Tuesday, 23 June 2015

PENNY DREADFUL, 2.8 – 'Memento Mori'

Tuesday, 23 June 2015


I worship the ground Eva Green walks on, but her presence in Penny Dreadful is often detrimental—in the sense she's so magnetic to watch, and write for, that everyone else tends to fade into the background. "Memento Mori" got around this problem by revealing what's happening to the other characters, now Vanessa (Green) and Ethan (Josh Hartnett) have gone to ground in the Cut-Wife's cottage. And while it would be wrong to remove Green from this show for too long, her absence definitely allowed for the rest of the ensemble to shine.

I also appreciated how much this hour pushed the story along, to an extent I wasn't anticipating until much later in the season. Sir Malcolm's (Timothy Dalton) having to deal with Detective Rusk (Douglas Hodge) sniffing around, now he's aware there could be a link between Sir M's crazy talk of a "beast" Scotland Yard need to be searching for and his prime suspect in the Mariner's Inn Massacre, Ethan Chandler. Of course, the beast Sir M was talking about was an entirely separate matter (the vampire master who kidnapped his daughter, not the wolfman who slaughtered a tavern of drinkers), but the connection's enough for Malcolm to look forlorn when the detective eventually left. Having claimed he doesn't recognise Ethan in a flyer, having the American continue as part of his part-time vampire/witch-hunting team is going to be problematic.

The situation with Sir Malcolm being enchanted by Evelyn Poole's (Helen McCrory) magic was also addressed, and practically resolved earlier than expected. Her "fetish" doll was complete and Sir M appeared to be in the throes of becoming possessed by Lucifer, until Sembene (Danny Sapani) used his initiative and literally threw his master into an empty room, coated in dust, and practically bellowed the enchantment into submission by forcing Sir M to reminisce about his dead wife and children—his amorous memories enough to sever the twisted bond that's formed with Evelyn, his new love. If I'm honest, this sequence felt a little contrived because it hinged on Sembene somehow understanding what was going on and knowing what course of action to take, but it was enough of a surprise to have Sir M free from Evelyn's charms that I'm curious to see what happens next. She's been unmasked as the head witch and appears to have genuine feelings for Sir M, but my prediction is her daughters will turn against her—as this episode also introduced the cliché that Evelyn's beginning to be perceived as old and incompetent by the younger witches in her coven.

Elsewhere, I was also very pleased with the developments to the strange love-triangle between Dr Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway), his monster Caliban (Rory Kinnear), and his bespoke undead bride Lily (Billie Piper). Last week we discovered that Lily's a sexual predator who's beginning to take a more active role in the world, in contrast to the naïve fish-out-of-water demeanour she's been playing until now. "Memento Mori" continues this, with Lily telling barefaced lies to her "cousin" Victor about where she spent the night (sleeping with the dead body of a man she murdered during sex), and Caliban returned to being the ferocious taskmaster who made it very clear to his creator that Lily's his property and nobody else's. And yet, there was a fantastic subversion soon after, when Caliban became the victim of abuse at Lily's hand—left gawping at her, crumpled on the floor—as she pontificated about the unfair demands of the fairer sex, in a rather frightening and yet oddly persuasive feminist rant.

Suddenly, doe-eyed Lily's the one holding all the power in this strange relationship—emaciating and belittling poor Caliban, while at the same time using her sexuality to secure his adoration and devotion. She made him her bitch, basically—and it was amazing to behold. Indeed, Piper was something of a revelation in her "me and thee" speech.

Those were the two main storyline this week, although there was some business with Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney) that definitely shouldn't, and couldn't, be overlooked. His role and relevance on the show has always been in doubt, but I'm more interested in him now he's let his mask slip a little. While I wouldn't class him as an outright villain, just yet, he did poison Angelique (Jonny Beauchamp) after his transgender lover discovered his famous painting. The painting that shows Dorian's true self, his soul, while his body fails to age or grow ugly. Angelique was killed because Dorian didn't believe her lie that she can love him for who he truly is, which did seem rather harsh. A more traditional breakup would've been punishment enough, right?

Still, it was about time we saw Dorian Gray's painting on the show, which was teased in season 1 and has been unmentioned until now. Did it live up to expectations? I liked it. A part of me thinks having it remain off-camera would be more interesting, as you imagine far worse in your head, but the grey-skinned, hunched figure locked in chains was memorable. And I did flinch when special effects were used to make the painting move slightly. I now wonder if Dorian's going to be written in a more negative light, because the season's spent time making us like Angelique... so her murder suggests we're supposed to hate, or distrust Dorian.

Overall, "Memento Mori" was a really good episode that proved the show can work without Eva Green's performances propping things up. Indeed, it might be wise if the show found more ways to split the team up and focus on particular characters each week, rather than try to service them all. The past few episodes suggest it's the best way to ensure everyone has something worth their time.

written by John Logan • directed by Kari Skogland • 21 June 2015 • Showtime