Penny Dreadful: ‘Above the Vaulted Sky’ and ‘Glorious Horrors’

I didn’t recap “Above the Vaulted Sky” on its own last week because on the whole, the episode was a bit of a mishmash, and a letdown after early scenes that were lovely, and I wanted to see how the events played out. “Glorious Horrors” repairs some of that damage, but I’m increasingly concerned about where we’re heading.

“Above the Vaulted Sky” began with some relationship building across the board, while Evelyn’s latest torment — this time directed at Malcolm’s wife via one of her terrible dolls — simmered underneath.

In the aftermath of the attack on the house, Ethan discloses that they were ambushed in a way that was unfortunately all-too-familiar to him from his days in the territories, when he helped wipe out entire Indian tribes by descending upon them at their quietest, most normal part of the day. And they realize that Vanessa’s hair has been collected for some sort of totem.

Ethan suggests that they now do battle with every manner of weapon they can find — material, holy, unholy, whatever it takes. They each retreat to their various corners to pray, hang talismans, and gather weapons.

When they retire for the evening, Vanessa is plagued by visions she cannot trust so he flees to Ethan’s room, interrupting his own prayers, and asks if she can stay. He says yes, and tucks her into his bed and settles himself on the couch. They talk about faith and God, and Vanessa decides that whatever they both have done, they were led to each other for this purpose, now.

The next day, Vanessa meets Lily and Victor for lunch and witnesses their growing flirtation.

Ethan is brought in by Rusk for questioning, and keeps his cool and lets on nothing as Rusk probes for why there is no record of him in the States, and why he is stockpiling ammunition. (And I had completely forgotten that Ethan was a gunslinger in a sideshow when we met him.) He taunts him that there must be some tie between him and what happened at the Inn, but all kudos to Josh Hartnett, because he never flinches or changes his breathing. When Rusk tells him he can leave, he does, and then he gives Rusk’s man the slip.

After Vanessa’s lunch, she descends into the Catacombs and has another lovely chat with John. They recite poetry to each other (the episode’s title is taken from a John Clare ode). He confesses he likes someone (Lily) but doesn’t know how to navigate a relationship and its trappings and Vanessa admits she doesn’t really know, either. But she does know how to dance, so she teaches him that. She mentions Lily and Victor to him, but thankfully not by name.

Later in the episode, we pick up with Dorian and Angelique as she’s humiliated at the theater by a former customer. Dorian stands his ground and then later he and Angelique discuss which way he’d prefer her to appear — as a man or woman — and Dorian says the clothes don’t affect at all the way he cares for the person underneath.

Evelyn and Malcolm are also at the theater and she pricks him with her ring to start working her spell on him. Meanwhile his wife back home has gone raving mad, plagued with headaches and visions courtesy of Evelyn sticking needles in the brain of Gladys’s alter doll.

Juxtaposed against this, a storm rages, and Lily, who earlier rebuffed John that she has no memory of him and can only be his friend for now, races downstairs and climbs in bed with Victor. She kisses him and fairly quickly, it escalates to sex. I was seriously hoping Brona’s recall would kick in because sex was such a part of that character, but no.

Back at Dorian’s, we get a Showtime-caliber extended sex scene that does nothing to move their story forward, but we are talking about Showtime.

Evelyn’s spell kicks in and she and Malcolm fall into bed at hotel and she bleeds him again, at the exact moment his wife slits her throat during a horrifying vision of their dead children.

At the manor, Vanessa descends the staircase as Ethan comes up and she stops to stroke his face and then she heads downstairs, and the moment washes over him.

In “Glorious Horrors,” the morning after reveals new monsters.

Victor moves pretty quickly from sodded to suspicious to jealous. Malcolm seems to have lost his free will — after Evelyn sews a lock of his hair into another doll. And Dorian decides to throw a coming out ball for Angelique to bolster her esteem and flaunt their uniqueness to society.

Dorian brings the invitations by the manor himself, and he and Vanessa have an awkward but friendly exchange, and since Victor is there, he’s invited, too, so you know where that’s going.

Malcolm arrives home to the news about Gladys and responds only with concern about replacing the blood-soaked rug. Vanessa is horrified but Sembene says plainly that he’s not himself.

Evelyn consults with Lyle, and for the first time, she seems genuinely conflicted about her path. She tells him she didn’t turn away from God, that He turned away from them. Lyle suggests she’s chosen her fate to remain young and beautiful and she acquiesces as much, but admits that the promise of eternal life while the world burns is no prize at all. She tells him she wonders where God is in this world of theirs, and he suggests perhaps it’s within but she says no.

