Sunday, June 5, 2016

REVIEW: 'Penny Dreadful' - Vanessa Seeks Answers About Dracula While Ethan Faces His Father in 'No Beast So Fierce'

Showtime's Penny Dreadful - Episode 3.06 "No Beast So Fierce"

Vanessa turns to old friend Ferdinand Lyle for help, who introduces her to Catriona Hartdegen, a new ally. Lily, Dorian and Justine put their plan in motion. Ethan, Malcolm and Hecate arrive at Jarod Talbot's ranch.

It really has been so fascinating to see Penny Dreadful commit to many isolating and disparate stories this season. The first two seasons were about this group of strangers coming together to protect one another from the darkness that wants to conquer this world. This season has been about personal battles for each of the main characters. Of course, there were going to be stories that took priority over others. Vanessa and Ethan have been the main drivers of story this season. They have rightfully earned that distinction as well. They are each facing a reckoning where they are fighting between the light and dark within their souls. Those have been very compelling season-long stories building to such terrific moments in this episode. All of the other stories have been a tad more minor. They've been able to weave in and out according to the demands of the episodic running time. It has been thrilling to watch Lily build her army of followers. Though Dorian's place in that story has been very awkward while Victor's part in all of it has been building to a moment that finally happened in this hour. Meanwhile, the Creature gets the courage to make contact with his family again but is immediately thrown back into his depressed state. Overall, a lot of great things have been happening this season on Penny Dreadful. But some things are starting to get a little repetitive as well.

It was so thrilling and moving to watch as Vanessa went back through her memories to uncover Dracula's name. And now, she knows the mysterious and nefarious entity that wants to submit her to his bidding. This episode is about her doing her research into Dracula and how she can best defeat him in this war for her body. Lyle points her in the direction of a potential new ally in Catriona Hartdegen. She makes quite a memorable first impression here. Vanessa and Catriona are quickly able to strike up a friendship because they aren't taken aback by what the other has to say about the evils of this world. They have both seen it first hand. Vanessa has been fighting her entire life against the demons of this world who want her body and soul. Catriona studies death and understands just how brutal and toxic this world can be against threats it doesn't inherently understand. This episode is entirely about these characters meeting for the first time. They have a connection right away. But Catriona will still have to dig deeper in order to provide Vanessa with a way to battle Dracula in this war for her body.

Catriona's solid piece of advice for Vanessa is to surround herself with friends and loved ones right now. Dracula strikes by isolating his target and seducing them. That's something the audience already knows extremely well because Dracula is Vanessa's new love, Dr. Alexander Sweet. Vanessa has gladly relied on others to protect herself from the forces of evil in this world. But this season, she finds herself all alone. Malcolm has left her for an excursion in America while Ethan has vanished without a trace. Now, the audience knows both of them have their hands full with Ethan's father in the New Mexico territory. But that's a story for later on in this review. Vanessa only has Dr. Seward to rely on right now in London. She is her only friend. She has Victor as well but she really doesn't take his company all that serious as an option here. Plus, he's busy with Lily. Seward has come to accept all that Vanessa has said about the dangers of this world. They have formed a bond that is stronger than the average doctor-patient relationship. And yet, Seward still points her back in the tragic direction of Dr. Sweet. Vanessa reignites that romantic dynamic because she needs someone to love right now. She doesn't want to be left vulnerable right now out of fear of Dracula striking at any possible moment. But that's exactly what she falls into as well. She understands that all of her relationships end cataclysmically. And yet, she still falls under the seduction of Sweet. They consummate their relationship as well. It's scene filled with so much passion and dread. The audience knows that Dracula could strike at any possible moment. Vanessa is getting close to the one individual she needs to stay away from right now. She is falling into his trap and that could be so dangerous later on once it's revealed what she has done.

