Sunday, May 15, 2016

REVIEW: 'Penny Dreadful' - Ethan and Hecate are Reunited While Vanessa Looks Into Her Past in 'Good and Evil Braided Be'

Showtime's Penny Dreadful - Episode 3.03 "Good and Evil Braided Be"

Vanessa is confronted by a familiar face, who reveals a clue to her past.

Penny Dreadful is juggling a lot of stories this season. It's been a change to the narrative that has allowed for many interesting and different visuals. The show has always carried a lot of ongoing stories. Each main character has their own tragic backstory and monster that they are trying to fight. But it has always been centered around a main mission that pulls everyone together in London. And now, this season has been a more globe trotting affair. A significant amount of time is spent in the New Mexico territory. But even all of the stories happening concurrently in London feel separated by distance. That's good. It helps give each story its own unique feel. But the show also has to be really careful with this type of storytelling. It's a very delicate balancing act. Each story demands enough time to truly develop and find nuance. But telling so many can lead to shortcuts being taken. Right now, each character feels isolated. Their journeys all have their compelling elements to them. But the whole needs to be just as rewarding as the sum of the many parts. In "Good and Evil Braided Be," the balance just feels slightly off - even though it also establishes how a few stories are going to merge in the future.

It's interesting that Ethan is still traveling to see his father even though he has successfully freed himself from his captors. He did so by once again transforming into his monstrous state. But now, he also finds himself united with Hecate. He wants nothing to do with her but she is determined to stand by his side as darkness envelops the world. She understands the beast inside him. He is still terrified by it. He doesn't see himself as being responsible for the actions he takes while in his beast state. And yet, he still feels guilty because of all of the death and destruction he has laid in his wake. Hecate chooses to kill and be a monster. This is the life she wants for herself. She is simply guiding Ethan on his journey. Right now, that path is taking him to his father. After so much build up, that inevitable family reunion better be compelling to watch. Ethan's father has spent so much time, money and energy into finding his son. Ethan has returned to a land he despises with every fiber of his being. But he's still choosing to reunite with his father in order to bring their story to its nasty conclusion.

Ethan only allows Hecate on his journey because she's his only ally right now. Everyone else is targeting him to punish him for his crimes. That includes Rusk and his new American marshal friend. It's humorous when the American law enforcement opens fire on Ethan and Hecate while Rusk comments that Scotland Yard inspectors don't carry firearms. It's a tense situation meant to showcase just how close all of these parties are to one another. That family reunion is going to be one volatile and lethal confrontation because all of these interested parties are descending on the same place. Malcolm and Kaetenay are traveling there as well. Their journey seems to be happening a little too easily. They know exactly where Ethan is and the danger he is in. The only explanation is Kaetenay saying that he can see things. That's honestly a pretty lame excuse that largely works because of the gravitas with which Wes Studi delivers the lines. Malcolm has a good moment when he threatens a couple of racists on the train. But it still hasn't been a particularly eventful season for these two characters. They can't catch up to Ethan soon enough.

Back in London, all of the stories are starting to feel a little truncated. It's important that the audience knows that Dr. Jekyll's solution to tame one's inner beast is only a temporary solution. His concoction only works for a couple of hours. Victor suggests merging their research in order to make it more permanent. Again, this is information that the audience needs. But it also plays as completely expositional while also showcasing that Victor is capable of having a level head about this while Jekyll complains about one's need to repress their true selves in society. Again, that could be helpful in the future. But right now, it's largely just set up. The enemy they're facing follows a similar trajectory. Lily and Dorian are focusing on completely converting their new acolyte, Justine. That means highlighting the differences between Lily's goals and the feminist movement. Lily wants to conquer and control. Feminists want equality. It's an important distinction that shows off the monstrosity of the character. And then, the show becomes very artful with Lily and Dorian forcing Justine to kill her former captor. That's then followed by a truly memorable sex scene between all three as they are completely covered in blood. It's a fantastic image in its horror. It shows Lily and Dorian establishing their new hold on the world. It's only bound to expand in the future so Victor and Jekyll better act quickly.

