Sunday, May 29, 2016

REVIEW: 'Penny Dreadful' - Ethan Embraces the Darkness as He Reunites with His Father in 'This World Is Our Hell'

Showtime's Penny Dreadful - Episode 3.05 "This World Is Our Hell"

Hecate and Ethan struggle to survive the harsh wasteland of the New Mexico desert. Kaetenay reveals to Malcolm the truth behind his connection to Ethan. Back in London, Frankenstein's addition to Jekyll's formula is a success.

It's not surprising at all that Penny Dreadful chooses to follow last week's fantastic spotlight on Vanessa with an episode that focuses exclusively on Ethan and Victor's struggles in New Mexico and London. The Ethan story takes more of the priority too. The stuff happening with Victor is largely transitional. It's moving from one plot point to the next because it needs to before the next stage of the season. That's honestly what a lot of "This World Is Our Hell" feels like. It's important because it showcases the struggle Ethan is dealing with the longer he stays in the New Mexico territory surrounded by his family and Hecate while away from the good influences of London. But there's also a lot of exposition that needs to happen in order to properly set the stage for Ethan's big reunion with his father. That's a dynamic and explosive final scene. And yet, the audience is going to have to wait until next week to see the payoff of that moment which is a very odd way to structure the story and episodes.

So while on the road, Ethan and Kaetenay tell Hecate and Malcolm the truth about the violent estrangement between Ethan and his father, Jared. Jared is a horrible human being. He has made his peace with going to Hell when he dies. He understands that that is coming for him in the future. He's destroyed and conquered this land for his own selfish reasons. He's proud of the kingdom he has built for himself. But it has always turned him into a cruel man as well. He enlisted Ethan in the army and Ethan agreed to it in order to make his father proud. But the service meant he would have to slaughter dozens of Native Americans. The white conquerors of this land see the native people as more beast than human. The show doesn't shy away from the racist tendencies of these people. It makes sure to have Ethan rise above that. He is truly changed after killing a woman who refused to flee or fight back. He saw these actions as the horror that they were and not as the heroic actions that deserve medals and other high honors. He killed his fellow soldiers and went to Apache leaders seeking death as retribution for his actions. Kaetenay did not give it to him. Instead, he forced Ethan to fight alongside the natives against the white oppressors. It's a war that the Apache could not win. They were simply outnumbered. But by bringing Ethan into the fold, it changed his entire life forever.

Kaetenay only had 39 soldiers fighting against hundreds. This war was so violent and brutal. The white men made sure that nothing got in the way of their dreams and ambitions for the region. Kaetenay tried to stay strong but this war broke him. It built to the point where Ethan led him to his family's ranch looking for more supplies but things took a rather drastic turn. Jared is one of the conquerors who deserved to be punished for his actions. And yet, it's horrifying to see him go into detail about all that the Apache did to his family. They attacked during dinner. Because Ethan gave them details, they were able to easily defeat Jared's men charged with protecting the compound. From there, it was a brutal display of monstrosity as everyone in Jared's family was taken away from him while he was forced to watch. Of course, that didn't dissuade him from his views. He is still living in the same house and chose to leave the massacre sight the same as when Ethan left. But it's still haunting to listen to this brutal tale.

This is a show that has always embraced monstrosity in each of its characters. And now, that concept is changing. The team has been scattered throughout the world. They can no longer rely on each other to be strong in the face of adversity. All that Ethan has right now is Hecate. She's the only person by his side while he's on this journey to his father's ranch. That's very dangerous because she's trying to appeal to his inner dark side. She craves the beast and darkness that resides within him. She has seen firsthand what he is capable of doing after he changes. She thinks it's a wonderful and beautiful thing. He still feels so much guilt from it. He has no control over his actions and always wakes up surrounded by dead bodies destroyed in the most savage way possible. It's a gruesome sight that still weighs heavily on him. But now, he only has Hecate whispering in his ear. He used to carry this burden on his own. Then, he slowly opened himself up to the other members of the team. They were supportive even though they were very afraid of what he becomes. They didn't want to unleash the beast on anything in this world. That didn't stop him from turning and killing in London. Sembene is gone because of that. That death kept Ethan from embracing any chance of happiness in his life. But now, he's wandering the desert with Hecate. He sees it as a hopeless venture because they and their horses are slowly dying from dehydration. But she still represents a chance at a life that isn't filled with guilt or burden. At a time like this, that's very enticing to him.

