Penny Dreadful: This World Is Our Hell Review

Every dog has its day in the nighttime world of Penny Dreadful.

Penny Dreadful season 3 episode 5.

This Penny Dreadful review contains spoilers.

Once again, Penny Dreadful follows an episode that featured its lead character Vanessa Ives (Eva Green) in an intimate duet performance, with one that features the rest of the cast, without its guiding star. But, unlike last year’s offering, I miss Vanessa tonght. “This World Is Our Hell” is not a bad offering, Penny Dreadful maintains its level of excellence in performance, story and cinematography, but it is not a season high.

Last week’s episode all took place in one padded room. “The World Is Our Hell” is shot completely in the great outdoors. Except for one interior scene in a cave it is a vast palette and even that scene is a painted masterwork. Tonight’s episode takes place firmly in the American gothic of the old west and it works as a gunslinging love story as much as it fits as a supernatural thriller. Sir Malcolm (Timothy Dalton) and Kaetenay (Wes Studi) are riding high in the saddle to stop Larry Talbot, who we grew to know as the wild wolf of the west Ethan Chandler, from stepping in a deep pile of horse chunks. His lovely traveling companion is a demon that will steal his very soul.

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As demons go, Hecate (Sarah Greene) isn’t a bad deal. She’s already proved herself utilitarian, isn’t afraid of a fight and knows her way around horses like a steeplechase pro. A quick glance through the how-to book “Selling your soul in a Buyer’s Market” ranks this one of the contracts of the ages.

You see, Lupus Dei is a hot property. Chosen as a holy protector, he made his bones by gnawing on the bones of others. Some folks inherit star spangled eyes, and Talbot let himself get enlisted for an undeclared to war. Tasked with clearing the frontier of the original red menace, he betrays his own family out of disgust. Some folks are born made to wave the flag, but Ethan, or Larry, would prefer to plant it in the head of a Senator’s son. You can’t really blame him, his own father, Jared Talbot (Brian Cox), may believe in his holy mission but he looks like Wolfman Jack.

The Talbot tug of war is enough to break the ethical code of the stalwart Inspector Rusk. Douglas Hodge is wonderfully interior and his Scotland Yard detective, and former military tracker, could be an ancestor to the character he plays on The Night Manager. But it is a very sharp contrast to his turn as the Aventine’s mob boss on HBO’s Rome, even though he had his own, very strict if oddly shaped, moral code. Rusk meets his match in Larry Talbot. Honor be damned, he’s going to put that dog down.

I will gleefully say that Timothy Dalton’s reading of the line “you never know where I’ll turn up” cracks me up. It isn’t the humor that he puts into it, which is obviously there, but the understated charm. It strikes a perfect balance to the standoff over Hecate that leaves the last of the 39 free Apaches Kaetenay out to dry. I think we lost the wise old Apache too soon, though. I still need closure on his Ethan anecdotes. Like, how did this guy become a wolfman?

Wracked with guilt and expecting god for forgiveness, Hecate advises the young rebel to embrace his sins. This makes perfectly logical sense. People who embrace their sins have no further need of the impediment of conscience. Ask any sociopath. But Hecate offers a more firm embrace and peppers her foreplay with an almost orgasmic promise of the violence to come.

Hecate’s family experience wasn’t any less dysfunctional. Ravaged, or possibly raped, at age five by the devil himself, her trauma unleashed dark and powerful gifts like summoning the creatures of the night just beneath the sand. Bedded among the spooky dolls which are reminiscent of her mother’s inescapable magical pull, I get the feeling she will be saved rather than slaughtered. This reviewer doesn’t want to see her die, though that might be preferable to salvation. But Penny Dreadful doesn’t slaughter all the innocent lambs.

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Bedlam reigns at the institution that bears its name. But two scientists specializing in supernatural medicine are trying to bring some order to the chaos. They do this by shooting an electrified impure compound and drilling it into the most chaotic inmate’s eyes. That would have been the look-away moment of the night if the cameras didn’t pull away at the last second. Though, that only makes it worse. I love that.

Dr. Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway)  is a real prick. He was ill-equipped to deal with his creations and dumped them with a casual disregard that flies well past the confines of reckless abandonment as he dulls his pain with the self-prescribed goodies of his own shooting gallery. He chides and verbally abuses his partner Dr. Jekyll (Shazad Latif), and then expects his colleague to laugh along.  Victor even washes Lily’s dress like a Doctor Frankenstein, pulling it out of the wash on a string of levers like a monster in a lab.

Dr. Jekyll is a mensch compared with Victor. He is truly disturbed by what’s inside him and is looking for find a way to curb his anger rather than use it to destroy. Yeah, good luck with that Dr. Jekyll. Mad scientists are created to destroy.

This was a pivotal and eventful episode with more than its fair share of action, but I look forward to the return of Vanessa and Dr. Frankenstein’s soulful creature.

“This World Is Our Hell” was directed by Paco Cabezas and written by Andrew Hinderaker.


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4 out of 5