As we enter Penny Dreadful's second act, it's finally time for some storylines to start crossing. Ethan Chandler takes his girlfriend Brona to Caliban's theatre, where they run into Dorian Grey and Vanessa Ives, while back home Dracula calls on Sir Malcolm and Frankenstein, resulting in lots of terrible things.
This is probably the most stylish episode of the show to date, which is really saying something: We've seen how perfectly turned the show's take on romance can be, and the importance of music not only in the story but in the show's score itself. We've seen character 180s and sudden sex, and all manner of brutality. But never all at once, and never with such confidence. I already was worried that this was my favorite show, but I think after this week yes, it is all down to Penny D and In the Flesh, the two shows on all of TV that are solely about things I think are stupid.
The episode starts with the scene above, in which Dorian Gray—still absolutely the worst—is so totally bored by a room full of people fucking each other and giving him blowjobs that he has to run around some secret passages and just chill with a picture of himself that presumably looks grody. The nature of his dissolution is one boring thing, but it's the hints of the person—the sad old sweet person—underneath the dandy bullshit that hasn't really come into focus until now. For once, in this episode, he seems like a sweetheart who is trying very hard not to be one.
Pictured: Vanessa Ives, just doin' Vanessa like how she does.
Vanessa wanders around London, being awesomely chatty with a little creepy girl and eventually following Dorian to a botanical garden. He says all kinds of weird Dorian Gray bullshit about how all beautiful things are poisonous (and boring), etc., and Vanessa calls his bluff by putting on a short one-woman show for him about what the flowers would say, if nightshade could talk. Spoiler, it would say weird stuff. Double spoiler, Dorian thinks this is so boring that he bounces, after telling her he'll be at the theatre that night (but it will probably be boring).
Pictured: Brona telling her pet werewolf some, but not all, of her many woes.
Brona tells Ethan a heartwrenching story about how she ended up a hooker with lung diseases, he giggles into her neck in such a lovely way that I completely turned around on his character, and they go out for a posh night on the town. It's incredibly romantic! The music, their way with each other, the way it's shot, everything. I was into them finally, so clearly everything had to go to hell. (Apparently I have learned nothing from the last time shit got super romantic.)
But first you get to see Caliban in his element, running around under the stage enjoying the hell out of his job, and that was sweet. You get to see Brona going all Julia Roberts at the theatre, enjoying it for probably the first and last time due to her impending death, sucking the juice of an orange from her fingers. You get to see Vanessa and Dorian woggling brows at each other from their separate balconies about how weird and silly the play—a wolfman romance with lots of spouting blood—is, which makes them both seem pretty delightful. Dorian Grey, when he is not saying some weird thing or staring at the wall, can be kind of cool. (Also of note: Dorian Grey talks exactly like Richard E. Grant in Posh Nosh, only he is not kidding even a little bit.)
Back home, Malcolm has set Frankenstein up with a hematologist—Van Helsing, presumably, although I didn't catch if this was said aloud—who helps them start developing a cure for being a vampire. Fenton (the Renfield kid) is still very into two things: Vanessa, whom he calls "mother"—presumably in reference to how one of her personalities is maybe the Egyptian goddess Amun-Tet?—and blood. There's a whole body of visceral symbolism surrounding Ethan that ties in here—caged animals, brutal violence, blood-drinking, Brona's bronchial issues—which seems located on his sympathy for the boy Fenton until the very end of the episode, when it becomes, uh, something else altogether.
Pictured: A recipe for disaster, maybe literally.
At intermission, the happy doomed couple runs into Vanessa, who's there to run into Dorian, who's there because everything is boring. Brona flips the FUCK OUT when she spots Dorian and he doesn't act like they never made a porno together in which she coughed diseased blood all over him, and Ethan has to follow her out of the theatre altogether. Outside, she gives him a very insane talking-to about how she feels like the Caliban in their relationship and that she is just a trashy hooker and that he's not allowed to be in love with her because she's going to die, and maybe that is his kink, but either way he's gotta ante up from now on because you cannot be giving the milk away for free when your whole job is selling milk.