Elsewhere, the Creature is on a new mission to discover the family he left behind following his death. So much is unknown about his past before Victor turned him into the monster he is today. He has struggled to fit in with society in London. He truly believed he had to escape all of humanity in order to survive in this harsh world. And yet, it's very meaningful that memories are starting to return. Lily fully remembers her past life as Brona - to the point where she recalls that Ethan was her only lover who was sensitive to her needs. So it's not surprising at all that the Creature is starting to be haunted by his old memories. It turns out he has a family who he loved dearly. He's desperate to find them again. He needs to believe that they will love him again despite the monster he has become. He needs to believe that but he's also hesitant to reach out once he finds them again. This could represent a new and more meaningful connection to humanity. But he has been scorned one too many times in the past. He's spying on them which can only end badly. However, he's also seeing how they've suffered since his death and he does whatever it takes to lift their spirits.

Meanwhile, Vanessa finds herself relying more and more on her new relationships with Seward and Sweet. Both represent something different in her life. She opens herself up to Seward and desperately needs her to believe in everything that she is telling her. Vanessa knows that the monsters of the world are very real. She's not simply suffering from a neurological condition. It does seem like she gets to Seward once she shows off her powers with the knowledge of details she couldn't possibly have known. Things are much more innocent with Sweet. And yet, that dynamic is deeply rooted in a looming sense of dread. He is Dracula and could strike at any possible moment. He is the new darkness hunting Vanessa this season. He's trying a new tactic than the evils of the past. And yet, all of that is compromised because one of his henchman makes the mistake of talking to Vanessa. That promptly freaks her. It reminds her of the harsh and brutal realities of the world and how a relationship isn't a good idea right now at all. It also sends her off on a path for more answers about this new Master who is hunting her down.

Vanessa desperately needs Seward to perform hypnosis on her. It's a pretty big turning point at the end of this episode. She needs to understand this new monster hunting her. She needs to do so by uncovering the brutal details and emotions of her past. She has repressed so much from her time in an institution. And yet, she needs to know the truth. But the truth comes with one major and shocking twist. It turns out that the Creature in his previous life was the orderly who delivered food to Vanessa in the white room. That brief glimpse can't be all that there is to this story. But it's also a very significant tease for the audience. The Creature hasn't been a manipulative or power-hungry monster. He's simply a lonely man looking for a romantic connection in this world. He's angry and strong but he doesn't use that to control all of humanity. His connection to Vanessa was very meaningful last season. They bonded over the similar tragedies of their lives. But now, she can easily become convinced that he is the monster hellbent on destroying her when she should be focusing more on Sweet and his swarm of vampires.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Good and Evil Braided Be" was written by John Logan and directed by Damon Thomas.
  • Lily still has very fond memories of Ethan. And yet, she's deliberately choosing not to search for him and re-kindle that love. However, by simply mentioning him, it could be a tease that the show is building to a very awkward moment between Ethan and Victor as they realize they both loved the same woman.
  • Kaetenay is just too mysterious and cryptic of a character right now. He has been very one-note over these first three episodes. He needs more purpose than saving Ethan from evil so that he can still do good with Malcolm and Vanessa.
  • That sex scene between Lily, Dorian and Justine was really beautiful despite the horror of it all. It shows just how powerful this bond will be as they attempt to take over the world. But it's also a masterful showcase for the editing and sound departments.
  • When Vanessa touches Seward, she learns that her therapist once killed a man before he could kill her. That information should be important moving forward.
  • The final reveal with the Creature works so well because the episode reminds the audience of just how unique his relationship to Vanessa was last season. They both are miraculously in the same, previously unseen part of London. He sees her but she does not see him. He's hopeful about reconnecting but he doesn't let her presence dissuade him from his main mission.