After last week's bravura instalment, quality lurched back to a more standard level, all things considered. There were a few things I really liked about "Evil Spirits in Heavenly Places", but also more evidence that many of Penny Dreadful's characters are stuck in dull storylines of questionable importance to the grander scheme.
On the plus side, I like how Ethan's (Josh Hartnett) is becoming a more significant player—as both the mysterious, unwitting quarry of Detective Bartholomew Rusk (Douglas Hodge) for his role in the Mariner's Inn Massacre, but also as the self-appointed protector of Vanessa Ives (Eva Green) from Evelyn's (Helen McCrory) coven of witches. His role felt more defined that it's been for awhile, and I loved the scene where Ethan's experience as a fugitive enabled him to see through the lies spun by a witch, Hecate (Sarah Green), who was trying to win his heart in order to get closer to Vanessa by posing as an American damsel-in-distress. He's no fool, that man.
After last week's supernatural intensity that culminated in a public hanging, it was also nice to see Vanessa given some lighter scenes this hour; accompanying Dr Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) to a boutique, assisting him in the art of choosing suitable undergarments for his visiting "cousin" Lily (Billie Piper). It was a welcome reminder that Green can also be very amusing and fun, in a show that more often requires her to lose her inhibitions and embrace her innermost lunacy. The only downside being how tonally awkward this sequence sat with the rest of the episode's events.
The rest of this fourth episode only served to remind me of problems that are coming into sharper relief this season: Sir Malcolm (Timothy Dalton) had almost nothing to do throughout, despite ostensibly being the show's lead figure; Caliban (Rory Kinnear) keeps being given variations of the exact same scene, as various innocent beauties visit him in the bowels of his workplace, to touch his heart during their conversation; and I'm seriously beginning to wonder if it's worth keeping Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney) around now, as his relationship with a transsexual prostitute feels like it's only happening because, well, do you have a better idea what to do? He's too removed from every major storyline the show has to offer, and it's hard to even see what value he'd bring if he was aware of the situation with the witches.
Overall, this wasn't Penny Dreadful's greatest hour. I'd probably rate it amongst its worst, actually, although the climax with the naked witches invading Sir Malcolm's home and tussling with the inhabitants suggests things are getting more serious. "Evil Spirits in Heavenly Places" was ultimately a lot of filler material, enlivened by occasionally amusing character beats—like Ethan discovering Vanessa eats dessert for breakfast, or Lyle (Simon Russell Beale) realising Sir Malcolm is courting Evelyn (whom he secretly serves). We also learned the Verbis Diablo is the Devil's memoir, but Evelyn's actual plan for Vanessa and Sir Malcolm continues to be frustratingly vague. She's been setup brilliantly as a twisted and powerful villain to be reckoned with, mainly because she's hiding in plain sight and pulling so many strings, but I hope we get some forward momentum very soon.
written by John Logan • directed by Damon Thomas • 24 May 2015 • Showtime