Season 1 Episode 4
Vanessa's infatuation with Dorian Gray continues to grow. Professor Abraham Van Helsing is hired to work with Dr. Frankenstein. And Fenton draws his master to Sir Malcolm's mansion...[button color="red" size="small" link="http://www.sho.com/sho/penny-dreadful/home" target="blank" ]Official Site[/button]
First, we get to see one of the eerie, drug-fueled orgies overseen by resident bachelor Dorian Gray. He lounges on one of his many fine chaises, surrounded by partygoers in various states of undress, watching as others engage in a variety of sexual acts throughout his living room. It’s a scene that proves Penny Dreadful to be a worthy addition to Showtime’s risque library. The look of disinterest on Dorian’s face suggests that, though he’s the king of parties such as these, he longs for a human connection outside of a purely physical one. Above all, he’s a desperately lonely man, pained beyond belief by his austere, refined surroundings (Reeve Carney’s expressive features do a terrific job of communicating this without a single word). After the partygoers leave, he walks over to a painting on his wall (a portrait of a blonde woman) and pushes on it to reveal a secret passageway. Descending down the dark hallway behind the portrait, Dorian walks around what appears to be another antique portrait, which we only see from behind. Clearly mesmerized by what he sees, Dorian takes a seat and looks on. Cue opening credits. I’m sure we’ll see what Dorian’s portrait looks like soon enough, but that tease still got me riled up. After all, Dorian is still one of the most mysterious parts of Penny Dreadful.
We next see Vanessa, sitting on a bench outside a Catholic church. A precocious little girl sidles up beside her and asks why she won’t go in. Vanessa clearly has an answer to that question, but she smiles slyly and asks the girl why she thinks that Vanessa even wants to. Their conversation quickly turns to the death of the girl’s mother, a fact she’s somewhat proud her father felt her old enough to confide to her. “We put mother into the ground, but I don’t think she’ll stay there,” the girl says, unnerving Vanessa. Of course, the girl means heaven – or “the other place,” but Vanessa is disturbed all the same.
She spots Dorian and follows him to a garden, where he is carefully caressing flowers, enamored with their life. She took an interest in Dorian back in “Séance” and it’s clear that he still holds a great attraction for her. And why shouldn’t he? Vanessa has shown repeatedly that she has a strong interest in broken creatures, from Sir Malcolm to Ethan Chandler, and the death-obsessed playboy fits neatly into that category. Together, they examine a beautiful plant, one which Vanessa finds quite alluring. “Touch me, with your finger, softly, my scent on your neck. Open your lips, taste,” is how she describes to Dorian what the plant says to her. He smiles. “Deadly nightshade,” he notes. She feigns shock, but the identification doesn’t seem to phase her too greatly. After all, it’s highly appropriate for two people who seem bent on testing the fabric between life and death. They look at a rare orchid from Borneo, one which spends decades in development to bloom only for a moment. “Is it poisonous?” Vanessa asks. “Like all beautiful things, I hope so,” Dorian replies with a grin. He soon departs, leaving a deeply aroused Vanessa behind.
Meanwhile, Victor is analyzing the blood taken from Fenton with the help of a new addition, Professor Abraham Van Helsing (David Warner). The blood exhibits several rare qualities, according to Van Helsing. Most intriguingly, it contains a unique property (Hannah’s wink, after Van Helsing’s late wife, considering he discovered the procedure which makes it visible), which prevents coagulation. That would assist with hematophagy, he says – “the eating of blood.” Victor isn’t entirely surprised by this development, given Fenton’s bloodlust, but he’s curious about how much Van Helsing knows.
When asked, the professor tells Victor, “Sir Malcolm is looking for a cure for something he doesn’t understand.” “Do you?” Victor asks. “Intimately,” Van Helsing replies. And anyone who read Bram Stoker’s Dracula will appreciate just how truthful an answer that is. There’s nothing of the Ancient Egyptian forces behind the vampires discussed in this episode, but it’s exciting to see Dracula’s most formidable foe introduced at this stage. A showdown between Sir Malcolm’s band of misfits and the vampiric forces in London is inevitable, and I’ll be shocked if Van Helsing isn’t involved.
While studying with Van Helsing, Victor spies Caliban out on the street, watching him. When he confronts his creation, the message is one we’ve heard before. Caliban wants a beautiful mate, as soon as possible. Like Dorian, he’s growing weary of his existence, but he feels that Victor has the know-how to make him happy. “Do not temporize, demon!” Caliban says. “Be at it! My bride must, must be beautiful,” he says. “To match her mate?” Victor sneers. Not a smart move, but he can’t resist the urge to poke fun at his hideous creation. After Caliban’s usual threats to snap Victor’s neck and leave him in the gutter, he makes his exit, leaving Victor to shake his head at the unfortunate situation in which he’s found himself.
As Victor’s holding his head in his hands, Ethan is busy holding Brona’s in his. For the second time this season, they’re introduced wrapped up in bed, embracing one another. Surprise, surprise, Brona didn’t have the best childhood. We find out that, before ditching her family and heading to London, she was engaged to a brute of a man who enjoyed rough sex. “One night, he was fucking me, and he got really… tough. And there was blood,” Brona tells Ethan. “I went to my mother. She said to go back and marry him.” As one can imagine, that basically spelled the end of Brona’s relationship with her family. So she started whoring in London, feeling completely and utterly unloved… until Ethan came along. He offers to take her out on the town that night, then heads to work.
The scene cuts from Victor confronting a near-feral Fenton. “Where’s Vanessa? I want mother!” Fenton cries, taunting his captors. He snarls, spits and hisses like a wild animal, thrashing against his restraints with almost merry madness. Victor wants to try a blood transfusion to cure him and asks Ethan to roll up his sleeve. “That’s not a good idea – trust me,” he says, much to everyone’s surprise. It’s looking more and more likely that Ethan is a werewolf, so that would explain why he doesn’t want to have his blood used in a medical procedure. Sir Malcolm wants to know how they’ll know if the transfusion is working. “Well, he wouldn’t want to eat everyone, for a start,” Victor retorts dryly.
As they wait, Sir Malcolm and Victor discuss the recent spree of murders. “Christ you’re both morbid fucks,” says Ethan, scrunching up the newspaper they’re reading and tossing it into the fireplace. Something doesn’t seem quite right about his reaction, though my working theory that he’s the one responsible for the deaths would explain his passionate response to Sir Malcolm and Victor dissecting the crime. Sir Malcolm moves on, inviting Ethan on an expedition to Africa he plans to take in a few months. Victor is noticeably hurt by not being invited.
Back in the basement, the transfusion isn’t working. In the episode’s most frightening moment, he responds to Vanessa carefully rolling him an apple by screaming, “I need blood, you fucking devil whore!” Again, I can’t impress enough how great Alexander is in this part. When they later toss him a recently killed cat, the gusto with which Fenton tears into it is chilling.
Shaken, Ethan leaves for his date with Brona – at the Grand Guignol, no less. The play on offer? The Transformed Beast. We see Brona’s joy in watching the grisly performance, and also Caliban busying himself with all manner of ropes and levers below the stage. Dorian, Vanessa and Sembene (nope, still no development as far as he’s concerned, unfortunately, though he’s the one to cold-bloodedly twist the cat’s neck before tossing it to Fenton) are also in the audience, funnily enough.
It’s a fun little performance, with Vincent Brand hamming it up on stage as the narrator and main character. Caliban seems truly at home as the stage rat, and the joy with which he tends to his work makes it hard to reconcile him with the vengeful creature who tore Proteus apart at the end of the second episode. When a werewolf-like creature tears into the female lead, he operates the blood pump mirthfully, making a wolf call alongside Brand.
Meanwhile, back at the mansion, Fenton is drawing his master in. Gleefully cackling, he sets to work biting through his arm enough to slip the shackles off. Sir Malcolm and Victor are upstairs. When Victor voices his anger at being passed over for Sir Malcolm’s expedition, a surprising bit of emotion comes out of Sir Malcolm. “Mr. Chandler means nothing to me. He is a finger on a trigger. You are not,” he says. Touched, Victor lets go of his earlier resentment. It’s more than a little odd to see this bond between the pair, considering Victor and Sir Malcolm didn’t have much of a relationship (or at least one that we knew about) before the start of the series, but the chemistry between Timothy Dalton and Harry Treadaway makes it work.
Their quality time is spoiled by strange noises on the second floor of the house. They go up to investigate and, in a very effective bit of direction from Dearbhla Walsh, Fenton crawls up the stairs after them. Cautiously, Sir Malcolm opens the door to Vanessa’s room. Inside is a pale, naked, humanoid creature distinguished by a beast-like, very sharp set of teeth and vicious, red eyes. It roars at them and, at the same time, Fenton leaps out of nowhere to incapacitate Sir Malcolm. As they tussle, Fenton howls, “She’s not here, master!” It appears that this creature is this series’ take on Dracula – the makeup is impressive, but I’ll have to wait for the creature to make a larger appearance until I pass judgment.
Victor watches it with a mixture of horror and fascination for a few seconds, as it turns to look at the cross on Vanessa’s wall, recoils and jumps through a window into the night. Sir Malcolm’s struggle with Fenton ends almost immediately afterwards, as Fenton falls over and is impaled through the head by a shard of glass on the newly broken window. With a tearful “Mother?,” the group’s first test subject is no more.
Things aren’t quite as exciting back at the Grand Guignol, where Ethan and Brona encounter Vanessa and Dorian. Brona is noticeably disturbed, both by her past encounter with Dorian and Ethan’s casual discourse with Vanessa. She’s cut from a different cloth than the two well-to-do socialites, and she knows it. Angered, she takes off, saying through tears, “It’s a sad spectacle, why don’t we just admit it? You’re fucking a skeleton every night.” Coughing and miserable, she concludes with, “From now on, you can fuck me like anyone else: after you’ve paid,” and runs off, only to collapse in a doorway minutes later. It’s a tragic state to leave her character in, but Penny Dreadful has never professed to be about happy endings. The consumption-afflicted Brona doesn’t seem to be heading for a fairytale ending – at least not with Ethan.
Stunned into silence, Ethan is accosted by Dorian, who offers him company and a drink. The two head to one of Dorian’s hangouts – a seedy, underground establishment where people gather to watch a trained dog brutally dispatch hundreds of rats. Like many of Dorian’s pastimes, it’s all about death (memo to the writers: we get it already, this is one morbid dude), but Ethan isn’t as enthused about the proceedings as Dorian. The blood triggers something in him, and he needs to get out of there. Short of abandoning Dorian, however, there’s only one thing he can do, and so he heads for the bar to get very wasted. Unfortunately, being a gruff American in a town filled with smarmy Brits, he soon finds himself getting beaten on the ground for being perceived as rude. One gets the sense that Ethan could dispatch the entire room if he wanted to, but he’s holding back. Perhaps that’s because the kind of harm he’d do to those picking on him isn’t the kind that they’d recover from.
So Ethan winds up bruised and battered, and Dorian takes Ethan back to his home to patch him up. While there, they talk about perfume, the nature of artwork and the masks that they’re both wearing. Dorian tells Ethan that he plays the part of the disaffected gunslinger well, but that it’s still just a part. “We all play parts,” he admits. “What’s yours?” Ethan asks. With a smile, Dorian simply replies, “Human.”
As he fully absorbs that, Ethan raises a glass with Dorian for what Dorian thinks is “the most mysterious thing in London: Miss Vanessa Ives.” While they clink, we cut back to Sir Malcolm’s mansion, where Vanessa has come home to find a disturbed Sir Malcolm. “It came after you,” he admits. “I think it was all a ploy: allowing us to capture him, bringing him here. We practically invited it in, didn’t we?” Vanessa realizes that, because Mina led them to Fenton, that means she’s playing for the other team. “Can you blame her?” snarls Sir Malcolm. This is where it gets interesting.
“I’m not the only one in this house she has a reason to hate,” Vanessa warns him. “I betrayed Mina once, you ignored her your entire life, so have the courage to face your own sin before you cite mine so easily.” He tells her he wishes Mina had been born with her cruel streak and says, “You’re the daughter I deserve,” before storming off. There’s a lot still to be explained about why these two are working together, considering that animosity, but they certainly deserve one another.
The episode’s most surprising moment, though, is still to come. Back at Dorian’s, Ethan and Dorian trade stories about art. Ethan visited an Anasazi village at one point, and he was struck by the honesty of the cave paintings they made, which included only animals, the sun and the moon. No humans. “Can art be honest?” asks Dorian. “You’re the expert there,” replies Ethan.
Soon, however, as Dorian plays a Wagner piece, Ethan flashes back to various scenes from the series thus far. The rats’ carcasses, mangled corpses, Vanessa, him fucking Brona, all of the highlights – but he dwells on the images of the butchered victims of the creature that’s rampaging through London. Finally, he’s accepting, in full, the secret that we weren’t even fully sure about last week: he is the one responsible for killing those people. He’s a monster, a vicious one, hiding behind the mask of an American drifter. He rushes towards Dorian, snatches him by the throat, pulls him close… and passionately pulls him into a kiss. Never breaking his intense eye contact with Dorian, Ethan rips the man’s shirt off – and Dorian reciprocates. As the music soars, and they share another tender kiss, the episode cuts to black.
Recap courtesy of wegotthiscovered.com
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