[Review] - Penny Dreadful, Season 2 Episodes 3 And 4, "The Nightcomers" And "Evil Spirits in Heavenly Places"


There is a line from the Memento Rifftrax that I often think back to while watching Penny Dreadful: "the jokes... are pretty rare, folks, enjoy 'em while you can." There really is no reason for this to be the case. The cast are all rounded individuals, capable of being dramatic and light in equal measure. And while the subject matter is generally quite glum, heavy on guilt, death or fear, that's not to say there aren't opportunities for levity. The show leans often on Ethan's American charm when it needs to cut the tension. But, it is very rare for the show to just out and out be funny. It happened maybe once in the first season, when Malcolm and Victor were discussing who to feed the thrall chained up in their basement. And here again, Victor plays the foil as his Victorian sensibilities get all flustered. and, of course, there is Lyle...

This is a dark show, if it hasn't been obvious from the start. And this season has been without pause, introducing the threat straight away and featured the characters on the defensive since the out. This season hasn't bothered with a ramp up or a slow burn. Which means that a breather episode, a fill-in-the-gap episode like The Nightcomers are usually nice. Certainly, the flashback episodes last season were among my favourite. But this one felt out of place, perhaps because of the frantic urgency the rest of the season has developed. taking a time out to tell a tale runs counter to the pace that the first two episodes introduced and which the fourth episodes picked up on. I have all the faith that Logan knows what he's doing, but these two episodes felt like catching a toe on teh sidewalk while at full sprint.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that always eat dessert for breakfast.

The Nightcomers filled in the backstory of Ms. Poole, and tied it into Vanessa's own quite well. but I sat there the entire time, wondering if it was at all necessary. It didn't establish anything that we didn't already know about either the two: Poole is evil and manipulative, while Vanessa tends to be in the greatest control when she is assisted by others. The flashbacks last season gave insight in the characters, and revealed events that directly impacted their actions in the "present." This episode didn't do anything that couldn't have been covered throughout the course of normal operation. It held true to the notion of showing, not telling, and Vanessa's story was structured as a play rather than a monologue. But I kept coming back to the notion that we didn't really need to see Vanessa's training sessions with the abortionist of the Moors.

The fourth episode returned to the regular sizzle and pop of the way of things, but again I was burdened with a overwhelming sense of "how much does this matter?" The episode was largely spent on the team's efforts to decode the demon language written across all manner of junk. An effort spearheaded by Lyle. But, in episode two, did Poole and Lyle not admit that the monk's box was a distraction, not meant to provide the team with any critical. If we're privy to that, and Logan as structured it as a needless macguffin, then is there any point in following them as they do it. Why not have it be ever present in the background, something to make references to but not waste time focusing on, when the show could be doing other things? Again, I put my faith in Logan knowing what he is doing; perhaps the team will uncover something that Poole did not intend. But with the information we have, I struggle to see why I should care.

Elsewhere, the characters each set out to engage in awkward social situations with people they have uncomfortable attractions to. Each of these scenes were well constructed, with special mention going to John and Lavinia for the show's usual dose of melodramatic subtext. John is far form the monster that he believes himself to be, and any aid given to helping him find his humanity is applauded. However, it is the horrible cycle of Frankenstein's monster that for every piece of humanity that is returned to him, far more are stripped away by the ignorant and the vile, which I expect Lavinia's father to be very soon.

Victor himself continues to descend into new realms of depravity, though in a very gentle and unobtrusive way. His coveting of his cousin, the corpse made from the whore he lusted after, is actually quite innocent and sweet except for all that stuff I just mentioned. He has a school boy's naivety, and she, despite never having stepped outside his doors, a keen perception on how society functions: women are for men. When she finds out she was made to order, I can't imagine that information is going to sit right with her.  

I'll admit to being disappointed in Sir Malcolm's role this season, or lack there of. Three episodes set in his time frame, and Logan still hasn't settled on what his part is to play in all this, except for landlord. The story rests on the shoulders of Vanessa, with Ethan and Victor providing supplementary storylines. Sir Malcolm has stepped into the kitchen with Sembene, to appear once an episode and remind us that Timothy Dalton is awesome. From the flashback, I think we can assume that Malcolm is in danger of being enthralled by Poole much as the Moor's land-baron did. Malcolm has already admitted to wanting to openly court her.

So, if Poole's game is to turn all those in Vanessa's life against her, to incite the mob as she did against her sister, then Malcolom may have a role to play coming up. But that does not make up for the gestation period we're currently sitting in. Additionally, the best scene in either episode was where Hecate attempted to charm her way into Ethan's grace, which he saw right through. But Ethan will soon have much to contend with against Rusk, and I worry of the state of overlapping storylines. If Ethan is meant to turn against Vanessa, how will that stack against his troubles with the law?
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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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