Sunday, June 12, 2016

REVIEW: 'Penny Dreadful' - Vanessa Confronts Dracula While Lily Inspires Her Army into Action in 'Ebb Tide'

Showtime's Penny Dreadful - Episode 3.07 "Ebb Tide"

Kaetenay has a vision of impending doom. Frankenstein and Jekyll get help from an unlikely foe. The Creature finally gains courage. With the help of Catriona, Vanessa learns an awful truth.

The stories of Penny Dreadful this season are starting to come together. After an entire year of being separated, everyone seems determined to return to London to stop the looming darkness. And yet, they may be too late. The darkness has been allowed to grow because the team went their separate ways. Vanessa was all alone in that big mansion. She was able to confidently re-enter society and search out answers for the new evil that hunts her. But she still finds herself seduced by Dracula. And now, the apocalypse seems ready to fall on the city. There's nothing anyone can do either. Everyone is in their own personal battle for happiness. When some go after that ambition, their lives get instantly better. But with others, it's a much more complicated response. All of these monsters want to be happy in this world. The world conspires against them. Society ostracizes them because of their differences. They've tried to obtain power and happiness but it hasn't exactly gone their way in the past. So that essentially sets up a shocking end where Vanessa makes a strange and peculiar decision.

Vanessa has been hunted her entire life by the evils that roam both this world and the afterlife. That is her curse. She struggles with it every day. She formed real and genuine connections with Malcolm and Ethan. But now, they've been off in America dealing with their own problems. She has only been able to rely on Drs. Seward and Sweet this year. Recently, she has gained an insightful new ally in Catriona. And yet, these aren't the friends who have gotten her out of the darkness before. She was able to rise up against the temptations of the darkness because of the light she felt from her friends. And now, she can't surround herself with their comfort. Kaetenay does reach out to her to let her known that Malcolm and Ethan are returning to her. But she is already falling down a dark path. This trajectory is going to lead her to darkness long before Ethan and Malcolm are able to return. That's the tragedy of the situation. She loves them. They feel the same way. But they can't help her during this latest personal crisis - which forces her to accept the darkness in her life once more.

It's thrilling and heartbreaking that Vanessa learns that Dr. Sweet is Dracula. She comes to the realization after Catriona tells her the kinds of qualities to be on the lookout for. She confided in him and opened herself up in a way that she hasn't in a long time. He was truly a confidante for her. Once again, she finds herself in a relationship with cataclysmic results. Her new love is actually the evil that has been hunting her down. She returns to the museum ready to strike and kill the man. Dracula can die as long as he is in his human form. And yet, he can still comfort her in a way that no one else can. Catriona knows that Vanessa is strong enough to kill this demon. But Dr. Seward fully believes that Vanessa has a rare case of multiple personality disorder. Dracula has been there for her as Sweet. He has opened himself up to her as well. Everything he has shared with her has been genuine. Yes, there was all the lies and the lifetime of pain. But he was still able to comfort her in her time of need. Vanessa is ready to kill him in this grand confrontation. And yet, she doesn't. Dracula has caused her so much pain over the years - going all the way back to taking Mina away from her. But he also presents her with the opportunity to be her true self. If she embraces the darkness, she will be the one to reign over this world. She would be the one in charge. She wouldn't be the outcast isolated from all of society. Without her friends or her religion, that's a very tempting offer. It's one she fully submits to as well. It's a brutal final moment that hints at even more darkness for the final two episodes of the season. It does play a little like a shocking plot twist to intensify the end of the season. But it does feel natural as well. After fighting it for so long, it's going to be very interesting to see what happens to Vanessa after she gives in to the seduction of the darkness.

