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“Let us dare” seemed to be the message of the week on Penny Dreadful as several characters took the plunge and dared to indulge in the idea that they could be happy. But this is Penny Dreadful, so things are bound to end in failure no matter how much our friends and heroes want to embrace that chance for happiness. What does happiness mean? Does it mean acceptance? Finding purpose with someone because they accept who and what they are? Even if what’s on the inside is darkness? That seemed to be the question for our cast on this week’s episode, which had new urgency leading into next week’s two-hour season finale. 

Vanessa has been largely segregated from the others this season, which is why it was so welcoming to see her reunited with Mr. Clare. Their interactions were one of the highlights of season two, their conversations lending great humanity to all the supernatural weirdness going on around them. In essence they are the walking dead and the bride of evil, at once Penny Dreadful’s oddest characters, but also its most human. The two of them are now stuck in an unusual position, they see a way to end their isolation, but can they gather the strength to accept the possibility that they don’t have to be lonely anymore?

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For the Creature, things go well. Surprisingly well. And really that can only mean that something very bad is going to happen. Although he appears to his wife, tells her his story, and she accepts him for everything he is and has become, it all seemed a little too elegant. One can’t help but see visions of the Creature’s journey in season two, where the kindness of Lavinia, the wax museum owner’s blind daughter, was a front to keep the Creature close till her father could lock him up and exploit him as a freak. It seems unlikely that the Creature will be stabbed in the back again, but I do worry about the fate of his son, and whether the irrational fear of the unknown will make the Creature the one to blame for the boy’s eventual passing in the eyes of his wife.

As for Vanessa, it seems that things have gone from good to worse. On the surface she’s happy having found love again with Dr. Sweet (AKA: Dracula), but there seems that there’s some dark stuff going on beneath the surface. Kaetenay’s vision reveals Ethan’s return to London just in time for a gaunt Vanessa to tell him its too late as they come under attack by Dracula’s underlings. Later, Kaetenay makes one of his mystical phone calls where it seems like Vanessa’s already halfway gone to the dark side even as she researches ways to kill Dracula. Perhaps it’s like Dr. Seward said, she’s a split personality only a bit less literally, Vanessa is both desperate to embrace the darkness and is repelled by it.

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Although it was inevitable that Vanessa was going to learn the true identity of Dracula, it seemed a little easy for it all to come together in her mind. Catriona Hartdegan (‘Cat’ to her friends) returns with some Dracula insight that allows Vanessa to make the connection, he likes to dwell with the night creatures. Ding! Ding! Dr. Sweet certainly likes to dwell with the night creatures, albeit in a scientific way. It’s enough for Vanessa though to make the connection. That, and Cat’s clue that Dracula, as a seducer, wouldn’t come right out and chase Vanessa, but he would rather lure her to come to his side, and that’s just what Dr. Sweet’s been doing.

Naturally, Vanessa decides to confront Dracula on her own, and she feels affronted that Dracula would come to her in the form of the mild-mannered Dr. Sweet. Dracula asks though if he ever lied to her, you know, aside from his name. Again, Dracula shows his difference from his brother Lucifer, he’s not here to scare Vanessa into submission, he’s instead offering the most potent seduction tool of all: acceptance. He doesn’t want to possess her, he wants to serve “the mother of evil,” and he tells her “I want you to be what you are.” When you’ve come to think that what you are is wrong and dirty, is there anything more you would want then unconditional acceptance. And what can the others offer? The idea that Vanessa has to be protected from herself and others?

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The feminist subtext has been the most fascinating aspect of this season of Penny Dreadful, and it comes to a head for Lily as well as Vanessa this hour. Lily orders her army to go out into the dark alleys and corners of the city to chop off the hands of men that dare to use and abuse them, and the ladies gladly abide resulting in a big pile of severed hands on Dorian Gray’s table. And he’s had enough of that.

When Dorian told Victor last week that he would call on him, I didn’t think it would be so quickly, and I didn’t think it involve Dorian buying into Victor’s plan to make her a “proper woman.” I’m not sure I get Dorian’s reasons for throwing in with Frankenstein. It seems to come from a place of selfishness and pettiness, as if Lily isn’t playing by his rules, or doing what he wants; like a friend telling you that you’re playing a game the “wrong way.” Perhaps that’s the most vicious of rationales, while one could argue that Victor wants to reclaim Lily for what she once was, Dorian wants to get rid of the person she’s become because he rejects the person he helped create. It makes you wonder who the real villain is here.

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It’s easy to see that Victor, Dorian and Jekyll are way out of line, and that’s in spite of Lily’s growing war on men; there’s an appreciation that the men, or at least some of them, definitely have it coming. Still, having three men team-up against one woman whose attitude they don’t like makes its nearly impossible to feel sympathy for the male point of view, and it’s a none-too-subtle allegory to the historical reaction by men to whenever women get assertive. Although I sort of reviled the Frankenstein/Jekyll storyline, I am interested to see if Mr. Hyde will eventually make an appearance in the final two hours. Perhaps Lily might find a man in him that gets her, and then the story will be inverted: how can Lily turn Jekyll into the kind of man she wants?

Lily’s story is much more cut and dry than Vanessa’s. On the one hand, Vanessa is embracing evil, but it’s worth noting that we only really know that because Dracula’s been a villain in fiction for over 100 years. On the other hand, getting her out of Dracula’s clutches may also involve her being saved by three men, and while Vanessa may legitimately need saving, you can’t shake the mixed feelings of that message either. In the end, I think it will be up to Vanessa to save herself. Acceptance isn’t just something we seek from others, it’s something we seek from ourselves, and it will be up to Vanessa to decide if she can live in the light and accept that she must also sometimes live in the dark.

Category: reviews, TV

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