Sunday, June 28, 2015

REVIEW: 'Penny Dreadful' - Vanessa, Ethan, Victor and Malcolm Face Their Greatest Fears in 'And Hell Itself My Only Foe'

Showtime's Penny Dreadful - Episode 2.09 "And Hell Itself My Only Foe"

Back in London, Vanessa and Ethan learn that Malcolm is in danger. Desperate to save him, Vanessa goes alone to battle Evelyn. Ethan then heads out to Evelyn's mansion with Frankenstein, Sembene and Lyle. Lily reveals her true self to Dorian.

"And Hell Itself My Only Foe" is an interesting episode of Penny Dreadful because it largely exists to set the stage for the big confrontation in the season finale. It's very effective at doing so. But it also begins with the protagonists facing a daunting situation and proceeds to make things worse and worse for them as the hour goes along. It is effective horror storytelling. But one that's perhaps not as nuanced or character driven as the show is at its absolute best. Everyone is doing their best to survive and rescue their friends. But the circumstances of the night prevent them from doing so.

Malcolm pridefully but foolishly went to Evelyn's mansion after realizing just how strongly she had manipulated him in order to inflict danger on his closest allies. That was a decision perfectly in line with the character. But it also conveniently sets up the story for the final two episodes of the season as Malcolm has been captured and the rest of the team need to find a way to rescue him from Evelyn. He is trapped in a room tormented by the souls of his family. He slowly goes demented. But that's about it. The team's efforts to save him aren't effective at all. Caution was thrown to the wind because Vanessa needed to save Malcolm. It's the exact thing that he would do for her. Again it's a foolish decision for Vanessa to walk into the mansion alone. But it also makes sense. She's trying to protect the people she cares about. When she's interacting with Evelyn, all she cares about is seeing Malcolm again. Evelyn doesn't provide her with that though. Evelyn is the one in control of the situation at all times. She's not flaunting that power - except when it comes to her daughter who grows impatient and rebellious. But she also knows that she can lead Vanessa to her doll chamber room with little resistance because she has something that Vanessa desperately wants in Malcolm.

Everyone makes the conscious decision to go to Evelyn's mansion. It's a tad amusing to think that either Victor or Lyle would offer much help in this fight against evil. Malcolm, Ethan and Sembene have proven to be well-equipped with firearms. Victor knows how to shoot while Lyle has a reason to align with the protagonists in this big fight. But it's not all that surprising that when the team splits up and Victor and Lyle go off on their own that they easily fall into the traps that Evelyn and her witches had planned for them in the mansion. It should be fun and horrifying to see Victor face his own demons just like Malcolm. In his pursuit to understand life and death, he has created three creatures. All of whom have had different responses to living in this world. Each one with a different reason for which he should be afraid. He has feared John Clare ever since he returned. Lily has broken his heart with her pursuit of Dorian Gray. Proteus was the most innocent but Victor also feels the guilt of letting him be killed. That should make for a compelling story in the finale. Will Malcolm and Victor be able to overcome the monsters that haunt their souls? Will Lyle's treachery to the witches cost him his life? These situations are tense and filled with details intimately connected to the characters.

Meanwhile, Ethan's monster within him has created so many problems and chaos for him as of late. He sought escape and refuge with Vanessa at the cottage in the countryside. But that wasn't enough to run away from the beast that comes out whenever the moon is full or to understand why the transformation happens at all. Plus, he was never able to run away fully from the people hellbent on tracking him down. It's terrifying to see the man who survived Ethan's attack standing over him in the middle of the night. He has a simple task to take Ethan back to America. But he also relishes in the fact that he can terrorize Vanessa and know that he can do whatever he wants because he's the one with the gun. And yet, Vanessa and Ethan are able to overcome and kill him. It's a traumatizing experience. One where they have to feel justified in their actions in order to accept the fact that they killed someone. But it's not long after that moment that Victor appears beckoning for the two to return to London with him in order to help Malcolm. So their minds didn't linger on the reality of their actions from the night.

