Penny Dreadful: The Role of a Lifetime

penny4Previously on Penny Dreadful: Vanessa got flirty with Dorian Gray at a party, Ethan started sleeping with Brona, Caliban demanded a girlfriend from his maker, and the crew captured a crazy vampire named Fenton.

We open on the most laid-back, opera-laced orgy ever. It’s being held at Dorian’s, in his portrait gallery, and it seems like most of the action consists of naked people sitting around and posing fairly artistically. Some are taking opium, which explains the mood. Dorian looks bored and starts looking around at some of the portraits on the walls. Later, when everyone’s gone, he wanders through the now darkened room, still looking bored and empty. He takes a candelabra, goes through a secret door, down a hallway lined with mirrors, and into another room, where stands an enormous painting, covered in a curtain. He pulls the curtain off and blinks at the painting for a few moments, then sits down to stare at it. Sadly, we do not get to see his infamous portrait ourselves.

Vanessa’s sitting in a park, staring at a church across the way, when she’s joined by a little girl who asks why she doesn’t go in. Vanessa asks why she thinks she wants to go in and the girl says it’s because of the way she’s looking at it. She goes on to say that her mother’s dead, and she’s in the park with her awful nanny, before immediately asking if Vanessa has any candy. Vanessa, obviously charmed by this kid, regretfully says she doesn’t. The girl observes that they put her mother in the ground, but she won’t stay there, because ‘they never stay, do they?’ Startled, Vanessa asks what the girl means and she says they go to heaven. Or hell. The nanny appears to hustle away the girl (whose name is Lucy, a loaded name in Dracula, though that could just be a coincidence), and when Vanessa turns back to the church, she sees Dorian walking by.

She follows him to a nearby public glasshouse, where she finds him admiring the orchids. He’s very pleased to see her and takes her off to show her one of the plants. Along the way, he tells her he’s fascinated by flowers’ duplicity. They stop by one plant and he asks her to give her opinion of it. She breathes deeply of the flower and says it reminds her of some sort of jungle berry. He tells her to describe what it’s saying to her, and apparently the plant’s seriously putting the moved on Vanessa, according to her. When she mentions it almost wants her to taste it, Dorian informs her that it’s deadly nightshade, which would totally kill her. She calls him a font of useful information, which amuses him. He observes that the plants all seem so lovely and lush, but a deadliness often lurks within. They arrive at their destination: a particular orchid that’s super rare and hardly ever blooms. Vanessa asks if it’s poisonous. ‘Like all beautiful things, I hope so,’ he replies, before excusing himself. But before he goes, he happens to mention he’s off to the theatre that night.

Frankenstein is checking out the creature’s blood with the haematologist, Van Helsing. Of course it was time to trot out Van Helsing. Van Helsing admires Frankenstein’s steady hands, and then runs a test on the blood that determines it has no coagulating properties whatsoever. Frankenstein asks what purpose that would serve and Van Helsing says it could be helpful for someone who wants to consume blood. Frankenstein asks Van Helsing how much he knows. Van Helsing says Malcolm is looking for a cure for something he doesn’t understand, but Van Helsing understands it very well. Victor goes to the window and looks out, spotting Caliban lurking nearby. He excuses himself and goes out.

On the street, Caliban demands Victor get started on this bride of his. Victor says he’s working on it, but he has to freelance so he can get enough cash together to restore his trashed lab.  Plus, he needs to find a woman to reanimate. Cal’s not interested in excuses. Before he lets him go, Cal tells Victor he wants a hottie. ‘To match her mate?’ Victor sneers. Wow, that was unnecessarily douchy. Cal pins him to a wall and observes that it’s an easy thing to snap a mortal’s neck, since they’re so fragile. He says the future belongs to the strong and immortal, to him and his kind. ‘Look upon your master,’ he says, before heading off.

