Penny Dreadful: “Possession” Review

download (14)“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!)

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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, penny-dreadful2quoting 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 penny-dreadful-1x07-promo-possession-video-preview-season-1-episode-7fights 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 anddownload (15) 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 Episode 107die 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 images (9)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.

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16 thoughts on “Penny Dreadful: “Possession” Review

  1. Do you think we’re going to get Dracula? My feeling on her dream and the preview for next weeks episode is that we’ll close with Dracula introduced; Brona will die and Ethan will beg Frankenstein to resurrect her, possibly using parts from the actress who dismissed Caliban.

    I was certain that Dorian was the force which was looking for Vanessa until yesterdays episode. How cool would it have been to not have had a painting, but have his sins manifest on vampires he controls. Oh, well. 😉

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    • I’m not sure on Dracula, honestly. I’m still holding out hope that, though Mina has been seen with the scary looking vampire that is hunting Vanessa, he’s going to be different from Dracula. I need Dracula to be more—inviting. But I’m finding it difficult to say, as I wouldn’t have guessed at seeing Mina with that vampire at the other lair, either.

      I’ve been wondering all season long if Brona is going to end up as Caliban’s bride and what part Maud will play in all of this, as each time we see her I think more about Christine in Phantom of the Opera. I hadn’t thought of the two of the being merged, though.

      I also hadn’t thought about Dorian being the actual force looking for Vanessa, but that would’ve been a nice turn, I think. I’m ready to see that portrait, for sure.

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      • You know, this show inspired me to read the original book, Dracula. I’m half way through. He’s not a nice man. 😉

        I’d never thought of the Phantom of the Opera as an inspiration in the show. That’s an excellent insight.

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        • Oh no, he’s not a nice man. One of the reasons I love Dracula is how charming he can be despite that. think he needs to have an appearance, or at least be able to take on the appearance, closer to human. It’s difficult to think why Mina would’ve ever approached a creature like the Egyptian vampire, and her words suggest that she invited in the trouble with him.

          I thought Phantom of the Opera from the moment Caliban was taken in at the theater to live. The Guignol was a French theater, and PotO is French as well. Caliban’s adventures in the theater have closely paralleled those of the Phantom, and I believe our final episode is to be The Grand Guignol. We’ll see. 🙂

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  3. Excellent post.
    Just some thoughts that have been bugging me.
    Murray is constantly portrayed as the real bad guy in this series. It’s always nailed home how selfish and cruel he is. Is his quest to retrieve Mina like his quest for the source of the Nile? An obsession without any true feelings.
    The possession *haunting” of Vanessa started when she saw Murray and her mother having sex in the garden maze. Again, Murray is the impetuous for evil.
    The priest’s presence seemed to make her stronger. She was able to break her restraints and climb the walls and bite the priest. Was that because the priest had no faith? Was a fraud? Because when Ethan started his chant, Vanessa responded, or rather the demon (whatever) inside her responded. Ethan has power. Is he a werewolf? Is he the cause of the Ripper-like murders? Was he cursed by the Indian tribes he speaks about?
    And, finally, Brona…will she be Victor’s next creation?

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    • Hm, let’s see.

      I think Murray is cast as the bad guy as a foil to all of the monsters we see. He’s willing to kill, to maim, and to destroy—and generally it’s about possession. We don’t know yet what the vampire wants, aside from blood, but we know that Caliban’s badness is about abandonment and wanting love. The desires the “monsters” have sometimes just make the humans look worse. One of the things I most enjoy about the show is that, as it plays with the vocabulary of monster and human.

      I hadn’t thought about the priest being a fraud or having no faith. I just assumed that the demon was trying to frighten and intimidate, though it certainly could have been something else. As far as Ethan—I’m still torn. The show is pointing clearly to him being a werewolf, but I’m hoping that those are just allusions to classic stories. I like werewolves just fine, but there are already so many monster plots that werewolves would be too much, for me, at least until they cull some of the others.

      And I’ve been suspecting that Brona will be Caliban’s bride for a while now. I hope we’ll see this week what’s going to happen to her.

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        • I suppose we’ll see tomorrow night! Well, part of that, anyway. I’m wondering if they’ll wait until next season to show us what Ethan really is. I’m also hoping that we’re going to see more of Sembene next season. I’ve been complaining all season about how underused he is as a character and how troubling that is because he’s the only black character in the entire show.

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          • Sembene… His character is so regal, so in control of his emotions, yet volatile and wild. I’m thinking we’ll learn about him in flashbacks to Murray’s time in Africa. How the two of them came to be together. Murray says with pride how he, ‘walked through blood’, in Africa. It was a very Victorian sentiment that the British were superior to other races. But then – as the writers have shown us – Murray’s most trust advisor, and friend, is an African.

            Probably next session we’ll learn about him. Thank goodness the show has already been renewed.

            Happy viewing tonight!

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            • Yes, I think that a huge part of the reason that his character has been handled this way is because the writers are trying to show Victorian ideas of race and colonialism. I’m hoping that what we’ll see at some point next season will be either flashbacks or a current story line (or both) that allows us to see more of the complexities of the relationship between the two and to hear more from Sembene. I’m a little sad, though, that it feels as though Sembene is going to have to be in Africa to do this. Even if it is an effort at some kind of historicity, it’s also a reflection of our time and the lack of diversity in the media.

              Anyway, sorry for the brain dump, and happy watching to you, too!

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            • I’d like to see who Semebene loves. That always tell us a lot about a character. Well, African Americans are about 12 – 14 percent of the population currently in the USA. I have no idea what they were in Victorian times. I sort of think that with period dramas it’s hard to incorporate our need for diversity, etc. Considering a woman is the main character, and a strong one, I think the show is doing pretty well.

              Love to chat about this show. Will sorely miss it.

              Enjoy

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            • I would like to know who he loves, too, and I think you’re right about how much that can tell us about a character. Here’s hoping that next season we’ll see more of him.

              There’s an interesting bit here about gender and race break-downs of films: http://annenberg.usc.edu/sitecore/shell/Applications/~/media/PDFs/RaceEthnicity.ashx. It’s very much an issue. In some ways I agree with you about period pieces—however, I think we have to consider a piece of writing and/or film in the context of its own time, not just the historical time it is set in, as it is a contemporary piece at heart.

              Will miss the season, too. My review will be up tomorrow, but I was a little underwhelmed by the finale.

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