Ethan's return to London is immediately met with Inspector Rusk putting the various pieces of his life together. It's still not entirely clear what Rusk's purpose is in the context of the season. But he does add a certain urgency on Ethan's part to control his inner monster to make sure that no one gets hurt again. Rusk is keenly aware of what the situation could be and actually is. Ethan has to avoid him in his pursuit to save Vanessa and Malcolm from Evelyn. But Rusk is the least of Ethan's problems at the moment. The moon is once again full and he is terrified of what will happen if he's needed during the night and transforms. He can't control his actions and he desperately wants to protect his friends. Sembene is the only one who knows the truth. It is easy for the two of them to get away with saying that the attack should happen the next morning. No one is overtly suspicious because they have the reasoning of the witches being less powerful during the day on their side. But it's a precarious situation that happens nevertheless. Ethan is forced to go after Vanessa after she lives the mansion.

And things only go from bad to worse for Ethan. The people closest to him say that he has an importance in this world. Sembene knows that the transformation is violent and brutal but also a gift of some sort. Vanessa is aware of the darkness within him but doesn't have the understanding of what it is yet. Hecate is able to tease him with knowledge of what his purpose in life is. That's the only thing that keeps him from shooting her when she appears suddenly in his room. She knows his importance to this story. He is the wolf of the God that was spoken of in the Verbis Diablo. She proclaims that he will help bring about the end of days and allow the devil to once again take his throne in Heaven. That's a terrifying thought but also more knowledge than he had previously. He doesn't know what to make of it and doesn't have a whole lot of time to ponder before needing to rescue Vanessa. But those ideas have taken root in his brain.

Fear of the monster he becomes almost cripples Ethan. He has seen firsthand the devastation that he creates during his monstrous state. He knows that no one is safe around. He has no control over his actions when he becomes the beast. He goes to Evelyn's mansion because it is his responsibility as a friend. But he's also working against a clock. And time is not on his side. The witches trap him and Sembene in a stairwell. The transformation is pending and Ethan believes the only way out is to kill himself. That is the only way to protect the people he loves. Sembene has been a true friend throughout this whole experience. He's a character who doesn't have a whole lot of depth to him. But he has brought calm stability to the chaotic setting of the show. He has been a true friend to Ethan. That's why Ethan is so torn over what to do. The transformation does occur and the beast promptly kills Sembene the moment he sees him. That's a dark and drastic twist for the show. It's not as big and emotional as most deaths are because Sembene wasn't all that important to the overall narrative. But his death does build up the urgency for the finale. Ethan is now the beast and that adds a whole new level of unpredictability for the end of the season as every one of the protagonists need rescuing from the evilness of Evelyn.

Some more thoughts:
  • "And Hell Itself My Only Foe" was written by John Logan and directed by Brian Kirk.
  • Victor has been able to avoid the death Lily has planned for him because he has been staying at Malcolm's mansion, battling witches or retrieving Vanessa and Ethan from the countryside. All of which work as stalling devices. Also, it's meaningful that his drug addiction has never really been a part of his core story arc. That's interesting and different.
  • But Lily is exerting even more power and control. Dorian fully recognizes her as Brona while she fully recognizes him as an immortal man. It's not abundantly clear how she knows the truth about Dorian. But it is wonderfully exciting to see the two of them together. They are kindred spirits even though he has used his life to find new ways to entertain himself while she feels destined to bring about even more darkness to mankind. However, their intimate connection has the potential to be more powerful than her and John Clare.
  • Also, John Clare has fallen victim to the new display the wax museum family has designed. They want to showcase real human oddities off to the public for ridicule and amusement. John Clare doesn't want to be seen as a monster. And now, his worst fear has come true.
  • As if the room of dolls wasn't creepy enough, the grand centerpiece that looks like Vanessa is now capable of speaking. And she uses her words to call Vanessa a monster. That promises to be great in next week's finale.
  • I was kinda expecting Sembene to die sometime during this season because of Danny Sapani's casting on FX's upcoming drama series The Bastard Executioner.