Penny Dreadful (Showtime) Review “What Death Can Join Together”

I was away last week, but I could not resist weighing in on “What Death Can Join Together” before tonight’s outing of Penny Dreadful airs. Vanessa’s arc continues to astound me as it mixes the factual fear of female sexuality that ran rampant during the Victorian era and beyond with the supernatural idea that embracing sexuality leads to a vulnerability to the devil. It is a fine line the writers are walking: go too far and it appears to lend credence to the idea, stay the course and it becomes a story about fighting for power over one’s own body and mind. So far, they are hitting all the right notes aided by a mesmerizing performance from Eva Green.

Penny Dreadful excels at metaphors. Having sex with the eternally youthful Dorian is a clarifying experience for characters on this show. He is less of a character at this point than he is a cipher. For Brona, their encounter reawakened a thirst for life, while the act reminded Ethan of who he is and what he wants. It was a much darker experience for Vanessa as it allowed the spirit on her heels to take hold of her. Vanessa must maintain control at all times and by giving into her desires with wanton abandon, she opened the door to possession. This might end up being a good thing for Vanessa in the long run. If she can conquer this spirit and drive it out or learn to control it, then she can embrace her power, and a Vanessa in full control of her abilities would be a beautiful thing.

Vanessa was not the only one who had to face an inner weaknesses last week. The Creature allowed himself to be drawn in by the beautiful actress who sees a bit of her brother in him. He is childlike in his interactions with her; clearly craving the attention, but fearing it as well. When he overhears her telling her co-star she merely pities the man who works in the shadows, The Creature’s anger is unleashed once more. Victor truly created a man in his own image. Just as The Creature craves companionship, so does Victor. Victor finds this companionship in Van Helsing who praises Victor for his mind. Then The Creature comes along and snaps Van Helsing’s neck. If the creation cannot be happy, then neither can the creator.

The rest of the episode was devoted to Sir Malcolm’s search for Mina. He even finds her aboard a ship along with her master and his minions, but Ethan keeps Sir Malcolm from rushing through the fire to her side. Sir Malcolm’s lack of trust in Vanessa is the direct cause of the catastrophe that happens on the boat. He continues to delude himself with the false hope that his daughter can be saved even as the mostly silent Sembene speaks up to remind his friend of the unlikelihood of Mina ever being brought back to the side of the living.

With just two episodes left this season, Penny Dreadful has proven to be a remarkable character study. We watch this group of damned people dig themselves deeper and deeper into their own graves, but their journey is so dark and dreadfully fascinating, looking away is impossible. The only horror I feel right now is the impending wait for season two.

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