Sunday, July 5, 2015

REVIEW: 'Penny Dreadful' - Vanessa Embraces the Darkness and Loneliness of Her Life in 'And They Were Enemies'

Showtime's Penny Dreadful - Episode 2.10 "And They Were Enemies"

Vanessa must rely on her strength to defeat the Demon in a titanic struggle. Ethan leaves a tragic trail of blood in his wake. Malcolm and Victor must confront ghosts from their past. The Creature tries to escape the Putney's. Vanessa faces an uncertain future.

The second season of Penny Dreadful has been fantastic. An expansion on what worked in the first year while still digging even deeper into the characters and the dynamics of this universe. At times, it was a terrifying experience. One that traumatizes the characters into action. At other times, it's been a truly profound statement about the need to accept individuality in a world that seems pre-destained to destroy the very concept. "And They Were Enemies" is a very depressing finale. And yet, the root of all the emotions runs deep throughout the entire ensemble in ways that are just so fantastic to see pay off. Vanessa and the team do battle with the Devil. That fight is one portion of the final episode of the season. But that is not all that this finale is.

Things were pretty grim for the team heading into the season finale as Vanessa was set to face off with the Devil, Ethan had transformed into a werewolf and killed Sembene, and Malcolm and Victor were trapped in Evelyn's spell. Not to mention all the stuff happening outside of the witches' mansion - The Creature being trapped by the Putney's and Dorian and Lily forming a new, evil alliance. They were trapped in the darkness of this world seemingly doomed for destruction. That was a fate met all too quickly and tragically for Sembene. His death isn't something that is magically undone. But there's also the possibility of even more carnage.

Vanessa, Victor and Malcolm are all forced to face the monsters they've become in this world. Vanessa has given into the darkness within her soul. Victor has brought forth several creatures who could do the world immense harm. Malcolm has allowed for his entire family to be slaughtered. All of these actions are violent and horrifying acts. They all desperately want to embrace the light and escape the darkness that is slowly consuming them whole. For all the destruction in this world, they still want a world with some kind of peace, clarity and normalcy to it. One where they can live lives without constant fear of the monsters they have become threatening to destroy everything they hold dear. They have to fight these battles alone. The team has strengthened over the course of the series. But they are all trapped in their own emotional prisons. They are all forced to deal with these traumas by themselves - which means escape and victory is entirely up to them.

The Devil is able to pray on Vanessa's desire of wanting a normal life. She didn't choose to be relentlessly pursued and tormented by the darkness and depravity of this world. And yet, it is the life that she has lived. That only makes the simplicity of everyday life more desirable to her. She has had moments of escape. But they were incapable of providing her with any sense of realism or genuineness. When she and Ethan left London for the countryside, she hoped to escape the darkness. But instead she only embraced it further because of the tragedy and trauma of her past. It was in that moment that the Devil is able to manipulate her so strongly. She has openly embraced the Verbis Diablo for nefarious purposes. It only takes one more step to stand by the Devil's side. He can promise her so many great things in this world and the afterlife. But all of that, of course, operates under the assumption that Vanessa still wants to live a normal life.

After everything that has happened to her over the course of the series, Vanessa has come to accept the darkness as the only way to truly battle the forces that torment her. She is able to exude that power to great effect when it comes to standing face-to-face with Evelyn's doll. In that moment, she embraces her inner monster and vanquishes the evil from her world. It's a victory in this never-ending battle for her soul. The doll is destroyed and the Devil takes away Evelyn's youth and beauty. It's a devastating final act. But also one that is empowering of Vanessa. She is choosing to fully embrace herself for who she truly is in this world. The scorpion crawls upon her hand and she willingly chooses to let it dissolve into her being.

That darkness only opens things up for even more personal horror. Evelyn dies as soon as Hecate opens the door and allows WereEthan into the chamber. Vanessa finally sees the monster within him. It seems that she is the only one capable of connecting to him when he's in his beast state. Evelyn and Sembene are his only victims from this latest transformation. Meanwhile, Victor and Malcolm are able to overcome their tormentors long enough for the spell to be broken. The team reunites in the stairwell and is allowed a moment of peace in a time of pure darkness.

This victory doesn't allow things to become normal for anyone on the team. In fact, it only leads them to even more traumatizing realizations over their own lives. There are extreme consequences to Vanessa accepting the darkness as a part of her being. She has always been a very religious person. But it's getting increasingly harder for her to believe in a God who wasn't capable of protecting her when she desperately needed him the most. She is now willing to embrace the monstrosity of her life alongside Ethan. But that requires him to come to terms with his own beast and darkness. That's a hard prospect for him to deal with - especially after having killed Sembene. He can't understand his monster in the same way that Vanessa does. There still remains a barrier in their relationship even though she is now willingly choosing to be with him in a way that has no expectations of normalcy.

