[Review] - Penny Dreadful, Season 2 Episode 7, "Little Scorpion"

Courtesy of Neal Street Productions
Before we begin, some congratulations are in order. Showtime has officially renewed Penny Dreadful for a third season. Despite lackluster ratings (which I contribute to Showtime putting it up against Game of Thrones), the show is a critical hit, a success overseas, and the second most gorgeous thing to look at on television right now. This third season, which hopefully might draw from some other specific pieces of Victorian horror literature as season 2 nearly did, will have nine episodes. So, up one from the first, but down one from the current. Perhaps Showtime is noticing the obvious distention in the plotting this season? Well, it's good to know that we've got at least another season with these messed up people in store. But we've still got half a season to deal with now, so...

Well, that was strange. Even by this show's standards, that was an oddity. It was in part the bottle, flashback episode that I expected it would be, except it wasn't a flashback. It didn't advance much of the plot, and only minorly advanced the characters, and fell back on way too many Victorian cliches to be wholly enjoyable. And reminded us that, the infinite patience of witches aside, there are other, potentially more interesting plots occurring in London than just what baddie wants to get in Vanessa's pants. I'll say that I'm not entirely convinced that this episode was anything other than the filler I was worried about last week, that the up from ten episodes from eight has resulted in a decompression that Logan is struggling to fill. The two most important scenes of the episode could have been tacked on or inserted into any other episode, and left Vanessa and Ethan's trip to the moors for the realm of internet fan-fic writers, not an atmospheric cable television series.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that always look past the leopard, but never the monkey.

So, that third episode had a point after all. This was almost a redux, and those two episodes together make for a very strange mini-series within this larger season, concerning Vanessa and her transition from a jealous and scared young girl to a dark and vengeful woman. I'd like to think that Logan had higher aspirations for this episode, that he meant for it to further Vanessa and Ethan's relationship, to strengthen a bond that Lyle has made almost clear is vital to their survival. But in the end, I expect it was a way to conveniently introduce Vanessa's natural instinct for death and destruction, by having her kill a character that most deserved it and was inconsequential. And that the earlier episode was written retroactively to prove her with the incentive to kill a man.

Which seems a long walk and a lot of our time to get to a point that is essentially: Vanessa has a darkness inside of her. Which we've known from day one. We've seen it manifest. We are half waiting to see it fully unleashed and wreak havoc over her world. But the episode wasn't overly interested in being much more than a long road with Ethan's warning at the end: killing comes hard, then easy, and kills you as much as anyone else. That it was a prolonged opportunity to remind viewers that Ethan could have killed Vanessa when she asked, and the decision not to may have doomed them all. The rest of it: the moors, the fire, the kissing in the rain but staving off carnal lusts in favour of wandering pent up in the darkness and doing overtly romantic things like chopping down trees. It was all just so much Victorian cliche, without an undercurrent of satire or deconstruction. It just was those things, without reason.

This episode was truly engaging three times, and it was the three times that Vanessa wasn't around. That's not a mark against her, but her plot line has enveloped the rest of the season and is well on it's way towards choking the others, which really deserve their own attention. The first was Sembene's cold open with the rehumanized Ethan, in which the wizened bush warrior waxes philosophical about how it is not what you are, but who you are that determines if you are a monster. I steadfastly continue to believe that Sembene is a secret weapon that this show has yet to unleash, if Logan would just find the opportunity and give him the attention he deserves. That monologue was about the most number of lines he's had in the series at once, and likely matches the total number of lines he's had thus far. But it shows how much power that character could have if he was given responsibility in the plot, other than being the one character all the others trust implicitly, which I can't help but feel comes with a pang of racism. He's black, and a former savage, and therefore is immune to the lust that ensnares the rest of them.

Victor and Lyle, two characters that rarely have the chance to share a scene, had one together, which was a kindness form Logan to us. Lyle is stealing this show form the rest of the cast, but it also allowed him (as the keeper of too many answers) to give us some of the answers to questions I was asking last week. Not complete answers, obviously. But kinds of answers. What do the witches want with Vanessa? Nothing in particular. They just want her, because having her, dead or alive, will please the devil. What does the devil want with her? Again, nothing much. All that talk about Ra and Amunet coiling together and bringing about the end of the world seems far more metaphorical than literal, and it's more a nonspecific obtainment that the Devil wants than a physical manifestation and acquisition. though it does cause one to wonder, if he already possesses her, how much more can he have her? Other than dead, that is. And is the Hound of God a good or bad thing? Well, good, implicitly. the devil, the scorpion and the hound circle one another endlessly. Which is what Ethan and Vanessa have spent this season doing; circling, but never coming together.

Then there was the final scene, in which Lily become Brona, and in which both became killers. This brings up the question of nature vs nurture, or in the case of the Frankenstein's, life experience vs after-life experience. Lily has been on the cusp of having her old life reestablish itself for a while now, and it seemed to overtake her entirely, though she seems to have merged those old carnal predilections with a new curiosity in the fragility of life, perhaps brought on her her own death, or perhaps exacerbated by Dorian's trip to the murder-works. It also brings me back to my pint last week, about how little we know of Caliban, or Mr. Claire, or the monster. As much as Victor might not like it, the first lives of his reanimations always seem to return to them. Proteus was drawn to the sea in his brief existence, and Lily fell into a bed as soon as she stepped back into the wider world. Claire has only ever shown his strongest passions for poetry and romance. Was he a Romantic poet, doomed to muddle through life a self-agonizing bore, searching for love where it wasn't wanted, and missing those affections that were turned his way? And now, doomed to muddle through his rebirth in much the same fashion?
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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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