Vanessa's friends want to be there for her as well. And yet, they just can't connect with her and what she is feeling right now. The Creature reaches out for the first time since Vanessa learned about their past connection. She sees him as a different man than she did before. He came to her to know if he should take this risk with his family. It's once again the Creature lamenting doing something because of his disfigurement. Vanessa pushes him to accept happiness. That's what he gets when he returns to his family as well. They embrace him with open arms despite his new appearance and his outrageous story. Vanessa does that for him because she knows how good of a man he really is. She knows that Ethan and Malcolm are coming for her and are good as well. But they don't land in time to influence her decision. They are still struggling with the aftermath of what happened on the Talbot ranch. Malcolm killed Ethan's father just so Ethan didn't have to do it. It was a mercy killing so that Ethan could finally be free of the hold his father and his past had on him. He is now able to embrace the future and happiness he wants. That's what brings them back to London and Vanessa. But Ethan is still contemplating how he wasn't able to kill his father. Malcolm says that's a good thing. It shows that he still has some humanity and light inside of him. That's what they'll need to emerge victorious in this war. And Malcolm should know considering he had to kill his own family earlier in the series.

Just as Vanessa is able to escape from the shackles of society, Lily finds herself confined to them all over again. She is proud of the existence she has created for herself. She has built an army of soldiers who understand the anger and sadness that has dominated her life as both Brona and Lily. This episode provides new insight into the loss that fueled Brona's world. She tragically lost a daughter. That's still a part of who she is. She doesn't want to lose sight of that. But that's exactly what Victor is trying to rip away from her. All of the men in her life are trying to control her because her movement threatens their dominance. Victor wants the happiness and joy they had once more. Meanwhile, Dorian has grown tired of how unimportant he is to his own uprising. Lily has essentially kicked him out of the whole process. She's the one making all of the decisions. She's the one unifying their forces. She's the one fighting for a cause. Dorian is literally just a spectator in his own house. He betrays her in order to get her tied to that chair for Victor. Everything she has been fighting against has come back to control her once more.

Dorian's betrayal does feel motivated by plot necessities. He has been unhappy with Lily in his life for awhile now. It has never really manifested in interesting ways and always felt like it was building to him delivering Lily to Victor. And now, that has finally happened. Victor and Jekyll have Lily in their lab ready to turn her into a better woman once more. It's such a powerful and demoralizing moment as well. Yes, Lily is inciting violence in order to rise up against the male oppressors of London. But there's some fantastic insight into the proceedings as well with Victor, Jekyll and Dorian all wanting Lily to be who they want her to be. She is a monster. She enjoys that. All of her memories and pain from the past inform who she is today. She doesn't want to lose sight of that. She wants to change the world because of it. These men are holding onto the ideals of the past. She's trying to start a revolution. They are afraid of that and want to control that. So, Lily ends the episode tied to the chair. She is going to fight against everything Victor wants to do to her. It is intriguing that Dorian chooses to stay and watch the procedure as it happens. But it's hard to believe that this cure is going to work as well as it did the last time. Lily is just too great a character to completely change yet again. All of her hard work this season would have been for nothing. But it's still a powerful moment to end the episode on alongside Vanessa choosing to embrace her own darkness.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Ebb Tide" was written by John Logan and directed by Paco Cabezas.
  • Renfield appears throughout this episode largely to keep the level of creepiness up. He makes sure that the threat against Vanessa is known at all times - even though he seems to be working against Dracula in his own quest for blood.
  • Dr. Seward is a trained physician. And yet, she really hasn't noticed a major change in her assistant. Their relationship hasn't been important at all this season. This is the first time they've ever really interacted. So, it's starting to seem like she's not as observant as she seemed earlier this season.
  • When Kaetenay reaches out to Vanessa, he is able to see why Malcolm and Ethan love her so much and her importance to the looming darkness. Though he also sees just how strong a hold Dracula has on her.
  • Vanessa makes sure to ask the Creature if he remembers any of the time they previously spent with each other. He does not. He has changed a lot since then. But he still provides a comforting face for a brief moment when Vanessa needs it the most.
  • Lily really has assembled quite an army for herself. She adds to the darkness that will soon cover London. She sends her soldiers out to the streets to take the hands off of any man seen taking advantage of any woman. They return with quite a pile too.
  • Most of Dorian's frustrations with what Lily is doing are dramatized through a tense relationship with Justine. She wonders why she has to listen to him while he is afraid he is losing his control over this endeavor. 
  • Because the Creature reunites with his family, it seems very likely we'll learn his real name soon.