Sunday, June 14, 2015

REVIEW: 'Penny Dreadful' - Vanessa & Ethan's Personal Demons Still Lurk Even After They Leave London in 'Little Scorpion'

Showtime's Penny Dreadful - Episode 2.07 "Little Scorpion"

Not feeling safe in London, Vanessa and Ethan flee to the Cut-Wife's cottage. While there, they settle into a domestic life as they draw closer together until a figure from her dark past resurfaces. Back in London, Lyle and Victor uncover even more disturbing information form the Verbis Diablo relics.

Following Vanessa's attack and Ethan's transformation that closed last week's ball, the two have decided to leave London and seek shelter at the Cut-Wife's cottage. The return to that setting was always expected. The Cut-Wife was so crucial in Vanessa's formulation and was a key piece of this season's narrative. She presented Vanessa with one last option in her battle against the evil forces of the world. She offered her so much but even that connection couldn't be saved when the townspeople were manipulated into killing her. That devastation has kept Vanessa away. She returned to the horrors of London which have become even more unbearable than the night the Cut-Wife was killed. It takes a lot of strength and courage for Vanessa to return to this place and all the bad memories it holds. But it's also presented as a sanctuary for her even in these incredibly dark days.

"Little Scorpion" isn't as intimate or singular in its focus as that previous episode set at the Cut-Wife's cottage was. Nor does it need to be. The action primarily revolves around the bond between Vanessa and Ethan as they have to rely on each other more than anyone else. But it also does cut back to London to show Victor and Lyle working on translating more of the Verbis Diablo and Lily going out on the town with Dorian Gray. This hour doesn't need to focus so intently on one setting or one part of a character's mindset. In fact, "Little Scorpion" stands out amongst the Season 2 episodes so far because it exists without the constant threat that Evelyn Poole and the evil of the world pose on the protagonists. It instead offers up a narrative that suggests that the most destructive person to one's own world is one's self. It's great when the show goes for the gory and psychological details of horror. But the concept on display throughout this hour requires a lot more intimacy and self-awareness for the characters. They are all flawed human beings. Supernatural forces are conspiring against them to keep them from living normal lives. But those details are also what textures their personalities. It's a discussion much more difficult to pull off but Penny Dreadful does so wonderfully.

Vanessa and Ethan are running away from the monsters of London. The witches are hunting Vanessa down in order to bring her to the Devil. Ethan is running away from the devastation he brought when he transformed and the people who wish him harm because of it. Many things have changed in London over the course of this season. Malcolm's mansion was once a safe place. That reality was soon shattered. Their friends have done their best to help and protect them during this incredibly trying time. But they all have lives that are pulling them away as well. Vanessa and Ethan are happy that the others appear to have found peace. That doesn't mean peace is coming for them as well. In fact, the only future they can clearly see is one of escape to an undisclosed place. A cottage where they can escape the realities of the world for a little bit.

For awhile in the beginning, Vanessa and Ethan do fall into a routine and enjoy the domestic life. They ponder what it would be like if they were to live normal lives. They do get a peak at that reality during this escape. They can travel the woods in search of food. They can share stories about childhood fears. He can cut down the tree outside the house for her. He can teach her how to shoot and she can teach him how to dance. They can work together in a desperate time to save the cottage when it's struck by lightning. But neither one of them is destined to live in such a way. They both have darkness inside of them that can break free and cause even more devastation if they stop fighting it. That's their actual reality. One where the devils that exist within them dictate their lives. Ethan has to run in fear whenever the moon is full because of the danger his transformation presents to the people around him. Vanessa has to resist her urges of falling into temptations out of risk of her demon coming out once again. They live their lives out of fear. That's a terrible and sad way to live.

But neither Vanessa nor Ethan are without power. The darkness of the world hasn't left their lives simply because they've escaped civilized society. Evelyn Poole and Inspector Rusk haven't followed them to the countryside. But their individual demons still present themselves as the biggest dangers to Vanessa and Ethan. They wonder if they can live normal lives. But normal people don't plot to kill another simply because of his hand in the unjust murder of a close friend. Ethan has lived a lifetime as a killer. That was his life in America and it's what his life became in London as well (with a few more supernatural flourishes, of course). He knows just how seductive the allure of killing someone can be. It's a traumatic experience to take the life of another person. There's a savagery quality to it. There has to be otherwise the emotional burden of it would be too much. Ethan wants to be better than the animal he becomes. But he is still willing to kill the man for Vanessa. That's how far he is willing to go for her. Their connection is strong and intimate. He is capable of killing him without any emotion whatsoever. But that is once again opening the doors of personal devastation. Ethan's personal demon is being a killer. He is willing to embrace that darkness for Vanessa.

Similarly, Vanessa is willing to embrace the dark magic in order to find justice for the Cut-Wife - who previously warned her about the potential dangers of speaking the Devil's tongue so frequently. It's a painful destruction watching as Vanessa willfully chooses to open the book and kill the man. That is her choice to make. She wants him dead so badly that she is willing to compromise her own being in order to make it happen. That's more devastating emotionally and to her own psyche than anything that Evelyn Poole can do. In this action, Vanessa is choosing to kill another man. That darkness happens out of her own free will. She has a brief moment of remorse but not enough for it to overcome the satisfaction of seeing him dead. She let the monster enter into her being for a moment. She exerted her power and will now have to deal with the consequences. She has corrupted herself in a big way. That wasn't Evelyn's doing but her own.

Ethan wanted to spare Vanessa from that darkness. And yet, she did so anyway. That destroys whatever connection that may have deepened over their time together at the cottage. The book may prove to be a very valuable weapon to use against Evelyn in this war. But at what cost? The battle for Vanessa's humanity is the prime focus of the season. Her actions at the end of this episode show that she is just as susceptible to human emotion as anyone else. She is filled with rage and seeks vengeance when it comes to killing this man. Those big feelings led to her opening the book. The book could lead to salvation for her. Or it could lead to more darkness. That is the choice that Vanessa is faced with for the immediate future. She is doing her best to prepare herself for this war for her soul. But how she'll emerge at the end of it is just as important as the battle is itself. And that is completely sensational. 

Some more thoughts:
  • "Little Scorpion" was written by John Logan and directed by Brian Kirk.
  • Victor allows Lily to roam London as a free woman able to choose to do whatever she pleases. That manifests as innocence during her time together with Dorian Gray and devastation when she seduces an older man at the pub and kills him during the act. There's darkness lurking under the surface in the wake of Lily's transformation. And now, that is becoming more apparent.
  • Vanessa reveals that for her entire life she has been afraid of dolls. Well, that should make her pending visit to Evelyn's voodoo room even more scary and traumatizing.
  • Malcolm doesn't want to believe or hear about the potential supernatural dealings that led to Vanessa fainting at the ball. He may be under Evelyn's spell but Malcolm is creating much turmoil through his own actions as of late. He's pulling away from Vanessa at the time when she needs him the most.
  • Sembene does his best to articulate Ethan's transformation to him. He is one part himself and another part monster. That creature manifests as a wolf. Even though Sembene is calm and level-headed during that interaction, he was terrified when the beast actually came out.
  • The allure to Lily seems to be fascinating Dorian right now more than Angelique's own mysteries. That could be very devastating in the future as John Clare has seen just how close Dorian appears to be to Lily.