This Penny Dreadful review contains spoilers.
“Possession,” explained John Lennon on how his drug bust impacted his American naturalization process, “is nine tenths of the problem.” And so it is for Vanessa Ives (Eva Green) on Penny Dreadful. Just when you think you can sit back and enjoy a nice screw, the devil and its buddies take advantage of the ensuing esoteric state and get all up in her erotic ectoplasm.
“Possession” was a revelatory episode. Especially for Sir M. Who knew Timothy Dalton could be so loathsome? Even Ethan (Josh Hartnett), the nicest sharpshooter you’d ever want to meet, wants to shoot him in the ass, or rip out his throat (he’s going to have to wait in line for that, the vampires already made reservations). We knew Mal was hiding some deep dark secret. We figured it was because he was screwing Vanessa’s mom in the hedge maze. We didn’t know that he trimmed bush throughout Africa and gave his son a guided tour of bush country too.
But, see, that’s not that half of it. That’s just what he’s done. It doesn’t begin to get into what he is. And what he is is a creature devoid of any regard for anyone else but himself. He admits it, and you have to wonder why the Penny Dreadful monster squad sticks around to see him on his perilous path. The guy’s a psycho of the first order, and Dalton plays it like it is. A recent study found that the top career choice for sociopaths is CEO. That’s how Dalton is playing it and he’s a genius for doing that. He’s not some horned beast. He’s the entitled class. He sees, he grabs and he takes credit. He’s the Koch brothers. Well, not all four of them, he’s the two that won. Only Malcolm would have eaten the other two.
And so he feeds on Vanessa. “How cruel you are,” she says and she’s just scratching the surface, but we’ll get to the wallpaper later. Malcolm doesn’t see what is right in front of him because he willfully ignores it. He says he hasn’t a shred of decency left. He’s also got no honor. But the worst, most sociopathic of Malcolm Murray’s makeup is that he has not even the remotest sense of empathy. At all. Vanessa is really going through the ringer, almost to the point of rigor mortis, and he wants to push her even further. This guy has got some big boundary issues, and it’s just the boundaries of countries.
Eva Green goes through a tortuous set of devil withdrawal for a lot of the episode, and I like how they were thinking. It was almost like a gothic version of Nurse Jackie in rehab. And you just know that Vanessa Ives would be popping down poltergeist pills as soon as she was given a clean bill of health. She is the mother of monsters, after all and she will always be pulled back. It’s amazing she has resisted this far. She’s probably jonesing for it right now.
Good thing Victor’s got that magic bag. Dr. Frankenstein is also a junkie. Morphine, just for the pain, please, well, sure maybe a bit for the road. Physician deal thyself. I like how Harry Treadaway’s got that stoner’s glare while Ethan goes Wild West on Sir Malcolm. Ethan and Victor, playing the role of rowdy kids, also have a bit of a blast with those cap guns, while daddy Sir Malcolm complains about the ruckus. Mal should also tell Victor’s other friend, the creature Caliban (Rory Kinnear) to get off his lawn. No good can come from that.
Malcolm is all hopped up to get to the root of the Nile River. The waters of home that feed the soul of Egypt. A lot has been made of the Egyptian deity Amentet in Penny Dreadful, but I’d like to point out that she wasn’t an evil mama, like the local Egyptologist might suggest. She was married to the guy who ran the ferry from life to death. She looked over the dead. She was also a fertility goddess. Not sure why she’d respond to Latin, but I’m also not sure how Ethan pulled a dead language out of his holster. How many languages was Zane Grey translated into?
Once again, I want to point out the special effects. Once more they outdo themselves not in the graphic gore of supernatural scares, but in the mundane wounds of bed sores. Really, check it out, they went through the trouble of adding that little detail. Forget about the fact that you probably had to look away when Vanessa was clawing at walls with her bare hands, and you could feel the wood getting under the fingernails and then those fingernails being pulled back. These makeup artists give Vanessa that deathly pallor, those throbbing veins. I mean, they also do that black slime behind the eyes thing that I think was invented on The X-Files, but these little details of everyday injuries show a deft touch.
An all-around great episode that really shows who the monsters are.