PENNY DREADFUL: Craft and Cunning are Effective Tools

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Episode 303 “Good and Evil Braided Be”
Written by John Logan
Directed by Damon Thomas

 

“Beasts will feed.”
– Kaetenay

The latest installment of Penny Dreadful leaves us with a blood-soaked threesome, a werewolf fleeing through the desert with a witch, a furious Dracula and an enigmatic twist ending. Who needs a show that relies on killing characters to keep people watching, when you have the great story telling in Penny Dreadful?

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Ethan Talbot (Josh Hartnett) awakens from a dream of Kaetenay’s (Wes Studi) blood-streaked body on the floor of a barn. As his eyes adjust to the sunlight shining through the wooden door he discovers Hecate Poole (Sarah Greene) is kneeling beside him with a canteen of water.

It’s going to be interesting to see how the relationship between these unlikely partners plays out. Ethan has always been uneasy about being around other people and seems even more uncomfortable accepting any form of assistance. Being pursued by a posse led by Marshall Franklin Ostow (Sean Glider) and the devoted Inspector Rusk (Douglas Hodge) has put Ethan in a situation where he’s willing to reluctantly accept Hecate’s assistance. After she murders a young couple for a pair of horses Ethan is angered by her brutality, but believes there may be some purpose to her presence.

Episode 303

Sarah Greene as Hecate and Josh Hartnett as Ethan Chandler in Penny Dreadful (season 3, episode 3). – Photo: Jonathan Hession/SHOWTIME

On a train traveling through the desert, Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton) confronts Kaetenay about the reasons he traveled halfway around the world to bring him back to America. We learn that their “son” Ethan is heading towards some great purpose and the two men must kill anyone who gets in their way, to protect him.

“Lay hands on him, it will be your end.”
-Sir Malcolm Murray

As they track Ethan and Hecate they come across the small ranch and the bodies of the young couple Ethan and Hecate left behind. Kaetenay, as Sir Malcolm noted in the previous episode, has a tendency to always “speak so enigmatically,” and I have a feeling that this chapter of the story will continue to unfold that way. During this scene, we get a little more insight into what is going on with Ethan, and it leaves us with even more questions. Are the temptations of Hecate what they are trying to save him from? This would be the obvious form the story would take, based on what we know so far. However, there is also the mystery of the relationship that Ethan has with the senior Mr. Talbot. Is there a storm coming to the Talbot homestead that might give Hecate the opportunity to turn Ethan into a servant of Satan, or perhaps even a usurper of the throne of Hell? Finally, we must wonder if all of their destinies are aligned to prevent some horror being unleashed when father and son are reunited.

Episode 303

Douglas Hodge as Inspector Rusk in Penny Dreadful (season 3, episode 3). – Photo: Jonathan Hession/SHOWTIME

Inspector Rusk continually shows his steel in this season. Previously he has exhibited the catlike patience of a seasoned and cunning detective, but out here in The West, he’s showing that, despite his handicapped appearance, he is not one to be trifled with. Observing the slaughtered bodies of Ethan’s latest victims, he is nothing but logical and calculating, noting that one has not been ravaged like the others. This scene also gives Marshall Ostow a chance to show that he’s not the thickheaded marshal of the territory that our first impression may have given us.

Inspector Rusk is beginning to show his understanding that there is something much darker about Ethan, and suggests Ostow should start believing in the occult.

“Vanessa Vanessa Vanessa Vanessa Vanessa Vanessa Vanessa” Renfield (Samuel Barnett) is filling a ledger frantically with her name as she stalks back and forth in Dr. Seward’s office. Can he hear her through the walls now with some new ability?

Inside the office, Vanessa (Eva Green) is full of animation as she tries to convince Dr. Seward (Patti Lupone) that what she’s told her thus far is not some fantasy, but the truth of events that have transpired. Dr. Seward is sympathetic, but only because she believes that Vanessa believes what she’s saying. In a desperate attempt to convince Seward the world they live in is more than what is seems, she takes hold of the doctor’s wrist, refusing to relinquish her grip. Looking into Dr. Seward’s past she sees the good doctor has killed in self-defense and leaves her obviously shaken.

The next time we see Vanessa, John Clare (Rory Kinnear) glimpses her in the streets of Limehouse, moments before she meets up with Dr. Sweet (Christian Camargo). Not wanting to intrude on the lovers, John Clare smiles at Vanessa’s perceived good fortune and returns to his business.

We’ve seen Limehouse in each installment this season, but this is the first time we’ve seen it in daylight. The streets seem less ominous in the evening sunlight than when illuminated only but open the red paper lantern and open flames. To my recollection, this is the first time the area has been named, though it has been the site of significant events so far. It appears that during this time in history it was the London equivalent to San Francisco’s Chinatown.

Vanessa and Dr. Sweet stroll arm in arm among the paper lanterns and novelties, conversing casually, until the doctor reveals that he once had a wife. Dr. Sweet explains that he’s just now starting to get over the loss of his wife and that Vanessa reminds him of her. They find a commonality in their healing and continue their walk with their spirits slightly lifted.

Darkness has descended on the streets, and Dr. Sweet and Vanessa have made their way to a carnival where Dr. Sweet invites a reluctant Vanessa into the hall of mirrors. They laugh at their reflections as they make their way through the maze. Eventually, they are separated and Vanessa starts to panic ending up in a chamber where she’s confronted by the Lead Familiar (Jack Greenlees).

Mr. Greenlees has played his role of distant creeper quite well; however, in this scene, we are treated to a deeper look at his underutilized talents as he taunts her with riddles and reveals secrets. For as short as this scene is, there is an intensity that should not be missed. Greenlees’ twitching face and the fluctuating pitch of his voice fit so perfectly in his fit of barely controlled lunacy.

