Sunday, June 7, 2015

REVIEW: 'Penny Dreadful' - Vanessa and Company Attend a Ball, Then It Starts Raining Blood in 'Glorious Horrors'

Showtime's Penny Dreadful - Episode 2.06 "Glorious Horrors"

Vanessa and Ethan give Malcolm tragic news. Lavinia Putney is disturbed by an encounter with John Clare. Roper hunts down Ethan. Dorian hosts a lavish ball in Angelique's honor. Tensions are high at the ball as Vanessa, Malcolm, Evelyn, Victor, Lily, Dorian, Angelique, Lyle and Hecate all come together for the opulent event. A glorious night turns to horror for Vanessa.

"Glorious Horrors" opens with a maid discovering the horror of Malcolm's wife, Gladys, slitting her throat and ends with the much more devastating acts of Vanessa fainting because of the powerful hallucinations from the witches and Ethan turning into a werewolf once more. Those are all traumatizing acts of horror. They all present very dangerous consequences to the protagonists. Two of them are caused by Evelyn and her cult of witches while Ethan's transformation is an act of brutality and monstrosity that he doesn't fully understand. The protagonists are slowly starting to become more aware of their circumstances and the forces that wish them harm. Ethan enlists Sembene's help to better understand the monster within him. Lyle desperately wants to get Vanessa away from Hecate before she can strike with her sorcery. And yet, Vanessa still succumbs to this attack completely unaware that Evelyn is the force of evil haunting her and her friends.

It was bound to be an eventful episode when Dorian Gray first posed the idea of a ball and invited everyone from society to come to his mansion. He celebrates the strange and the weird. He attempts to make them appear commonplace. Angelique is unsure about all of it because she has lived a life of people hating her for who she is. Dorian does his best to lift her up. She has never been happier than when she is making her grand entrance alongside Dorian. But that happiness is meant with a much more personal devastation in seeing Dorian being intimate with other female guests. It's those kinds of moment that are allowed to happen because the bulk of the show's cast is in one confined setting. Sure, the music is playing and various extras are dancing in the background. But there is a darkness running underneath the entire setting.

The ball presents many wonderful opportunities. Dorian wants to show Angelique off to society. Victor wants to take a risk and be out in the open with Lily. Evelyn can further cast her spell over Malcolm. Hecate can use this event to further her own agenda - separate from her mother's. And yet, their presence only opens themselves up to more complications. Angelique is happy for a moment and then sees how Dorian's eyes gravitate towards Lily and Vanessa. Victor relishes this moment of normalcy only to see Lily so easily turn away from him. She is drawn to Dorian and his presence in this grand room and that only upsets Victor. Evelyn needs to keep the connection with Malcolm strong and enjoys being in Vanessa's presence where she only thinks Evelyn is fooling with his mind and emotions in trivial ways. And yet, Evelyn doesn't know what Hecate has done to Vanessa. Hecate went rogue with this operation in her own power play to bring Vanessa to their master and win the ultimate prize - a life of immortality in a world of despair and destruction.

While all the various pieces of Penny Dreadful work phenomenally separately, it is incredibly exciting to see all the characters bounce off each other in the same location. That's what adds intimacy and urgency to the narrative. These characters' lives are connected. Only some of them are aware of the full scope of those connections and complications though. If Ethan was able to attend the event, he would have noticed Lily as Brona and could out Hecate as the one who tried to seduce him previously. The lack of his presence allows for the darkness and personal devastation to occur in the episode's second half. He has a legitimate thing to worry about with his pending transformation. He doesn't understand his inner beast and whats to keep his friends away from that potential danger. He has seen the aftermath of his last transformation. That has presented him with numerous complications as an inspector is hellbent on placing the blame on Ethan and the man who came to take him back home to America is still alive and making his presence as a stalker of Ethan and his friends known. He doesn't want to do more harm when his friends need him the most.

