Penny Dreadful: Above the Vaulted Sky review

The stratagems of the battle are made known. Here is our review of Penny Dreadful season 2, episode 5.

The monster squad is under siege in Penny Dreadful season 2, episode 5. The weapons are varied. Evelyn Poole (Helen McCrory) starts the first shot with her doll collection. Who knew she had a porcelain Lady Murray doll, batteries, I mean brains included. We are teased to believe she is putting the screws to Vanessa (Eva Green). But the seductive sorceress is sticking it to Sir Malcolm’s (Timothy Dalton) estranged but cumbersome spouse.

I love the idea of the living, breathing, sometimes life-sized voodoo dolls. I have a fetish for it, you might say. The invocation duet between Evelyn and her daughter Hecate (Sarah Greene) was a darkly, starkly beautiful opening. There is much beauty in magic and the choreography and performance here is stunning in its simplicity and a wonderful bonding moment between mother and daughter. It’s funny, there was a daughter who bonded with her mom on Game of Thrones recently, too.

I always feel uneasy when Vanessa Ives intones her Latin prayers in that piercing semi-catatonic drone. It usually portends dastardly doings are afoot. Tonight they weren’t quite just under foot. The magic of the magicians is more compelling than the magic of the good and Vanessa puts a dark spin on the power of light. She puts a much lighter spin on Mr. Clair, The Creature (Rory Kinnear). The scenes between the two are the most touching of the series. So close and yet so far, they understand each other so well even if they are at spiritual odds.

While Vanessa may have met her match in the Creation, his match, Lily (Billie Piper) is snuggling closer to Dr. Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway). For someone so gifted, Vanessa is pretty clueless when it comes to the people around her. I found it an interesting parallel when Vanessa took comfort in the Ethan’s bed and Lily cuddled up with her cousin in the storm. The very thing he suggested to her just a few weeks ago. Has anyone else noticed the very subtle ways Piper manipulates her body is a nod to Elsa Lancaster in The Bride of Frankenstein, or is it Madeline Kahn in Young Frankenstein?

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“Oh sweet mystery of life, at last I found you,” sings Scotland Yard Inspector Rusk (Douglas Hodge) in a less miserable mood than usual. The inspector likes it when things stay in place in an orderly fashion and this newest mystery is wrapped in an enigma and encased in a silver jacket bullet. All the records on Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett), don’t check out and the military isn’t giving out any clues. My guess is Chandler served in the K9 unit of the infantry. That’s how he really took out those “red Indians,” he looked so cute lapping up their leftovers they didn’t know he was a threat until he sank his fangs into them. It wasn’t a slaughter, it was a feeding frenzy.

When a warrior or witch consumes a body part, they get power. Drinking the blood of a vanquished enemy goes back through history far before Vlad Dracula dipped his bread in history. Sambene (Danny Sapani) is a fount of information but he only drips tidbits as they are needed. Faithful servant or Machiavellian interloper, Sambene purports to bring his knowledge of African magic, which was different than the brand that developed in America. When he does come through, and I don’t count the blitz tackle he pulled last week though I can still remember the sound of her skin skimming across the floor, he will bring something to the table none of the others can.

African magic has been so wildly portrayed in British and American literature at the time. Still, if you count now. It remains to be seen how the Penny Dreadful will incorporate the differing forces of each tradition and which tradition Sambene will let slip. He doesn’t seem the type to give out secrets over cognac. He’ll likely just tap someone on the shoulder at some last possible moment and casually mention, oh yeah, some mannequin salesman named Lyman Frank Baum said you can melt witches with water or something similar. The Wizard of Oz won’t come out until 1900.

Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney) and Angelique aren’t just raising eyebrows anymore, men are spitting on them. It seems Angelique has more trouble being who he is than Vanessa. He exalts all he pretends to be and it’s just killing him. The Dorian Gray story is a little bit of a distraction on the story. He’s not that scary. Dorian does prompt Angelique to pretend to be what he was supposedly born to be, but Angelique isn’t one to make commitments.

Ferdinand Lyle (Simon Russell Beale) seems to have switched sides. It’s so hard to tell with double agents. This makes it more fun. He may very well be the insider that Ethan is talking about. The very part that the werewolf played in the genocide of the Apaches, the one who gets in, gets close and rips things apart from the inside. Beale is playing it like Lyle is part of the Monster Squad, but what else can he do? He’s breaking bread with them and leading them straight to hell. Lyle may be having the most fun as an actor in Penny Dreadful. Playing two sides against the middle while being deathly afraid of both sides and maintaining wit throughout, that’s as much fun to play as it is to watch.

“Above the Vaulted Sky” was written by John Logan and directed by James Hawes.

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4.5 out of 5