Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Penny Dreadful, Season 2, Episode 10: And They Were Enemies

We open with wolfy Ethan – and dead Sembene and my eternal disgust.

Vanessa is being taunted by a ventriloquist dummy, possessed by the Fallen Angel, about being a murderer (and calling her Amaunet). But Vanessa must give her soul willingly. With Evelyn they both accuse her about the darkness she embraced and the black magic she’s used. They try to tempt her and challenge her to a staring contest (well knowing herself, but I’m amused that anyone thinks they could win a staring contest with Vanessa). They tempt her with her ultimate wish – to be normal which leads to a vision of life, married to Ethan and with two kids. Vanessa calls the vision cruel while they described what a wonderful peaceful life she would have (and, in classic Victorian gothic, that includes a beautiful death) with her friends free

Vanessa pulls back. She knows what she is – and a normal life isn’t in her dreams any more. And she growls and it is perhaps the most terrifying thing this show has ever had. She has a Verbis Diablo duel with her possessed puppet, the whole building shaking from it and Evelyn cowering from the noise. The puppet is destroyed and a wave of scorpions (Vanessa’s symbol) crawl from within.

“Beloved know your master”, the puppet shatters. Along with the epic scale. Evelyn, her master defeated, ages rapidly – and Hecate releases Ethan who runs free and slices out her throat with his claws

He then confronts Vanessa and calms. He runs from her. Sensible man. Vanessa absorbs a scorpion into her hand – where it leaves its image as a scar in the palm before fading because she clearly hasn’t maximised the creepy yet

Victor is confronted by his ghostly “kids”, all his creations – they all accuse him of the terrible ways he’s treated them (including Lily outright calling his touching her abuse). Malcolm is confronted by his ghostly dead kids. With all the guilt they push them to “atone” – suicide.

As Evelyn dies, the visions tormenting Victor and Malcolm fade. Leaving them both a little shaken in the aftermath.

And Lyle manages to shoot the witch holding him. His parting lines are: “never underestimate the power of a queen with lovely hair, my dear.” Oh… Lyle.

They reunite and Malcolm shoots and kills another naked witch. They unite with Vanessa and find Sembene’s dead body.

Hecate is left along among the destruction, singing merrily and leaving it to burn behind her.

Victor and Lyle drive home in the carriage and Lyle asks Victor to keep it a secret that he is Jewish. He also offers to listen should Victor need it. Victor returns to his home and gloomy lab to find it completely empty – no sign of Lily. Only flowers (left by Dorian, I think). He storms out again.

He goes to Dorian’s and finds them both dancing in his spectacular ball room. They laugh at him and he pulls a gun, they laugh again, neither all that worried by firearms. Victor begs her to return that he loves her – which she mocks him for his sexual ineptitude. He shoots her and she hits back “please, Creator, you made me too well for that.” More awesomely evil mockery about how “malleable” (she even says she has always known she was created -implying that whole innocent ingenue act was just that- an act) Victor is and Victor shoots Dorian. Yup, that doesn’t work either. They then have a gloriously evil and cruel speech about their superiority, ascendency even, cruelty and conquest. Lily chooses not to murder him because he might be useful – and besides it will be good to let him live and know he has created a master race of immortals.

Victor leaves, looking quite broken. Dorian and Lily return to dancing, leaving a trail of blood behind them.

At home, Victor takes more opium, struggling because his veins have collapsed.

Malcolm and Vanessa discuss Sembene’s funeral plans (Malcolm plans to go back to Africa with his body). After which Vanessa goes to Ethan to talk about their mutual darkness and her wanting to run off with him, for him to stay with her. He says he needs time to think and they’re all beautifully tragic about it.

The next day she wakes to a letter written to her – while Ethan goes to see Inspector Rusk to confess to all the killings. But he wants a rapid execution – except he’s not being hanged, he’s been extradited to the US.

Over to Putney’s waxworks where John is still imprisoned. Mr Putney has an offer as he describes his success how he intends to exploit more unfortunates – and he has an offer for John. He will get part of the profits if he plays along and performs for the crowd rather than moping as well as helping new inmates, being “king of the Freaks.” John considers it – then easily bursts open his cage and kills both Putneys.

Then Lavinia comes down to the basement, mocking and insulting John, not realising he is free. John leaves without hurting her. As he reaches the streets we hear her scream.

