Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Penny Dreadful, Season 3, Episode 4: A Blade of Grass

I have been rather dreading this episode. So far this season we have been seeing a very previous thing – Vanessa being happy. Vanessa getting help. Vanessa being healed. After two seasons of horrendous suffering, we needed this

And now we have her hypnotism based memories of her time in the asylum, complete with all the horrendous torture she endured this

We really don’t need to see more of this. And seeing that John Smith was her orderly and potentially involved in this abuse when we have already seen these two characters have connected. I don’t want that connection to be based on abuse neither of them remember

It wasn’t that bad. While we had Vanessa being horrendously agonised and tormented. Yes the acting is incredible yet again, the stares amazingly intense and her utter collapse are painfully poignant to see. While she suffers there is Dr. Seward trying to help her out of her fugue state and it’s also awesome and powerful and touching and beautiful

And we’ve done this. Yes it’s all so incredibly well done, it’s amazing, it’s emotional and I want to applaud the skill, the direction and the utterly perfect acting. No-one can fault the immense skill, emotional power and general impressive power of this scene. But enough of Vanessa’s suffering. Enough. Please.

Beside her suffering, at least Orderly John Smith develops a very touching relationship. He cares for her. He worries for her. It’s heartbreaking how he genuinely tries to reach her, how her tries to beg her to be well. His faith in his superiors and the institution he is part of crumbles more and more as he comes to agree with her that she is being tortured. It’s beautiful and well developed as they grow closer together and he sees the asylum for what it is. At the same time it’s clear that he is just a cog in the wheel of the institution, too poor to quit and too lowly to break the regulations

There are some special interesting moments: There’s John Smith applying make up on Vanessa to try and let her feel more human, less worn, less ragged even as he tries to bring her hope by telling her no-one will touch her without her permission again. How someone will never touch her, even to put make up on her. Even while trying to give her some hope he acknowledges that even there he is taking liberties with her, he is violating her.

She accurately describes how a lot of women are treated in the Victorian era – insisting that they don’t want to make her well, they want to make her “normal. Compliant like other women. Cogs.”

And when John begs her to fake being well so she can be released and spared surgery:

“Is it so important to be different?”
“Do you want your son to be who is?”
“I want him to be happy.”
“And if he isn’t, would you want him to pretend?”

…Vanessa, is always toweringly awesome

But we also have John Smith possessed by not one, but two different demons: Lucifer (who wants her spirit and her soul) and Dracula – Lucifer’s brother who mocks his sibling for his weak dependence on spirit and turning against the flesh Dracula has embraced (he wants Vanessa’s body). They are terrifying and shadowed and spooky and awful…

Except Vanessa has all that and then some more. After giving up on prayer, she embraces her terrifying witch’s tongue and out evils both of them after they both dare to threaten her – forcing them both to retreat and cower before her. I do like those brief, beautiful moments when we see Vanessa’s power.

She doesn’t leave the fugue state, insisting she isn’t finished yet, even as her memories show her prepared for brutal surgery – condemned by her faith.

In the end, John Smith hands in his notice, because he cares too much about Vanessa, lovers her too much to continue working there.

Only then does she return to Dr. Seward’s office. She wakes, remembering everything. And grim. And unfrightened. Now I want her to start kicking Dracula and stop being victimised