Episode 303

Jack Greenlees as the lead familiar in Penny Dreadful (season 3, episode 3). – Photo: Jonathan Hession/SHOWTIME

What secret does he have to tell Ms. Vanessa Ives? The Master visited her when she was locked in a cell at the asylum.

Distraught by her experience Vanessa resolves that she cannot possibly bring Dr. Sweet into her world. She was a fool to think that the happiness she was feeling could last or that she had any right to be happy. With a heavy heart, she leaves Dr. Sweet alone in the cafe and flees into the night before he can call her back.

Dracula is not happy.

Sadly Greenlees’ Familiar comes to an all too sudden end, just as we were getting to know the fellow. Dracula, in his fury, releases his hoard to descend upon his former favorite and feed.

Was that flesh that the Boy Familiar (Sebastian Croft) was chewing? Wait. Chewing? We’ve got Dracula and his minions (I’m a little hesitant to call them vampires after that last scene) walking in daylight, visible in mirrors and apparently feasting on flesh as well as blood. None of them seem to be fully turned, so perhaps we have a hoard of Renfield-like creatures held between both worlds until/unless The Master wishes to bestow immortality on them.

Renfield eats a fly.

Vanessa requests that Dr. Seward hypnotize her in an attempt to recall The Master’s visit; with hesitation, Seward agrees.

Wait! Who was that orderly?!

Rory Kinnear, once again, gives us an astoundingly emotional performance as John Clare without the need to utter more than a few sentences. John Clare has been haunted by visions of his former family since the opening of the season, and this week he’s found them, living among the billowing black smoke of industrial London. It is obvious that they are living in poverty and it appears that his son is likely suffering from consumption. The anguish and pride that he exudes, as he watches them from a hole in the ceiling, is heart-wrenching.

In an attempt to help his family from the shadows, he robs a wealthy drunk man in an alley and leaves the spoils in their apartment. The items taken include some cash and a pocket watch. I’m a little worried that the police might come asking around if his wife sells that pocket watch to the wrong person.

Mr. Kinnear’s portrayal of Frankenstein’s creation is one of my favorite parts of this show. The intensity and vulnerability he projects through body language and facial expressions alone is fascinating to watch. Some of my favorite moments from the last season are the conversations he has with Eva Green’s Vanessa in the catacombs among the cholera patients.

As Victor (Harry Treadaway) interviews Balfour (Jamie Ballard) we can see that he has finally begun to get his confidence back. He really should watch out for those teeth, though. He boasts that his work could be the key to prolonging the effects of Dr. Jekyll’s (Shazad Latif) concoction. Finally, we get a look at Dr. Jekyll’s suppressed rage, when he starts to go off about not being able to make the changes permanent. His normally placid face contorts in anger and his, well-maintained hair, becomes disheveled as he rants about his frustration to Victor. Looks like he lost track of time while they were working with Balfour, and forgot to take his meds. I can’t wait to meet Mr. Hyde!

“Liberty is a bitch that must be bedded on a mattress of corpses.”
– Lily

Lily (Billie Piper), Dorian (Reeve Carney) and Justine’s (Jessica Barden) story line is, brilliantly, both seductive and grotesque.

Their first appearance in this episode features just Lily and Justine at a cafe. It is likely the first time that Justine has been out since they “liberated” her from being tortured and murdered the previous week. Justine looks uncomfortable in her fine new clothes among other finely dressed people and becomes even more so when she discovers she’s being leered at by a man sitting nearby.

Lily discusses that the suffragettes they see being beaten by the police have good intentions, but placards and marching in the street are less effective than cunning and craft.

Jessica Barden as Justine projects a fierceness that is absolutely fascinating to watch. In every scene it appears that she’s trying to be timid, however, in her eyes is such a barely restrained fury that makes you wonder when she’s going to explode. Dorian and Lily seductively try to convince her to kill the man who sold them admission to what would have been the spectacle of her being tortured and murdered.

Dorian and Lily play a game of trying to seduce Justine’s will, explaining that once she murders there’s no going back and she will not be welcome in polite society, etc, etc,etc. But we kind of get the feeling that Justine is just waiting for them to shut up so that she might finally have retribution for the years she was used up by men.

With the first cut, she slits the throat of the pig that raped her and charged other men to rape her repeatedly. Then that boiling rage that has been ever present in her eyes is unleashed as she passionately stabs the dying man with all the force her tiny frame has. This Murderess is more than Lily or Dorian hoped for, I think.

The passion with which she buries the blade into her former whore master soon turns sexual and the viewer is in for something beautifully grotesque and erotic. The three bathe themselves in what I can only assume is the whore master’s blood and relinquish themselves to their carnal pleasures. The scene of their bodies, lubricated by blood and sliding against each other, is as repulsive as it is hypnotic.

It was hard to get the nagging thought of what blood-borne pathogens that fat, hairy backed, whore master, might have been carrying, out of my mind…

This trio’s lust for depravity and power is what makes them so fascinating this season. Lily is going through such an interesting evolution, and Billie Piper is giving such wonderful depth to her it’s hard to figure out who she is at any given moment. We’re finally getting a good sense of what Dorian is, and Mr. Carney is bringing some great dimensions to one of literature’s most vain and shallow character. The more I’ve watched him, the more I see that calmness isn’t bad writing or acting, what I see is someone who’s seen and indulged in so much that there’s nearly nothing left that can shock him. He takes pleasure in the manipulations of mortals at this stage of his immortality. Justine is a campfire that is barely controlled and on the verge of becoming a wildfire that will engulf the whole forest if you give it the slightest chance.

This show is one of the best things on television right now and has been since season one. I can remark about an awkward line on occasion, but as a whole, this is a story worth watching, with characters you can care about. They’re often not the ones you’d think.

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