And we’re back for episode 3 of Showtime’s second season of Penny Dreadful. “Nightcomers” is a Vanessa-centric episode, the first we’ve seen this season and the second in the show’s history. We follow Vanessa as she finds a mentor who teaches her about the nightcomers and what their appearance portends. (Warning: Spoilers below!)
We start the episode in Vanessa’s room, where Ethan looks curiously at the blood-drawn scorpion on the floor. He asks for some answers, and Vanessa promises to tell him something she has yet to tell anyone—and we have a neat frame story for a flashback about Vanessa’s life.
Vanessa stands outside a cottage. She’s gone to seek the help of a rumored witch in the area, the Cut-Wife (Patti LuPone). She’s unable to pass the boundaries of the
property, marked by stones, and the old woman watches her stand there for what must be a day or two—through rain, exhaustion, and fainting, Vanessa stays.
Finally, she comes out of the cottage. It’s clear that Vanessa isn’t there for the more commonly sought love potions, abortions, or herbal cures. And after a few tests of the how’d-I-get-this-scar and choose-a-tarot-card variety, she’s accepted by the Cut-Wife. She can stay.
That card Vanessa chose? It was the devil—naturally.
Later, on a hunt, the Cut-Wife begins to explain the tarot to Vanessa. Meanings aren’t always literal, and one card can have many possible meanings. Vanessa
suggests “evil” for the devil, but is reproached—she comes up with something better, a dark but irresistible lover. The Cut-Wife admits to being both drawn to and afraid of Vanessa, her gifts and her abilities.
That night, who should show up but Madame Kali? Apparently, she’s the Cut-Wife’s sister, part of her former coven. They used to be Daywalkers, which seems to be a sort of soft-witchery, dabbling in herbs and healing. But Madame Kali sold her soul to the devil, becoming a nightcomer in exchange for lasting power, youth, and beauty.
And the Master wants Vanessa, so Madame Kali has come to fetch her. She almost manages to lure the Cut-Wife from her property—there’s this odd moment where it’s as though she’s compelling her both literally and metaphorically—but it’s broken by Vanessa throwing open then door and crying out.
Later, a young woman stops at the cottage. She’s there for an abortion. The scene is a tough one to watch—Vanessa clutches the girl’s hand and says “god forgives all” as the Cut-Wife methodically begins her work.
Meanwhile, Madame Kali is at work in town. She’s been sleeping with (or at least a dominatrix for—jury’s still out on the sexy-times) the owner of most of the land in the area and killing off his cattle in her spare time. She’s managed to convince him that it’s the Cut-Wife’s doing, the death of all those cattle, and he’s about to whip the town into a frenzy.
Out in the woods, he finds Vanessa and attempts to rape her, but she fends him off. It’s becoming clear that Vanessa is ready to leave and go help Mina, the vision of whom prompted Vanessa to find the Cut-Wife. And it starts to become clear to us that the Cut-Wife is dying. She’d like Vanessa to stay here on here land, help those girls in trouble. She shows Vanessa the poetry of death, a book that Vanessa is only to use as a last resort—gee, I think that’ll come back up later.
The townspeople surround the Cut-Wife’s cottage, and she is brought forth, accused of necromancy, and sentenced to death. Vanessa is made to watch as her friend is beaten, shackled, hot tar poured onto her, and she is burned. Vanessa is then branded and left by the townspeople.
When she comes to, Vanessa can’t get out of the cottage fast enough. She packs the tarot cards and draws a scorpion in blood on the stones that mark the boundary. Scorpion–that’s what the Cut-Wife called her. Agile, deadly.
This was one of the best episode of the show I’ve seen. I’m loving all of the witchcraft this season and the female-centric storylines. Patti LuPone and Eva Green each turned in a stellar performance for this episode, and as I’ve come to expect of her on the show, Helen McCrory was delightfully wicked.
Next week, it seems as though we’ll be back with the group and perhaps even that some new characters will get to interact with each other.