Already seen Episode 9? Read on at the bottom for additional, spoiler-filled comments.
“I’ve tasted success. And it’s a meal I now wish to devour.”
Never has a more apt statement been made by the owner of a waxwork emporium. David Haig’s Oscar Putney has been one of the more enjoyable additions to the Penny Dreadful universe – a pantomime villain who fits right in with our carnival of monsters.
Season 2 has tried to make that carnival bigger and better and this penultimate dance gives us a glimpse of just how successful it’s been: compared to the tighter Vanessa-oriented story line of Season 1, things here are ludicrous, garish and way over-the-top – but they’re also hideously fun.
Putney and co. have been a key part of that, one of several supporting characters who prove that, just as we sympathise with the humanity of these beasts, humankind can be beastly enough on its own. “Not everyone loves poetry,” snaps Putney’s daughter at Mr. Clare during one cruel exchange, turning what was once a mildly curious subplot into a foundation for the recently commissioned Season 3.
That skilled juggling of narratives is evident with Ethan Chandler too, who finds himself – along with Miss Ives – braving a rescue mission to save Sir Malcolm from Evelyn’s house of horrors. (The arrival of Frankenstein in a cab to ferry them back to London is cheerfully one of the show’s worst moments.) Of course, it’s a full moon. And of course, he’ll transform. And of course, of course, Sembene is there to deliver some wise words of support. But we also get a crumb of insight into the servant’s own horrific past, done in the show’s typical blink-and-you’ll-miss-it style: their carriages to whisk people between plot lines might be unsubtle, but exposition in Penny Dreadful is always a welcome second place to its extravagant set pieces and colourful characters.
The only one concerned with establishing motivation and back-story is Scotland’s Yard determined detective, who gets closer and closer to Ethan’s true identity; the reveal of Chandler’s real surname (again, an admirably fleeting mention) makes it clear that his inner wolf will soon be outed to all and sundry, and also opens up another avenue for next season to explore. Hecate, meanwhile, confronts him about his more religious connection – a sensuous showdown that sparks one of the creepiest uses of a mirror in the series to date. And that’s saying something, because Penny Dreadful really likes mirrors.
Surface and what lies beneath has always lain at the centre of the show, a juxtaposition encapsulated by the appearance-obsessed Dorian. Season 2 has carefully built upon it – a key to its triumph has been to expand its themes, as well as its cast roster – as he now proves a natural partner to Lily. Or, as he recognises her, Brona.
The importance of looks is echoed in the power struggle occurring in the evil witches’s camp. “I believe what you have taught me,” Hecate spits at her mother, going into full rebellious teenager mode. “Youth is paramount.” Our monsters spent a season making peace with their existence. Now, the problem is that they want to do so forever.
And so, as we get one step closer to the showdown between Vanessa and Evelyn, the union that thrills the most is Miss Croft and Mr. Grey. Brona’s rebirth as Lily has taken her out of the appearance-driven society in which Mr. Grey circulates, fuelling her growing consciousness with a feminist-like fury at the way women – and monsters – are treated by the established system. It’s an ire that Evelyn shares. “Men without sanity,” she muses, in between tormenting Sir Malcolm, “are vermin made to pro-create and expire.”
For Mr. Clare, neither man nor woman, his down-trodden position of powerlessness turned Lily’s offer of power last week into something irresistible – even as he finds himself drawn to another, seemingly more virtuous woman. “True evil is, above all things, seductive. When the devil knocks at your door, he doesn’t have cloven hooves, he’s beautiful,” Rory Kinnear observes, as poetically as ever. As our heroes dash about Evelyn’s estate, could we one day see these forces unite, 1940s Universal studios-style, to form their own undead team?
“Go heal yourself, my beloved immortal,” orders Lily, as Episode 9 prepares us for a surely ostentatious finale. It’s not just John Logan who has tasted success. Let the devouring begin.
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Additional notes (contains spoilers)
– “You did that to his face?” asks Vanessa, after she and Ethan bury the half-faced survivor of Chandler’s massacre. Turns out his bark was far worst than his bite. “Yes,” replies Ethan. “What are you?” she asks. It’s absurd just how long Ethan plans not to say anything, but by the time the episode is up, he’s already transformed into a wolf.
– Naturally, our team separate once they’re inside Evelyn’s mansion, which leaves Ethan and Sembene on their own. Faced with a locked door, Sembene encourages him to turn – and, as soon as he does, he appears to kill the loyal servant. Not cool, Wolfman. Not cool.
– Speaking of which, did we mention that Ethan’s real surname is Talbot? Yes, the same Talbot as The Wolfman himself. Expect that whole back-story to take up at least half of Season 3. From witches to werewolves.
– Vanessa and Evelyn, meanwhile, are facing off against each other – a confrontation that leaves Miss Ives face to face with our own fetish doll. Remember how she said she was scared of dolls? Now imagine one that looks like you moving it’s mouth independently and calling you a “murderer”. Yeah, she’s going to freak out soon.
– If her mental state’s in the balance, though, it’s nothing compared to Victor, who gets pushed firmly over the edge by Sir Malcolm’s room of memories. He’s swiftly surrounded by Mr. Clare, Brona/Lily and – yes! – Proteas from Season 1. When you see it like that, it seems only natural that Mr. Clare and Lily should team up with Dorian for some form of anti-human league.
– Which brings us to poor old Mr. Clare, who is tricked by Putney’s daughter into getting locked in a cell. The family’s master plan? Turn their waxworks shop into a living freak show. We think we know what Dorian and Lily’s first act will be: can anyone say “rescue mission”?
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