And we’re back for another season of Penny Dreadful. You’ll be seeing reviews from me on Tuesdays after the show runs on Sunday. This week, with “Fresh Hell” the show stepped up its game again after the rather disappointing end to an excellent first season. This week we’re re-introduced to Madame Kali, to new ends—she is our new villainness–and we know it from the beginning. (Warning: Spoilers below!)
And then we’re back to Ethan, who…Ah, yes, Ethan is a werewolf. He’s made a mess of things and massacred everyone in the Mariner’s Inn, his former boarding house. This’ll be a problem later–let’s not forget last season’s opening and the Jack the Ripper comparison. That was probably Ethan, too.
So of course he’s off to find Miss Ives, who ostensibly he’s come to say goodbye to. Vanessa and Ethan are in her carriage; Dracula and Mina are dead, but Miss Ives is still concerned about the idea of Ethan leaving. And suddenly, we see why–there’s something awful after her, still. The creature has human-like features but is clearly Something else. And oh, there are three of them. And they can look like regular human women. Charming.
The creatures overturn the carriage, but Vanessa somehow manages to speak whatever language they’re speaking and frighten them away. It’s not Latin—that much is clear. And Ethan Chandler looks scared shitless. There’s a great moment when the two climb out atop the overturned carriage and survey the carnage the creatures left behind—it’s a beautiful grotesque scene of blood spread across the snow.
And across town, Frankenstein and Caliban are working on bringing Brona back to life. We see a quite lot of Billie Piper in this episode—but mostly she’s motionless, a naked corpse submerged in a tank. In same ways, this reinforces the idea of her switch from Brona to the bride, from life to the next.
Back at Murray’s house, Vanessa is obviously distraught. Sembene and Ethan stand by, unsure what to do. Vanessa won’t reveal anything about the creatures to Ethan, but she clearly knows what they are. Sembene, who unfortunately still doesn’t get much talking time, is left to care for Vanessa until Malcolm gets home. He does at least get to tell us that the past never leaves us because it is who we are. Sage advice, Sembene.
We get a shot of Ethan leaving Murray’s home. One of the creatures stands atop a building, watching him walk across the snow-covered ground alone. Lots of long shots of characters from across deserted, snow-covered ground in this episode.
Meanwhile, Malcolm Murray and his wife are visiting Peter’s and Mina’s graves. Malcolm suggests that he’ll come home. His wife doesn’t want him there, blames him for the death of the children, but is clear that she won’t grant him a divorce.
Back in London, Caliban wanders the streets, looking for work. And oh, wonder of
wonders—he stumbles upon a wax museum! If anything could work as well as the stage for Caliban, it’s this. Look at those period clothes! Those rooms! Oooo, a HALL OF HORRORS! OH A CHAMBER OF CRIMES EVEN BETTER!!!!!!
Caliban decides, actively, not to hide his face–a conscious effort toward honesty. The owner is kind to Caliban, offers him a job. He needs to meet the family though, apparently. He’s concerned, but our owner is not. He seems confident. And then he shows Caliban a new crime in his “chamber of crimes” exhibit. Could it be—oh, it is “The Mariner’s Inn Massacre.”
Cut to the actual scene of the massacre, which looks fairly close to that in the wax museum. And now we’re in CSI: Penny Dreadful, a detective in gloves looking about the crime scene. Apparently, there is a survivor, which doesn’t bode well for Mr. Chandler. We shall see.
Ethan, meanwhile, has returned to the Murray house. Vanessa is hiding upstairs, pacing and smoking, clearly very frightened. Across town, Frankenstein is in his lab, apparently in the middle of a weird, weird moment with Brona’s corpse–he’s touching a woman who will be his next creation. But Sembene shows up and requires Frankenstein’s assistance, interrupting his reverie.
Caliban returns to the wax museum at night to meet the owner’s family. His wife is brusque. Caliban introduces himself as “John Clare” (who was actually a poet). The couple has a daughter, Lavinia. She’s blind—he allows her to touch his face, though he’s clearly uncomfortable, but the wife and husband give one another knowing looks. The daughter is kind—when she gets to his scars she moves slowly, gently,
and she just says how good it is to meet him. Sweet Caliban. After Caliban leaves, the owner’s wife expresses displeasure—but the husband says “that face will make our fortune.” What’s all this then?
At the Murray home, Vanessa sits on the steps, waiting. She throws herself into Murray’s arms when he gets home. Sembene, Frankenstein, and Ethan are all there, too. The group tells Murray what has happened, and Vanessa begins to reveal more details about what they are facing. Those creatures are called night-comers, witches in the service of the devil. They’ve been marked by his claws. The language they were speaking was the Verbus Diablo: Satan’s version of god’s language, turned inside out. Vanessa wants to fight on her own, but the crew won’t let her.
Now we’re in a spooky house, and there’s a low spooky singing. Lady Kali bathes in blood. She puts her cigarette out in it, and it’s obviously thick. Shudder.
She steps out in her dressing gown. There are 4 witches in the room, one of whom calls her mother–could be an expression of her as the coven mother or she could the mother of one or more of the girls. She’s clearly displeased with them after their failure to get Vanessa and Ethan; they’re worried about Ethan as a potential roadblock. One of the witches asks for another chance, tells Lady Kali that they failed because Vanessa spoke the devil’s language. But Lady Kali doesn’t take her failure to note what Vanessa said well, and we bid farewell to one of the witches already.
And now we’re in the middle of a storm! Oh, there’s a storm! Frankenstein and Caliban run to the lab, get everything ready for the charge that will activate Brona’s re-awakening. Lots of screaming and stuff—the two have a weird “let her live” moment. Then there’s a bolt, and everything is live with electric sparks.
And then, a hand, a face. A bride.
Cut to Vanessa in her room. She’s clearly preparing to do magic. Blood magic, at that. In her own home, Madame Kali is doing blood magic, too. They are pitted against one another in the storm, chanting. The witches are in Vanessa’s room in a flash of lightning, gone the next.
And an episode end.
–Best line of the episode goes to Caliban for “what is Doctor Frankenstein without his creature?”
–Episode Grade: B+
A strong start to the season with some interesting villains, but Sembene needs lines, and I’d have liked to at least peak at Dorian Grey in the season opener. I’m sure he’ll be around next week.