Sunday, May 24, 2015

REVIEW: 'Penny Dreadful' - Vanessa and Victor Go Dress Shopping & the Witches Attack Again in 'Evil Spirits in Heavenly Places'

Showtime's Penny Dreadful - Episode 2.04 "Evil Spirits in Heavenly Places"

Ferdinand Lyle reveals how the dark story of the Verbis Diablo affects Vanessa.

"Evil Spirits in Heavenly Places" begins with Vanessa once again sharing her past experiences with The Cut-Wife. This time it's to the rest of her friends and allies - Malcolm, Victor, Ferdinand Lyle and Sembene. Now all of them are fully aware of her past dealings with the supernatural forces that are now hunting her down. Last week's episode was fantastic in its singular focus on Vanessa and that part of her life. "Evil Spirits in Heavenly Places" returns to the more ensemble nature of the show. It is not quite as good while still offering several key pieces that keep the narrative of the season moving forward.

Even though Vanessa has had so much past dealings and pain from these creatures that serve the Devil, she still doesn't fully understand her part in all of it. The Cut-Wife told her about her immense powers and how strongly the Nightcomers will try to get to her. Before now, she hasn't shown a willingness to embrace that as her reality. She has been possessed for years now. That has been a part of her identity. It has brought about pain to those close to her. And yet, she was able to rely on their strength in order to get better. Now, she doesn't fully want to admit that the tale the devils are speaking in the Verbis Diablo is a prophecy about her. She is unwilling to hear that because it is just idly speculation by Malcolm. He and Lyle are still just translating the pieces of the puzzle.

However, the audience knows that speculation to be true because of the actions of Evelyn Poole. She wants Vanessa Ives no matter what the cost. She doesn't care about the rest of them. She wants to give Vanessa to her master and become even more powerful. She and her coven can attack Vanessa whenever they want but are always taken aback by Vanessa's ability to speak the Verbis Diablo. They have been forced to be more clever than that. That's why Evelyn has started her courtship with Malcolm - to get close to a man who means so much to Vanessa. Evelyn's daughter, Hecate, is tasked with doing the same with Ethan but is less successful. He notices the inconsistencies in her story but falsely believes that she is a messenger from his father sent to bring him back home. The truth is much worse than that though. He is able to fend off her charms. But it also appears that Malcolm is falling further under Evelyn's spell.

It's all leading up to another attack on Malcolm's mansions where the witches are only successful in getting a strand of Vanessa's hair before fleeing. That will be very dangerous. A piece of her hair could be a crucial part for a spell of some sort. The tension in that final sequence is apparent throughout the concluding minutes of the episode. The hour spends its time setting up the scene. It's not all that different than the setting of the very first scene of the episode. Everyone (minus Victor) is at Malcolm's doing their best to translate the various Verbis Diablo artifacts. They go about with pleasantries such as small talk about glasses and courtship as well as speculation about what Ethan's date and Vanessa's future actually mean. All the while the camera lingers at different times on the walls of the mansion to reveal the witches hiding in plain sight. It's tense because the audience gets the sense that they will attack before the regular characters do. Vanessa and Ethan both stop and pause. They can sense that something is amiss. And yet, they aren't able to do anything until the creatures pop out and attack. All of them are very powerless against these creatures. They weren't prepared and had to rely on their words and their fists in order to fight. It's not a battle meant to cause casualties. Everyone survives. But it also comes at the price of the witches getting away with a piece of Vanessa's hair.

The continuation of the main story pitting our heroes against the witch coven is thrilling and compelling. And yet, the return to the present day also means the episode has to spend a considerable amount of time on the continuing adventures of Lily growing accustomed to the world, John Clare at his new job, the police investigation into all the murders happening in the city and the courtship between Dorian Gray and Angelique. All of these stories help with the show's overall atmosphere and tone. And yet, none really have much to do with the main story. They offer chances for the show's various characters to be philosophic about life and love. They are connected to the main characters of the core story. Lily offers a glimpse at a different side of Victor and Vanessa as they go dress shopping for her. John Clare is a constant remainder of the threat always hanging over Victor's shoulders while still desperately trying to be a part of the normal world. Inspector Rusk is starting to put the pieces together about the various murders happening throughout the town - although he makes the leap to magic much too quickly. Dorian Gray is a more frustrating character as he was only defined through his relationship to Vanessa. Now that connection is dead but he is still being seen. This time with a new relationship that offers insight into him as a person but not into the darker aspects of the show's narrative.

It's a delicate balance the show has to manage throughout all of its episodes. These characters have to have their own personal lives that are happening concurrently with all the big supernatural stuff that is bringing them together in the first place. The show is at its best when the characters are able to unify together for a cause that is personal to all of them. This group of people don't have to know every single detail about the darkness surrounding all of their lives. The audience does need an awareness because that helps establish personal and human connections to the characters. It was just more noticeable that this episode was designed as one that showcases what is happening with the ensemble of characters at this moment in time while only really progressing the main narrative forward at the beginning and end.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Evil Spirits in Heavenly Places" was written by John Logan and directed by Damon Thomas.
  • The Vanessa-Victor go dress shopping sequence really is great because it shows different sides of both characters. She is allowed to be happy and to playfully toy with his emotions during this awkward experience. He is on edge but in a different way than usual. He just doesn't want anyone to know why he knows all of these details about his "second cousin." Yes, it's weird that they have a willingness to do this with the recent knowledge about the people hunting Vanessa. But the scene itself works so well that that concern isn't that big.
  • It's interesting that even though Ferdinand Lyle is working with Evelyn and her coven he still pulls out the cross when the witches attack him. How much of that is a performance for Malcolm and how much is his genuine fear of these creatures?
  • And in the middle of the episode, Dorian and Angelique just go play some ping-pong like it's no big deal. Also, it's weird how at times other people look at them with disgust while at others it's like it's no big deal.
  • The witches seem to be aware of the creature lying within Ethan. And yet, they don't know that he has no clue. They believe he is able to use those skills to his benefit in his normal day life when that isn't true at all.
  • Danny Sapani really does great work expressing so much while saying so little.