“Possession” marks the penultimate hour of Penny Dreadful‘s first season, and it’s an aptly titled episode. In another phenomenal performance by Eva Green, Possessed Vanessa returns. Victor Frankenstein, Malcolm Muray, Ethan Chandler, and Sembene sit vigil with Vanessa, watching her try to fight the demonic force that took hold after last week’s tryst with Dorian. He and Brona are notably absent from this week’s episode, and Caliban is only seen momentarily, but the episode benefits from its claustrophobic insistence on maintaining the focus inside the Murray mansion. (Fair warning: spoilers below photo!)
We begin with Vanessa on Murray’s downstairs couch not long after her return from Dorian Grey’s home. She’s talking in a voice that doesn’t sound quite like her own, is harsher somehow, about pornographic photos of dead women. This doesn’t seem to be Vanessa, so when Murray asks if she can hear him, it’s no surprise that the subject is quickly changed. She seems to be Mina for a moment, calling him “father” and talking about his explorations, before mocking his wife and reminding Murray of his infidelities. He’s accused, at least, of making his son have sex with these women, too, tribeswomen from his journeys to Africa. I’m wondering if the writers are going to keep giving us this story in snippets, or if we’ll get it all from a flashback at a later time.
The voice starts listing the name of the tribes that the women were from, and the room slowly starts to come alive. The scene begins to vibrate. First, it’s a cup and saucer. Then it’s books on the shelves. Soon, the cup explodes, papers and then books go flying, the furniture is moving. Sembene steps in and knocks Vanessa unconscious then carries her upstairs silently. Murray decides that at least Victor needs to be called in, and the doctor is fetched.
Frankenstein examines a mostly normal Vanessa, who apologizes for the way she looks and winces at the coldness of the stethoscope he uses. The demon in her reveals itself, though, quoting the Shelley line from “Adonais” from “What Death Can Join Together” that Frankenstein quoted, remarking upon Frankenstein’s lack of sexual experience. He’s surprised and horrified by her condition, and he leaves the room before she can speak anymore. Green and Treadaway aren’t often in scenes together, and that’s quite a shame. They do well together, here, the characters’ complete differences juxtaposing neatly.
Frankenstein returns to speak to Murray about Vanessa’s condition. He diagnoses it as perhaps relating to past sexual trauma (of course). Murray mentions her date with Dorian, and the two seem to agree that it prompted her current condition (of course). As they talk, Frankenstein absent-mindedly plays with a tarot card. Suddenly, a spider appears, and just as soon as there’s one, the whole deck begins to move and shake, revealing spiders beneath. They swarm over and off the table just as we hear Vanessa scream from upstairs, and Murray and Frankenstein hurry from the room. We’ve seen this before—the spiders are indicative of what’s inside Vanessa—and their squick factor still works.
Ethan shows up at Murray’s home about this time, and Murray convinces him to stay and help the group as they help Vanessa in the only way they know how–by taking care of her as she fights the demon that has taken her. Ethan sees Vanessa, and she is momentarily lucid before the demon returns. The demon taunts Ethan about his sexual connection to Dorian, and Vanessa has to be sedated before the group leaves the room to talk. Murray is finally honest about what might be possessing Vanessa, telling the group about the Egyptol0gist’s Amunet theory. Now if we can just get them all to say “vampire.”
We then see a passage of time, and it appears to have been a week or so since Vanessa was first possessed. The men keep watch over her, trying to keep her from harming herself as much as they can. Then one afternoon, she wakes, talking to Ethan of his kindness and about the way the demon inside her feels. She loves Ethan, and we finally hear her say so, just before she asks him to kill her if it becomes necessary. But then we see that it isn’t really Ethan she’s talking to—much like the night that the demon took on the guise of Murray, the demon has taken Ethan’s appearance. She asks what it wants, and we finally hear a real reply—for her to be the mother of darkness and rule a broken, ruined Earth next to him after overthrowing god and killing everyone.Vanessa fights, but it’s clear that she finds the demon’s voice seductive, the idea of giving in to the darkness a relief. And Green turns in one of the best possessed-woman performances I’ve ever seen here, her ambivalence and emotional distress so clear.