Brona and Ethan snuggle in bed and she starts to share her backstory. Oooh, goody! Bet this is a laugh riot! She says she was once engaged to a riveter at the shipyards who was a pretty horrible person. But she agreed to marry him anyway, because she had no money so it was marry or hit the streets. One night, while she was having sex with this lovely fiancé, he got too rough and she bled, and when she went to her mother her mom said to just go back and marry him. So, Brona went out and prostituted herself, which seems like a good reaction to piss-poor parenting. Ethan tells her they’ve all done things they regret; he certainly has. He holds her close and they kiss, and then he asks her out on a date that night. Before he leaves, she urges him to be careful.

Off to Malcolm’s he goes, so he can stand disapprovingly in the basement while Victor prepares to take some more blood from Fenton, who’s not pleased about it and keeps asking for Vanessa, calling her ‘mother.’ Malcolm asks why he wants her and Fenton says everyone wants her, because she’s so nurturing. Ethan and Sembene restrain Fenton while Victor sedates him and Fenton curses at them all. As the sedative takes hold, Fenton cries and whines that he doesn’t want to sleep. He looks at all of them and whispers, ‘so many monsters,’ before passing out. Ethan’s still not on board with all this. Victor gets ready to try a blood transfusion as a cure for Fenton and tells Ethan to roll up his sleeve. Ethan refuses, telling them it’s not a good idea to use his blood. So, Malcolm volunteers instead.

Later, the boys are cooling their heels in Malcolm’s sitting room. Victor’s got the newspaper, which is still headlining the slaughters in the East End, and wonders if their creatures are behind it. Malcolm doubts it, since the blood’s not drained from the victims. He and Victor chat about it, while Ethan gets super tense and then grabs the newspaper and yells at them both to shut up. Oh, Ethan’s a werewolf, right? And he’s behind those attacks? That’s why he got along with those wolves at the zoo and why he didn’t want Victor to take his blood. Ok. Victor calls him out on his temper and Ethan calls him a bloodless dandy. Malcolm lets the kids bicker for a bit, and then mildly reminds them that there’s enough tension in the house already. He moves on to tell them that he’s planning an expedition to trace the Nile to its source, and he’d like Ethan to come along with him. Victor looks a little hurt that their stand-in daddy’s showing favouritism. In comes Vanessa, to comment that everyone looks rather solemn. Victor says they’re just planning a holiday, but she’ll have to get the details from his more robust brother. Malcolm explains that he’s asked Ethan to accompany him to Africa. Vanessa snorts that he’s never going to go and fetches herself an apple. Malcolm asks about her day and she says she went to look at something beautiful. Sembene joins them to inform everyone that Fenton’s awake.

Downstairs, Fenton comes around and asks if they’re going to beat him. Upon learning that they will not, he thanks them and asks if he deserved that. He weakly whispers that he’s hungry, so Vanessa experimentally offers up her apple. He takes it, and then starts screaming that he needs blood. Guess that transfusion didn’t work. Victor, unconcerned, says this will be a process. Ethan, disgusted, tells Malcolm to get the guy something to eat already. Vanessa looks sad.

She follows Ethan upstairs and says she knows this is disturbing to watch. He’s not disturbed by Fenton, he’s disturbed by all of them and asks her how far they’re going to go. She has no idea. Ethan leaves and Vanessa, after thinking for a moment, heads upstairs.

Back in the basement, Victor and Malcolm calmly discuss what they can give Fenton to eat, considering very rare meat or scraps from the butcher’s yard. And then Sembene comes in, cradling a cat. He walks past them, snaps the animal’s neck, gives it to Fenton, and calmly walks out as Fenton digs in. Hee! I feel like I shouldn’t find that funny, but I did.

A night at the theatre! Ethan’s taking Brona to the Grand Guignol, and she’s super chuffed, because she’s been dying to go for ages. She marvels at the surroundings and she and Ethan flirt cutely. I’m not sure I totally get their relationship and its rather sudden depth, but these two do have a rather adorable chemistry. They take their seats and Ethan buys her an orange to snack on.

