[Review] - Penny Dreadful, Season 2 Episode 2, "Verbis Diablo"

Courtesy of Neal Street Productions
OK Penny Dreadful, we get it. You are a horror show. You are shocking and terrifying and occasionally very creepy. But that is no excuse - no excuse - to just be evil. I mean, a room of stricken looking puppets? Come on! Was your assumption that I just didn't need to sleep that night? That all those dead eyes and slack jaws, the broken varnish and cracked wood would just slip off my subconscious like something not horrid? That the cavernous panopticon of unblinking marionettes is just something that a person can shake off, then go and watch a Tivoed episode of Veep? That we wouldn't need to walk that sequence off a bit? And what's this, oh good, we're likely to revisit that room of silent screams later in the season, to find out the purpose of the one-fifth scale, Bride of Chucky Vanessa doll? Oh, goody! I'm so looking forward to that!

*Heavy breathing*

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that once filled a Pinata with chicken liver; does that count?


And so Penny Dreadful continues to have a Dorian problem. And the problem is that Dorian doesn't serve a purpose in the narrative, because he hasn't been constructed as his own character. He is a reactive element. Last year, he was only given purpose and meaning when he was used as a plot device through which the other characters, alternatively Vanessa and Ethan, were able to explore some larger aspect of themselves. When left to his own devices, he has yet to prove himself worth of our attention. I didn't miss him last week. When he is used as a exploration tool for the other characters, he is serviceable and interesting enough, but when he's not on scene, I'm not counting the moments until he returns. And part of that, I think, is that his motivation is just so damned dull. All the other characters are seeking redemption in some way; for actions, for inaction, for duty. But Dorian is as boring as he is bored. All he is looking for is something to get a rise out of him.

And here again, he turns towards sex as stimulation. And perhaps the she-male prostitute would be more shocking if last season we hadn't seen him get smacky with Ethan, and be literally at the bottom of a writhing mass of people. He has no defined borders of exception; he takes all comers, so why should this Victorian oddity be any different. The only reason he's pining over Vanessa is that while he was with her, he witnessed something otherworldly, something that he hadn't partaken in before. He doesn't know that, and simply thinks that Vanessa is in some way special. But if he got himself a possessed little pet of his own, he'd grow bored with them in time too. Dorian roll isn't to be spurred and inspired by Vanessa, his role was to provide the opportunity for Vanessa to let down her guard and let the demon in again. And he fulfilled that. But now he's back, and I hope that an extra two episodes this season give him time to find something to do that is worth while of our attention.

Again, the show is pretty evenly divided between the affairs of Ms. Ives, and the affairs of Dr. Frankenstein, and happily, the two stars of those storylines had the opportunity to meet this week. Vanessa and The Monster - sorry, John Clare - had a sit down chat, a discussion of theology and philosophy from their own warped perspectives. Both have shrugged off religion, but not abandoned by it because they are still haunted by it's influences. Vanessa cannot escape her literal demon, while John is ostracized by decent God-fearing society. What is interesting is John's assertion that Christens fear hell, thus do goods works for ignoble reasons. That charity done selfishly is as morally bad as no charity at all. Pagans though, are truly free, for they fear nothing and thus act only according tot their natural. I feel that this has been a larger theme of the series, and will likely become more explicit as it continues: each according to their nature. And this is a Godless stock that the show has accrued. So, as the series continues, I expect that the truth of their natures will be ever more revealed.

This makes sense, since, they all live in their secrets, and all have a purer nature yet to surface. Some, it is very literal, as in Ethan's case, where a wolf lies under the surface. Vanessa too has a very literal sin to shed. For others, it is less literal and more philosophical. Victor's experiments are his sin, but his behaviour this year, in regards to Brona, suggests something more twisted within him. The show has yet to give him an Elizabeth, and has yet to explore his more personal reasons for starting up his experiments, other than a pseudo-Batman origin story of just hating death so damned much. But it is also important to remember that Victor is the only avowed atheist on the series, the only one who has willingly and willfully abandoned God, and not been abandoned. I expect his truest nature will be the most pungent.

This episode saw the return of the campy Mr. Lyle, who is good fun to have around, despite the reveal that is the witches familiar (and, true to the series form, has a truer nature that he wishes to keep secret). As important as that will no doubt be, more important was his scene in the British Museum archives with Ethan, where they discussed heraldry. Ethan has no real concept of what it is that is inside him, just that it kills, and kills completely. He was brought into Malcolm's crew as a protector, a hired gun, the muscle to do the business as needed. Until now, the perception is that his natures are in conflict. On one hand, the honourable Southerner with a heart the size of Arizona and a duty to do right, and on the other, the monster that kills indiscriminately and without mercy. But "the wolf protects." If this season is going to be about the characters confronting their truest natures, and revealing themselves to be purely good - accepting who and what they are - or purely evil - refusing to accept, and rebelling against - then this suggests that Ethan will embrace the wolf, and learn to use it.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.

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