Penny Dreadful: Night of the Living Dead

PennyDreadful_108_1469.r_article_story_largePreviously on Penny Dreadful: Caliban wanted a girlfriend, Ethan’s girlfriend lay dying, and Vanessa’s love life led to her being possessed, though on the upside, she found out where Mina is during said possession.

Vanessa tells Malcolm she thinks Mina’s trying to be found, at the theatre. Malcolm’s somewhat encouraged, but there’s a hard truth he has to face: if Mina can’t be saved, he’ll have to kill her. He goes to contact the boys so they can all go to the theatre after it closes. Alone, Vanessa looks contemplative, and then senses something. A moment later, Sembene announces that a gentleman is there to see her. It’s Dorian, as she knows, and he’s rather cutely like a schoolboy with a crush. Vanessa invites him to sit and he politely says it’s good to see her doing better. He babbles about having gone travelling while she was ill, hitting up Italy for some shopping, as you do. Noting her tarot cards, he asks her to read his future. She wearily says she’s not sure he has one. He asks to read his past, but she says that would rob him of his mystery. He desperately tries to ask her out, but she lies that she’s permanently busy. He tells her he’ll be waiting for her somewhere at four o’clock that afternoon. She shortly informs him that their time together is done and sweeps out.

Ethan sits at Brona’s bedside. She’s clearly in her last days, if not moments, and he seems to be praying as he clutches her hand and tries not to cry. He gently puts her hand down and leaves. As he departs the inn, two men observe him. One, clearly of Native American origin, grumbles that they should just go ahead and grab him, but his partner advises patience.

Malcolm goes to a rather nice gun shop and greets the owner, who leads him to a back room, where he shows him a prototype automatic pistol. He agrees to buy it on the spot, along with its serious ammo.

Back out in the front of the shop, he runs into Mme Cali, the leader of that ill-fated séance from several episodes ago. She informs him that her name is really Evelyn and they chat a bit about firearms—her interest is mostly nostalgic, as her late husband was a fan, though she says a woman in the city alone needs a bit of protection. Malcolm wryly observes that she’s probably capable of taking care of herself. She brings up his upcoming expedition and, when she learns he’ll be gone for a year or more, tells him that’s quite a shame, since they’re just getting reacquainted. Hmm. She asks after Vanessa and Malcolm lies that he hasn’t seen much of her, since she’s really a friend of his daughter’s. He quickly excuses himself, with her promising that they’ll be meeting up again.

At the theatre, the actors and Cal are in rehearsal, but something goes wrong with a pulley lifting up the douchebag actor, who starts yelling at Cal. Douchebag’s name is Simon, and his sweet ingénue girlfriend is Maude. Nice to have some names at the eleventh hour here. Cal apologises for the mess up, but Simon, being a jerk, snaps at Cal not to come near him because he can’t stand the sight of Cal, and neither can anyone else. Maude looks embarrassed, but when Simon calls her, she goes with him. Cal apologises to Vincent, who reassures him that show business is full of bitches. Heh. Cal does not seem reassured.

Later, Maude finds him belowstage, reading, and offers him a ‘sorry my boyfriend’s such a raging asshole’ gift of an orange. He thanks her and accepts it. She thanks him for the book and he eagerly asks if she read it. She hasn’t yet, because it’s pretty long. He tells her that there are lines in it that speak to him. Maude says she’s really sorry about how Simon acted, lying that he’s a ‘beast sometimes, but he doesn’t really mean it.’ ‘Yes, he does,’ Cal replies. He guesses that, despite his beastliness, Simon makes her happy. She reminds him that he doesn’t need to hide his face from her, as he currently is, and says she’ll see him later. Before she goes, she gives him a sweet kiss on the forehead and a smile. Cal looks like the sun just came out after monsoon season.

Malcolm carefully arranges his ammo as Vanessa comes into his study to speak to him. She immediately notices that the photo of Mina and Peter that usually stands on his desk is gone. Getting no explanation from Malcolm, she asks why he didn’t want her on the ship. He says it was too dangerous. He goes on to say that, while he would certainly sacrifice her to save Mina, for now, he needs Vanessa to find Mina in the first place, so he’ll do what he needs to to keep her alive. He says he stashed the photograph because he couldn’t bear to look at it anymore. They talk about guilt for a bit—they all have it, and she wants to be free of it while he doesn’t, for some reason. She tells him that, if that’s true, he should put the picture back.

Cal tries to pretty himself up with stage makeup, but does a really horrible job of it. Taking his orange, he goes to see Maude, who’s in her dressing room, mending a costume. He startles her, but when she catches sight of his face, she can’t help but laugh and ask what he’s done to himself. Cal, taken aback, tries to recover and says he brought her an orange. She starts to get a little nervous and says he shouldn’t be there. He reminds her that Simon is there pretty often, and warning bells start ringing as she asks him how he knows that. Yeah, Cal, this is what most girls would call seriously creepy. He realizes he’s blundering and tries to apologise, but she tells him he should really leave. Instead, he grabs her, kisses her, and, when she fights him, pushes her against the wall. She screams and he lets her go and flees.