Vanessa goes to the now empty cholera camp and finds John who tells her he also intends to leave – to be away from mankind. He no longer wishes to pretend to be among humanity as they both reflect on having seen what they’re part of. Vanessa discusses throwing her soul away – and John has comfort for her even as she protests his atheism. Her faith is gone. He asks her to come with him, both so very tragic, but she won’t inflict her darkness on him. She calls him “the most human man she’s ever known” and kisses him before she leaves.

Boats leave – Malcolm to Africa

John to Winterfell, apparently (or, maybe Canada)

Ethan, caged, to the US.

Vanessa is alone with Ethan reading aloud his goodbye letter as she turns down all the gas lamps. She goes to her room and pulls down her cross, burning it in the fire.

And in classic gothic tragedy EVERYONE IS BROKEN AND SAD AND TRAGIC! Well, almost. But it certainly hit hard with grief and pain, every actor really selling it.

The temptation scene with Victor and Malcolm was truly awesome. In fact all the temptations scenes were just excellent – and really sold with some epic acting. Penny Dreadful has mastered the gothic in a way that few shows can

In fact, I’m going to take a moment here just to praise the sheer excellence of the backdrops – from the bleak moor to the terrifying room of dolls, every setting is so perfectly developed and placed. The whole imagery of this show is amazing – look at Dorian and Lily in their beautiful, white, blood stained clothes in that amazing room – it could not have been a better scene. The music, the acting, the settings – the whole series has always been incredible in its presentation.

Vanessa’s showdown… it was quick and if it hadn’t been so epic it would have been anticlimactic. But it was Vanessa, out devilling the devil and being so incredibly awesome and tragic and beautiful. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Vanessa this season has been truly excellent – whether it’s on the moor

I have loved Lily’s storyline. Yes she’s evil now – but it is an evil based on desperate power and agency. Even when she uses her sexuality as a tool, it is all her weapon, her power. This works so well because of Brona’s history and makes it far more than her being a terrible, evil woman. She was abused, used, bought and sold and ultimately dying. She was hurt over and over, had no safety and faced endless contempt. Even Victor and John clearly brought her back to be a glorified sex toy, a pretty doll to dress as they pleased and smile and dance to their tune without a thought to what she actually wanted. As her image said, it was abuse, pure and simple – and pretty much what she has known from men and in her life. From this position of weakness she finds herself now with unimaginable power – immortal, a master, ascendant (which also does a lot to parse her scene with John - refusing. Through this lens and in the wake of her past I can’t help but cheer her even if she does leave a trail of bodies in her wake

While I’ve generally loved this season there are some issues

Sembene is glaring. He has been constantly sidelined every season. He is a servant, he has had minimal backstory (and that backstory was a classic Marginalised Swan Song) and that backstory alone was utterly appalling and needed a lot more development than the brief coverage we had. Ethan calls him a friend but we see no evidence of that at all, no friendship – it’s just a convenient word thrown in so Sembene can be in on the big secret. He was wallpaper, set decoration reduced to an extra – and in the big scene it’s no surprise that he is the only one who dies. Sembene, ignored, lacking in any characterisation and then thrown away

Angelique was an interesting character – in that she was brave and determined, she lived her own life her way, challenged Dorian about who she was and how he treated her and clearly lived a life facing a great deal of prejudice but kept going and kept fighting despite that. She wasn’t a bad character – but the way she was treated was appalling. Dorian treated her as another adventure – a fetish. She was a novelty for him to explore (which is also part of how Dorian’s bisexuality has been referred to –only sex between cis, straight people is authentic and actually due to attraction – otherwise it’s adventure and fetishism and trying something new and even a form of self-harm and self-destruction). He paraded her about (which would put her at risk) revelling in the notoriety – and then she was discarded when he was getting bored of her and found a new novelty – an undead woman. For extra insult he kills her – the writers conveniently having her find his painting just when it would be convenient to dispose of her.

I could wish for a lot more form Lyle – but he is dripping in stereotypes. It would help if there were more to him than that – and it would certainly help if we weren’t looking at, yet again, a gay comic relief (if he were more than that I would have been able to find his line to the witch he killed much more amusing – as it was it was all part of his clown character). Because gay men are just so damn hilarious to straight people – and he can be simultaneously blackmailed due to homophobia while at the same time he’s happy to banter sexual innuendo and quip about being “a queen with perfect hair.” Because don’t even let the clumsy homophobia thrown at him be a barrier for another comic relief moment.

I loved this series and badly wanted to just embrace it uncritically – alas, it’s not what we do at Fangs.