Sunday, May 31, 2015

REVIEW: 'Penny Dreadful' - The Bonds of Intimacy Grow and Strengthen for Many Pairings in 'Above the Vaulted Sky'

Showtime's Penny Dreadful - Episode 2.05 "Above the Vaulted Sky"

Vanessa, Ethan and Sir Malcolm protect the mansion from another attack.

The fear of what the witches are capable of is high for everyone of the Penny Dreadful team in the immediate aftermath of their attack on the mansion. They saw firsthand just how powerful and strategic they are. They are able to lurk in the shadows poised to strike when the team least expects them. That unnerves everyone. The witches got away with a strand of Vanessa's hair. They know just how dangerous that will be - and the audience gets a firsthand glimpse of the power of Evelyn's lifelike dolls. They do their best to prepare for another battle by putting up better security, positioning guns around the house and using every superstition that may lure the witches away. But the witches still haunt their dreams. They can still be lurking in the shadows ready to attack at any given moment during the night. It's that uneasiness that gives this season such immediate drive. The attack unites the team under one roof.

It's interesting then that after one night together ready for another battle the team separates to live their own lives throughout the day. Vanessa goes to lunch with Victor and Lily and then returns to serve the sick and discuss life with John Clare. Ethan is brought in for questioning by Inspector Rusk in regards to the Mariner's Inn massacre. Malcolm goes out to the opera on a date with Evelyn. They all have the ability to live these lives with some fundamental peace because the witches can only attack in their creature form at night. It's a contrast that is purposeful and thus interesting. Victor has no idea what has just occurred at Malcolm's mansion and how that experience plagues Vanessa while she sleeps. And yet, she is perfectly composed when she has lunch with him and Lily and is capable of seeing the love between them. Vanessa is afraid to fall asleep alone. These witches have tormented her into being fearful of the shadows and her own mind. But she's still capable of carrying herself as a regular person of society during the day. Everyone has that ability. And yet, their shared ability to operate in normal society exposes an even more dangerous shared vulnerability.

This episode takes intimate connections and turns them into sexual encounters while never forgetting the danger that lurks around the corner at all times. That sexual aspect has already been a part of Dorian and Angelique's relationship. And yet, seeing them as they share their bodies on the most personal level showcases just how willing both of them are in maintaining this relationship. Their romance is one of truth while the other sexual encounters that close out the episode are fueled with potential danger. They are the ones fully nude and exposed to the world. They may not be interacting with the rest of the regular cast - though there was that brief moment where they walked past Malcolm and Evelyn while leaving the opera. But they are thematically linked to what's happening with everyone else. Angelique thinks she should feel ashamed for the way that she is and for whomever would want to be with her. Dorian changes that thinking for her. That allows them to be very passionate and rough together in the bedroom. They are exposed to each other. That honesty is missing in several of the other key relationships. But that doesn't mean the future for Dorian and Angelique isn't filled with peril.

Victor is finally allowed to be with Lily sexually after a bad thunderstorm sends her running off to his bed. Their connection has been apparent even before Victor brought her back to life. It also provides nice symmetry in that a thunderstorm brought her to him and another one brought her even closer. This is his first experience with a woman. His nerves are apparent. And yet, his love is driving him to act. It's the feeling of connection that Vanessa picked up on right away during their lunch date. No one really seems to care that they are "cousins." Lily has been able to rely on Victor ever since she became Lily. She feels safe when she is around him because he has been there for her. Him missing from the action at the mansion is big and important because he's instead spending that time with her. His mission was to create her for his creature. John Clare could easily kill Victor whenever he wants to. And yet, both men are nervous when it comes to matters of love. Victor does have some confidence in knowing how to act in regards to Lily's "memory." That allowed him to build this intimate bond. It would be devastating to him if John Clare found out what has just happened. That thought is racing through Victor's head as Lily kisses him. And yet, he doesn't care because he's finding his whole happiness.

