Penny Dreadful: Predators Far and Near Review

Vanessa Ives faces down one of the horrors of human existence, the first date.

Penny Dreadful season 3 episode 2.

This Penny Dreadful review contains spoilers.

Penny Dreadful explores the heroic stuff of those with unheroic natures. Predators and prey, hunters and hunted, those who would subjugate their animal natures and those who cast off their human nature, duality marks the series.

Inspector Rusk (Douglas Hodge) is tracking the wolfman in unfamiliar territory. That doesn’t slow the one-armed investigator down at all. The local cowboy law enforcement are probably puzzled by the British calm and determination. A guy with a voice like that has no place in a saddle, who does he think he is Errol Flynn in Dodge City? Keep your boots on, mate, you think that intrepid detective act plays in the old west? Of course, the old west wasn’t old yet, merely prematurely grey.

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The inspector is fully comfortable in what Penny Dreadful is turning into an American gothic. The United States is a land of ghosts and disturbed sacred burial grounds. The wolfman has compassion and empathy for the indigenous inhabitants. The ones who don’t hunt for sport, but for need and who do it with respect and gratitude for the animals they use to the last bone. The Apache named Kaetenay (Wes Studi) trades hunting stories with the imperial master of the hunt, Sir Malcolm (Timothy Dalton) and the colonialist comes up wanting. Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) has the heart to warn the Indians that he’s about to go on a feeding frenzy. The lycanthrope might not be in the mood for the late night drop-in from his spirit family, but at least he can appreciate the animalist booty call from Hecate (Sarah Greene).

Lily (Billie Piper) and Dorian (Reeve Carney) are on a mission. They infiltrate the finest dens of inequity, those secret societies of wealthy debauchery that have existed since the Hellfire Club, and show them how to do it up right. Their new charge enters her new life with eyes wide shut. Lily isn’t completely without remorse, though, she has enough compassion left in her still-dead body to spare her creator and once and possibly future lover, Dr. Frankenstein (Harry Treadway).

There is a minor medical meeting of doctors who want to bring new life to old. Drs. Jekyll and Frankenstein are each on the cutting edge of the biosciences and it’s is taking its toll. Dr. Jekyll (Shazad Latif) is hyding deep wounds beneath his scientific veneer. His mother died a lonely leper, abandoned by the light because of the darkness of her skin. It is telling that Jekyll says that his subjects never see the light, they only see him and his drug-dispensing cappuccino machine. It has more to do with his nature than it does with the subterranean lab where he conducts his studies. The scientist is given free rein to conduct his chemical experiments on the most dangerous of criminals in the most dangerous place in London, the mental asylum known as Bedlam.

Bedlam is renowned as a medical mansion of horror. The name is synonymous with crazy shit that goes back farther than the classic Boris Karloff thriller Bedlam. All of these distinguished ladies and gentlemen of Penny Dreadful come from classic horror films and books that were set at the time and the lunatic asylum can be its own character. It certainly transcends the stories of any of the individual characters in the series. A good portion of Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula is set in an asylum. I wonder if Dr. Jekyll will have any professional contact with the mind scientists at the institution.

Dr. Seward (Patti LuPone) appears to see right through Vanessa Ives (Eva Green), even if the young magical woman is treating her with kid gloves. Vanessa is coming to terms with the sins of her past and the sins she is looking forward to in the future. She’s seen catastrophe and knows it is only a vehicle for ascension, if ridden properly.

Lupone and Green have great chemistry. The emotions of their scenes are quite varied and extremely raw, beneath both women’s cultured and detached veneers. Seward truly wants her tortured patient to find some kind of peace. But Vanessa takes the advice to go out of her comfort zone into one of the most treacherous areas of human existence: the first date. Vanessa is a great first date, not only taking the lead in asking out Dr. Sweet (Christian Camargo), but in choosing the exact right venue for the man whose scientific interest was spurred by Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. It look like the etymologist is a little bugged by the knowledgeable scorpion lady, but he really should at least have offered to see her home. The streets of London can be hazardous at night, even for a dangerous woman with cryptic tales of nocturnal danger.

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What the hell, in whatever form, is on that recording that Dr. Seward has? We keep hearing the same bit but whatever follows is enough to drain the storied psychiatrist’s face like she is a rank amateur. Renfield isn’t quite so jaded. He listens like it’s some kind of a fetish, and not a particularly magical one. Of course, we also have the unveiling of Dracula here, but is this merely a vampire or something more? It doesn’t appear daylight is an impediment.

No word on what’s happening to Dr. Frankenstein’s creature, John Clair (Rory Kinnear), this week. I missed the misfit monster. His presence brings a kind of balance to the proceedings. There wasn’t much in the way of comic relief in this episode. The best exchange was when Sir Malcom asked Kaetenay whether all native American spoke as enigmatically as the hallucinogen-smoking Apache, who simply replied “yes.”

This was a very solid entry into the book of secrets. I don’t think any of the viewers will ever forget Vanessa Ives’ name again.

“Predators Far and Near” was directed by Damon Thomas and written by John Logan.


4.5 out of 5