Review: ‘Penny Dreadful’ Kicks Into a Terrifying New Gear in Episode 6 as Eva Green Takes BDSM to Another Level

Review: 'Penny Dreadful' Kicks Into a Terrifying New Gear in Episode 6 as Eva Green Takes BDSM to Another Level

“What Death Can Join Together,” the sixth episode of Showtime’s Victorian Era horror series “Penny Dreadful,” marks a much-welcomed departure for the show. Last night’s episode was a dark, sexy and beautiful hour of television, an episode that not only left us excited for the final two installments, but grateful that Showtime has decided to pick up the gothic tale for a second season

READ MORE: Review: Eva Green Owns ‘Penny Dreadful,’ a Horror Series For the Dramatically Inclined

Throughout its run, the show, like many that are fortunate enough to air on a premium cable network, has taken plenty of risks that would not be seen elsewhere. Episode two, aptly titled “Seance,” gave us an eight-minute long monologue (reminding us of the famed six-minute “True Detective” tracking shot) and last week’s episode functioned as one large flashback sequence, a showcase for only one character (much like the season two premiere of “Orange is the New Black”). 

And although last week’s episode was a fantastic piece that allowed us to explore Vanessa Ives’ formative years, it didn’t do much for the show plot-wise. Last night, however, was a much more straightforward episode, perhaps the best so far. 

Before we delve into some highlights, it’s important to look at where we stand in the “Penny Dreadful” world. Up to this point the series has focused on a couple of mysterious characters, all with dark, vague pasts. There’s Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton), an African explorer on a quest to find his kidnapped daughter; Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett), a mischievous American who becomes an employee of Sir Malcolm; Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway), a brilliant, but cold doctor; Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney), a beautiful, twisted man; and Ms. Ives (Eva Green), a tortured woman who is at battle with her own demons. 

“What Death Can Join Together” begins with Sir Malcolm and Ms. Ives, whose rocky relationship finally begins to make sense. Last week it was revealed (Spoilers) that Ms. Ives had slept with Sir Malcolm’s daughter’s fiancee the night before their wedding. Sir Malcolm, who was always traveling, is also overwhelmed with guilt for not being there for his daughter. It’s an unlikely, but fitting alliance. In the episode, Sir Malcolm is growing more desperate than ever to find his daughter, who had been kidnapped by an unknown supernatural force. Ms. Ives, although reluctant to communicate with the spirits that so often possess her, tells Sir Malcolm the next place he should look is on a ship docked at the Port of London.  

Elsewhere, a concerned Ethan Chandler looks over his love, an Irish prostitute (Billie Piper) who is dying from consumption. Nevertheless, he’s called over by Sir Malcolm, who needs his skills with a pistol (or two) for their latest adventure. While good-intentioned, Hartnett’s Chandler continues to be the dullest character in the show. His past in America has remained obscured, and relative to the other characters, his storyline is often tiresome. It’s the one qualm with “Penny Dreadful’s” otherwise very complex characterizations.

Anyway, Sir Malcolm, Chandler and Sir Malcolm’s companion, a longtime friend from Africa, make their way to a ship that is rumored to be plagued with some foreign disease. Once aboard, they encounter these vicious, screeching vampiric women. It’s one of the shows more action-filled sequences and is a welcome fright to what has been an otherwise slow build up. 

We are also shown Victor Frankenstein, who, much like the Mary Shelly’s famed character, is being driven mad by the monster he created, played so wonderfully by Shakespearean master Rory Kinnear (his Iago is one of the best out there). He consults with an elder Dr. Abraham Van Helsing about a blood-drinking creature, who is much more familiar with the supernatural than Frankenstein can imagine. Yes, the notorious characters often make the show a little campy, but it’s all so fun and self-aware it never completely teeters into the absurd.

