For most of its run, Showtime’s “Penny Dreadful” has been relatively dark, sometimes sexy but overall never really the nail-biting series most of us horror fans anticipated. Last night’s episode, however, finally brought the scare factor.
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“Possession,” the second to last episode of the season, takes off from where we ended last week. The enigmatic Vanessa Ives (Eva Green) was taken hold of by a demon during an intense (to say the least) sexual encounter with Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney). Following this, she appears at the entrance of Sir Malcolm Murray’s (Timothy Dalton) study and begins to levitate and contort (again). However, unlike her previous ventures into the spirit world (see Episode 2, “Séance”), this demonic foray isn’t a short-lived episode.
During the introductory conversation between Ms. Ives and Sir Malcolm, her hair is wild and eyes bloodshot, but she appears relatively put together — until she’s not. In a blood-curdling shift, we learn that Ms. Ives is still very much possessed. She begins to taunt Sir. Malcolm, once again taking on the childish voice of his lost daughter in order to call him out on his past misdeeds — whoring and neglect. Just watching his face, full of anger, embarrassment and fear is enough to throw us over. Yes, Ms. Ives is not herself, but that doesn’t mean that whomever is controlling her is dishonest.
A horrified Sir Malcolm then enlists the help of Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway), Ethan Chandler and his trusty ally Sembene (Danny Sapani) in an attempt to save Ms. Ives. While their efforts constitute the whole episode, there’s never a dull moment. Instead, creator and scribe John Logan uses the tense atmosphere to expand upon our understanding of the central characters, particularly the rather subdued Chandler.
In the midst of Ms. Ives’ shrieking, biting and skin peeling, we get a few revealing moments of conversation between Chandler and Sir Malcolm, moments that shed light on both men. Sir Malcolm, now desperate to find his daughter, selfishly begs Ms. Ives to remain in her state, even if it’s killing her. Chandler, the voice of wisdom in this episode, serves as protector, promising to help her but also put her out of her suffering if it comes to it. He’s terrified for her, and even when she rants about his brief affair with Dorian Gray, guessing which of the two “takes it,” he doesn’t lose his cool. She’s the only character he seems to care about.
We see a tender conversation between the two, and what starts off as a chat about life and death takes a turn for the worst. Chandler ends up being a part of Ms. Ives nightmares, the devil incarnate. Hartnett doesn’t do demonic nearly as well as Green and when he tells her he’s come to make her the mother of evil, it’s difficult not to chuckle. Still, despite being slightly overwrought, it’s a freakish moment nonetheless, making us lose our grasp between who is real and who is a figment of Ms. Ives’ possession.
Towards the end, “Possession” gets religious. After much debate and failed treatments, Chandler begs that Sir Malcolm and Dr. Frankenstein allow him to call over a priest. Frankenstein, a staunch atheist, objects, but has no say in the matter. After all his, his form of treatment up until now has been doping Ms. Ives, doping himself and looking on with a mix of childish fascination and fear. A priest comes over, and while Chandler wants Ms. Ives to be exorcised, he insists that he cannot do so without the permission of the Catholic Church in Rome. He has instead come to read her some last rights. The priest goes over to her bedside, and a chained up Ms. Ives becomes free and bites some flesh off the priest. An unborn Hannibal Lecter would be proud.
The episode reaches it’s climax when a now too powerful Ms. Ives incapacitates everyone in the room. In a moment of lucidity though, she begs Chandler to shoot her, freeing her from such torture. He holds the gun to her chest and it’s a genuinely chilling moment. But just as we think we’re about to lose our favorite heroine, he takes out a cross of some sorts and starts shouting some sort of Latin incantation. Again, it’s a little over the top, but the power of his words frees of Ms. Ives, who passes out on the floor.
The episode then ends with a disheveled, sickly, but totally clear-headed Ms. Ives entering Sir Malcolm’s room. She has found his daughter and that news alone must hold us off until next week.