The scars of the darkness run deep for everyone. Victor was not able to succumb to the temptations of The Creature, Lily and Proteus while under Evelyn's spell. He didn't seek refuge from the pain and torment of his reality through drugs like they wanted him to. And yet, the life outside the mansion was even more bleak than the fantasy he escaped from. The audience has been aware of Lily's duplicity for a few episodes now. She has fallen even deeper in love with the domination an immortal life can bestow upon her and Dorian. They are two of the few characters who don't seek any kind of normal life. They simply want to rule over humanity as the creatures who cannot die and whose rule will be everlasting. Victor becomes aware of their monstrosity. It's a horrifying prospect for him. He truly believed he had a connection with Lily. One that ran so much deeper than simple creator and creature. And now, she has shown her true self to him in a way that makes him seem even more powerless. After that onslaught of darkness and cruelty, he escapes once more to his beloved drugs.

Everyone has their own escape from reality to deal with upon the finale's conclusion. They have personal horrors that threaten to take all of them away from London and each other. And yet, they are all presented as journeys that each of the characters need to take as the next step forward in their lives. This escape is what they all need to do right now. It will be a lonely experience. No one is allowed any semblance of peace that they wanted. Vanessa and Ethan are not allowed to be together. Victory and Lily can't be reunited. Malcolm has to say goodbye to his dearest friend. The Creature has to escape the horror of mankind. Over the course of the series, the characters have come to rely on each other heavily. And yet, this finale positions them all as having to do so much work by themselves in order to battle the demons they all face.

Nothing sums that up more perfectly than the final conversation between Vanessa and The Creature. They have no understanding of the monsters in each other's lives. And yet, they have discovered true companionship. One that isn't corrupted by the normality of the world's thinking. They are two kindred spirits capable of true friendship despite opposing views on a number of things. It's devastating to think that the two of them will never be able to meet again. But the two of them together is one of the more hopeful moments of the finale. Even though they both have committed heinous acts, they are able to find peace and humanity with each other. The Creature has just killed his captors but Vanessa is still able to call him more human than the majority of mankind. That's a satisfaction The Creature has craved since the very beginning of the series. To be recognized as his own man capable of complex and wondrous thoughts and not solely defined by his worldly monstrosity. A future together is not what either one of them is destined for though. As nice as it would be, they can't commit to such a relationship. They have too much work to do on themselves to engage in any kind of future escape together.

Even though Vanessa is successful in her battle with the Devil, it's just a temporary moment. The Devil will try to win her soul again sometime soon. Hecate is still out there capable of bringing about so much destruction. Vanessa has power in knowing who she is. But that also comes with the cost of turning her back on her religion - the thing that got her through so much pain over the years. She is a changed woman from the one who used to kneel before that cross and pray for God to save her. She is the bringer of her own destiny. And that's an incredibly lonely journey at the moment. As she walks through the mansion turning off the lights, it's a house filled with nothingness. An environment that has been a constant place of companionship is now one filled with only one person. Malcolm has escaped to Africa to bury Sembene. The Creature has set sail for the Arctic North to find peace. Victor has escape this world for the comfort of his drug-filled fantasy. Ethan has been locked in a cage and sent back to America. It's a depressing conclusion for the season that proves that even though the characters were able to beat Evelyn they still have so many personal horrors to deal with as the series continues. Vanessa stares out her window ready to embrace that change and the loneliness. It's empowering in a moment where nothing else is certain.

Some more thoughts:
  • "And They Were Enemies" was written by John Logan and directed by Brian Kirk.
  • Evelyn was a fantastic human face of all the evil plaguing the world this season. Her demise wasn't as big as the buildup of the season would lead one to believe. But it still worked because of how empowering that moment was for Vanessa and how violent her death actually was with Hecate opening the door and WereEthan bursting into the room as she aged.
  • I'm also really looking forward to even more evil from Dorian and Lily next season. They've gotten a taste of domination and that will only continue to grow as they embrace their lives as immortals. Victor couldn't stop either of them with one bullet. How much havoc will they wreak before something big happens? Seeing them dance as their blood soaks the floor was one of the many brilliant pieces of directing and staging of this finale.
  • So, did the one witch literally just have Lyle up against the wall for several minutes and not do anything? That's the position he was in at the start of the hour. And then, several big things happened elsewhere followed by a cutaway to him in the same position but being able to pull a gun on her.
  • This was just a fantastic season of television. Easily one of the best shows of the year so far. I'm anticipating it will rank highly on my year-ending Top 10 list. The first season was great. But this year took the show to a whole new level. I can't wait to see what the third season does next year.