Penny Dreadful: “Demimonde” Review

Dorian’s back, we meet Van Helsing, and Ethan Chandler is fighting his inner darkness. As the fourth episode of the season, this feels like a middle-of-the-season, pulling-together-plots-and-themes episode. It’s a bit puzzling given last week’s almost-intimate focus on Victor Frankenstein and Caliban, but I suppose that Ethan and Dorian do get the most screen time. (Ahem—spoilers below.)

So we open with Dorian, mid-orgy. And for the first time in the show’s history, we don’t see a woman die in the first 15 minutes. We do see Dorian, disenchanted and languishing, bored by the company he keeps. We see him go to the infamous portrait, stopping to brood in front of it, camera cutting away just as we would glimpse it. I have to admit shouting “bitches” at the TV after the cutaway, though in retrospect I’m enjoying the build-up to a reveal.

Cut to Vanessa staring at a church and a creepy little girl named Lucy (at least a passing reference to Stoker’s novel). She and Lucy are talking about heaven, hell, and dead-but-not-dead mothers. Vanessa spots Dorian leaving the church and follows him into a greenhouse. The two get a bit flirty, of course, and there’s lots of witty banter about being beautiful but dangerous. All the best things are, really.


Back at Malcolm Murray’s place, Victor Frankenstein is busily working on analyzing the blood of the creature with none other than…Van Helsing (David Warner)! Van Helsing is an expert hematologist, and Murray has hired him to analyze the blood of the vampire. It becomes apparent fairly quickly, even for those who (like Victor) don’t know Van Helsing’s background, that he knows what this is about. Murray hasn’t told him this is a vampire, but he knows. One of the rare property’s of the blood is called “Hannah’s Wink”–it’s an anti-coagulant that he named after discovering it, and it’s used to help in the consumption of blood. Glad to see Warner here, and I hope we see more of him as Van Helsing.

Penny Dreadful - Episode 1.06 - What Death Can Join Together - Promotional Photos (10)

Victor then notices Caliban watching through the window, and he goes outside to confront him. Caliban reminds him that making a bride is supposed to be top priority; Victor treats Caliban predictably poorly. And Caliban, predictably, almost snaps Victor’s neck. Kinnear and Treadaway do a remarkable job acting the scene, though, and they’re difficult to look away from.

After a brief scene between Ethan and Brona, in which Brona reveals part of her past (a sad affair, and an honest moment in the show), we return to the Murray home, to the basement and Fenton. Alexander turns in a fabulous performance, truly chilling.The group is ready to perform the transfusion, but Ethan flatly refuses (werewolf?). Fenton screams that they’re monsters, and the camera pans across the company’s face…Again we’re playing who-is-the-monster. As they wait to see if the transfusion will work, Murray and Frankenstein discuss the murder spree (and how the victims weren’t drained of blood–not vampires, then). Ethan overreacts to the conversation, throwing the newspaper into the fire (werewolf?). The transfusion, of course, doesn’t work–I think it’s probably just feeding Fenton–and we get another chilling moment as he reacts to Vanessa.

Penny Dreadful - Episode 1.04 - Demimonde - Promotional Photos (16)

Now we get to The Guiginol again, and it’s a delight of a scene. Ethan has taken Brona, Dorian sits on one side of the balcony and Vanessa sits on the other, Sembene stands just out of sight (can he get more lines, please?), and Caliban runs about backstage, changing sets, creating sound effects, and creating the illusion of the theater. The evening’s first play is “The Transformed Beast”—a slasher play involving a bright full moon and a beloved-turned-werewolf (Ethan?). Caliban looks so joyful while he’s backstage—and I’m still wondering about that Phantom of the Opera connection. The audience’s reactions are fun mirrors to our own as we watch the show, and the backstage look provides a fun bit of metacommentary. I love a play-within-a-play.

At the mansion, Frankenstein and Murray’s conversations are interrupted by noises from upstairs. They find that Fenton has escaped (and he creepily spider-crawls after them in great fashion). His master is in the house, is in Vanessa’s room. But his master is that big scary looking vampire. I don’t think he’s Dracula, or if he is, then I’m not sure Mina is with Dracula. I’ve a difficult time imagining that that creature could spirit her willingly away, and I’m thinking her vampire probably looks somewhat more human. Maybe.

This one, if you've forgotten.

This one, if you’ve forgotten.

During the play’s intermission, Dorian, Vanessa, Brona, and Ethan collide. Brona becomes upset and leaves, and she and Ethan get into a large argument. Brona runs down the street, coughing blood into her handkerchief and looking more like the bride of Frankenstein every moment. Ethan runs into Dorian, and the two go to an underground gambling ring. Ethan looks more and more uncomfortable as a dog is pushed into the ring with a hundred or so rats to kill, men cheering and blood splattering. Ethan moves to the bar, where he’s hassled into a fight.

And in the final moments of the episode, we get another bombshell. Ethan and Dorian go back to Dorian’s home. They patch Ethan’s wounds, and then the two decide to have some absinthe. They talk a bit about art, about Vanessa. We get more close-ups of Hartnett’s knitted brows as we run through flashbacks of his time in London–the good and the gory. And then, suddenly, he’s kissing Dorian. They remove one another’s shirts, and then we end.

God, this show. THIS SHOW! Looks like next week we’ll get some more of Vanessa’s backstory, which is something I’m quite excited to see.

6 thoughts on “Penny Dreadful: “Demimonde” Review

  1. Pingback: Penny Dreadful “What Death Can Join Together” Review | Sourcerer

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