Penny Dreadful: “Above the Vaulted Sky”
CONTAINS FULL SPOILERS
At the house of Madame Kali (aka Evelyn Poole played by Helen McCrory), the woman herself is tapping away in a ritual on one of her clay figure ventriloquist dummies (there’s the one of Vanessa close by also), breaking open the head to reveal a brain inside. Hecate (Sarah Greene) enters with a gift for her mother: the lock of Miss Ives’ hair stolen in last week’s episode. As daughter performs a ritual, attaching the hair to the head of the figure of Vanessa, Madame Kali performs her own, stabbing the brain of the figure before her with a heated sharp object. At the same time, Sir Malcolm’s estranged wife Gladys (Noni Stapleton) rises from her sleep in agony, clutching her head. It would appear that Madame Kali’s plans to get closer to Sir Malcolm are taking a further grim step forward.
At Sir Malcolm’s, the assembled party that survived the previous attack from the three Nightcomers are barricaded inside in a siege mentality. Ethan (Josh Hartnett) remembers his time during the Indian War when his unit wiped out an Indian tribe (needless to say it’s one of the usual cheerfully upbeat stories you get in “Penny Dreadful” sic). Ethan sees the threat they now face and how the Nightcomers are operating to gain what they want. Vanessa (Eva Green) knows that their enemies are making a ‘fetish’, a type of voodoo doll. The group understand the need to defend themselves with everything at their disposal, preparing their weapons, filling the house with totems and preparing their guns (not to mention replacing the front door with a heavy metal one). Vanessa even bloods out another scorpion sign on said door (no wonder she always looks so pale with the amount of blood she’s been letting). Later, as she’s praying, it appears that two of the Nightcomers are in her room, but then not. She can’t tell what’s real, feeling like she’s going mad as she enters Ethan’s room to find him praying also. Ethan comforts her, allowing her to sleep in his bed (with him on the couch like the gentleman he is). In a touching moment, she asks him if he still believes in God? Despite his own curse, he clearly still does believe that God does have some plane.
At Victor Frankenstein’s, The Creature (Rory Kinnear) has lost patience waiting for the Doctor (Harry Treadaway) to deliver his Bride (Billie Piper), but has to accept Frankenstein’s warnings that he must move cautiously and that Lily knows only that The Creature was previously her suitor, but it is now her choice as to whether she chooses to love him. The Creature reveals his humanity once more by accepting that notion (Rory Kinnear continues to steal this series with his performance as the multifaceted reanimated man). Victor leaves The Creature with Lily (she not being thrilled by the idea). He reminds her of when they were walking the streets (in her Brona times, unbeknownst to the now Lily) and men laughed at her for being with him and she held his hand to her lips. Lily is discomforted by a memory she doesn’t have and says they must begin as friends only. It is a beautiful moment to see the Creature’s heart break, yet accept it in the hope her feelings for him will change.
Morning at Sir Malcolm’s and Ethan wakes to find Vanessa gone from the room. In an asylum, Sir Malcolm’s insane wife is held down by nurses. Simultaneously, Madame Kali continues to stick hot long needles into the brain of the ventriloquist doll of the poor woman’s likeness. It’s one of the rare unsettling scenes of the series so far.
As Ethan exits a gun shop, waiting for him is dogged detective Inspector Rusk (Douglas Hodge). The Inspector and assembled policemen escort Ethan to Scotland Yard for questioning. Victor takes Lily for tea at a café where Vanessa awaits. At Scotland Yard, Inspector Rusk questions Ethan, clearly knowing something of the American’s army and sharpshooting background, as well as the fact that Ethan stayed at the Mariner’s Inn. He has only two people unaccounted for the night of the killings: Ethan Chandler and Brona Croft. No matter how many times the Inspector has tried his US counterparts for information on an Ethan Chandler, the results have proved without real success. Ethan plays it cool and is free to go.
At the café, Lily nervously answers Vanessa’s questions on her thoughts of London, before Miss Ives leaves Victor and Lily, but not before noting with a smile that there is clearly a close bond between the two (although not the bond she thinks!)
Inspector Rusk walks with Ethan through the streets of London, closely observed by following police officers. The Inspector continues to probe, but Ethan remains evasive, aware that the Inspector will continue his investigations. As Ethan heads off, Rusk’s men follow him, but Ethan manages to lose them. For now, it seems.
