Penny Dreadful, season 2, episode 8, “Memento Mori,” tosses off the Vanessa (Eva Green) and Ethan (Josh Hartnett) like they are dead weight and takes off tonight. While the demon, the wolf and the little scorpion do their eternal infernal dance on the moors, the Whitby Manor squad break out monster moves.
The episode opens with shaking of the house of Frankenstein. Last week, we got a glimpse that that the former Brona may remember more than she’s been letting on and that the gilded Lily is a little kinkier than we were led to believe. We see her cuddling folds of cold flesh, the very skin she cooled last week with a little too strenuous breath play. The way the camera caresses the couple, it appears like Lily is drawn to the coldness of the flesh because it matches her own. That’s a turn-on to a lot of the undead.
John Clair (Roy Kinnear) hasn’t had the pleasure of cold flesh yet. He’s been pining poetically for all things living in a reverie of celebration since his bride drew her first electric breath. He doesn’t pine for his creator though. All the hatred of his doomed creation is balled up into a concentrated mass for the junkie scientist. Victor (Harry Treadaway) has been keeping his substance use under control, but no one expects a bust. It’s enough to put you off your food.
Clair barely notices, but Kinnear still gives it a glare of disapproval. For a dead man, he’s got lot of subtlety. This is important for the creature. Boris Karloff set the tone in Frankenstein from 1931 when he substituted words for pathos and the audience felt bad about being relieved by the death of the monster. People were right to be scared of a Frankenstein monster or a King Kong, but that didn’t mean they couldn’t feel bad to them or relate to them. Kinnear is the most relatable character. A monster among men, he is the best of both. Except maybe the man who watches over wounded creatures.
Ferdinand Lyle (Simon Russell Beale) is in moral torment and mortal danger. The sword Evelyn Poole dangles over his head cuts deeply and his skull just might split in two because of it. He is already torn between his loyalties. His poker face betrayed because he bats his eyelashes most coquettishly when he lies. The seductive Poole continues to tempt him even though he is already her creature, and what a creature to call himself a creature among the others featured. But he may be featured himself by the ageless witch because the fat little man’s blood would make a good color for her parlor.
Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney) is a proud art collector. He will fiercely defend the merits of his unconventional portfolio against less informed critics and the straight-laced public. Gray’s collection is nothing if not eclectic. And some of his more exotic masterpieces are a little too high brow for even the most liberal connoisseurs. Sure Angelique may profess to love the pieces, but she’s too appreciative of the brush strokes. Angelique does make a marvelous exit. I was wondering if Penny Dreadful would show the portrait. They certainly dragged out its unveiling long enough. Every sin laid bare on the canvass and it comes to life and subtle changes with its latest coating.
Sambene (Danny Sapani) is keeping it real. The undisclosed power inside Sir Malcom’s Day Sunday-to-Friday-with-Saturday-sleep-ins threw Bungalow Beelzebub into a stony cell and knocked the hell out of him. Quite literally, as the unexpected rage brought Malcom to his senses and out of the thrall of Evelyn Poole. We’re getting glimpses into the monster inside the magical Sambene. Last week, he was the only member of the troupe Ethan Chandler trusted to keep him on a leash. This week, we not only find that he has more authority over Sir Malcolm than even Vanessa.
Timothy Dalton really came alive in the scene with the Scotland Yard inspector Rusk (Douglas Hodge). They play a cat and mouse game that’s worthy of the classic two-man play Sleuth. It is only a scene but it is very revelatory. We learn so much about Malcolm, the man he used to be and the man he is afraid of becoming. Dalton has been keeping Sir Malcolm tightly wrapped even for a British landed gentry type. His stiff upper lip started at the hip until Poole came along. Dalton truly uses all his voices tonight, and throws in a couple eye tricks. That black ooze in the eyes effect is becoming a bit of a cliché, but it was subtly handled. Everything is deftly handled on Penny Dreadful.
I have been waiting since this show premiered last year for Dalton to come to life like he did tonight. Last year he dealt with the deaths of his offspring while on the run and we couldn’t see the depth of his obvious skill. Tonight was a catharsis. It was for all the characters, but Dalton goes through hell and doesn’t even come back. Sir Malcolm has such temptations and such sins laid at his feet that tonight is a Dalton smorgasbord, regardless of the other stellar performances of the evening.
Brona, or Lily , or the Bride of Frankenstein, came to cold life tonight. That speech she gave to her jealous made-to-order lover was completely captivating. Lily doesn’t only condemn all men, she condemns man itself and her indictment is a closing argument no jury could resist. But it was the sentencing that sold me. When Lily tells John that they will share Dr. Frankenstein’s death grip, I almost stood up and cheered. Such a build-up, what a payoff, it was flawless and I wasn’t that thrilled with her character until now. That whole “magnificent luxurious ugliness” speech from beginning to end, told her story as the story of all women. She laid bare every degradation she ever suffered and then, after including the creature as one in a long list, she lays bare his own degradation and offers him salvation. As equals. She may be my favorite character. Until Vanessa comes back from the moors.
You would have thought Penny Dreadful suffered for the lack of Eva Green, but it flourished. Kind of like when you kick over a big rock and see bugs you never knew existed, Vanessa’s absence revealed the dark underbelly of Whitby Manor. Every character flourished, and was allowed to do it luxuriously, in the absence of the magnetic actress. Penny Dreadful isn’t exactly an ensemble piece in the truest sense of the word, but tonight the skeleton of every storyline was given flesh, muscle and an infusion of blood. I can’t believe I didn’t miss Vanessa for a minute. Tonight’s episode was the best of the season.
“Memento Mori” was written by John Logan and directed by Brian Kirk.