Penny Dreadful: Fresh Hell

Confession: As a TV viewer, I have a design flaw, or point of no return, if you will. When something starts to seem irreparably hopeless, I’ll bail. Example: I adored Cold Case but had to stop watching it because the entirety of every episode seemed to hinge on one person’s inability to do the right thing and generate a non-lethal outcome. After a while, it was unbearable for me to watch.

And that brings us to the second season of Penny Dreadful, which returned tonight with an effectively horrific hour that potentially sets up dire fates for a few characters. So I begin the season a bit trepidacious about where we’re heading.

Last season, Vanessa spent the later episodes as Satan’s punching bag.  Almost immediately out of the gate, she’s the same again, but she doesn’t know it for sure until she and Ethan are attacked in the street, in a terrifying scene of fully naked witches who tear apart the coach, its drivers and horses, and then very nearly, Vanessa and Ethan, until Vanessa responds back to their verbal assault in a dead language with that same language. When it’s over, we’re left with a silent scene of still, white snow blanketed in red.

The setup for this transpires on a stroll in the park when our new villain, Madame Kali aka Evelyn from last season, watches Vanessa from afar and recites an incantation that drops Vanessa to her knees. This sends Vanessa on a prayer spiral.

Ethan starts the episode waking up in the aftermath of his rage at the Inn, where he is the only survivor in a scene strewn with bodies. He hurries to Vanessa to tell her he is leaving London, and they talk around the subject of demons and darkness and secrets within men, but they don’t get to the heart of it before they’re besieged. Afterward, Ethan puts a pin in his plans to leave.

Malcolm is home with his wife burying his daughter, and he offers to stay. His wife tells him thanks, but no. The only good things in their marriage lie in a graveyard and she will keep the home, and her title, but their relationship is done. He can go to Africa. Instead, he returns to London and finds a rattled Vanessa and Ethan.

Frankenstein preps Brona for her revival as the Creature grows more excited about his potential new bride. When Frankenstein asks him if this will complete his service to him, he says no, they’re forever bound to each other. The Creature goes out to look for work and finds it in a wax museum, where the proprietor recreates crime scenes, including Ethan’s recent bender. He offers the Creature a job and invites him to meet his family. The wife is curt, but the daughter, who is blind, insists on a face-feeling introduction and he allows it, and he’s visibly affected when she feels all his scars and nothing changes in her face as she does. When he leaves, the wife chastises the owner that he’ll frighten customers, and he shouts her down that he will draw them.

While the Creature is out, Frankenstein gets a little handsy with Brona in a highly inappropriate way that will surely bite him in the ass later. Then he’s summoned by Malcolm.

He arrives, and checks Vanessa out and she insists she’s fine. With everyone gathered, Malcolm and Ethan press for an explanation of what happened and suss out with Vanessa’s help that their attackers were witches speaking a long dead language used by the devil after Adam ate the apple in the Garden of Eden. Ethan announces he will move in, and Malcolm agrees.

Vanessa retreats upstairs and falls into another prayer spiral, accompanied by bloodletting. Across town in an appropriately spooky castle, Evelyn bathes in the blood of thenaked woman lying dead on her bathroom floor. Then she confronts three young charges in her parlor about the failed attempt on Vanessa and their follow-up surveillance, and she seems to know Ethan is a werewolf, or at least a powerful protector. She kills one of the girls for her insolence and failure, and another one steps forward and says she’ll take a run at Ethan. Then, when Evelyn is alone, she summons Satan and starts an incantation essentially pledging her troth that she will procure Vanessa for him. While she’s doing that, Vanessa’s in her room frantically chanting as well. Somehow, Ethan, 10 feet away in a bathroom (and with wolf hearing) doesn’t come racing in.

Back at the Lair, a storm builds and Frankenstein and the Creature race around aligning the lightning rods and switches and nobs as the Creature yells for Brona to live and Frankenstein starts yelling, too. Lightning lands where they need, charging the copper tub, and bouncing the Creature, who’s hanging onto it, across the room. As the smoke clears, Brona reaches a hand over the side of the tub and stands before them.

We do not see Dorian in the episode.

So, where I hinge on maybe bolting is in a few spots. I don’t like that Vanessa is a punching bag again, and I want that to get resolved, or at least less damaging for Vanessa, sooner than later. Honestly, at this point, I don’t know how Vanessa’s body hasn’t just said, “F-ck it, I’m out.”

The Brona arc is obviously heading toward Frankenstein vs. the Creature for her affections. Which, bad. And then the Creature thinks he has a nice, new, quiet job that’s likely setting him up to be a freak show.

I’m less worried about Ethan, who will have to avoid the detective assigned to the massacre, but that’s a wrinkle.

And finally, I’m always sort of curious from a production standpoint, when shows are planned years out, how they all land on common themes at the same time. A few years ago, amnesia was all the rage. In the last year or so, the genre shows have picked up witches as an aside, so I did have a moment of, “here we go,” when Vanessa gave them that name.

All that said, I love this cast — going back a long, long time for Josh Hartnett and Timothy Dalton, and more recently Eva Green — who are doing fantastic work here, so I’m in. With an asterisk. Because I’m a lightweight.

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

Photo courtesy of Showtime

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