Vannessa (Eva Green) took Ethan (Josh Hartnett) to the Cut-Wife's cottage, but following in her mentor's footsteps only extended to teaching her American friend how to dance. Penny Dreadful is an ensemble show with many moving pieces, but it's notable how the best hours tend to focus on the few. Ethan's been a troublesome ingredient of the show, but now that his lycanthropy's a secret shared—with Sembene (Danny Sapani), Sir Malcolm's (Timothy Dalton) servant—the story appears to be moving forward with him better. He's a man of principle, who knows the burden taking lives has on your soul, and by the end of "Little Scorpion" it's Vanessa's who's the one being schooled.
One thing that bothered me about this episode was Ethan's crazy decision to accompany Vanessa to a remote cottage in the West Country, during a Full Moon he must have known would cause him... problems. While he never made it explicit to Vanessa that he's a werewolf (I'm not even sure that's a creature the universe of Penny Dreadful has a name for), they both came to understand they have "demons" inside them, and any chance of a romantic union is dangerous. This element of tragic-love helped make Ethan's character more interesting, and for once his interactions with Vanessa were worth watching. Back in London, Mr Lyle (Simon Russell Beale) has deduced from the Verbis Diablo that there's a third component to the "the demon" and "the scorpion" referenced in the artefacts they've uncovered: "the hound". Although nobody knows the latter probably refers to wolfman Ethan, which means his part in Vanessa's destiny is more important than simply being a loving protector.
Another thing that frustrated me about "Little Scorpion" was how quickly Vanessa turned to the Scary Book of Magic the Cut-Wife told her to only use in exceptional circumstances. It made sense that she'd want to avenge her mentor's death by killing Sir Geoffrey (Ronan Vibert), the leader of the mob who immolated her friend, but aren't there easier ways? Ways that don't damn your soul to Hell? I was under the impression using magic from THAT book should only be contemplated if you're prepared to accept God will turn His back on you, forever, and yet Vanessa merrily cast a spell from it to kill an everyday aristocrat? She used a hammer to crack a nut, to put it mildly.
Elsewhere, the only other storyline of note was Lily's (Billie Piper) date with Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney) to the waxworks museum—although an awkward encounter with her "husband" Caliban (Rory Kinnear) didn't happen inside. But he was visibly upset to find his "bride" enjoying a handsome man's company at his workplace. His sanctuary. I also felt sorry for Victor (Harry Treadaway), whose fear that playboy Dorian's making moves on his beautiful relative came true—just when his 'kissing cousins' relationship with Lily had turned sexual. It's all quite silly, but I enjoyed the unexpected twist that Lily's not the sweet picture of innocence she's been presented as—or is pretending to be? A scene when she returned to her previous life as a prostitute, only to throttle a client to death during sex, was nicely done. I'm not sure if we're supposed to think Lily has super-strength (as Caliban sometimes demonstrates), but how else could she overpower a burly man like that? Is this proof Lily's monstrousness exists on the inside, or just that she was compelled to avenge the type of lowlives who abused her before she was reborn?
Overall, "Little Scorpion" was a good hour because it allowed John Logan to focus on specific things, and the story continued to improve Ethan's character. It's just a shame Penny Dreadful's mytharc isn't very compelling (this was the first time I recall season 2 even mentioning the two Egyptian Gods who must never be united, when it was a major part of the puzzle last year). I love the freaky witches and the idea of Vanessa's soul being a prize the forces of darkness are fighting over, but a bit of clarity with everything would be really helpful now.
written by John Logan • directed by Brian Kirk • 14 June 2014 • Showtime