Get comfy. This is going to be long because I LOVED this episode of Penny Dreadful that much. I even re-watched it to see if it was a fluke, and no, still awesome. I felt like John Logan wrote it for me. (Thanks, John!)
After the back step last week of Ethan turning down Vanessa because he already had plans to wolf out in the basement under Sembene’s watchful eye, this week’s episode throws Ethan and Vanessa together to sort out what they are, and they mostly achieve that goal.
We begin with the aftermath of Ethan’s transformation as Sembene tells him that the man and the wolf are one, and that together they are necessary. It’s apparent from Ethan’s reaction that he sort of knew what was happening but hadn’t actually had firm confirmation of it until now.
Later that morning, Vanessa recounts her terror at the ball, which Malcolm dismisses as hot, overcrowded room + female trouble, and even Victor calls bullshit on him not believing her. She says she’s not safe in London, that she’ll go. Ethan says he’ll go with her and when she challenges him on it, he makes it clear he wasn’t asking. Lyle supports that decision, and goes one step further, suggesting that they tell no one of their destination. Vanessa tells Victor anyway, with instructions that should Malcolm need them, come get her. She also tries to reassure him that Lily’s interest in Dorian amounts to him being a shiny new bauble in a shiny new town.
Vanessa and Ethan disembark at the Cut-Wife’s house on the moors and what follows are some lovely, quiet set pieces as they settle into a familiar domesticity — walking the grounds and talking about her relationship with Malcolm and his with Brona. She worries about Malcolm’s distance from her, and Ethan assures her he will come back around — he will not forget her. He tells her he didn’t.
As night falls, they talk about their childhood fears, and do that cigarette sharing thing I love so much. The conversation turns to demons and monsters and Ethan watches the moon rise. He tells her he has to go out and she laughs it off that there is nowhere to go, and he asks her if she can shoot. Alarmed, she says no, and he tells her to bolt the damn door til morning. Now it’s her turn to challenge him, and he yells again for her to lock the door.
Then we follow him outside where he transforms and attacks and eats a sheep out in a pasture.
The next morning, he’s himself again, chopping at the tree out front where the Cut-Wife was killed, which Vanessa tells him upon their arrival that she hates. She goes outside to him and offers him breakfast and he declines. She demands that he tell her whatever it was that drove him out into the night, and he’s coy about it. She takes his face in her hand and says they’re alone but he can tell her in a whisper. He redirects the conversation to teaching her to defend herself, and shows her how to shoot — instructing her that she has to become something else to be able to kill.
She says she owes him something in return, and they settle on dancing, and we get several vignettes of them navigating the physicality that involves. One evening, a wicked storm rolls in and she’s enchanted by it. There’s something emotional brewing between them as the storm builds outside and the moment breaks when lightning strikes the house and they scramble to put out the fire.
Soaking wet and breathless afterward, they stand across from each other and he rushes toward her and scoops her up. They kiss feverishly, and then softly as he sets her down. Her rational mind kicks in alongside her emotions and she shoves him away from her. “No! We are dangerous,” she seethes at him. He can’t argue what he knows to be true and goes outside and stands in the rain.
The next day, they’re walking again and they don’t mention the kiss. They’re back to confidantes (which I thought was perfect). He says the team in London will figure all of this out, and she tells him she sometimes wishes she could just be done with all of it, that she should surrender to it, that she’s tired of the torment.
She reminds him that his decision not to shoot her last year was cruel. He stops her and says while he’s breathing she will not die and will not surrender. That is his purpose, if it’s anything. “You’re one man,” she says. “More than that and you know it,” is his response. “We are not like others. We have claws for a reason.”
She leans in and puts her heads on his chest and he holds her. Then Sir Geoffrey rides up on the road with his dogs in tow and her whole body language changes. There’s some back and forth about making animals mind and the Cut-Wife’s death, and sadly Ethan doesn’t just turn the bastard’s dogs back on him. Geoffrey moves along, and Vanessa is raging.
Ethan talks her down that she can’t kill him, she can’t become that thing, and then he goes out. Vanessa goes upstairs and decides this is worth surrendering her soul for, and she opens the big bad book and gets to summoning.