Cal has to go. Vincent regretfully says he’d happily get rid of Maude and keep Cal, but they need their ingénue. Cal sincerely thanks him for the opportunity and holds out a hand to shake, but Vincent embraces him, urges him to ‘remember us better than we are’ and rushes off before he starts to cry. Awwww! Cal takes a moment on the stage to look out over the seats, and then leaves the theatre behind. The camera rises and reveals, high in the rafters, the Creature, asleep. What a coincidence that it chose this very theatre to set up in! And how lucky, because if it had been any other theatre, Vanessa wouldn’t have had a clue where it was.

Vanessa returns to the glasshouse and finds Dorian looking at the sad remains of that one rare orchid, which is now basically dead. He thanks her for meeting him and asks if he can call her Vanessa. Well, you two did have kinky sex, so I’d say that puts you on a first-name basis. She agrees. They walk and she asks if he wants an explanation for her sudden flight from his home. He does not. She tells him that it’s really too dangerous for them to be together. He doesn’t understand and says he’s not afraid, but since she knows that having intimate relations literally awakens her inner demon, she is, so even though they have awesome chemistry, they can’t be together. Dorian looks confusedly heartbroken, kind of like a puppy being left home alone for the first time. She bids him farewell and, as she leaves, he brushes a tear away from his eye and looks genuinely befuddled, like he’s never seen a tear before.

Cal has gone to Victor’s, and Victor tells him he can’t stay there. Cal has no intention of staying there, but at the moment, he has nowhere else to go. Victor tells him he can’t forgive him for murdering Van Helsing and demanding a wife. He reaches into his bag and retrieves a pistol as Cal, facing the other way, starts talking about how he had these wonderful dreams of having a mate who would look into his face and not flinch, but he now realizes that could never be, that nobody will ever look at him like that. Victor takes aim, but Cal’s words seem to be touching him. Cal goes on to say that his ugliness outside must be reflecting his messed-up heart and asks why Victor allowed him to feel, because damn, but feeling hurts. He says he’d rather be the corpse he was than the man he is. He urges Victor to kill him, saying it would be a blessing, but Victor can’t manage it. He puts the pistol aside and hesitantly puts a hand on Cal’s shoulder. But their moment is interrupted by the arrival of Ethan, asking for Victor’s help.

Victor accompanies him back to the inn, to tend to Brona. After his exam, Victor tells her he can give her a sedative. She doesn’t want it. He asks if she’s comfortable and she says she is, in body, but not necessarily in spirit. She goes on to say that she hated God for the lot he dealt her in life, but now she’s frightened. Victor kindly takes her hand and tells her she’s just stepping through a door. But what lies on the other side? she wonders. The man of science has no answer for that. He whispers to Ethan that it won’t be long and sends him for some water. Once Ethan’s gone, Victor tells Brona that there’s a place between the living and the dead, a glorious place of everlasting rebirth. And then he smothers her with a pillow. Damn, Victor. Guess Cal’s getting his girlfriend after all. Brona dies quickly, and Victor sets the pillow aside just before Ethan returns. Thank God Ethan didn’t get back about three seconds earlier. Victor reassures him that her passing was a thing of grace, not that Ethan cares, as he kneels by the bed and weeps. Victor promises to take care of the body, when Ethan’s ready.

Later, Ethan emerges and, looking like he’s in a trance, goes to a bar. There, he’s joined by the two men who were watching him earlier, who waste no time making it clear they know who he is. One guy is Roper, and his Native American friend is Mr Kim. They’re Pinkertons, because aren’t these guys always? And they’ve been sent by Ethan’s dad to retrieve him. Man, daddy must be really desperate to have him home. They’re going to deliver him one way or another: either he comes quietly, or they chain him up and drag him back ‘like a monkey.’ Ethan contemplates this, and then kicks both of their asses in approximately three seconds flat before stomping out of the bar. Roper tells Kim to track Ethan down. Damn, Roper, the guy’s Apache, he’s not a bloodhound.

Ethan walks the snowy streets of London, seeming lost. He meets up with Vanessa, who’s summoned him to a meeting down one street, and he accepts her offer of a bit of (presumably) pot. She offers condolences and thanks him for his ‘kindness’ while she was sick. That’s a pretty mild way of putting it.

They’re joined by the others, and Malcolm briskly tells them not to approach Mina, if she’s there, because Mina’s his responsibility. They enter the theatre, which is dark and shut for the night. Wandering around, they finally find the Creature way up in the rafters, still asleep. Malcolm readies his gun, but then the Creature’s eyes fly open, and the trapdoor underneath Ethan opens up, plunging him below the stage, where the Brides start coming from all sides. Ethan starts shooting. Malcolm tries shooting at the Creature, but it flees. Sembene jumps below the stage to help Ethan while Victor looks overwhelmed and freaked out. He goes below and manages to shoot one of the brides. Malcolm, meanwhile, is just firing wildly. He manages to hit the Creature in the shoulder, but that seems to have no effect.

