I wasn't expecting the penultimate hour of Penny Dreadful to essentially be a 'bottle episode', considering there's still lots to do, but that's exactly what we got. The bigger picture story didn't really move along very much (something of a recurring issue with the show, like there's only really enough plot for half the number of episodes), but it was a brilliant hour in terms of developing some of the characters and their dynamic together. This was the first time Sir Malcolm (Timothy Dalton), Ethan (Josh Hartnett), and Dr Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) felt like a real team instead of people thrown together. Even manservant Sembene (Danny Sapani) had a good moment, as Ethan speculated on the reason for his presence as Sir Malcolm's loyal aide-de-campe.
It's a continual fact of this series, but Eva Green is quite simply half the reason to even be watching. Vanessa Ives is a fascinating character, but Green's the reason she completely leaps off the screen. Logan's scripts have asked a great deal of her, but she's been superb in a very physical and emotionally draining role. She's also has an uncanny knack when it comes to appearing very unhinged and psychotic, so it wasn't a surprise Green was absolutely terrific in an episode where Vanessa was fighting a demonic possession.
We've had glimpses of that already in the show (most memorably in episode 2's Séance), but this was the hour where the gloves came off. And while you'll never escape thoughts of The Exorcist whenever someone's soul is being hijacked by a supernatural force, it was interesting that the characters of Penny Dreadful only turned to a priest as a last resort. And even then, the poor old man who arrived at their doorstep wasn't going to perform an exorcism and proved to be completely useless.
Indeed, in a very nice surprise, it was Ethan who saved Vanessa's soul by driving the entity out of her body using hitherto unspoken religious skills. Ethan's character has been one of mystery from the very beginning, and audiences have speculated that he's secretly a werewolf, but is there something else we haven't considered? Does he have some spiritual training from a Native American tribe in the States? Was he a priest before becoming a gunslinger? And is the werewolf thing a complete red herring?
We also learned more about the core characters. Frankenstein's an ageing virgin, which gives his obsession with creating life an interesting psychological angle, and he's also addicted to morphine. The entity possessing Vanessa once again spoke the awful truth about nobleman Sir Malcolm (who had sex with the indigenous women of Africa and forced his late son to do the same), while also revealing to Ethan that his girlfriend Brona has slept with his friend and one-time lover Dorian Gray. The former reveal was the more eye-opening, as Penny Dreadful isn't afraid to put Sir Malcolm in a horrible light. He's the ostensible lead hero of the whole show, and yet he's done some terrible things and you'd be wrong to look up to him. Throughout this whole episode, he was essentially keeping Vanessa alive and prolonging her torment purely because she's a conduit to discovering the whereabouts of his daughter. He does like Vanessa, but Mina is all he truly cares about.
Overall, while it was a little disappointing a penultimate episode moved the story along only very slightly, it was a very good episode on its own terms. I just hope next week's finale has enough time to bring everything to a satisfying conclusion, because the story still has a lot to cover. Mina has to be rescued, the "master vampire" who took her needs to be defeated, Frankenstein hasn't even started to make his monster a mate yet, and Ethan's true nature has to be clarified. Plus there's presumably going to be an ending for terminally ill Brona (becoming Caliban's undead bride as almost everyone theorised?), and a climax regarding the Egyptian doomsday prophecy. Or am I being naïve, and a lot of this will actually be dealt with in season 2?