Tuesday, 12 May 2015

PENNY DREADFUL, 2.2 – 'Verbis Diablo'

Tuesday, 12 May 2015


There are a few things that are beginning to irritate me about Penny Dreadful now: firstly, it's unclear what the show's longterm goal is, because the first season's Egyptian doomsday prophecy hasn't factored into the show as strongly as one assumed it would; and secondly, its separate storylines need to intersect fairly soon, because the way Dr Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) floats into Sir Malcolm's (Timothy Dalton) storyline feels odd half the time, because he's ordinarily stuck in a completely different show with his monstrous creation (Rory Kinnear) nobody else even knows about.

"Verbis Diablo" did combine two ends of Penny Dreadful's world, in a brief scene where psychic Vanessa Ives (Eva Green) visited an underground cholera facility and made the acquaintance of Frankenstein's creation, Caliban, to discuss poetry and compliment his eyes, but I hope we get a stronger sense of unity soon. Still, that was a lovely moment between two of the show's best actors, and it was touching how Vanessa's grim perspective on life and death was heightened by the comments of a man who's experienced both first-hand.

It also helps this season having a strong figurehead of evil. A nemesis who feels tangible and less of a shadowy boogieman, in the wonderful Evelyn Poole (Helen McCrory)—the psychic medium whose dalliances with the supernatural go much deeper, as she's the head witch of a coven. Here, we had a better sense of Evelyn's masterplan, as she's again flirting with Sir Malcolm and secretly performing spells on him that feel designed to make him fall in love with her—perhaps as a means to get closer to his surrogate daughter Vanessa. But there's a lot that's still unclear, which is fine—for now. Satan's attempt to possess Vanessa last year failed, so I guess Evelyn's acting as his corporeal emissary, to try a different tact. In a chilling final scene, I was rather surprised by how nasty this show got... with Evelyn receiving a dead baby from her daughter, taking the tiny corpse to an underground chamber, then removing its organs to implant them in a wooden voodoo doll resembling Vanessa. Are we to assume the hundreds of other dolls also contains the innards of murdered babies, and each one's a real person Evelyn's controlled at some point? At the very least, this episode scored points for raising goosebumps.

I also liked the surprise reveal that Sir Malcolm's occult expert Ferdinand Lyle (Simon Russell Beale) is being blackmailed by Evelyn, and asked to nudge him down a path of her choosing. It's very early days, but so far Sir Malcolm and his team are blissfully unaware of so much that's going on, so appear to be up against an enemy a great deal cleverer than the master vampire that was Penny Dreadful's vague foe last year.

The oddest storyline to me belongs to Frankenstein, who's now successfully resurrected Brona Croft to be the lover of his previous creation. Unlike her predecessors, Brona appears to be relatively normal, with only amnesia and an unexpected change of accent the signs of her rebirth. There's a feeling that Frankenstein's going to fall in love with "Lily" (as he renames her), which will further complicate his relationship with Caliban if he becomes one third of a weird love-triangle. That feels like a fun direction to go in, but I'm puzzled by the show's creative decision to make Lily so nonthreatening. It's already slightly odd that Caliban's oft-mentioned "monstrosities" only extends to him resembling Meat Loaf on Halloween night, so the fact Lily retains her pre-mortem beauty is another disappointing decision.

It's also becoming very noticeable that the show's younger male leads aren't especially good, and certainly aren't being given very interesting things to do. Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney) met a beguiling prostitute called Angelique (Jonny Beauchamp), who turned out to be transgender (a not very surprising Crying Game-y twist), and it remains to be seen where that's headed. We already know Gray has very unorthodox sexual proclivities, so it didn't add very much beyond underscore things.

And poor Ethan Chandler's (Josh Hartnett) just male eye candy, half the time. I can't quite remember why he's still around, beyond the fact he cares about Vanessa. On the periphery of his story is the fact a Scotland Yard detective is now hunting him, but it's unclear if that character knows, or suspects, the Mariner's Inn Massacre was the work of a werewolf.

For both male characters, it's too early to judge the success of the storylines they've been given this year, but it does feel like the show is more enamoured with Eva Green's bug-eyed performances and Helen McCrory's potential as a devilish villain pulling strings in secret. Everything else is being pushed into the background too much.

Overall, "Verbis Diablo" was certainly a step up from the premiere, and that freaky sequence with the dead baby and voodoo dolls left some indelible images in my mind. But I'd still like to see some of this show's disparate characters and plots come together more, and for the long-term goal of this series to be made a bit clearer. It just feels like evildoers are drawn to Vanessa like bees to honey, because her abilities leave her soul less guarded than most, but can we get back to that whole end of the world business the first season flirted with?

written by John Logan • directed by James Hawes • 10 May 2015 • Showtime