SPOILER ALERT: This review of Penny Dreadful Season 2, episode 10, “And They Were Enemies,” foretells the future for those who haven’t experienced the end.
Penny Dreadful brings a classy denouement of an ending to a suspenseful season. It is a kind of slow motion cliffhanger where each of the Universal Monster Squad slide into a solitary future they see as predetermined.
It opens with the only casualty of the team that went in to the Witches’ castle to rescue Sir Malcolm and Vanessa Ives, Sambene (Danny Sapani). He offered his throat willingly to the wolf of god last week. Sambene actually stopped Larry Talbot, the former Ethan Chandler, from killing himself for the honor of sacrificing his human life to an immortal who was chosen by his almighty. Sambene, as Sir Malcolm (Timothy Dalton) will later remark, was a real man, one with honor in spite of his dishonorable past. He betrayed his own people and sold them into slavery, but found a home with other kinds of abstract monsters, not yet fully formed.
Evelyn Poole (Helen McCrory) brought true living essence into her fully formed fetishes. The doll that housed the soul of the fallen angel had some life in it. There was nothing special going on as far as special effects, it was the wood itself. It was carved lovingly and that craftsperson’s devotion brought an immobile animation to the face that had nothing to do with the moving lips or roving eyes. When Vanessa (Eva Green) admonishes Evelyn by saying she has faced “eyes more cruel than yours woman” and is invited to look upon the doll version of her, there was a sense that those crafted eyes might just be able to take her soul. I was wary to watch her look into them and I knew it was a doll. That’s great voodoo.
“Know yourself” has been a theme throughout the season. Every episode has at least one serious discussion where the answer lies within a character’s true nature. That thing of theirs that makes them special and yet condemns them to lonely torture. The father of lies presents the gloriously bright The Last Temptation of Ives. She sees her future as the normal, healthy, fairly well-to-do wife of Ethan Chandler and the mother of their well-heeled children. They are long past housebroken and Ethan and Eva look so happy.
In the family memory room of the Witches’ castle Dr. Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) confronts his sins. They have all been made flesh in the extension he built of himself in the name of science, but in service to his own immortality. And boy does immortality bite him on the ass. At the moment, it seems he will endlessly endure the whining of his ungrateful children, his son, lover and brother. They were born innocent. They became monsters because the junkie doctor couldn’t get a big enough fix of half successes.
Sir Malcolm, in the same room, faces his own family, each of whom he sentenced to death in one way or another. He actually pulled the trigger on his daughter and she’ll never let him forget it. Oy the guilt. There is no horror like family horror. It is usually reserved for holiday dinners with figgy pudding. What the family didn’t recollect is that Landed gentry like Sir Malcolm have no guilt, if this were the Wolfman being hounded by all the humanity he’d turned into dead flesh, he’d have the noose around his neck before the second accusation. Forget Ferdinand Lyle (Simon Russell Beale) with all the guilt that comes from the tribe he was born into. You would think that Vanessa, with her Catholic guilt, would be the first to crack under the weight of her murders. One of those was caused by the devil’s own tongue, but no. She is in no mood for guilt.
Vanessa opens her response with a growl that comes from the depths of the soul. It so obviously reverberated with mystic menace even the wooden eyes of the mask looked scared. And thus began the second conjuration duel of the season. These are chilling affairs. Two voices made unearthly and dangerously subterranean. The scene didn’t need the rumbling furniture to give the impression that dimensions were shifting. The duet of deviltry and divinity had all the menace needed. Evelyn Poole crumbled to the floor in fear, but also in full recognition that she was in the presence of true ascendance. Real magic.
There was a real transference between the doll and Vanessa Ives. Vanessa’s fingers look porcelain against the doll’s face. Yes, they may indeed have been lovers, but as the Vanessa’s scorpions come home the devil knows its master. I don’t believe it was Vanessa who was supposedly speaking those words, but her god, which she believes in fervently in spite of what she may say. She is a scorpion and they have a way of getting under the skin.
The softening of the wolf’s face was beautiful. This emotional recognition has been promised since the beginnings of Wolfman movies since Claude Rains had to kill his own son, Larry Talbot. It became especially poignant and yet funny, in American Werewolf in London, when David pauses before lunging at the former nurse who gave him more than a sponge bath. Here the Ethan werewolf get the chance to to run away before he devours his girlfriend.
I’m glad the Queen with lovely hair made it through the night, but I am upset that the young witches’s brains all met with bullets. Except for the clever Hecate, who burns through her exit like a gothic Mary Poppins on the way to fetch a quick spoonful of sugar and a book of shadows.
Caliban (Rory Kinnear) wasn’t made to scream. He was made to make other scream, and he really wasn’t happy with that role either. He’s a poet at heart and a true appreciator of the arts. He is offered the chance to spend his days and nights locked away with a veritable library of anthologies. So many that it makes one’s head spin. Well, Mrs. Putney’s head. Mr. Putney didn’t spin so much as splat. Victor left the blind girl to clean up his mess.
I hope Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney) also has a crack domestic team. He certainly does a lot of bloody dancing and I’m not speaking in the British pejorative there, I mean there his dance floors are always covered in the stuff. Who would think a waltz could be so mephisto. It will be another generation until the tango puts violence to a sexier beat. Dr. Frankenstein is the perennial wallflower because he always brings panic to the disco. Who does he think he is, Puff Daddy on a New Year’s Date with JLo? These are true immortals he’s tickling with his lead love letters.
Brona, or Lily (Billie Piper), or whatever majestic creature she’s become, leaves a sea of suitors in her wake. The physician is left to heal thy self, but can’t even find a vein. But the creature, the now former John Claire, must wade to a desolate shore so others may survive the white caps of his lethal sloop.
Vanessa goes to the chaotic monster to sort out her own life. Throughout this whole season, the scenes between Caliban and Vanessa have been the most beautiful. The scenes are shot more intimately. They have an emotional nakedness that is avoided in all the other relationships. As a couple, platonic as they are, they both are the undead embodiment of the gift of the Magi. Caliban doesn’t ask Vanessa to come with him because he needs her to comfort him in his solitude. He asks because she needs. He would sacrifice all for her needs.
I don’t get why Ethan walks out on Vanessa. Sure, he’s Larry Talbot of the whiny “oh there’s a full moon tonight, lock me up before I kill” tradition, but here he’s fund a creature who can render him tame if only for an important moment. Why does he throw that away to let Scotland Yard inspector Rusk (Douglas Hodge) have his collar. And put him on a leash all the way to America, no less. He’s a wolf. He deserves better than that, and he should know it, being the wolf of god and all.
The monster squad breaks up with touches of It from Stephen King. They will return to battle another monster, probably Dracula, once they have allowed this episode to pass from their memories. I was frustrated by their acquiescence. The exited the stage with class and even burned the cross for finality because in their next chapter they will be forced to walk alone.