Meanwhile, the real Ethan and Murray are discussing the possibility of a trip to Africa; Murray really wants Ethan to go with him. Ethan is suspicious, though, of Murray’s intentions and of the journey. The two don’t get much further into conversation before they have to go upstairs to help Frankenstein and Sembene sedate Vanessa, who is clawing at her wrists and chest, which seem (at least to her) to have engorged veins and what looks like it might be a hieroglyphic.
Victor goes downstairs, where we begin to see his morphine addiction in earnest for the first time. I am really interested in this turn, especially given his later admission that he was given a cocaine derivative as a child. I hope we’ll see more of boy-Frankenstein. He glances out the window to see Caliban watching, but there is nothing to be done. He turns to Ethan, and the two discuss Vanessa. They both seem to agree, but for different reasons, that letting Vanessa die might be the best thing to do given the situation. Ethan continues to show his suspicions of Murray, questioning why he is so desperate to keep Vanessa alive. Frankenstein and Ethan go to the basement, where Ethan begins to teach Frankenstein to shoot (he’s a quick study, evidently).
A little later, Ethan takes Sembene some food, and we finally get to hear him speak a little more, though he’s hardly forthcoming. He claims to have “no past,” and even when Ethan continues to question him, he reveals little except that we all have our debts to pay, our responsibilities to shoulder. I’m still hoping to see him get a lot more use as a character in a season 2 partially set in Africa. (Please, writers?) Anyway, while they talk, Murray is in Vanessa’s room, urging her to try to use the possession (and Dalton is truly frightening here), the state she’s in, to contact Mina. She’s enraged, and so is Ethan, who hears part of the conversation.
Ethan orders Murray out of the room, and the two converse with Victor about what to do for Vanessa. They agree upon a priest for last rites—and an exorcism. When he arrives, though, the priest refuses to perform the exorcism, a rite that must be Vatican approved before its performance. He goes upstairs to perform last rites; he approaches the bed cautiously, frightened by Vanessa’s appearance. When he identifies himself as father Matthew, the demon react, telling the story of Matthew nailed upside down to a cross “to come to me faster” before biting a chunk out of the priest’s face.
Vanessa breaks her restraints and jumps to the ceiling, where she perches before pouncing on Sir Malcolm. Ethan manages to tear her away, and Sembene gets Murray out of the room. Ethan readies his gun as he faces off with Vanessa, crying out for her to wake up. He grabs her head, pushes her against a wall, still pleading for her to fight the demon and return. She comes back long enough to ask him to kill her, knowing she doesn’t have much time before the demon returns.
And then, Ethan does something wondrously strange. He pulls out Brona’s St Jude necklace, presses it to Vanessa’s forehead, and begins chanting in Latin, his gun pressed against her neck. The chant works, Vanessa falls, ridden of the demon, and Ethan leaves the house. Murray and Sembene go upstairs to see Vanessa peacefully sleeping, her face full of color and life for the first time in weeks.
Then we get the final punch of the episode—-Vanessa is dreaming, seeing snippets of Mina interspersed with scenes from The Transformed Beast, the play from The Guignol, all of this against the lines: “there cannot be a happy end / the claw will slash and tooth will rend.” She awakens, goes downstairs, and informs Murray “I know where Mina is.”
I think it’s clear, from that ending and from the last episode’s title, that Mina is in The Guiginol. I’m wondering, though, when we’ll hear more about that thing that Ethan just did. How did he know what to say? Did something tell him? Has he done this before? What is he?
Looks like next week we might see a wrap-up of the Mina story-line as the season closes, and Brona and Dorian will be back, too.