Ethan arrives at Sir Geoffrey’s estate and watches him feed his dogs and levels his gun to take a shot when the spell Vanessa is in the throes of back at the house kicks in and he watches the dogs turn on and kill their master. He knows immediately what she’s done and when gets home to her, it’s his turn to be ragey.
He condemns her for it — calling her a murderess, throwing the abortions back. He calls her a little girl out of anger for choosing this path. It’s all over him that his heart is broken about it because he thought he could do it for her, and keep her safe, and she’s now turned toward a path from which she cannot return intact — path he knows all too well. He sizes her arms and warns her that the others she will kill will come easy. That she’s lost. “You’ll never get your soul back. Not ever,” he warns her. He asks her if she understands and she says yes. “Welcome to the night, Vanessa,” is all he can respond. Then he releases her and turns back to the fire and they stand silent.
Back in London, Lyle and Victor suss out that the scorpion and the hound and the demon are pre-ordained in this battle, but they don’t know the hound is Ethan. Sembene isn’t in the room for the conversation. They also talk about love and its own terrors.
Lily goes out for a night on the town with Dorian and they end up at the waxworks, where John watches them from a distance. She takes her leave of him afterward, and he puts her in a carriage home. Dazzled by the city, she asks the driver to stop and he lets her out by a pub.
She goes in and sits down at the bar, catching the eye of an older man not terribly unlike Lyle. They smile at each other and he takes her home. She has sex with him and then flips him over to dominate him and strangles him to death. That I did not see coming. So the second creature under Victor’s guise predisposed to murderous tendencies regardless of nature vs. nurture. Discuss!
The bigger story of the episode was what I touched on last week — that Ethan and Vanessa are no doubt aligned for some greater purpose in this fight, as Vanessa told him a few weeks ago, but whatever they are to each other, and I’ll pull the trigger and call them soul mates (a term that predates TV shipdom so kindly step off if that doesn’t work for you — I’m an old-school English Lit nerd), but they cannot have a sexual relationship. At least not yet, until their demons are reconciled. And please let them be reconciled, because, come ON. I want to see what they look like now in the aftermath of Geoffrey’s murder.
Before everything went to hell, I loved how tactile and familiar they were with each other throughout the episode — teeny moments that were just pitch perfect because, despite everything, they have an ease with each other that they don’t with anyone else. I adored them sitting on the couch together, smoking and talking, and the moment during her shooting lesson when she reaches around his back to take the bullets off his belt for herself so she can learn how to load the gun.
I like that they sadly sought comfort in each other’s embrace, which is as far as they can go right now. I like the idea that together they are required to defeat Evelyn’s plot — I just hope they both survive it, or I will be the one who’s ragey.
My only nit about their scenes together was the dismissive “little girl” statement. I got its purpose — to convey how broken he was about what she did, but it seemed like too much. Also the throwaway line in the beginning when he tells her she would be a good wifey seemed random, and not entirely true. I don’t see that as her path.
I want there to be some wiggle on whether one murder makes her a full-blown Nightcomer. I wish she knew for a fact that Ethan’s secret is that he transforms into a wolf — I feel like that’s important, and I’m assuming the reveal will be major when it happens — again, just not a point where either of them is dying, OK, show?
I’m so glad somebody saw Josh Hartnett in the role of Ethan. I’ve been a fan since his early days and I’m so enjoying him as part of this cast. I’m excited for him that he gets to come play as the lone Yankee.
I’m intrigued that Lily is a murderess whose childlike behavior has been a façade. We never saw murderous tendencies in Brona, so it’s not that. But maybe is it a residual effect of being suffocated to death by Victor? It’s a great twist that she’s equally or moreso deadly than John, who we have only seen kill when he was railing against Victor, not just for killing’s sake. Plus it lets Billie Piper really play.
I doubt all of these threads will be resolved with only three episodes left this season. I’m crossing fingers and toes and whatnot for a Season 3. At the very least, I do hope we wrap the Evelyn story, the same as we did in Season 1 with that big bad.
Photos courtesy of Jonathan Hession/SHOWTIME