Penny Dreadful episode 6 review: What Death Can Join Together

Review Becky Lea
25 Jun 2014 - 19:25

Penny Dreadful's careful character work begins to pay off in this week's episode. Here's Becky's review...

This review contains spoilers.

1.6 What Death Can Join Together

What Death Can Join Together continues from the events which occurred at the end of the fourth episode, Demimonde, and resumes the hunt for Mina. Vanessa uses her powers to narrow in on the Master’s location, but is invited out by Dorian Gray, a development Murray welcomes in order to keep Vanessa out of harm’s way. He assembles Chandler and Sembene for the hunt whilst Frankenstein finally learns what they are facing from Professor Van Helsing.

Swiftly snapping back into the show’s present day, the ongoing narrative picks up some pace in this episode, capitalising on the chilling atmosphere that has been steadily mounting throughout the season. It ensures the emotional beats were that bit more affecting, the shocks all the more sudden and the episode was enthralling from its opening scenes. The structure of the developing narrative was particularly excellent this week, threading together the characters’ different strands, building the tension as they started to overlap and intersect.

The episode’s final third, in which Murray, Chandler and Sembene closed in on the Master Vampire and Frankenstein finally learnt the nature of the foe they faced from Van Helsing Vanessa and Dorian dined on both food and each other, were all very different scenes, but brought together masterfully to ramp up that tension. Van Helsing’s ominous warnings thread through into the scenes aboard the plague ship, warning us in advance of the danger that Murray and Chandler face. Dorian and Vanessa’s scenes initially prove to be a welcome distraction before becoming something much more sinister and perhaps more dangerous than the vampires the men face.

The dialogue between Dorian and Vanessa during their dinner scene is practically a dance as the pair circle each other, a delicate stand off that slowly brings them both together. It’s very much a meeting of equals in this scene, two people who have experienced much more than their youth would suggest. The use of Delibes’ Flower Duet as the background music for their initial scenes in Dorian’s home is a neat touch, referencing the characters’ earlier meeting in the greenhouse as well as their common interest in sensuality.

Frankenstein and Van Helsing’s scene is also nicely played by both Harry Treadaway and David Warner, treading a fine line between exposition and tension building. It drops in a reference to a famous penny dreadful too, Varney The Vampire by James Malcolm Rymer, which plays well into the scene. Serialised in the 1840s, the story established many of the hallmarks of vampire fiction and has been incredibly influential within the genre. Bringing it into Penny Dreadful as a guide to the undead is another brilliant reference and one of many literary nods in this episode.

Both dialogue-driven scenes provide a good counterpoint to the episode’s big action sequence, the climactic clash between the vampires and Murray, Chandler and Sembene. The creature design for the vampires gives them an otherworldly air, further captured in the hideous screeching sound effects and the spidery way in which they move. We’re privy to a further glimpse of the Master as well, another triumph in creature design, but without revealing him entirely. He’s still a distant foe at this point, the unstoppable survivalist that Van Helsing refers to and is all the more frightening as a result.

It is also at this point that all of the careful character work begins to pay off, especially the previous episode’s focus on Vanessa and Murray. Their fractious yet dependent relationship makes much more sense and Murray’s reasons for shielding her more apparent and tragically ineffectual. Her loss of control at the end of the episode is a chilling moment to end the episode on, having established that her sexuality is intrinsically linked to both her powers and her desirability to the voice in the dark.

All of the characters occupy a shady morality that constantly shifts and changes, but none more so than Frankenstein and his Creature. Though we have seen little of them together in recent episodes, the earlier time spent with the Creature reinforces his isolation from the world and his anger at Frankenstein for leaving him this way. The tragic revelation that his love for the actress Maud is unrequited, despite her gentle way with him, makes him all the more sympathetic. That is until he murders Van Helsing in one of those short, sharp shocks that make you shout at the television.

It’s these moments in which audience expectations are undercut that makes Penny Dreadful such an enthralling watch. Despite knowing some of these characters already, they are written in such a way that they can still surprise with something unexpected or play along with our preconceptions. What Death Can Join Together is the most plot-driven episode so far, but is all the more effective for the time taken in previous instalments to establish the world in which these fascinating characters reside.

Read Becky's review of the previous episode, Closer Than Sisters, here.

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