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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Penny Dreadful: “Demimonde” Review

Dorian’s back, we meet Van Helsing, and Ethan Chandler is fighting his inner darkness. As the fourth episode of the season, this feels like a middle-of-the-season, pulling-together-plots-and-themes episode. It’s a bit puzzling given last week’s almost-intimate focus on Victor Frankenstein and Caliban, but I suppose that Ethan and Dorian do get the most screen time. (Ahem—spoilers below.)

So we open with Dorian, mid-orgy. And for the first time in the show’s history, we don’t see a woman die in the first 15 minutes. We do see Dorian, disenchanted and languishing, bored by the company he keeps. We see him go to the infamous portrait, stopping to brood in front of it, camera cutting away just as we would glimpse it. I have to admit shouting “bitches” at the TV after the cutaway, though in retrospect I’m enjoying the build-up to a reveal.

Cut to Vanessa staring at a church and a creepy little girl named Lucy (at least a passing reference to Stoker’s novel). She and Lucy are talking about heaven, hell, and dead-but-not-dead mothers. Vanessa spots Dorian leaving the church and follows him into a greenhouse. The two get a bit flirty, of course, and there’s lots of witty banter about being beautiful but dangerous. All the best things are, really.

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Back at Malcolm Murray’s place, Victor Frankenstein is busily working on analyzing the blood of the creature with none other than…Van Helsing (David Warner)! Van Helsing is an expert hematologist, and Murray has hired him to analyze the blood of the vampire. It becomes apparent fairly quickly, even for those who (like Victor) don’t know Van Helsing’s background, that he knows what this is about. Murray hasn’t told him this is a vampire, but he knows. One of the rare property’s of the blood is called “Hannah’s Wink”–it’s an anti-coagulant that he named after discovering it, and it’s used to help in the consumption of blood. Glad to see Warner here, and I hope we see more of him as Van Helsing.

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Victor then notices Caliban watching through the window, and he goes outside to confront him. Caliban reminds him that making a bride is supposed to be top priority; Victor treats Caliban predictably poorly. And Caliban, predictably, almost snaps Victor’s neck. Kinnear and Treadaway do a remarkable job acting the scene, though, and they’re difficult to look away from.

After a brief scene between Ethan and Brona, in which Brona reveals part of her past (a sad affair, and an honest moment in the show), we return to the Murray home, to the basement and Fenton. Alexander turns in a fabulous performance, truly chilling.The group is ready to perform the transfusion, but Ethan flatly refuses (werewolf?). Fenton screams that they’re monsters, and the camera pans across the company’s face…Again we’re playing who-is-the-monster. As they wait to see if the transfusion will work, Murray and Frankenstein discuss the murder spree (and how the victims weren’t drained of blood–not vampires, then). Ethan overreacts to the conversation, throwing the newspaper into the fire (werewolf?). The transfusion, of course, doesn’t work–I think it’s probably just feeding Fenton–and we get another chilling moment as he reacts to Vanessa.

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Now we get to The Guiginol again, and it’s a delight of a scene. Ethan has taken Brona, Dorian sits on one side of the balcony and Vanessa sits on the other, Sembene stands just out of sight (can he get more lines, please?), and Caliban runs about backstage, changing sets, creating sound effects, and creating the illusion of the theater. The evening’s first play is “The Transformed Beast”—a slasher play involving a bright full moon and a beloved-turned-werewolf (Ethan?). Caliban looks so joyful while he’s backstage—and I’m still wondering about that Phantom of the Opera connection. The audience’s reactions are fun mirrors to our own as we watch the show, and the backstage look provides a fun bit of metacommentary. I love a play-within-a-play.

At the mansion, Frankenstein and Murray’s conversations are interrupted by noises from upstairs. They find that Fenton has escaped (and he creepily spider-crawls after them in great fashion). His master is in the house, is in Vanessa’s room. But his master is that big scary looking vampire. I don’t think he’s Dracula, or if he is, then I’m not sure Mina is with Dracula. I’ve a difficult time imagining that that creature could spirit her willingly away, and I’m thinking her vampire probably looks somewhat more human. Maybe.

This one, if you've forgotten.

This one, if you’ve forgotten.

During the play’s intermission, Dorian, Vanessa, Brona, and Ethan collide. Brona becomes upset and leaves, and she and Ethan get into a large argument. Brona runs down the street, coughing blood into her handkerchief and looking more like the bride of Frankenstein every moment. Ethan runs into Dorian, and the two go to an underground gambling ring. Ethan looks more and more uncomfortable as a dog is pushed into the ring with a hundred or so rats to kill, men cheering and blood splattering. Ethan moves to the bar, where he’s hassled into a fight.

And in the final moments of the episode, we get another bombshell. Ethan and Dorian go back to Dorian’s home. They patch Ethan’s wounds, and then the two decide to have some absinthe. They talk a bit about art, about Vanessa. We get more close-ups of Hartnett’s knitted brows as we run through flashbacks of his time in London–the good and the gory. And then, suddenly, he’s kissing Dorian. They remove one another’s shirts, and then we end.

God, this show. THIS SHOW! Looks like next week we’ll get some more of Vanessa’s backstory, which is something I’m quite excited to see.