Kinnear’s monster, on the other hand, sulks nearby. He works with a theatre troupe and finds himself falling for a kind female co-worker who isn’t fazed by his ghastly appearance. There’s a sweet scene in the episode, where she speaks kindly to him, but his ideas of romance are soon shattered when he witnesses her with a lover. It’s pretty sad business and drives him to seek revenge against his master, who not only abandoned and despises him, but has created him to be alone. Kinnear bitterly calls his master “demon,” a clever and captivating reversal.

Meanwhile, Ms. Ives spends her day with Dorian Gray, the gorgeous Oscar Wilde character who is smitten with the woman, perhaps because she is the first person he doesn’t fully comprehend. He has her photographed and reveals that he himself prefers to be painted. “Photographs are so ironically impermanent. They capture one moment in time to perfection,” he says. “Painting can capture eternity.” Talk about irony. 

While touring his dimly lit home, covered (unsurprisingly) with portraits, things finally start to take off between the two. He asks permission to kiss her neck, and what starts off as a rather tame expression, quickly grows passionate, even aggressive. His kiss turns into a lick (this is the real “Fifty Shades of Gray”). The chemistry between Green and Carney is electric, so much so that it’s not exactly a surprising leap they end up in his bed, slicing each other with knives, savoring each other’s blood. It may not be surprising, but it’s certainly wonderful and scary in a way that “Penny Dreadful” continuously captures. Midway through their love-making, however, things take a turn for Ms. Ives, whose sexual recklessness brings her into contact with a possessive demon. It’s a marvelous sequence, spectacularly shot, once again showing us how Eva Green, with all her facial and bodily contortions, takes the series to another level. 

With two episodes left to go it’s great to see “Penny Dreadful” start to arrive at its full potential. It’s always been well shot, featuring haunting performances and clever dialogue, but it has always lacked a driving force, a reason to keep up. “What Death Can Join Together” gives us something worth following. 

Grade: A-

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Comments

Ipsith

That’s an open question at this point because while Penny Dreadful remains an alluring attraction, extremely watchable minute to minute, there’s a curious lack of urgency to the narrative and a haziness to the overall shape of the season. Certain events, such as Vanessa rising up off the floor and spinning around in front of Sir Malcolm, have an almost random quality. I enjoy spending time in this world, but I’m not as invested as I might be if the stakes were a little clearer. (For instance, the Egyptologist’s apocalyptic mumbo-jumbo from a few weeks back hasn’t amounted to much so far.) Here’s hoping everything will snap into place in the season’s final two episodes and render these qualms moot.

John McGrath

Chandler and the cave paintings of the ancient Anasazi: Are we being eased into an episode that shows him initiated in some sort of shamanistic ritual where he gets possessed by a wolf totem? And where he discovers in London how he can use that possessing totem to free the doctor's daughter? Perhaps he will redeem her, and others, but can never redeem himself? Will he be revealed as a sort of demon savior? A demon savior who takes the Christian notion of salvivic, eternal human blood sacrifice and gives up its demon shadow? Ah, just speculation.

Stergios

Such a fantastic episode, the best of the show so far indeed. My God, "Penny Dreadful" is a real masterpiece and Eva Green's performance is nothing short of iconic.

Jack Rance

Absolutely hands down one of the richest and most amazing hours currently on television. Eva Green's Vanessa Ives is truly a revolation.She has that rare ability tototally change her look ( ex;from a sexual woman to a possessed creature 0in a split second. I'm in complete agreement with your assessments of this series with the exception of your characterization of Josh Hartnet's Ethan Chandler as "dull",with a '"tiresome story line" Given the scenes in which we've been treated to that thing of beauty that is Hartnet's current more beefy and full backside, if this is tiresome -give us MORE. Just the hints at Chandler being the wolf creature who mutilated the mother and daughter in the opening teases us for more information about this character. Also it was Chandler who was the aggressor in the seduction scene with Dorian Gray ( absinthe and Wagner did help….).In addition Chandlers discussing the cave paintings of the ancient Anasazi also hints at more depth in him than on the surface. What I will concede is the superb performances from the entire cast.This is a lush visual tapestry and a real treat for all the senses

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