Penny Dreadful season 3 episode 6.
This Penny Dreadful review contains spoilers.
“I’m done repenting and I belong in hell,” the Wolfman Ethan (Josh Hartnett) almost snarls at his father Jarod Talbot (Brian Cox) in the opening scene and there’s a part of the audience that cheers. Penny Dreadful serves up all its monsters as good guys when we all really want to see them bare their fangs. Come on, you did, didn’t you? Right at that opening scene didn’t you want to see Ethan rip off his shirt, sprout hair and take a bite out of his old man just for the pure evil of it? Right there in the church? The episode is titled “No Beast So Fierce” and we’re primed to jump.
The scene is broken by Inspector Rusk. This is a Brit with big Buckingham Palace balls. He walks straight into the center point of an enemy’s stronghold with only one man. He is outnumbered by the people in the foyer, not to mention the army of cowhands the prairie Godfather has cleaning their guns at this moment. He informs them, politely but firmly that, under the authority vested on him by queen and country and all the prerequisite corduroy, everyone is under arrest. Then he smiles what seems to be a gratified smile. It’s a fun dramatic moment, but in that smile Douglas Hodge also lets out a glimmer of the ludicrousness of his brazen in that situation. Horror series may run on their effects, but this is an actors’ show.
And that’s before the opening score. Music is a key element to Penny Dreadful. Dorian’s (Reeve Carney) record player is the crown in his game of thorns. It is a call to arms and a weapon. They were pretty rare in the 1890s, as was the recording device used by Dr. Steward. Prized possessions, they made their way into the literature Penny Dreadful is based on. Music soothes the savage breast. That’s important when chasing “No Beast So Fierce.” The incidental music can stand alone as chamber music. Abel Korzeniowski’s lush classical tones give subtle nods to horror themes without key musical phrases, using the Dark Shadows theme as a passing tone without quotation.
Cinematography is very deft throughout. Every scene is classically framed. But this season, the camera has a lot more freedom to roam. The dark streets of London and the gothic drawing rooms drip bloody scarlet while the burning honey and gold of the American west wring its own horrors. Tonight the sets go black. Mainly because Dracula is in town and he is a man in love.
Penny Dreadful tinkers with the Vlad the Impaler backstory with the 13th Century Ottoman war, but they make a valid point. He looks good for his age, give or take a couple centuries. The corrupter as seducer is an ancient being from an ancient line and reputed to be the first vampire. He’s in all the monster journals and he even turns heads at London’s finest fencing clubs.
Lyle (Simon Russell Beale), who has provided such comic relief, is off bury his head in the curly sands of Cairo. He passes off Vanessa (Eva Green) to Catriona Hartdegen (Perdita Weeks), because she likes games of life and death without death, well, most of the time. There is a true connection between the two characters, as Green is an actor who makes immediate intimate contact with anyone she shares a screen with. The former spy who was turned by the charms of the monster squad has true affection for Ives and you can see he would drop a chance at happiness to be at her side in a time of need. What kind of pen is Lyle writing with? It looks like ball point and if I’ve learned nothing from Angel Heart, which I haven’t, it’s that they weren’t that popular before 1941. Actually, this is another of the touches of this show. The ball point was patented in 1888, and someone like Lyle, as most of the characters, would have the latest innovations in tech. It’s just that Lyle seems so much more a fountain pen kind of guy.
I’m kind of hoping Dracula and Vanessa work things out. He seems a nice guy on a day to day level, He’s got a good job and he wears his heart on a stake. Maybe it’s because Dr. Sweet is working on bringing the House of Darkness to London. It’s the high point of a trip to the Bronx Zoo. The month-long exhibit will make Dracula a veritable pied piper for the neighborhood kids.
Poor Mr. Clare (Rory Kinnear), his own son can’t stand to look at him. The spoiled little brat doesn’t appreciate anything. His father came back from the grave to deliver the medicine and barely sobs out a how do you do as thanks. Kids, these days, you give them life and they either cough blood in your face or defy parents’ kidnapping attempts at shared custody.
Dr. Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) is the most morally bereft character on this show. He is the closest to a true beast. He really does deserve to get his throat slit. Karma is a bitch. It is hard to believe that this is any kind of man of medicine sometimes. Physician fuck thyself should be part of his Hippocratic Oath. As a monster fan, of course, I’m rooting for him. Not to get what he wants out of Lily (Billie Piper), I like her monstrous self, but for the depths of the depravity he will fall to while trying again. You know he’s not giving up. He’s just getting started.
Victor owes Dorian a big favor. One day, and that day may never come, the picturesque soon-to-be Riff Raff will call on the doctor’s services. I predict he may be the one who hands Lily over to the good doctor for a quick pick me up. Dr. Jekyll (Shazad Latif) is a kind of bastard enabler, brewing the happy juice and egging on the corpse mangler.
The episode offered some choice nuggets of misdirection. After Vanessa was urged to visit someone she trusted, I thought she was going to Dracula what a surprise to find her sipping drinks with her therapist. The biggest surprise tonight comes from Dr. Steward. Patti Lupone’s reading of the word “honey” when comparing the depths of sin came so out of the blue it made Lyle’s comic relief pale in comparison. That paired with her offer to give Vanessa a doctor’s note create bookends to an ever-growing novel character. Penny Dreadful is such an intensely serious show that every crack of a smile carries extra weight.
I didn’t think Hecate (Sarah Greene) would be a true casualty. I thought she’d be saved somehow. Two of the most entertaining actors in this season were taken out in a one-two swoop. I love how Ethan and Hecate go right back to eating after the federal Marshall gets his reckoning.
Sir Malcolm (Timothy Dalton) becomes a cold-blooded killer in this episode and I’m not sure that fits his character. The battle is over and all the soldiers are lying in pools of blood and splintered church pews. The son sentences his father to life, much like he was sentenced by the Apache warrior Kaetenay (Wes Studi), who is indeed too mean to die. Malcolm takes it into his own hands to shoot the man in cold blood. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a wonderful scene. It works not only as dramatic closure, but as a comedic punch line. Granted, it is a real stomach punch, but it’s still a kick in the head.
“This World Is Our Hell” was directed by Paco Cabezas and written by Andrew Hinderaker and Krysty Wilson-Cairns.