Pictured: Dying hooker, not so easy on the eyes.
Ethan is sad because of how romantic it all was for a second, before Brona got all THOT on him, but then Dorian is like, "This is boring, let's go somewhere else and forget who we are for the night," which is Victorian Age for, Ethan better watch out or he is going to end up having sex with a dude. (He does not watch out. I will say that right now.)
After some more of Vanessa and Victor being adorable and sassy with each other, which never gets old, they both go off on Malcolm for inviting Ethan to tour Africa with him in a few months, since Ethan is heretofore the least cool person in the family. (This field trip is never going to happen, obviously, but they have no way of knowing that.) In the end Malcolm reminds us how he lost his son there years ago, and that he feels a kinship with Victor, while Ethan's simply "a finger on a trigger." (Note: Ethan's glee at the werewolf play, plus his no-excuses refusal to donate blood for Van Helsing's vampire cure and later weird story about the Anasazi cave paintings, continues to obscure the plainly obvious, making his story annoying in the opposite way from Vanessa's.)
Pictured: The most wonderful man in all of London, experimenting on a revenant.
Again we see this idea of Ethan as a mindless brute, but here too it's tied to Victor's own position as a father, with his two sons in conflict: They both know Ethan's the Caliban and Victor's the Proteus, so Malcolm has to explain that's exactly why Victor has to stay home, just as Victor was so protective of Proteus after abandoning his firstborn.
Dorian takes Ethan to a dumbass place where British guys bet on a puppy killing like a hundred rats, and the blood goes everywhere, and this causes Ethan to get into a barfight with some toffs due to his many feelings. Back at Dorian's place, it is about one second before Dorian is giving a weird speech about cologne and plying Ethan with absinthe and opera music.
Pictured: A man mentally forming a plan to have sex with a cowboy werewolf.
Meanwhile Brona is just rolling around in the street dying of consumption from how vigorously she just started shit at the theatre, and Vanessa realizes she has totally gotten stood up by everybody, so she goes home. Dracula has stopped by and gotten into a massive fight with Frankenstein and Malcolm, who accidentally kills the shit out of poor uncured Fenton. The upshot is that Dracula got Fenton put in the house so that he could invite Dracula in, so that Dracula—who has a face of a bat and the hissing of a vampire—could do some stuff to Vanessa. So they chat about how this whole thing is about Vanessa still, and that if Mina lured her to the zoo to find Fenton, then Mina is probably Dracula's girlfriend for good, a.k.a., everything we already knew last week.
After a distractingly cheesy clip show of things that happened in this episode and other episodes—Is he Jack the Ripper? A werewolf? A puppy? An Anasazi cave painting? What is his main deal?—Ethan goes into some kind of horny fugue state and decides to have a bunch of sex with Dorian Gray, so they do that. It's remarkably tender even given the fact that they both ditched their girlfriends to do this, and also probably it's just the magical power of Dorian Gray being supposedly so sexy, but mostly it's cool to see Dorian actually enjoy something for once. At no point in their makeout is he like, "Did you ever wonder what the stars sing?" or whatever usual ADD pretentious twee shit he's always doing.
Not pictured: The boredom of a jaded immortal.
I guess it's like, What do you get for the man who has everything? Sex with a cowboy werewolf. And honestly, now that you mention it that makes total sense.
Did you like it? It's really becoming one of my favorite shows, which is a decent surprise. Did you think that Dorian and Ethan were going to end up doing it? When did the thought occur to you? Do you think Brona made it home all right? (Do you think she is going to end up in another storyline, hint hint?) Are you getting sick of only hearing the back part of every Vanessa story, so nothing ever makes sense about her? Or do you like the mystery of just having her around making her weird faces all the time. And do you think she is going to be a particularly big fan of her two boyfriends fucking each other? Normally I would say no, but Vanessa's really quite the rara avis so who knows.