Penny Dreadful: S02E04 Evil Spirits in Heavenly Places
Recap/Review by David Paul Hellings
CONTAINS FULL SPOILERS
Vanessa Ives finishes telling the story of the tragic demise of the Cut Woman (from last week’s episode) to Sir Malcolm, Ethan Chandler, Victor Frankenstein, Sembene, and the spy in their ranks Ferdinand Lyle. They now know that the Nightcomers, the servants of the Devil, are amongst them in the city. Attention returns to the puzzle of the artifacts related to the Verbis Diablo retrieved by Chandler and Lyle from the British Museum. The relics contain many languages, all forming a narrative: “the memoirs of the Devil”. Victor Frankenstein asks Miss Ives if she will accompany him on ‘an errand’ the next day, to which she agrees. It all sounds very ominous, but then everything in “Penny Dreadful” does. Sembene (Danny Sapani) sits on the stairs, watching the front door, on guard, waiting for the things that hunt at night (and also more to do script wise), which is useful as outside Hecate (Sarah Greene) watches Sir Malcolm’s House.
On the tube, Inspector Rusk (Douglas Hodge) examines the bodies of the couple murdered by Hecate for their baby, their throats cut neatly. This is a different killer, suggesting that they should not be looking at this mysterious method in which there are no signs of entrance or exit by this killer. This isn’t the vicious barbarism of the deaths at The Mariner’s Inn. This is not about logic, this could be magic.
At Putney’s Family Waxworks, Mr. Putney (David Haig) has his plans to stage his exhibit based on current murders, despite his wife Octavia’s (Ruth Gemmell) obvious scepticism in light of their financial problems. In the basement, The Creature (Rory Kinnear) continues his fascination with the Putney’s blind daughter Lavinia (Tamsin Topolski), another example of his growing need for companionship with anybody that will not judge him. She tries to guess the colour of his eyes (they’re yellow, needless to say she doesn’t get that right). She hates having to create the waxworks of the murderers for her father’s new crime exhibit, as though she’s torturing them. It’s a throwback to the blind man in “Frankenstein”, showing compassion to a monster in the Creature that she cannot see, but again Rory Kinnear continues to steal the series bringing a humanity to his character that often missing in the others.
Passing by the waxworks, Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) sees their ad for the recreation of the murders at the Mariner’s Inn as well as the newspaper stories of the murders on the Tube, but he’s being watched by Hecate and her two sisters, who stage a runaway horse that is about to run Hecate over until Ethan saves her. The Nightcomers’ plans to ensnare the unsuspecting Ethan have begun.
At the hospital, Inspector Rusk visits Warren Roper (Stephen Lord, now looking less like the Elephant Man and more like the Phantom of the Opera in a leather half-face mask) the survivor of the “Mariner’s Inn Massacre”, who claims to have no memory of the events of that tragic night, a story that the Inspector just isn’t buying and rightly so.
Miss Ives accompanies Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) on his ‘errand’: a visit to a high-class women’s clothes store. He claims that his cousin Lily will be visiting from the country and he thought he’d “buy her a dress or two”, but has no experience in such matters. In an amusing scene, we see Victor’s unease at such matters, but also his need to allow Lily social interaction, thus the invitation to Miss Ives to join them for tea, so that Lily will be able to meet new people; an invitation Miss Ives courteously accepts.
In a small cafe, Ethan and Hecate chat amiably, he seemingly unaware of her true nature and plans. She’s a picture of fragile innocence, watched by her two sisters outside. But, Ethan sees through her façade, although mistakenly assuming she’s a Pinkerton detective in the employ of his father. Either way, Hecate’s attempt to get close to Ethan fails.
In a busy nighttime London, Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney) walks with Angelique (Jonny Beauchamp – how many characters are there in this episode?), ignoring the stares of the small-minded passers-by, their relationship seemingly growing from just an amorous brothel encounter. He takes Angelique to the ‘Gossima Parlour’ for a brand new ‘adventure’. It’s more innocent than expected, a ‘gossima tennis’ parlour, with rows and rows of people playing the latest fad from India: gossima tennis (basically table tennis or ping pong to the rest of us). It’s a pleasant scene in an episode that seems to be giving a number of characters a little leisure time (although dramatically Dorian doesn’t seem to have actually done anything much this season except have a good time. Although that is Dorian Gray, I suppose, dedicating his life to enjoying himself).
