Last week, Penny Dreadful didn’t lean so hard on the weird, and did a more “day in the life” episode for our assorted and tortured gothic characters; “Predators Far and Near” seemed to be the antidote. The show sank a bit deeper back into the weirder side this week thanks to cannibalism, torture, and communicating through dreams with the mystical powers of wacky tobacky. What’s become, perhaps, a bit obvious is that with Dracula lurking in the shadows, and every other member of the old gang obsessed with their own stuff, Vanessa may be forced to deal with him alone, and that’s a troubling prospect since we’ve learned this week that he’s already got his claws into her.
And of course, we don’t mean Renfield. No, Dracula is none other than Dr. Alexander Sweet, the friendly and knowledgeable zoologist that has caught Vanessa’s interest. After another stressful round of therapy with Dr. Seward, Vanessa makes her way to the Natural History Museum and sits in on Dr. Sweet’s lecture where Vanessa is, obviously, his best student. There’s such a palpable connection between the two, something very sweet and innocent, and those are hard qualities to find when one of the parties has already been the love interest of the Devil, so you knew this was going to end horribly, right? Of course, my first thought was that Sweet was going to be vampire chow, and not the vampire master.
Casting Sweet as Dracula was a fun surprise in the moment, but in hindsight it should have been more obvious. Sweet made such an impression on Vanessa, and knowing her luck he had to be a bad guy, right?! It also raises an interesting conundrum, like why Dracula needs Renfield to do after hours research on Vanessa when she’s clearly smitten by the Sweet alias and his infectious optimism about all the creatures of the world. Wouldn’t she give up insight about herself voluntarily with the more time they spend together? And are we to understand that Dracula’s fascination with Vanessa comes from her first meeting with Sweet, because I seem to remember the Kid and Eraserhead following Vanessa around before that.
Adding insult to the injury of learning that Sweet is Dracula, was Vanessa’s continued recovery from her long depression. She seemed to put some effort into her appearance this week, for example, but of course Dr. Seward isn’t having any of it, and recognizes Vanessa’s effort as merely an effort and not really a sign that she was coming out of her funk. Vanessa tells Seward her story – her long, sad, dark story – and one can only assume there may have been a cathartic feeling in it for Vanessa; Dr. Seward meanwhile seems horrified by what she heard, but it’s tough to say whether it was a felling of “Wow, this girl’s been through some $#!%” or “Wow, this girl is bat$#!% nuts!” It’s a very fine line.
Speaking of nuts, Kaetenay and Sir Malcolm are now on the high seas, and travelling to America, off to save “their son” Ethan, who, at this point, *really* needs the help. Kaetenay reaches out to Ethan through dreams and some kind of peyote, which admittedly gave me pause because its another stereotypically “Indian” thing, like last week’s scalping, that would not be out of place in an old John Wayne movie, or an episode of The Lone Ranger. So much of Penny Dreadful is about subverting the tropes and the expectations of the times its set in, and Kaetenay feels like writer John Logan is playing right into them in the case of Native Americans.
Despite that though, the relationship between Ethan and Kaetenay seems fascinating. It’s inferred that Ethan werewolfed out and killed some people that Kaetenay knew, perhaps people in Kaetenay’s family, but there’s another level, a subtext. Ethan is ticked that Kaetenay would appear in his dreams, but Kaetenay wants Ethan to understand that “You are an Apache.” Okay, so are we to understand when Kaetenay calls Ethan a son, that perhaps he means it literally. That Ethan has a blood connection to the Native Americans of the New Mexico territory, inferring that his curse may not be a curse, but an inheritance. And why is Hecate following Ethan? I feel bad I didn’t recognize her last week, but she wasn’t naked and bald.
We finally caught up with Lily and Dorian Gray who walked into some kind of torture chamber where rich Londoners watch a medieval executioner visits horrors on a young naked girl. You at once figure that Dorian is engaging Lily in some of his off-color proclivities, but nope, they were there to kill everyone and save the girl. I’m not sure going after the Eli Roths of Victorian England was what I had in mind when Lily told Victor about world domination at the end of season two, but it does open intriguing doors. Do they aim to show the people of London that monsters are better behaved than the so-called normals? That they only kill the guilty.
Certainly, Lily was better behaved when it came to Victor. They had a break-up talk that was more a break-up talk than a vicious declaration of undead superiority that it was the last time they shared a scene, but no matter what wonders that Jekyll is showing Frankenstein in his lab, Victor is still moping like a sad bastard teenager getting over his first crush. Does Lily regret treating Victor so horribly? I hardly think so because she’s very dismissive of him in the end telling him not to come back. That wasn’t as cold as the diss last season, but it was still pretty icy.
The Frankenstein/Jekyll team up is probably the weak link of the season so far, the one storyline that when he shift to it seems to slow the action down. Jekyll’s less than subtle references to his own battling duality are already tiresome; it’s like every time a character on Gotham refers to their future identity. We get it! We know we’re going to see a Mr Hyde at some point, but it’s still unclear how his experiments are going to “fix” Lily to Frankenstein’s ideal, and Victor himself, although interested by Jekyll’s science, seems unsure if he wants Lily back, or if it can even be accomplished. Maybe he still hopes she’ll come back on her own.
A theme is developing about this third season that perhaps one’s feeling of monstrousness comes from something they feel inside them, and not necessarily reflected in their own actions. Can Lily and Dorian be monsters if they save a girl from being victimized? Can Ethan be monstrous if there’s a community somewhere that wants him, and that he can fit in to? Can Vanessa be monstrous if the wanderlust-filled Dr. Sweet enjoys her company (even though she doesn’t know he’s really a monster)? Those are all good questions that play to the heart of the show, but it’s only a matter of time till Dracula/Sweet reveals his true intentions…