Already seen Episode 7? Read on at the bottom for additional, spoiler-filled comments.
Given last week’s disappointing stumble, the last thing you’d think Penny Dreadful would need is another slow episode with no major events. So it’s a surprise that this is exactly what John Logan delivers with Episode 7. Even more of a surprise, perhaps, is that it works: Little Scorpion is one of the best episodes yet.
After struggling to draw all of his story lines together for Dorian’s ball, here, Logan goes in the opposite direction and returns to the bedrock of Penny Dreadful’s success: splitting his ensemble apart and observing the loners making connections.
And so Vanessa (Eva Green) and Ethan (Josh Hartnett) depart London for the safety of the Cut-Wife’s cottage. After all, with Sir Malcolm head over heels for Madame Kali, the group can hardly trust its ostensible leader, let alone each other. Where we’ve previously seen our team plotting, sitting down in darkened rooms by the fire, director Brian Kirk (Game of Thrones S1) now shows us the group standing up in the daylight, with visible gaps between them.
Lyle wisely advises Miss Ives not to tell anyone – although Vanessa does trust Frankenstein – before she heads for the hills with Ethan. Why? Because, as he notes, they’re not like the others. “We have claws for a reason,” he broods.
There’s a lot of brooding in this hour, but when the people doing the brooding are this good-looking, that’s no bad thing. Hartnett, with his tiny beard and soft eyes, has rarely been better than this effective two-hander, while we have long since run out of superlatives to describe the magnificent Green. With the sexual tension between the pair in previous episodes, you spend most of the time waiting for one of them to rip the other’s clothes off and get busy on the cottage floor, but Logan is more interested in the peeling away of their guarded layers, as they get to know each other emotionally. Let’s not forget, of course, that Ethan has still only revealed himself to one person: Sembene.
Speaking of which, the wonderfully sombre Danny Sapani gets the stand-out speech of the episode – and, in fact, his longest speech in the show to date – as he talks to Ethan of animals consuming others. Leopards eat monkeys and become part-leopard and part-monkey, he explains. Crocodiles, meanwhile, eat leopards. “I see you,” he tells Chandler. “Past the crocodile. The leopard. The monkey. And the wolf.”
For Ethan, it’s a key moment, as we see him trying to reconcile what exactly he is – and so it’s wonderfully moving that he finds the answer not in chaining himself up as a monster, but in being a makeshift husband to Vanessa. A delightful montage of them teaching each other to set traps and fire guns establishes not only a routine to their hideaway existence, but also a new identity as a domestic couple.
That intimacy inevitably leads to private revelations. “I’ve never liked trees since,” she scowls, explaining to Ethan what happened to The Cut-Wife. But back in London, the same process is happening without their knowledge, as Lyle and Victor continue deciphering the Verbis Diablo manuscript: a journey of discovery that informs the episode’s other half, without them being informed.
They sense their way cluelessly through the muddle – “We have to call it what it is: the Devil,” declares Vanessa, in one of their only breakthroughs – much like Frankenstein’s creatures. Brona, who is left to her own devices, draws closer with Dorian, while “Mr. Clare” attempts to forge a connection with the blind daughter of his new boss. Cold, corpse-like skin and unusual eyes entrance and repel the normal humans in equal measure, leaving our undead couple in a limbo that neither seem to be able to shake; there is a sense here, more than ever, that Brona is destined to be like Caliban in some inherent, inescapable way.
That same sense of predetermined nature looms over Vanessa and Ethan, as their paths cross with old enemies. One stormy scene sees the pair unite in a shared drive to protect both each other and themselves, while a monologue from Ethan on what it’s like to kill someone only underlines the other, darker instinct they have in common. Playing happy family is nice, Episode 7 reminds us, but only while it lasts.
“The scorpion, the demon and the hound, forever circling each other…” intones Lyle, back in the capital. It’s a prophecy that promises a strong final three episodes. After all, our couple have claws for a reason.
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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Additional notes (contains spoilers)
– “The hound is a danger to him,” conclude Lyle and Frankenstein, as we finally get some more confirmation of what exactly Lupus Dei is: the Hound of God, the Demon’s enemy, a phrase that is repeated in the manuscript over and over, as though its writer were afraid of it.
– “They are aligned,” adds Simon Russell Beale, who milks every chance he gets to make dramatic statements.
– Does the Devil really exist? It’s one of the interesting debates Vanessa and Ethan have, as we see how much the pair differ in some respects: despite being the Hound of God, and exorcising Vanessa in the first season, Ethan’s hardly a religious man. The lesson here is a sharp one: “The scorpion will still strike, whether you believe in him or not.” You can imagine Madame Kali hearing that and laughing over her demented puppet collection.
– Speaking of which, isn’t it curious that Vanessa admits she’s afraid of dolls? A coincidence, probably, but enough to give you freaky flashbacks to that room of fetishes.
– Sir Malcolm rather cruelly derides Miss Ives’ ability to sense things, but, on reflection, he has a point: she can’t tell that Chandler is a werewolf, even after he runs into the night during the full moon, and doesn’t realise that Lyle is a traitor of sorts, or that Brona is really Lily. So much for being psychic, eh?
– Vanessa, though, had no trouble using her powers to kill the man who killed The Cut-Wife – an act of black magic that sees his dogs turn upon him in a hugely satisfying sequence. What’s great about it, more than the revenge or the shock of her actively committing supernatural murder, is the fact that Ethan was about to do the same thing, albeit by the more conventional method of a gun; these two really do belong together. And that’s something this sequence establishes way better than a sex scene could. (Although……..)
– Speaking of which, Mr. Clare stalking Lily’s date with Dorian? This story line can only end well. The tease from Dorian while they visit the waxworks museum about bodies being sold by Burke and Hare to a doctor for experimentation suggests that she might well find out what she is. “What sort?” she demands, inquisitively. “I couldn’t say,” says Dorian. We bet someone will.
– Our suspicions are confirmed when we see Lily cruising a bar for a man to do things with at the episode’s finish – an apparent relapse into her old habits as a prostitute, only for her to move from taking pleasure in the sex to killing the guy as they screw. It’s weird, it’s unexpected and, while it may seem borderline laughable over-the-top, it’s that same feeling of disbelief that leaves you disturbed by how monstrous this seemingly normal person, on the surface, is turning out to be. If last week’s ball for Angelique and Dorian was a let-down, we can’t wait for Lily and Mr. Clare’s coming out party.