Elsewhere, the episode opens by picking up where last week's hour concluded with Ethan and Jarod in the Talbot chapel of death about to have a violent confrontation. It is lame that the resolution to that solid beat is the interruption caused by Rusk and the marshal's arrival at the ranch. But the episode doesn't lose sight of the payoff that needs to come from this story either. Last week's episode built to a confrontation between Ethan and Jarod and then didn't satisfyingly deliver on it. Here, it's amusing to see Rusk, the marshal, Hecate and Malcolm added to the mix as well. They all sit down for dinner and it's one of the most awkward and wonderful scenes the show has ever produced. Everyone at that dinner table has a different agenda and wants to emerge victorious in this power struggle. But they all choose to be civil enough to sit down for one final meal before everyone turns to shreds. They don't even make it through the meal before the bodies start to drop. It's a scene filled with so much exciting and precarious tension. Rusk and the marshal want these people to face justice for the crimes they have done. Jarod wants his son to repent and does not care for law enforcement coming into his house wanting to charge him with a crime. Malcolm wants to save Ethan from the darkness while Hecate wants to push him further into it. Ethan is the focal point of this entire story. People are killed because of him. He is responsible whether he's the one who kills them or not. Many of these individuals are killed in this conflict. But will their deaths pull Ethan into the light or dark moving forward?

It's thrilling to watch as the dinner turns into a gunfight for survival. Everyone is out for blood - including Rusk and the marshal. They want to understand what is going on with this family and make sure they are punished permanently for their actions. And yet, they are killed early on in this battle. Jarod kills the marshal out of self-preservation and a show of power at the table. When the bullets start flying, Ethan kills Rusk. He takes down the man hellbent on making him pay for his crimes across two continents. In the process though, Rusk kills Hecate. Her hold on Ethan will no longer be as transfixing as it has been over the past few episodes. He took a turn for the dark side because she promised him a world of power and answers that didn't make him doubt his actions. And yet, doubt and fear still creeps into Ethan's reality. He wants to kill his father for everything that he has done to him. He does not want to repent for getting his whole family killed by Kaetenay and his tribe. He wants Kaetenay dead as well but he doesn't seek forgiveness for his actions of the past from Jarod. But when the time comes for it, Ethan cannot pull the trigger on his father. He was resigned to going to Hell after all of this was over. But Hecate's death doesn't send him spiraling into vengeance. Instead he becomes stronger because Malcolm and Kaetenay (who miraculously survived his snake bite and the extreme heat somehow) are by his side to take on Jarod. Malcolm is ultimately the person to put a bullet in Jarod. He does so in order to free Ethan from all of the pain of his past in the hopes of a better future with his life in London. That's what Malcolm wants for Ethan. He wants him to fight on the side of good and protect the world they have known together for two seasons. But now, Ethan needs to want that as well. He finally got what he wanted with his father's death. But will that be enough for him to build his own life without fear of running? He's still a monster. But can he accept that as a part of who he is after everything he has done?

Some more thoughts:
  • "No Beast So Fierce" was written by Andrew Hinderaker & Krysty Wilson-Cairns and directed by Paco Cabezas.
  • Justine is starting to question why Dorian is a part of Lily's rising army. She's not wrong to think that either. Lily is proclaiming that these women will no longer be subjected to the urges of men. But she's doing so with a man by her side who does nothing but serve as a demonstration tool.
  • Even Dorian is starting to question his importance in Lily's story. He wants to believe they are partners because they are both immortal. And yet, she is fueling this uprising with the big emotions she and these other women have from working on the streets. That's something Dorian can't understand which makes him an alienating presence in this scene.
  • Victor fails at this attempted kidnapping of Lily. She even laughs at him for wanting to change her. She has been broken down by her strong feelings of anger and sadness. But they have also built to this moment which she loves so much because she's in control. Victor wants to take that away. It does seem like this season is building to Victor's death at the hands of Lily. But she is still reluctant to do so. Instead, she lets him live because he may be useful in the future - for either her or Dorian.
  • The Creature's story is the most extraneous of the whole episode. It's meaningful that he wants to connect with his old life again. After seeing a glimpse of it in "A Blade of Grass," the audience should want that too. But here, it's a story that takes a formulaic and expected twist. He reaches out and cares for his sick son only for him to react in horror to the new face of his father. It's something so many people have done to seeing the Creature.
  • It is sad that Ferdinand Lyle is going on a trip to Cairo and plans on making the move more permanent because of the city being more open to his "lifestyle." He will be missed. Though he does part by bringing Vanessa and Catriona together. So that's very nice.
  • Will any explanation be given as to how Kaetenay survived his injuries of last week's episode? Or is it just the inherent mysticism that the audience has to accept with the character?