After spending the majority of last week in the desert, Penny Dreadful returned to full court press this week by engaging all its characters, not to mention its more interesting storylines. Picking up the second after the end of last week’s tense father/son reunion, “No Beast So Fierce” gives us the most tense, though unintentionally hilarious, family dinner ever seen in the American West. On the flip side, a narrative is becoming clear: Victorian England is a man’s world, but that doesn’t mean it has to stay that way. There are new friends made in this hour, and new resentments sewn, but ultimately some trust issues are going to be severely strained.
Let’s start with that dinner, which seemed more like something our of Tarantino than Penny Dreadful. Admittedly, when Inspector Rusk crashed the Talbot family reunion, I didn’t expect the next scene to be set at the dinner table, but it was the perfect venue for some thinly veiled family drama. At least until the elder Talbot shot Marshall Ostow for talking about getting payback for his dead men on the train. It effectively reinforced the idea that Jared Talbot was no innocent lamb despite last week’s airing of the massacres. As Sir Malcolm points out, Jared is so obsessed with pounding Ethan into one thing, he hasn’t noticed that he’s turned his son into something else.
Ethan’s sudden embrace of badness still rings hollow though, especially his perversion of the Lord’s Prayer which came across as impetuous and not a real affront to God; it’s like when the teenage kid that dabbles in Satanism by wearing black and listening to Marilyn Manson. The death of Hecate, although robbing us of Sarah Greene‘s wonderfully deranged line readings, also isn’t as stinging as I think it’s meant to be, she always seemed more like Ethan’s groupie than a true partner, or mentor, in being evil. We know the only people that Ethan can really look up to are the only one’s left standing, his two fathers Sir Malcolm and Kaetenay, who seemed to shake off that snake bite without much effort.
Back in England, Vanessa is slightly less alone than she thinks. A trip to see Mr. Lyle reveals that the Egyptologist is heading to Cairo, where being gay in the 19th century is a little more tolerated, or so you’re lead to believe reading between the lines. What could have been a “Well, there goes another one of Vanessa’s man friends” moment, leads something much more interesting, or make that someone more interesting. Mr. Lyle gives Vanessa the name of Catriona Hartdegen, and she knows all about Dracula and his mythology as an expert in the study of death.
So who is Catriona Hartdegen? She’s got to no connection to Dracula lore, and its not a gender swap like Dr. Seward. The closest thing you can read into it is that the protagonist from the 2002 film version of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine is also named Hartdegen. Thin, I know, but the character in the book is never given a name, and considering that the movie was directed by Wells’ great-grandson that might be sticky enough to make it canon. Perhaps Hartdegen is an alias though. Perhaps we’ll learn her real identity because Perdita Weeks is just too good in her first appearance for her just to be a random ship to pass Vanessa in the night. Also, are we to take Mr. Lyle’s reference to Imhotep as a nod to the next potential adversary to the Penny Dreadful gang?
Speaking of people not being what they seem, let’s consider Dracula and his secret identity Dr. Sweet. Can someone that seems hardly proactive in pursuing the woman he’s lusting for be considered truly dangerous, or is he just patient? He seemed pretty cool chilling up in the Natural History Museum working on his various taxidermy projects waiting for Vanessa to come back to him. or at least waiting for Dr. Seward – or somebody – to give Vanessa the advise that the best way to fight Dracula is to fight her own isolation. Vanessa seemed to take that to mean “have sex with Dr. Sweet on the floor is his workshop” and that’s got to make you wonder what she’s going to do when she finds out who Sweet really is. Perhaps in all this talk about Ethan being driven to the dark side, it’s Vanessa that must be worried about.
It was hard to shake the strong feminist message in Vanessa journey this episode. Right up until the dalliance with Dr. Sweet, it seemed that the show was saying that you don’t need a man to come save you as women are quite capable of saving themselves. Maybe it will take an extra push for Vanessa to get there, as that wasn’t the world she was raised in after all. Unlike, say, Brona. Lily’s fascinating journey continues this week, and it appears that her anti-man stance has started to turn off even her staunchest ally, the man who has stood beside her and built her up to all of this: Dorian Gray.
Lily is now in full recruitment mode, showing the whores of London, or at least those that come in search of “the Pale Lady,” how to take care of a man that dares to abuse them, and by “take care” we mean with a switch blade. What a stupid time for Frankenstein to enact his stupid plan to kidnap Lily and use Jekyll’s formula to make her compliant, and what an elegant yet obvious way to drive home the point that Lily’s trying to make. Frankenstein wants her compliant, subservient, and dependent on him. Of course, Lily don’t play dat!
She had promised to kill Victor if he should show up at her door again, and Justine is eager to do it, but Dorian convinces her not to because it’s senseless to murder Frankenstein for the crime of loving Lily. Of course, Dorian seems to have his own plans. Frustrated by Lily’s, let’s call it, independence, Dorian promises Frankenstein that he will call upon him for repayment of the debt of saving his life. It’s strange to see the laissez-faire Dorian Gray succumb to pettiness in the face of something not going his way, but it’s a compelling development and subtle hint that even the most liberal of minds at the time were threatened by a woman with a mind and will of her own. It will be interesting to see what comes from the sewing of these strange bedfellows.
In fact, it will be curious to see how all this plays out. Now that their business in America is done, will Sir Malcolm and Ethan race back to England to save the day, and by “day” we mean Vanessa? Or are they going to find a very different Vanessa when they get back after she’s faced down Dracula solo? Will she face down Dracula? Will she find the allure of Dracula and his Dr. Sweet identity too strong to deny? He is only in this for her body after all. And what of Lily? Are the men in her life going to team up to destroy her? Can they at this point? I wouldn’t bet against her.