[Review] - Penny Dreadful, Season 2 Episodes 8 And 9, "Memento Mori" And "And Hell Itself My Only Foe"

Courtesy of Neal Street Productions
I've been saying all season that the additional episodes season two were given ended up being used to fill the gap between the episodes that mattered. Considering how dense each episode is (seriously, after thirty minutes of programming, I feel like I've been watching it for two hours), you'd think Logan would have used these episodes to lighten his load elsewhere. Unfortunately, with only the finale left, we must concede that this season like the last was eight atmospheric episodes with a strangle hold over plotting and only minor slippages... and then also two others.

And really it is the slippages that irk me the most. In a show this meticulous with it's wording, with it's lighting, with it's intent and execution, that it should fall victim to it's own austerity is rather disappointing. All the more so because these two episodes together proved to be the most exciting of the season. And not just because episode 8 allowed Timothy Dalton to remind us why he was cast (after not having had the chance all year) and episode 9 really did belong to Billie Piper. But these episodes were clearly what this season was meant to be building towards. And yet, because of the shudder-stop way that some of the episodes have functioned, a lot of what happened felt sudden and unearned.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that know who they are.


Let us start with the only logical place: Timothy Dalton, and that amazing sequence in episode eight in the ballroom. that entire sequence, from when Lyle began reading the inscription, to when Ms. Poole realizes that she's been bucked, was magnificent. After a season of being underutilized, the episode rested on Dalton's shoulders to pull off the emotional turmoil of a man who is slowly realizing he's been raped. When he and Victor sit down and have a chat about love, all credit and credence to Dalton's talent. He starts as a warm shoulder, and you can see the realization of his condition wash over him. Well before she attempts to take control, he understands that he's been bewitched. It's a melancholy realization, and a reminder that these are not happy people, not a one, when his evidence to his unnatural state is essentially "look at me, do I seem like someone who has ever been this happy?"

I fail to praise the direction and cinematography on this show enough, but look at that ballroom scene. When Sembene hurls his friend into an abandoned quarter, dust kicked up and only the vacant footprints and Malcolm's dawning haunts filling in the room, it was chilling. Not as chilling as the final fifteen minutes of episode nine though, that lapsed into full horror mode. The show is atmospheric and daunting, but because it is a psychological horror show, I am unaccustomed to it being more traditionally horrific (room of dolls not withstanding). As the League of Unhappy Gentleman began their assault on the witchery, the show took a decidedly more tooth and claw approach, as apposed to it's usual boobs and mind-games. And more importantly, the weight of horror began to become real for the characters. So all their terrible acts and selfish behaviour, these characters don't pay much of a price. Here, they did. Trapped in a room with your friend, doomed to kill him, and knowing it. Coming face to face with the visions of the people you are directly responsible for killing. Having your worst sin thrown at you. Having the worst of your thoughts about humanity confirmed. The characters are paying for their sins going into the finale.

If these two episodes had an agenda, it was to confirm the suspicion that the worst monsters aren't the ones that seem the most monstrous. So it was that the true villains revealed themselves draped in beauty rather than scars. Claire pronounces exactly that, that the devil comes to you a vision of beauty, not a mask of terror. Which is also why I expect we're about to get a massive and seismic shift in the mythology of this series. Lily's sudden turn from naive barn mouse to Unquestioned Blood-Queen of the World I expect is a herald for a new truth to permeate season three: Vanessa isn't the queen the devil has been seeking. Now that we know the devil and Dracula are engaging in a brother's duel for the hand of a maiden fair, with whom to destroy God and the world with, I think everyone is about to come to realize they've been after the wrong girl. And that fits: Vanessa is the gothic, murdering, pent up, sultry lady of sin that Victorian society would have shunned because of her wantonness. While Lily was the (reborn) creature of soft speech and virtue, of charm and grace. And now that she is building an empire of the dead and damned to build her a throne of bones, the devil and maybe Dracula might shift their gaze slightly onto Betty rather than Veronica.

If so, it means that Logan is playing an even longer game then we expected. Because everything, even and especially the plotlines that have never had anything to do with the central story, become intertwined around Brona/Lily. The Wolf of God was her bed mate for a year, Dorian her recurring companion, and Victor her maker. Even Claire, who was given a nice if forced connection to Vanessa this year, has a stronger tie to this new Queen of the Damned than any of the Monster Squad. Dorian especially will be given new purpose (or rather, purpose) serving as her devoted pawn. He too revealed himself a greater monster than we've known here. Not only did we get a look at his true self, a worse beast than even Claire, but we also saw him act out of evil. Until now, he's been a creature of experience. His actions have been driven by his need to try new things. Killing Angelique was self preservation. She was honest and unmolested by the madness of these character's dealings and willing to accept him for what he was, much like he too professed for her. Instead, he dispatched her with no reservation for fear of what she might do to him. Not kill him, or hurt him, but reveal him. Lily knows him now, but will champion his nature rather than expose it.

Where the episodes started to fall apart is in the little details where episodes that should have been used to enhance or strengthen plot lines failed to use their time wisely. So, Lyle randomly admits his duplicity rather than being found out, or having a reason to admit his guilt. He just does, so that the characters can move on and use his knowledge. It isn't an earned revelation. Likewise and considerably stronger with Lily's turn towards genocide and global domination. She went from zero to sixty in episode seven, strangling the gentlemen, and does so again in her recruiting scheme. Had Lily been allowed more time to evolve as a character, rather than that story being frame over Victor's perspective, her awakening might have seemed less like a sudden veer towards a third season set-up. Likewise again with Claire being "arrested." Despite being unsubtly foreshadowed all season, it took all season to get here, and now we've only got one episode left for payoff unless this too will be extended into next season. And likewise a fourth time for Ethan's various plots. the dispatching of the Pinkerton, Rusk's investigation (though that did reveal that the series is essentially a nudity enhanced reboot of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein), his relationship with Sembene. It all equally feels rushed and elongated. We'll just have to see if they can pull off a satisfactory climax next week.
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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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