Behind the scenes, Cal rushes about, preparing the scenery, clearly in his element. The actor who found Cal (I don’t know that he’s ever been properly introduced, but his name here is Vincent Brand) prepares to go onstage. Catching Cal’s eye before he goes on, he mischievously says ‘let us murder the people tonight!’ Cal smiles, delighted. Aww, him happy is strangely touching. Brand goes on and introduces the show. Brona laughs and claps and is probably happier than she’s been in years. The show is called the Transformed Beast and is about a werewolf, which is presumably for anyone in the audience who hasn’t yet guessed what Ethan’s deal is. The show gets underway while Cal runs around providing sound and visual effects.

Up in the boxes, Dorian’s watching the show, looking bemused. At one point, he looks at the box across the way and notices Vanessa there, smiling at him. Wow, that was a lucky guess on her part, unless there’s only one theatre in all of London in this world. I don’t think Dorian specified which theatre he’d be going to, did he? And honestly, I wouldn’t have guessed he’d be all that into a show like this, considering his obsession with beauty. Let’s face it, as much fun as it is, the Guignol and its shows are a tad grubby. Eh, whatever.

Back at Malcolm’s, Victor’s still in a sulk over Ethan being invited on the Africa expedition. Malcolm picks up on his mood and Victor sighs that he’s gone his whole life with people not thinking he was really up to any arduous challenge, and it’d be nice for someone, sometime, to consider him capable. Malcolm explains that he had a son whom he lost in Africa, and Victor reminds him of that son, which makes him somewhat precious. Ethan, on the other hand, is just a warm finger on a trigger. Victor seems appeased now that replacement daddy’s confirmed his love.

Downstairs, Fenton senses the presence of his master once again and begins gnawing at his chained wrist.

At the theatre, the show goes on. Brona’s transfixed. Dorian and Vanessa keep making eyes at each other. Cal hooks the pretty young actress up to a pump through a small trapdoor and gets glared at for no reason by one of the other actors, before the guy goes onstage in the guise of the transformed wolf. He slashes at the girl and the pump spurts a massive fountain of blood as Cal works it from under the stage. Everyone cheers and claps, except for Sembene, who’s there to, presumably, keep an eye on Vanessa. Belowstage, Brand and Cal playfully howl along with the actor playing the wolf. Hee!

At Malcolm’s, the two men hear a noise upstairs and go to investigate. We see that Fenton’s chains are now empty, and Fenton’s following them up the stairs, on all fours. In Vanessa’s room, they find Fenton’s master—a creature just like the one that was killed in the first episode. It bares its teeth and roars at the two men, as Fenton jumps on Malcolm from behind and yells that Vanessa’s not there. The Creature jumps through a nearby window while Malcolm tries to wrestle Fenton off his back. Victor briefly tries to help but is thrown aside and just sits there. So much for wanting to be thought of as capable there, Victor. Malcolm manages to throw Fenton off, and he lands on a shard of glass from the broken window, which kills him just after he murmurs one last, ‘mother?’.

During intermission, Vanessa goes to the theatre’s bar and gets herself a drink. She spots Ethan and greets him happily. He introduces her to Brona, who starts to look uncomfortable, though Vanessa is really gracious and says how happy she is to meet her at last. Along comes Dorian, to compound Brona’s discomfort. He recognizes her, of course, because let’s face it, you’re not going to forget someone who coughed consumptive blood in your face during sex anytime soon. Brona pretends not to know him and desperately downs a drink. There’s some chat about Ethan’s past as a sharpshooter, and suddenly Brona excuses herself and hurries out.

Ethan follows her outside and asks if she’s ok. She unleashes a whole torrent of frustration his way, telling him to go back to his friends and enjoy Vanessa, if she’s his kind of lady. What’s her problem? I feel like I’m missing something here. Is she mad at Ethan for having friends? For knowing posh people? Posh people who were nice and polite to her? It’s not like Vanessa shunned her and Dorian greeted her with a, ‘hey, didn’t I screw you right after taking naughty pictures of you in my living room? Man, that was awesome, right?’

Ethan tries to talk her down and she sobs that this is a sad spectacle, because she’s a dead woman and there’s no future in this relationship for either one of them. She tells him to go back to his ladyfriend and have some more clever chat with her, and when he reaches for her, she slaps him and tells him to wake up and, from now on, their intimate relationship will be all business. Uh, ok. She runs off, and Dorian comes out to tell Ethan the next act is about to start. He notices that Ethan’s upset and asks if he’s ok. Ethan quietly asks if he’s ever wanted to be someone else. Oh, hell, yes Dorian has. He invites Ethan to come with him for an evening of forgetting.