The Creature jumps onto the walkway where Vanessa’s standing and she stares it down. Malcolm comes flying to her aid and stabs the Creature through the chest with a sword. The Creature doesn’t die, but falls to the stage. Below, the others are being completely overwhelmed by the oncoming brides. Malcolm rushes down to the stage and drives the sword through the Creature’s heart, finally killing it. With his death, the brides, too, die.

Vanessa joins Malcolm on the stage, and then Mina appears behind her, looking all human again. Vanessa embraces her and Malcolm practically weeps in relief as the others come up and join them. But the happiness is short-lived. Mina’s eyes glow red, and her embrace turns into a chokehold as she thanks her father for bringing Vanessa to her. Ethan tries to rush her, but is warned back. Vanessa tells Mina she can save her, but Mina doesn’t want to be saved. Malcolm, too, tries to persuade her that this isn’t the life for her, but Mina begs to differ. Vanessa will be the Master’s bride, allowing him to sire generations. She goes to bite Vanessa in the neck, but Malcolm shoots her. Mina falls away and reminds him that she’s his daughter. He coldly tells her he already has one and shoots her dead. Wow. So, all that work to find Mina and, that’s it? Also, is Vanessa actually his daughter? Biologically? Not that it really matters, I’m just curious, and considering his affair with her mother, it’s possible. Or this could just be more of the surrogate family these people are swiftly forming.

Snow falls gently outside the Murray Manse as Malcolm takes down his Africa maps. Vanessa joins him and he tells her she was right: he was never going to go to Africa. Trying to be cheerful, he suggests they get a Christmas tree. She joins in and adds that they can have the boys come over to decorate. He busts into tears and she embraces him comfortingly, crying as well.

At the secret lab, Victor suits up while Cal looks on in amazement. Victor hesitates just a moment before pulling back the sheet covering Brona’s face. Wouldn’t it be great if Cal went, ‘eh, not my type’? But he doesn’t of course. He seems actually awed by her appearance and puts a hand over his heart. He stands by his creator’s side as Victor gets to work.

Ethan’s drinking again, not that I blame him. And, of course, his two shadows appear and taunt him about being taken back like a monkey. ‘No, not a monkey,’ says Ethan as he clutches the edges of the table and seems to be in pain. He turns to them, revealing a werewolf face, snarls, and gets to work painting the room blood red. I totally called that. Also, how lucky that night was a full moon.

Vanessa takes a seat opposite the church in the park where she chatted with that little girl. After a little while, she gets up and goes inside. The children’s choir is rehearsing Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel. She crosses herself and goes to find the priest.

Back at Murray Manse, Malcolm takes out the photo of Peter and Mina and places it back on his desk.

Victor continues to work.

In the cold light of day, Ethan walks around the docks.

Vanessa and the priest sit down in his office and he pleasantly invites her to spill her heart. She tells him she’s afraid of the things she’s proven herself capable of, asking if he believes a soul can be taken over by something dark. He says he believes in the devil, but also that many awful things are the result of sicknesses that can be cured. She brings up exorcism and the priest says he was once asked to assist in one, and it didn’t go so well. He tells her that she’s asking for something very dangerous and grueling. He’s willing to help her, but first, she has to ask herself if this is really what she wants. Because being touched by the demon, to him, is like being backhanded by God. It makes her unique. Does she really want to give that up?

What did we think about Penny Dreadful? Honestly, I’m on the fence with this one. It had some good things: Eva Green was fantastic and perfectly cast as Vanessa. Actually, I’d say the whole cast was pretty good, maybe barring Billie Piper as Brona, and I might just be less keen on her because her whole character was a bit trite. The whole storyline with Caliban was really well done too—who’d have thought we’d be rooting for the ‘monster’? And, of course, it served to ask the question of who really counts as a monster in the world: the person who looks like one, the creator, or one of the many douchy humans one runs into?

But there were problems, too. I found myself getting less and less enthusiastic about watching each episode. Maybe it’s just me, but I had trouble really getting into this show and feeling invested in what was going on. I didn’t know much about Mina, so I didn’t care at all about the hunt for her, which is obviously problematic. The whole demon possession of Vanessa’s was incredibly bizarre (though well acted by all). Sembene, the lone character of colour, was completely undeveloped, though it seemed like he could have an interesting story of his own. Instead, we focused completely on all the white characters. I hope they rectify that in the second series, because if you’re going to have a character in every episode, at least let them have a personality! We spent more time on dates with Brona and Ethan, whose relationship developed rapidly but not terribly realistically (to me, anyway). They went from meeting to ‘I love you’ awfully fast, especially for such a jaded pair.

I guess the verdict here is, this was ok. It was wonderfully atmospheric, beautifully art directed and costumed, and had the horror elements without going too over the top with gore, but I felt like we were left with a lot of bits of stories that didn’t entirely come together to form a rich whole. I wanted to feel something here, but I didn’t. But as I said, there’s going to be another series, so hopefully they’ll hit their stride and iron out the wrinkles, now the hunt for Mina’s apparently been dispensed with. If we’re going to move on to Vanessa grappling with her demon, that could actually be interesting. We’ll just have to see.

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