This week’s Penny Dreadful episode explores “What Death Can Join Together.” That’s a Frankenstein title if ever I heard one. The good doctor has been joining together dead things for over a hundred years now and if the monster he created isn’t exactly immortal, its legend is.
Death is the adhesive that joins all the pieces of Penny Dreadful together. Dr. Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) believes the only lofty goal of science is finding out how to hit the escape button on death. Vanessa Ives (Eva Green) draws death to her wherever she goes. Dorian Gray will be found to have survived a mountain of death. Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton) wants to save his daughter from a fate worse than death. Frankenstein’s creature lives on the other side of death. Death is poetic in Penny Dreadful. Death is poetry.
Not to Ethan (Josh Hartnett). Death is something to be avoided. Ducked. Beaten, as if in a race. He’s been a little quick on the draw, but he knows the gunslinger’s life is better fit for pulp westerns than Percival Shelley. Love them as he might, they are not enough of a comfort when he’s dealing with a barely-intelligible-when-she’s-healthy woman coughing up her lungs and asking for a kiss. Ethan is living a double, or triple, life and Hartnett is playing it up by playing it down. He gives no clues to his recent past. There’s nothing in Hartnett’s eyes that gives away anything about his Dorian dalliance or his Vanessa vexation. He is always in the moment and on the lookout for some kind of dignity in death.
Malcolm doesn’t see the poetry in death. He sees the strategy behind it. Dalton is all cunning and resolve, trampling over little lord Frankenstein’s feelings like a dismissive bully. This is a driven man with a plan. The problem with that is his hunting and exploring expeditions. He’s drawing up maps and checking shipping schedules, buying khaki and pith helmets probably. Why would be he doing that when he’s finally assembled his own little monster squad and is hot on the heels of finding his daughter? But Sir Malcolm always seems to have something up his sleeve. A small derringer, usually.
Frankenstein puts his creep on full display looking at the young girls in dance class and doodling. But it’s not nudes he’s drawing, it’s more than nudes, Victor really wants to get under the skin. Van Helsing is another skin diver, unafraid to peel the layers because he’s already hacked off the head of his one true love. Van Helsing slips into German for a bit, calling attention, once again to how all these characters are now British. I was just getting angry that they didn’t take advantage of an international cast when Frankenstein’s monster took it out for me. Thanks Frank, these evil bashing anti-vampires are beginning to get on my tit.
Is there no end to the kindness that Frankenstein’s creature has to endure? An actress in the Grand Guignol comes to the theater’s nether regions to get a blood clot removed from her petticoat. She’s sweet, hesitant and has no real problems with his appearance. Her own brother was disfigured in an industrial accident. She misses her brother’s face. It’s heartening, that is it would be if the creature had his heart in the right place, but we can see him thinking: She is so sweet and understanding, I must kill her so she can be my mate.
What is it about sobbing monsters that gets to me? I have spoken about wanting to cry when King Kong or the Creature in the original Frankenstein died. I was broken up by James Gandolfini’s vocal performance in Where the Wild Things Are. I bit back a tear when Roy Schneider blew the shark in Jaws all over the ocean with an oxygen tank. Monsters and children crying hit me equally when they are played effectively. In the Star Trek episode “Miri,” the adult-kid that cries over the broken bicycle makes me misty.
Here, Rory Kinnear, so obviously rough, tough and menacing to his maker, steels to his cubby to weep over “hardly” being a rival in love. He is somehow unable to articulate his tears. They come out as hums and quivering lips and it’s even more effective as a muted pain. Fucking monsters, man, they break my heart.
When Vanessa Ives is sitting for the photograph, I believe she is endeavoring to leave a psychic impression on the picture. I believe Madame Blavatsky did the same, in the few historical photos she sat for, and that Ives is somehow tied to the Theosophical spiritual tradition. Dorian Gray captures a moment in time. Dorian is a soul collector with internal Band-Aids. He really knows how to unleash the inner Vanessa. This time he lets her go wandering the streets, unattended, in an obviously agitated state. Of course, Dorian didn’t get to see her spinning happily when she finally arrived. Welcome home Vanessa Ives. Possession suits you.
After the flashbacks of the past few weeks, it was a relief to move forward into new terrain this week. The plague ship. Egyptian chicanery. Isn’t it hard enough to find cheap housing in London without Sir Malcolm and his too good, do-good duo being so careless with their torches? There should be some kind of housing bureau the vampires could go to deal with the breaking and entering buttinskies and their meddlesome mayhem. Sir Malcolm is unveiled, for me, as the villain. Varney The Vampire, after all, is one of the few enduring stories of the Penny Dreadfuls and Mal is upsetting the imbalance. As Ethan says, he needs a little Vanessa in his life, though she’s a bit preoccupied at the moment.