Vanessa returns to her seat and sees that Dorian’s disappeared. She looks vaguely disapproving.

Brona dashes through the streets, sobbing, and then falls into a violent coughing fit that literally brings her to her knees.

Dorian brings Ethan to an underground betting establishment. There’s a pen in the middle of a crowd of toffs in white tie placing bets, and dozens of squealing rats are dumped into said pen. A man circulates through the crowd, holding a mid-size terrier aloft. Dorian explains that the dog is Flash Jack, the best in the business, and that he once killed 120 rats in just over six minutes. He places a bet on 97 and the dog is unleashed on the rats. He shakes them dead and the bodies begin to pile up. Some of the toffs get sprayed in the face with rat blood, which only makes them cheer harder. Ew. What is it with the people on this show and getting all excited over a faceful of blood? Filthy, diseased blood, no less. The cheering crescendos, and Ethan quickly loses interest and goes to the bar to order up several whiskies. As he downs them, a crowd of the toffiest toff stereotypes imaginable start giving him a hard time, sneering at him for being American and saying he clearly doesn’t understand gentlemen’s sport. Ethan tells them to just leave him alone, but they start goading him, poking him and telling him to answer them. He responds by beating the shit out of a couple of them. But there are five of them, so, the remaining three manage to subdue him.

At Dorian’s, he gets cleaned up in the ballroom-sized bathroom. Dorian apologises for the assholes, but he’s in a good mood, because he won his bet. He admits it’s not as exciting as it used to be, though. Ethan checks out Dorian’s toiletries array, which is pretty immense. You could practically stock a Body Shop out of this guy’s bathroom. They talk cologne and how different scents fit different moods.

They move to the portrait gallery for some absinthe, which is probably where this evening of forgetting should have started. Ethan checks out the portraits and says he generally prefers the pictures of buxom ladies that hang above bars. Dorian chuckles that Ethan plays the part of the uncouth, rugged westerner to perfection. But then, they all play parts, right? Ethan asks what Dorian’s part is. ‘Human,’ he says, before handing over the absinthe. He proposes a toast to Vanessa, the most mysterious thing in London.

Speaking of, Vanessa returns home and immediately gets an ‘ohhh, something’s not right here,’ look on her face. She goes into the sitting room and finds Victor and Malcolm and asks what’s wrong. Malcolm tells her that the creature showed up looking for her. Also, Fenton’s dead. He thinks everything was a ploy: Mina manipulated Vanessa into finding Fenton at the zoo, and they brought Fenton back, thus practically inviting the creature into the house. That’s pretty involved. Can the creature not come in unless one of his minions is already there? They discuss the possibility that Mina’s an enemy of theirs now. Malcolm pretty much blames Vanessa for that, but she reminds him that he had a hand in it too, for ignoring his daughter her entire life. He says there are times when he wishes Mina had been born with Vanessa’s cruel spirit. He sighs that she’s really the daughter he deserves, then says they’ll continue this fight.

Over at Dorian’s, Ethan asks if he has a favourite painting. Dorian says he does, but it’s not in the room. Ethan’s favourite paintings are some cave paintings he saw once in Colorado. He thinks they’re honest. Dorian wonders if art can really be honest. He thinks only music can, because it’s ephemeral. But as much as he loves it, he’s become bored with music as well. Except for one piece: the Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde, which apparently means love-death. He puts the piece on the gramophone and narrates what’s going on. As the music builds, Ethan flashes back on Brona’s anger, on the drip of the absinthe and the bloody rats. He thinks of the dismembered East End bodies and the actress on stage spurting blood and Fenton being beaten. And then he crosses the room, grabs Dorian, and kisses him. Interesting reaction. He roughly strips off Dorian’s shirt and Dorian begins to more gently undress Ethan. Man, what was in that absinthe?



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