At Madame Kali’s (Evelyn Poole’s) Hecate admits that she made errors in dealing with Ethan, but he saw through her because ‘he smelled’ her. They know now without doubt that he is a werewolf and prepare to deal with him. Madame Kali (Helen McCrory) chastises her daughter for her failings, something that Hecate is clearly unimpressed by and claiming that she doesn’t trust Ferdinand Lyle (Simon Russell Beale) . She is free to deal with the others as she pleases, says her mother. “Only Miss Ives matters”.
Meanwhile back at the table tennis night out, Dorian has lost 12-0 to Angelique. The game over, it ends in a kiss, an event that highlights the belief that they should be free to be who they want to be, not who others would have them be. Dorian has seemingly moved on from his feelings for Miss Ives (although that’s probably just for now). It’s a scene that doesn’t seem to add anything to the plot, but merely just to give Dorian something to do.
At Victor Frankenstein’s lab, Lily (Billie Piper) is trying on the clothes that the not so good doctor bought for her. Presenting herself, she looks far better than a reanimated corpse should do and Victor is lost for words at the sight of his ‘cousin’ looking so attractive, even if she can barely breathe wearing a corset. (How Victor can afford such clothes would suggest that Sir Malcolm’s paying him far too much). There’s an amusing line where Lily asks him if he’s going to fix the hemline on her dress himself, to which Victor responds: “Of course. I’m good with stitching”. Victor’s attraction to her is growing and it can only end in disaster (anybody who’s read the original source material or saw “Frankenstein: The True Story” can’t be holding out much hope for any kind of happy ending here).
At Sir Malcolm’s, the rest of the assembled group and Ferdinand Lyle study the relics, trying to decrypt the rest of their meaning. Sir Malcolm’s reveal that he is courting Evelyn Poole is met with concern from Mr. Lyle who politely advises caution (but not revealing his real reason for such advice). Ethan tells Vanessa of his meeting with Hecate; Miss Ives surmising from the name that this is a protector of witches (this is the problem of giving characters names taken from myths, legends and Shakespeare, I guess? They’re so easy to detect if you’re versed in such matters). A witch like face shape watches from the wallpaper as Ethan exits. In the kitchen, Ethan and Sembene wash and wipe up the crockery in a brief scene that reveals that in his own country one of the things Sembene did was be a hunter. It’s a scene that again shows us how utterly underused this character is. Meanwhile Sir Malcolm, Mr. Lyle and Vanessa continue to try and decipher the relics. Sir Malcolm surmises that part of it is prophecising Vanessa’s future, a suggestion that Miss Ives is unimpressed by. As she exits the room, the shape of the witch face in the wallpaper returns.
As Vanessa prepares herself for bed, she has the sense that there is something in the room with her, a feeling shared by Ethan downstairs as he studies the wallpaper. Then the Nightcomers attack. One in Vanessa’s room, who Miss Ives drives off using the Verbis Diablo, but not before the witch gets what she came for: some of Vanessa’ hair; one on Ethan, who Sembene helps fight off; the other in the same room as Sir Malcolm and Mr. Lyle, who knocks the two men around before the three witches flee with the lock of Miss Ives’ hair. The problems are only going to get worse it seems for London’s doomed clairvoyant.
“Evil Spirits in Heavenly Places” was a mixed episode. The highs were Vanessa increasingly being a strong character rather than moody victim; more of the previously underused Ethan; another great moment for The Creature; and the growing attraction between Victor and Lily. The problem areas were: not actually doing anything with the set up that the witches were going to get Ethan; a Dorian Gray that seems like a passenger in a story all of his own; and Sembene who, apart from a brief bit of action at the end, is a character so underused he might as well go hang out with Dorian Gray.
That said it was an episode that showed that “Penny Dreadful” works best when it’s not incessantly ripping off every gothic trope going and focuses more on characters. It also shows that there may actually be too many characters to actually get a grip on any of them, becoming sketches and never quite hitting a three dimensional version, their stories only brief moments. Overall, not a bad episode, but again one that didn’t quite deliver what it could have. The witches seeking a bride for the devil shows that the said witches actually aren’t that good at their job (because surely it should be much easier than this?) Still watchable and less stagey than the rest of the season so far, “Penny Dreadful” still continues to be a frustrating watch, but even more frustrating in that it’s still watchable.
This review originally appeared on Haddonfield Horror: