by men – her quest for power and dominion have to be seen in that context – someone to whom power means not just strength and even vengeance but also control and freedom. The same applies to her sexuality, she was abused, raped, and was a reluctant sex worker – who is now in charge of her sexuality and uses it as another expression of her power both with John and Dorian.

While Lyle is a general collection of stereotypes for comic relief, the show has had a couple of subtle moments of his wariness of antisemitism. When he first prayed in the house to protect it, he was careful to do so where no-one else could see which contrasts sharply with Vanessa’s very overt religiosity. And this episode he prays – but clearly expects a remark or objection from Victor.