And yet, the events of the ball show just how much more disastrous things have become. Vanessa, Ethan and Sembene know that something isn't right with Malcolm after his lack of reaction to Gladys' death. They have come to know this man quite well over their adventures together. All they see is a man who doesn't care about these deep personal connections. He has been replaced with a man focused on his physical appearance and his relationship with Evelyn. It's easy for Vanessa to blame the new woman in his life. And yet, she doesn't have a clue on what Evelyn is really doing to Malcolm. It's devastating watching Malcolm be so numb and careless to the people in his life. It's startling to see him without a beard. But that's not the most troublesome thing about him right now. The rest of the team knows that they need to do something in order to safe him. But they don't know what they can do. Vanessa can share words with Evelyn about what she is up. But it's still filled with pleasantries because Vanessa isn't aware of the deep evil in Evelyn. She can sense evil in the room long before Evelyn makes her entrance. But Vanessa's skills are not strong enough to protect herself or Malcolm from the power of the witches or have awareness of Evelyn as the face of all this evil.

It's horrifying watching as this elaborate set piece becomes drenched in blood. That's the kind of personal trauma that only Vanessa experiences. Hecate and her friends force this hallucination unto her. The only way Vanessa can handle this onslaught of violent imagery is to pass out and block it all out. She is powerless to their spells. That's what makes the witches a threatening force of evil. Hecate appears more reckless than her mother though. Evelyn is using her time wisely to force herself into Malcolm's life. She's taking a crucial ally away from Vanessa in a time in which she needs him the most. Hecate would rather attack and force pain on Vanessa instead of waiting and taking orders from her mother. It's that kind of divide that forces this trauma and chaos upon Vanessa. But it also may be the thing crucial in taking down the witches. If they are a divided entity, it could be much simpler for Vanessa, Ethan and company to attack when they do. Things are going to get much worse before they get better. The attacks will keep coming. Evelyn is slowing getting her voodoo dolls ready for her endgame. The protagonists may all be dealing with their own personal demons but this threat could be a crushing blow to all of them. They will need to be unified in a way that the witches are not which does feel like an incredibly daunting - but completely possible - task.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Glorious Horrors" was written by John Logan and directed by James Hawes.
  • It takes a lot to startle and scare Sembene. And yet, he wasn't prepared for the transformation that Ethan would have. It was sudden and violent and easily swept him to his feet in fear.
  • Also, the audience gets their first brief glimpse of Ethan in werewolf form. More of the transformation process is seen and for a second the audience sees the terror just like Sembene.
  • Evelyn's speech to Lyle about the prize at the end of this journey was incredibly complex and personal. It's moments like that that show the human face behind this wicked evil. She values her youth and will do another to keep it. She is a wise and cunning witch. But she saw God turning his back on the world and fell into the embrace of the Devil. To her, that was the choice that brought clarity and power into her life. And now, she relishes in it.
  • Lyle will compile with the witches' demands but he has also formed a friendship with Vanessa. He desperately pleads for her to exit the party with him. He is aware of the face of evil and its dangerous plans for Vanessa. He can't expose the truth because of the devastating personal cost it would bring to him. But he will still do his best to protect Vanessa which is a very admirable quality.
  • Because of his obsession with death, Victor never believed he would lead any sort of normal life. His friendship with Vanessa made that even more real with the reveal of the supernatural forces throughout the world. And yet, he still found himself lying in bed with a beautiful woman who wants to cook for him. It's a sense of normalcy he never expect. And now, he doesn't want to ruin it. He wants to show her off as his. And yet, that need to be with her could actually be the thing that brings pain into their relationship.
  • Dorian and Lavinia both comment on the coldness of John Clare and Lily's touch. It's an aspect of those characters that has never really been addressed a whole lot. And yet, it could now pose a risk to John Clare's future with the job at the wax museum.
  • Victor learns about Vanessa and John Clare's friendship. It's an innocent connection between two people but Victor, no doubt, will be threatened by it because he knows how dangerous his creature can be.