Some women are destined to the be the centre of attention. Others hide away, blending into the shadows like a discreet pattern on a wallpaper. Penny Dreadful explores the gulf between the two in Episode 4 of Season 2.
After last week’s absorbing flashback, we find ourselves back in the present day. Witchcraft, sorcery and the devil’s language are still very much an issue, but there’s a more pressing concern: women’s underwear.
That’s what has Victor Frankenstein hot under the collar, as he struggles to work out what clothes to buy for Lily. You know, the reincarnated corpse of Brona Croft he’s keeping secret in his basement. And so, after a group session in Sir Malcolm’s living room to discuss the demonic threat that’s trying to take Vanessa’s life and has something to do with the fall of Lucifer, Frankenstein asks Miss Ives if she’ll accompany him shopping. The result is a wonderfully unexpected sequence in a series that has gradually honed its ability to surprise.
A season and (almost) a half in, the patterns of Penny Dreadful are becoming familiar: the inner torment of Eva Green’s witch; the secret romance of Frankenstein’s monster; the show’s habit of splitting people off into pairs (Victor and his creature, Ethan and Vanessa, Malcolm and Evelyn); the token, slow flashback followed by a thrilling burst of action. What we haven’t seen much of, though, is Vanessa and Victor.
After Season 1 emphasised the parallels between Dorian Gray and Miss Ives, the contrast between these two couldn’t be more striking: Eva Green is cool, calm and confident in her appearance; Harry Treadaway is stammering, awkward and flustered by the same thing. Just Green saying “undergarments” in her plummy tones is enough to make Treadaway blush to his ears. It’s entertaining, but also a fascinating look at the roles of society in Victorian London: while Vanessa is comfortable wearing a corset and heels, “Lily” struggles to understand the point of it all. Why suffer in pain because men (Victor) say that she needs to look a certain way?
At the same time, we see Dorian with his new partner in crime, the transgender socialite Angelique (Jonny Beauchamp), who is just as at home in her own skin – even when Gray takes her on a distinctly unusual date. Together, they make a bold couple, unafraid to subvert convention.
These are scenes that would never have taken place a year ago; the groundwork has been laid enough now for writer John Logan to simply enjoy spending time with his characters, rather than rapidly push forward the intertextual narrative. Unusual scenarios continue with Ethan, who finds himself doing the washing up with Sembene, but also visits the pub with Hecate; another date of sorts that gives us more insight into Chandler’s past, as he rails against his father.
After Vanessa getting a whole hour of back-story, the repeated mentions of Lupus Dei and Josh Hartnett’s central screen-time here suggest that we’re on course to get some major exposition for him. But the focus remains on Miss Ives, who seems to bring out the best in every other character, whether they’re paired off or united together.
As Ferdinand continues his deciphering of the Verbis Diablo, as well as his double-crossing of our heroes, Evil Spirits In Heavenly Places brings us the terrifying return of Evelyn’s nightwalkers: in a world of etiquette and fashion, it’s perhaps no surprise that the series’ three deadliest women couldn’t care less whether they’re clothed or not. Their unsettling attitude means you’ll never look at wallpaper in the same way again.
Season 1 to 3 of Penny Dreadful are available on Sky On Demand. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW TV, as part of a £6.99 Sky Entertainment Month Pass subscription – with a 7-day free trial. Season 1 and 2 are also available on DVD, Blu-ray and pay-per-view VOD.
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