It's definitely a sudden turn of events for Ethan to embrace the darkness that Hecate is promising to him. This is a particularly dark episode for him. And yet, it does make a certain amount of sense as well. He is so desperate and isolated in this desert. To the audience, he's only been out there for a little bit of time. But it's been such an agonizing experience. He's struggled to stay alive and keep his companion that way as well. He was horrified when she killed the owners of the horses they stole. But now, he too is in the mindset of needing to kill the threat that wishes him harm right now. He embraces Hecate's magic in order to handle Inspector Rusk and his team of marshals hunting them down. They have gotten so close to capturing him once more to make him pay for his crimes. And yet, all Ethan wants right now is one bloody reunion with his father. This time in the desert has made him much more of a killer than he has ever been before. Part of that is because of Hecate. She keeps whispering in his ear about all the great things his life can be if he gave up his believes about the world. But part of it is also the isolation - both in the desert and away from the team.

Ethan doesn't know that Malcolm and Kaetenay are hot on his trail as well. He believes Rusk and the marshals are the only ones tracking him. They are the only ones standing in the way of his reunion with his father - well that and the harsh conditions of the desert. But Malcolm is the one to save him from this cruel environment. When he can't go on any further, Malcolm arrives to bring him back to life. It's a surprising moment to Ethan. He does not understand why Malcolm would come all of this way to rescue him. Malcolm is willing to risk so much in order to protect Ethan because he has become like a son to him over the two seasons so far. And yet, Ethan has changed so much in a brief amount of time. He is no longer the man Malcolm knew in London. Of course, this reunion between friends doesn't last long before Jared's men arrive to take them to the Talbot compound. It's there where all of the details of the past build to one final confrontation between father and son. Again, it's a great moment. But it's also incomplete. Jared gives Ethan a choice between atonement and death. The audience understands which side Ethan is leaning towards in that moment. But the episode then doesn't follow though on the beat - instead choosing to end the hour on a cliffhanger. Yes, it builds excitement for next week's episode. But it hardly leaves this one feeling very important, memorable or complete.

Some more thoughts:
  • "This World Is Our Hell" was written by Andrew Hinderaker and directed by Paco Cabezas.
  • Victor said his research could help make Jekyll's cure for violent and erratic behavior more permanent. And now, he has been successful in that endeavor. That's largely what this story is about as Victor prepares to subject Lily to the procedure.
  • Victor notes that it's our memories that make us monsters. He's taking that away from the prisoner of the institution. He's also planning on taking that away from Lily in the hopes of a happy future with her. And yet, he curiously wouldn't want it done on himself. For all its flaws, he likes the life he has built for himself. The same cannot be said for Jekyll as he would enjoy being able to see the world anew again without the possibility of his anger destroying his professional accomplishments.
  • Hecate summons demons in the form of rattlesnakes to eliminate the threat from the marshals. They are successful except that Rusk and his American counterpart are still alive. And now, Rusk is willing to break his moral code to make sure Ethan is killed.
  • Kaetenay is also bitten by the demonic rattlesnakes during the attack. He was already starting to kill the marshals when the beasts emerged. And now, he may die because of that. Ethan leaves him to rot in the sun without any chance of survival by episode's end. But he's not dead yet. So anything can happen.
  • Kaetenay also tells Malcolm of a vision he had that showed a world engulfed by dark monsters and Ethan embracing the darkness as well. That's a bold declaration for the future and how the various story arcs are going to come together by season's end.