At the cholera clinic, Vanessa continues her new role feeding the sick. She encounters The Creature (still going by the name of John Clare, which Vanessa notes was the name of the poet). They talk of the poet and The Creature claims an affinity as Clare wrote of the freakish and the broken and the outcast. He recites the poem “I Am”, which Vanessa also knows. She wonders if she will ever find a ‘silent place with God’. The Creature believes she will. Vanessa mentions that she had just visited a friend who is in love with a woman but doesn’t seem to know it (Victor and Lily, but just as well Miss Ives skipped the names). She feels as though her own love has left her vulnerable in the past. He admits to his failings in how he should proceed in his dealings with the woman he loves, not even being able to dance. Vanessa gives a brief dancing lesson to the man who is increasingly becoming her social conscience and sounding board. It’s so lovingly played that you end up wishing The Creature was in every scene, or at least that the character’s separate storylines would actually start crossing over or coming together more.
Ethan returns to Sir Malcolm’s. For a moment he believes that he’s being watched. He is. By Warren Roper (Stephen Lord), the sole survivor of the Mariner’s Inn.
At the theatre, Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney) and Angelique (Jonny Beauchamp) have watched a play. Dorian continues to seemingly serve no purpose whatsoever in the plot or story this series, a character without portfolio popping up just to give us another literary character. In the bar, Angelique is insulted by three, rich, men. One of them ridicules a previous encounter with the man who poses as a woman. As Dorian and Angelique leave (thanks for visiting the show this week), we see that Sir Malcolm (Timothy Dalton) is also there, entertaining Evelyn Poole. She pricks his finger with her ring, another dark method in her plan of controlling him.
At Sir Malcolm’s, Ethan and Ferdinand Lyle (Simon Russell Beale) continue to investigate the relics from the British Museum, trying to find the true message in the curious collection of artifacts. One of the items in Latin reads: ‘Hound of God’.
At Dorian Gray’s (gosh, he’s back), Angelique has changed into some clothes of Dorian’s, clearly stung by being called a freak by the men at the theatre. She/he explains how she came to London and created the persona of Angelique. Dorian says that he cares for who she is, not what she wears. It’s nicely played, but again seemingly pointless. You half expect Oscar Wilde to arrive and demand that either his creation be used for something or not used at all.
In the rain, a smitten Sir Malcolm kisses Evelyn Poole, then takes her into the nearest hotel. At Dorian’s, he and Angelique are now in bed. There’s a reason, but who knows where this is going in relation to the main plot. Hopefully there will be a point at some point. At Sir Malcolm’s, Vanessa and Ethan share a moment of sexual tension on the stairs. At the hotel, Sir Malcolm and Evelyn get steamy in a room (this really is the ‘sex and love’ episode) and we’re back with Dorian and Angelique continuing their session, then back to Sir Malcolm and Evelyn. The doll of Gladys Murray leaks blood from the brain at Madame Kali’s, so the now mad wife rises from her bed to see the tombstones of her two dead children in her bedroom, with a hand rising from Carrie’s Mina’s “grave” before the two dead children crawl towards her. Meanwhile, Vanessa and Ethan’s moment of sexual tension passes and she goes downstairs, so we’re back with Dorian and Angelique in another position on the bed, then it’s Sir Malcolm and Evelyn having sex in bed, then mad Gladys and the zombie children, then Evelyn’s spike ring drawing blood from Sir Malcolm’s neck, then mad Gladys cuts her own throat, realizing that there aren’t actually zombie children in the room with her.
After all that, lightning strikes over London and a scared Lily rushes down and jumps into bed with Victor. She kisses him and, guess what? They have sex as well. Why not, everybody except Ethan and Vanessa seem to be at it. End of episode.
“Above the Vaulted Sky” was the episode of “Penny Dreadful” that should remind of us of how good “Game of Thrones” is. How multiple characters have a point and a story and how they affect plot. It should remind us of why “Gotham” and its ‘make it up as it goes along’ form of storytelling and characters that simply don’t make sense has crippled what good have been a decent series.
Why is Dorian Gray in this? Why did Act Three end up as just a sex fest? Why is so much of Season Two simply filler that drags along and why are decent actors being wasted so badly? Timothy Dalton deserves better than this. Whatever writer John Logan was on when he wrote this episode, it clearly made him switch from stagey dialogue to simply going for sex scenes as a way of story telling. Easily the worst episode so far, (and a reminder as to why Victorian melodrama died as an art form – although it at least had spectacle).
“Above the Vaulted Sky” finally moved the ante up to melodrama and it was all the worse for it. The next episodes need to start pulling characters and plot together. Great production value and quality cast alone isn’t enough anymore.
This review originally appeared on Haddonfield Horror:
Penny Dreadful S02E05