John visits with the museum owner’s daughter and she’s alarmed when she takes his hand and it’s ice-cold. She later tells her father, who is keenly interested, which reinforces my sneaking suspicion that John is going to be confined to his basement exhibit.

Roper shows up to poke the wolf, threatening Ethan that he will return him to his father. And he tosses in an extra threat to everybody in the house, including Vanessa. Later, Rusk confronts Ethan when he goes to see the wax replica of the Inn massacre, and Ethan is a little more rattled this time than last week.

Rusk suggests it was a predator’s work and that he knows Ethan had a hand (*cough* paw *cough*) in it, and that wouldn’t it be easier to just hang than live with the guilt? Ethan leaves and goes home, where Vanessa waits to ask him to the party. He turns her down and you can see that all their progress just got downgraded several steps (dumb, dumb wolf boy).

At the ball, Evelyn arrives with a newly shaved Malcolm, while her daughters stalk the room. Lyle feels out Hecate but she’s not sharing her plan. Dorian and Angelique make their entrance and the response isn’t catastrophic.

Victor and Lily arrive and she has the strangest sense she’s been in the room. Dorian spies her and turns his attention from Angelique to her, not unlike a cat with new prey, asking her to dance and looking for any sign of Brona but finding none. Victor can only watch and grow increasingly agitated.

Vanessa arrives and meets Angelique and has maybe a half-second catch and then she’s perfectly lovely to her. She’s also better than she has to be to Evelyn, who has a loaded exchange with her about what they both mean to Malcolm. She has a moment where she senses Evelyn coming, but I still don’t get how with the Cut-Wife’s training she doesn’t have radar for Evelyn. Then Lyle keeps Vanessa company and when he spies Hecate and her sisters conspiring, he suggests they leave.

She says she’ll say her goodnights, but before she can finish, she sees Hecate crossing the floor to her and the room is suddenly awash in raining blood that its occupants are oblivious to. The frenzy builds in her as Hecate and her sisters close in and then she faints and Lyle and Victor rush to her.

Back at the house, Ethan watches the moon rise and asks Sembene for his help. Sembene follows him to the basement and Ethan chains himself to the floor, and Sembene watches him turn into a wolf. I totally thought he wouldn’t be wholly surprised — that it was something he had seen at home, but his terrified response says no, this is new, even for him.

So, “Above  the Vaulted Sky” was disappointing for me because the pairings were sort of Capital Bad Idea + meh for me. I still can’t quite figure out what Dorian is doing this season, and while his loyalty to Angelique is admirable, I’m not sure what it’s doing in this story.

I don’t like that Malcolm continues to be gullible. Plot device, I know, but when everybody just skated past his morning-after persona without an intervention, I was disappointed. Victor and Lily makes me queasy because he essentially had sex with a child who’s hell-bent to do anything to please him. The basic gist of her creation for John is also ethically reprehensible, but compounding the emotional on top of that — I’m OK if John kills him when he finds out. Or I hope Lily remembers Brona and just RAGES.

The one couple I wanted to see grow closer, Vanessa and Ethan, moved in the wrong direction this week. Last week, their moments in his room were quiet and kind and they were kindred in balancing the secrets they hide with the peace they seek.

This week, when they’re discussing Gladys’s death and Malcolm’s reaction, they’re sitting side by side sharing a cigarette, and that was infinitely more intimate and emotional than any of the couplings last week. Or maybe that was just me. When he turns her down and doesn’t say why, she’s hurt, and disappointed, but defiant enough to go by herself.

I also sort of hoped that when Roper came calling to threaten Ethan (and Vanessa), that Ethan would just kill him right there in the parlor, because who would miss him? I don’t see this show having Rusk actually take Ethan down, but I do wonder where that’s going.

It was interesting to see Evelyn be a bit remorseful about the awful things she’s doing. I hope we see whatever it was that made her go dark.

I also liked that we see more and more that Victor is the monster, too. I worry for John that he’s going to get caught up in something inescapable. Hopefully the daughter in the museum is savvy enough to keep that from happening to him.

And now that the wolf is out of the bag, will Sembene keep Ethan’s secret or demand that he include Vanessa in the fold? I really do like Vanessa and Ethan together. I don’t know, after the debacle of last season’s tryst with Dorian, whether Vanessa can have sex with an emotional component. I’d rather see her and Ethan be the closest friends than have a sexual relationship that dooms either or both of them.

Only four episodes left this season.

Penny Dreadful airs at 10 pm E/P Sundays on Showtime and The Movie Network and repeats throughout the week and online.

Photos courtesy of Jonathan Hession/SHOWTIME

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