Already seen Episode 8? Read on at the bottom for additional, spoiler-filled comments.
“My monster. My beautiful corpse.”
If Penny Dreadful impressed with its command of slow pacing last week, Episode 8 lurches forward at an equally impressive breakneck speed. What was happening all that time Ethan and Vanessa were away in the woods? It turns out everything. Everything was happening.
Ferdinand Lyle finally manages to finish translating the old manuscript, which ties the two seasons nicely with a nice chunk of exposition. Sir Malcolm acts incredibly strangely, as Evelyn’s hold on him gets stronger. The police get closer to Chandler and his monstrous secret. And Sembene gets another chance to be seriously bad-ass.
It’s a lot of balls to juggle, not helped by the fact that the last time John Logan tried to pull of something like this in Episode 6, he just left them hanging in mid-air without any resolution. Now, though, with only two episodes left, he’s got no choice back to catch them – and boy, does he do that. Sprouting an extra limb from somewhere, he delivers a textbook demonstration of how to bring multiple story strands hurtling together without skimming over any of them or losing momentum. (Are you paying attention, True Detective Season 2?)
For those who are fans of Timothy Dalton’s moustache, the good news is that he finally starts to become aware of Evelyn’s ulterior motives in this hour – meaning there is hope for them whiskers yet. That gradual revelation also gives Timothy Dalton a real chance to shine, as he ranges from doe-eyed to a man possessed, his clean-shaven face set on revenge. A neatly choreographed sequence involving ghosts from his past even lets him show off his dance moves. It also gives us a glimpse of the power that Sembene apparently possesses; a nicely underplayed subplot that leaves him more enigmatic than ever.
If Evelyn’s hold is weakening, though, Lily’s womanly powers are only getting stronger: strolling back from her murder last week, it soon becomes apparent that she has poor, simpering Victor wrapped around her little finger. Not only is she seductive and bloodthirsty, we realise, but she can lie too – and Billie Piper is loving every second of it. Like Dalton, she’s given a chance to take the spotlight with no Eva Green to dominate the screen. She also runs the gamut of emotions, toying with those around her and even allowing her accent to wobble back into Brona’s Irish brogue; it’s a wonderfully precise portrayal of someone becoming entirely unhinged, from her wide eyes to her full, smiling lips.
Logan draws the parallel between the two powerful women with repeated emphases on the importance of youth and looks: for Evelyn, the importance of her deal with the Devil is staying immortal and beautiful, something that puts her at odds with rebellious daughter Hecate; for Lily, the recurring questions about corsets, high heels and dressing up for men (who create them in an ideal, sexualised image) erupt into a feminist fury that sparks a superb rant.
It’s the reaction to these desires – sex remains as much a part of this as anything else – and discovering their partner’s true self beneath the surface that ultimately decides the direction in which our narratives go. Separating our cast off into pairs once again, Memento Mori continues last week’s notion of a perfectly matched pair: some, like Angelique and Dorian (who’s still distracted by the novelty of Lily), are clearly not soul mates; others, like Evelyn and Malcolm, Lily and Victor or even Evelyn and Lyle (who is subject to one humiliating kiss), are more about control than love; but Lily and Mr. Clare? That’s where the fascinating horror lies.
“You created her for me. She is mine,” insists Rory Kinnear’s monster, just as possessive as Frankenstein and, arguably, Miss Poole, but as Lily becomes increasingly violent, there’s the lingering sense that maybe these unnatural, messed-up corpses are perfect for each other, after all. If that is the case, who knows what havoc they could wreak in the final two episodes?
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Additional notes (contains spoilers)
– Poor Sir Malcolm. Not only is he lied to by Evelyn, but she also uses the Verbis Diablo to possess him and, presumably, kill all of his friends before they can stop the Devil’s fiendish plan. Lucky that Sembene is on hand, then, to wrestle him into a locked room and shout until he comes to his senses. That butler deserves a pay rise, if you ask us.
– Evelyn’s failure there is the perfect opportunity for Hecate to start rebelling against her mum once again – but will this subplot ever become significant? Will that divide within the witches’ group somehow bring about their downfall? It’s certain that Hecate’s bossing about of Lyle isn’t going to achieve much: Simon Russell Beale, bless him, has already managed to insulate himself against Evelyn by not letting Vanessa tell him where she and Chandler went. He can presumably withstand Witch No. 2.
– Of course, Timothy Dalton goes off for revenge – and of course, it fails because Evelyn is an evil, all-powerful witch. And of course, he ends up locked away (accompanied by the mementoes of his past) as a bait for Vanessa, Ethan and co. to go and rescue next week. But forget all that for a minute and let’s spend a moment admiring Sir Malcolm’s hat. Witch-hunting with a gun and a homburg? He’s definitely our favourite 007.
– We finally get to see Dorian’s portrait. And, well, it’s a bit naff, if we’re honest. (Note to John Logan: Leave it two seasons to reveal that one and it’s bound to be a bit of an anti-climax.)
– If the picture of Dorian Gray is underwhelming, though, Reeve Carney makes up for it by poisoning Angelique. Just like that. The moment she sees his portrait and says she loves him just the way she is, she dies from a dodgy glass of wine. It makes her death all the more tragic, and Dorian all the more monstrous. If we had that moment in Episode 3 or 4, it would be interesting to see how the story line might have then interwoven back into the rest of the narrative – we’re waiting, presumably, for Mr. Clare to kill him as revenge for taking Lily away from him, albeit temporarily.
– “You’re looking for a man. You need to start hunting for a beast.” That’s what Sir Malcolm said to a police detective one year ago. Thrown back into his face by the copper’s successor, you wonder how long it’ll be until the police finally put two and two together and come up with werewolf. If not him, then surely Sir Malcolm, who translates “Hound” (in “Hound of God”) as “wolf”? Our money is firmly on Ethan’s secret being unveiled next week, so he can use his holy claws (or something) to vanquish the baddies in the finale.
– As Lily wakes up next to her victim at the beginning of the episode, her disturbing chatter already reminds us of the importance of immortality and youth in this universe: at least, she reasons, the dead body will never grow old again.
– The shot of her walking out in slow motion before the opening credits, casually knocking over a house of cards is wonderfully observed. Even Frank Underwood wouldn’t have a comeback to that.
– “My monster. My beautiful corpse,” croons Lily, notably reversing Mr. Clare’s possessive pronoun, as she scolds him, only to bring him back to her bosom and shag him rotten – apparently, he’s just as much her plaything as Victor and her victim the previous evening. Does that mean they will ultimately be equals and bring about the death of their creator? Will she also help him to exact revenge upon Dorian? Or will she just bump them all off herself? With Frankenstein’s Bride officially on board, the unpredictability of Season 1’s literature-driven crossed narratives is back once more.
Photo: 2015 SHOWTIME