Meanwhile, Malcolm is continuing to be lured into an obsession with Evelyn. He is happier when he is around her. And yet, the audience is aware of just how much Evelyn is manipulating those feelings. She's casting her charms on him in order to eventually get close to Vanessa. That is her end goal. And now, there's proof of just how far she is willing to go in order to achieve that goal. She needs to hold this connection over Malcolm when the time comes to capture Vanessa for her master. She is pushing him further into her spell. It's a dynamic filled with tragedy because Malcolm is completely unaware of what is going on around him. He sees Evelyn as a perfectly charming lady who makes him feel alive again. But that connection isn't genuine. She is just using him. Sure, he should probably catch on that whenever he's around her blood starts to appear all of a sudden. And yet, by the time he realizes that, it could be too late. The symbol of this coven is already starting to appear on the back of his neck. He is slowly falling under her control. And what makes things even more tragic is seeing what Evelyn is also doing to Malcolm's wife far away. She is using the doll and stabbing her multiple times in the brain. It's enough to drive this woman crazy and ultimately kill herself. Now, not only has Malcolm gotten both of their children killed, he has also killed his wife. That realization will hit him hard. Death surrounds him just like it did wife moments before her death.

All of this chaos surrounding these sexual encounters comes about because of another fantastic interaction between Vanessa and John Clare. They have such differing views of the world. And yet, that makes them perfect ideological companions. Between the two of them things are natural. Neither one of them really has to keep their guard up afraid of what the world might do to them. In fact, it's quite the opposite. They can both share in the knowledge of John Clare's namesake and recite poetry. She can teach him how to dance and it's a lovely moment. But it also serves a purpose in pointing out that revealing one's self in acts of love is the most vulnerable a person can ever be. Sure, it's ironic that Vanessa brings about the discussion because she notices the connection between Victor and Lily - something that John Clare is completely unaware of. The discussion also brings about incredible stakes for Vanessa. She does not have the luxury of letting her guard down right now. John Clare is desperate for love. But no one is trying to kill him for what he is or what he wants. His view points on love allow the tragedy and manipulation to be seen when the couples have sex in the closing moments. They are all falling into that trance of being in the moment with that one other person. They are completely unaware of the rest of the world and just how violent it is capable of being.

That also adds great poignancy to the couple who don't open themselves up to this love connection - Vanessa and Ethan. That tension is apparent in their dynamic throughout the episode. They have grown much closer this season after he moved into Malcolm's mansion to help protect her from the witches. He was set to leave the city. It's because of her that he stayed. He is no closer to understanding the beast within himself but he will do anything to help protect Vanessa. He understands the strategic minds of the witches - even though he's not all that expressive with religion. He knows how to act when the enemy is at their most vulnerable because he used to carry out the same strategy back in the United States. It was a dark chapter of his life but one that adds weight because now he and his friends are the ones being targeted for annihilation. He will offer his room and comfort to Vanessa but they won't risk letting themselves get distracted by each other. It's all very subtle character work that pays off immensely in that final sequence. Vanessa is standing at the top of the staircase in her night gown. He walks past her acknowledging what could happen but not choosing to act because the danger is lurking. It is night once more. Everyone else may be distracted from this fight. But they are not.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Above the Vaulted Sky" was written by John Logan and directed by Damon Thomas.
  • Ferdinand really hasn't made all that much progress on translating the Verbis Diablo. He finds a section that just repeats over and over again, which just peaks his curiosity. Also, he continues to flirt with Ethan.
  • John Clare got firmly placed in the friend zone by Lily. He is so desperate to be with her romantically. That's the whole reason she is here in the first place. And yet, he has had more intimate interactions with other woman this season so far - Vanessa and the blind girl at the wax museum.
  • There are lots of people connected to the Mariner's Inn massacre investigation who are just lurking around Ethan. There's Rusk who is officially handling the investigation, the other detective who was suppose to track him and see what he did, and the man who survived who actually knows the truth.