Penny Dreadful: Evil Spirits in Heavenly Places, Review

The walls have ears … and eyes and devil brandings. Here is our review of Penny Dreadful season 2, episode 4.

Vanessa (Eva Green) thought she left the devil’s language behind on the moors with the Cut-Wife, but once learned, it is never forgotten. Vanessa is finally sharing her accent with the monster squad. Her fellow combatants treat her indulgently, but besides Ethan (Josh Hartnett), seem to view Vanessa as otherly. They are all protective, but there is a leap they are not taking. Part of this is Vanessa’s own fault. She showed up at the Cut-Wife’s shack saying she was like no other, which could have been youthful hubris, but in her case, too true. There’s enough different about Vanessa Ives to fill a book, much less a penny dreadful.

Verbis Diablo, the devil’s book, is a puzzle. The concept of a demon dictating his memoirs through the language of the era he experienced it is extremely intriguing. It is a new twist on the legend of a book written with the devil’s hand. I’m sure the most interesting bits are held in the pre-grammar part. Choosing a different medium for each part of the story is also original. But the book is supposed to have been written in one night by one man walled up in solitude. The pieces were supposed to have been written on whatever material was found. This smacks of a literary shortcut. In a novel each piece of the jigsaw could have its own backstory. I think they rushed one through, like making feet to fit shoes.

Penny Dreadful does a great job of building the suspense. Cameras circles like sharks before a feeding frenzy. Everyone feels watched, except the ones on watch. There are witches around every corner. Behind every gargoyle. The witches are flanking Vanessa, choosing likely prey. We shouldn’t be too hard on them. After all they’re only servants of the devil doing his work. Like wolves, each witch lures a member of the group through their weakness. They separate them individually from the herd before they pounce.

Hecate (Sarah Greene) immediately tries to domesticate Ethan. She’s always wanted a werewolf for a pet and, by Lupus dei, she can bag one. Hecate appeals to Ethan’s sense of loyalty. Ethan is her savior and she gets him to come panting. Hecate Aphrodite Livingston, the calculating conjurer’s initials are HAL, like the computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey. But unlike Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke’s machine, Hecate got some of her data wrong. Hecate is not the mistress of the waves in Greek mythology. Her accent is good, but doesn’t have the requisite Yankee for a lady of Maine. The civilized werewolf sniffs out her emancipation, but misplaces it for the Pinkerton Detective Force.

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The chief hunter of the monster squad got hooked on a sniff a few episodes ago, the first of the herd to be corralled. Ferdinand Lyle (Simon Russell Beale) observes that Sir Malcolm (Timothy Dalton) needs glasses and reassures him that it doesn’t make him less of a man. But Lyle was actually telling the intrepid adventurer is he’s just like any other man. Malcolm can’t see that he is playing blind man’s bluff with Evelyn Poole (Helen McCrory). Lyle seems to be enjoying his role as cunning linguist more than his part as double agent. Beale allows himself to savor the work and the company, he is truly torn between who he serves and who he is deceiving until he may not be sure himself. He wants to be a member of the monster squad the same way Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones always kind of wanted to be a Beatle.

The Creature (Rory Kinnear), who is going by the name John Clair, is without a soul. Having been freed from its burden, he is more perceptive than his human or witch counterparts. Kinnear occasionally plays the Creature like a child, or at least a stunted adolescent. Last season we saw what the wounded petulant child could do, this season we see what the idealistic teen will do. He is a dreamer. Two weeks ago, he wanted to fill Lily (Billie Piper) with poetry when all she really wanted was a sandwich. He bonded over Wordsworth with Vanessa Ives. Two wounded souls who see a spark of recognition.

Vanessa is having such fun toying with Dr. Frankenstein’s (Harry Treadaway) afflictions, especially when he asks her on a double date with his very real cousin. Yes, she’s an actual person. Not someone he made up in his mind, or in the lab. The good doctor has a reason not to get out much, though. Dr. Frankenstein is so dumbfounded by the megalomaniacal self-love for his reanimated cousin he can barely stammer at shop girls. He does a subtle Mary Tyler Moore when bumping into the mannequin and apologizing to it. He’s not quite up to the task of dealing with the aftermath of stealing the Creature’s one true love. A woman who was just made for him.

Who does Scotland Yard Inspector Rusk (Douglas Hodge) think he is, Columbo? He is looking for patterns of logic in two obviously unrelated cases, one done with surgical precision, the other an animal attack, and comes up with magic. That is a leap of intuition that only the likes of Miss Ives may make. He may close his eyes with the imagination of a future profiler, but a stodgy homicide bobby doesn’t make those leaps outside the pages of The Police Gazette. The inspector and his deputy look like they stepped out of a hundred Penny Dreadful etchings. Of course, they are more realistically rendered in wax.

There’s something going on in the house of wax, all this talk of two entrances and separate admissions. Oh and freaks locked in the cellar. It seems Frankenstein’s creation is forever doomed to be misunderstood. The new slaughter at the Mariner’s Inn exhibit is opening in 3D, something you don’t see in the Police Gazette.

Provocation is food and drink to Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney). He and Angelique are such a Goth couple they could be regulars at the club The Bank in the 90s. Of course, they would barely raise a unibrow there, and they just live to shock. You’d never catch Marilyn Manson, who co-wrote the theme for another current occult show Salem, playing ping pong. Maybe golf with Alice Cooper.

Sambene (Danny Sapani) says he is half hunter. What could the other half be? Pastry chef of course. That’s the dream, anyway. Pastries and coffee are very civilizing. After a long hard day deciphering the words of the devil as told in multimedia, it is important to sit back with good friends and … battle witches? The monster squad squares off in round two and show that they can still close ranks in a war they didn’t know already started.

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The witches find a new way to hide in plain sight. They have a future in interior decorating, though wallpapering is the messiest of trades besides stucco. If the pattern of the witches’ brandings didn’t clashed with the wallpaper, you’d never see the seams. Hecate shouldn’t have tipped off Mr. Chandler about the sensible shoes on her way out. She could have kept him guessing. Maybe she didn’t want to be associated with the Pinkertons.

The episode was suspenseful and insightful as the characters still strive to being who they want to be not who they are.

“Evil Spirits in Heavenly Places” was written by John Logan and directed by Damon Thomas.


4 out of 5