Penny Dreadful: And Hell Itself My Only Foe Review (S2 E9)

Sunday night’s penultimate episode of Penny Dreadful Season Two left a lot of questions going into the finale, though many of them are well-answerable by the end of the season. A few hunches from earlier in the season were confirmed, and there were a few truly shocking moments as the show laid the framework for closing out season 2. (Warning: Spoilers lurk below!)


Roper, the survivor of Ethan’s werewolf attack on the Mariner’s Inn, has tracked Ethan and Vanessa to the Cut-Wife’s cottage. He barges in on them, ordering Vanessa to cuff Ethan. When he threatens her, though, Vanessa grabs a knife; in the scuffle, Ethan is stabbed in the shoulder and Vanessa pulls out the knife, using it to kill Roper.

Well, there’s that neatly wrapped, though there is still the Inspector to worry about. (Apparently, he’s traced down Ethan’s real name–Ethan Lawrence Talbot—and his military record. He seems on the cusp of realizing something supernatural, but using phantom limb to explain it was really bizarre.)

Anyway, Victor Frankenstein suddenly arrives in a coach, come to fetch Vanessa and Ethan to help Sir Malcolm. Lyle recounts his treachery, vowing to help the group in any way he can. Vanessa is ready to go into the witches’ den, insisting that they go that evening. Ethan protests because He Has a Thing (the kind that happens on the full moon, and guess what—the moon’s full!). Also, Ethan points out that the witches are stronger during the nighttime. I’m not sure if this is true, but I’m sure they aren’t called “nightcomers” because they do their best work in the daytime. It’s a sound enough theory, and everyone appears to agree.


Across town, Evelyn looks exhausted as she stands and listens to Sir Malcolm’s screaming. She’s leaning on the wall in the puppet room, but she still seems winded, and her skin has a clammy look to it. Hecate is more openly disdainful than before, more transparent about her feelings: her mother is old, and she is young; youth is everything. It’s only what she’s been taught.

Hecate decides to pay Ethan a bedroom visit. She’s still quite bent on corrupting him, and it just might work. It’d seem that Ethan would understand “wolf of God” as a good thing, but his fears about himself are sometimes what brings out the worst in him.

And speaking of the worst in Ethan…Everyone’s going to see it. Because suddenly, everyone notices that Vanessa is gone to rescue Sir Malcolm. And that’s exactly what the witches want. Ethan refuses to stay behind, chained up. He asks Sembene to do what must be done if the time comes.


Meanwhile, Lily and Dorian are chatting in Dorian’s portrait room. They’re both being a bit coy, figuring one another out. And then Dorian (who I’ve though this whole time must recognize her) calls Lily “Brona.” He does know, indeed. And Lily knows something, too. “How old ARE you” she purrs. She demands that he tell her what he is—-insists by biting off his ear and asking him to heal himself. And Dorian does. There are sexy-times, of course.

Across town, the Creature is not having nearly the day that Lily and Dorian are having. When Lavinia Putney asks him to take her to see the new wing of the museum that is under construction, he reluctantly does so. He sees rows and rows of cages, makes a joke about a zoo. All I can think is “run.” But he doesn’t. And in return, Lavinia locks him in one of the cages. The Putneys are, in fact, creating a zoo—only it’s a human one, and the Creature is their first capture. Oh, Mr. Clare. Oh, Caliban.

And finally, we’re back at the witches’ castle. The group splits up when they arrive: Sembene and Ethan go one way, while Lyle and Victor go another. It’s Victor and Lyle who find Sir Malcolm. When Victor goes into the room, he’s locked in by one of the witches. At first, Frankenstein’s mind is clear; he’s speaking with Sir Malcolm to try to get him to return home. But suddenly, he’s also talking to the Creature, and to Lily, and to…Proteus. Oh, Proteus.

Sembene and Ethan aren’t have much luck, either. A trap door closes, and they’re stuck, stuck in a tiny space with a full moon rising. Ethan is panicked; he tries to kill himself. Sembene intervenes, though. “I’m just a man,” he says. “You have been chosen by God, my friend.” A few moments later, a werewolf version of Ethan lunges at Sembene. Nooooo!

Upstairs, Vanessa walks into the puppet room. She sees the doll like her. But then—it opens its eyes. Eep! And oh, it starts speaking. “Murderer,” it says.


Next week, it looks like we’ll see the final battle with the witches. I’m also hoping we’re going to get a teaser introduction to Dracula, since we’ve now learned that he’s Lucifer’s other half/brother/hell-spawn-compatriot.

Penny Dreadful: Season 2, Episode 1 “Fresh Hell” Review

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!)

The show opens with Vanessa walking through the snow in one of the London pd1.2parks. Madame Kali is across the park, chanting an incantation and looking a little bit creepy.

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 pd1.5Something 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 pd1.3switch 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
pd1.4wonders—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, pd1.6too. 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 PD1.1against 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.

Penny Dreadful “Night Work” Review

I’ve been waiting, impatiently, for Showtime’s Penny Dreadful to air. The title itself was enough to pique my interest. I’m a literary nerd, and my specialty is children’s literature. Though I mostly work with contemporary American literature now, I studied Victorian and Edwardian fiction for years, and I have a real soft spot for Gothic literature. I’m also a big sucker for monsters, and print culture fascinates me.

Penny dreadfuls encompass a lot of these things–they were 19th century publications that were serialized over a period of weeks/months, generally gory and sensational (think Sweeney Todd, who first appeared in a penny dreadful), and they were inexpensive. The publications reflected the growing literacy of the populace and new technologies that made book production and dissemination cheaper and easier.

And penny dreadfuls inspired some of the most recognizable fictional characters; they were especially influential to the Gothic genre, inspiring characters such as Stoker’s Dracula and Shelley’s Frankenstein. So when I learned that Penny Dreadful would be a period drama–and that the setting would be Victorian London–*and* that I’d get Dorian Gray, Dracula, and Frankenstein, I was superbly happy. My nerd-heart did a happy dance.

I’m even happier after having watched the first episode. (Warning: spoilers after the break)

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