Penny Dreadful, Episode Three
For the holiday weekend, Penny Dreadful gives us a massive info dump about life, death, love and responsibility.
We open on young Victor’s discovery that death is not serene. In the face of the death of his dog. His mother suggests that death is perhaps something else, a type of movement, and it is an ominous foreshadowing of both his passions and the fate of Proteus at the hands of The Creature. Even so, it’s a sweet moment until she begins to cough blood all over him because everyone on this show has consumption. She dies. Victor begins his studies.
The Creature also seeks to provide his origin story. He tells of being born in pain and terror. When he was not the idyllic child Victor had imagined, Victor abandons him in terror nearly immediately. The Create teaches himself by watching the world through the window and reading Victor’s books. His language is exquisite, and he tells Victor he was naïve for thinking his creation would be something idyllic from the world of romantic poetry. “We are men of iron and mechanization now.”
Meanwhile, Vanessa is taking tea in her house. She hears creepy sounds, then has a vision of a non-vampiric Mina pleading for help. It is unclear if this is a trick based on past encounters with Mina or a trick of Vanessa’s mind. She demand’s Sir Malcolm’s attention.
The Creature’s story continues as he tells of going to London to find his creator and instead finding both cruelty and then compassion in the form of a place in the theater at The Grand Guignol. Here he actor who rescues the Creature from cruelty names him Caliban (If you haven’t brushed up your Shakespeare recently, this serves to imply Victor is an evil witch).
The Creature calls the actors of the theater “creatures of perpetual resurrection” and is thrilled that they are undying like him. He speaks of his tender heart and his fear, even as he also again turns the tables of Victor. Earlier he called him a child, now he tells him to stop his cowering on the floor, saying, “Rise, and walk with me, Creator.”
On the other side of town Brona and Ethan are having sex. A lot of sex. It’s tender and a little bit fierce and probably slightly excessive in terms of screen time. Mind you, this is not a criticism. But, because this is Penny Dreadful, you can’t help but remember she has consumption and you know this is going to end badly. Sure enough there’s a giant naked post-sex coughing attack.
Having discovered that Brona has no money for medication, Ethan returns to Sir Malcolm and Vanessa’s home to offer his services.
Vanessa tells Ethan about her vision ad explains her circumstances as one who is acted upon by unseen forces. He says he doesn’t question this about her, and the music tells us they are having a romantic connection, despite the fact that he’s there because of Brona! Vanessa then provides some of Mina’s backstory, which is largely as you would suspect: She was engaged to a Jonathan Harker and then became embroiled with another man. Dramatically, Vanessa notes Mina is now this man’s slave and that she hovers between the worlds of death and life.
Now out for a stroll, the Creature continues to creepily lecture Victor. What does he want? An everlasting female companion. When does he want it? Now.
Ethan and Sir Malcom and Vanessa also go on an outing, heading for London Zoo. Soon they are surrounded by wolves. Bad CGI wolves. But Ethan stares them down and shows a confidence and submissiveness with them. He even allows one to take his hand in its teeth, which seems to satisfy, and the wolves run off. As they explore the zoo further, they find a man eating some of the zoo animals. Sir Malcolm gets a little too excited to bind him in chains.
Victor, walking back from his outing with the Creature, is summoned by Sir Malcolm. The man from the zoo is now chained in Sir Malcolm’s basement and is going on about how his master is right there in the room with them, and can’t they all feel it. He names some Egyptian deities and then calls Vanessa a whore.
The relatively non-creepy people go upstairs to argue. Ethan is angry that Sir Malcolm is beating the creepy guy in chains. Victor is angry that Ethan was involved in the slaughter of Native Americans. Ethan counters that it’s really not okay that Victor wants to experiment on the guy in chains. Sir Malcolm thinks everyone should just try to get along. Vanessa points out that everyone in the room as “been brutalized with loss,” and says it has “made [them] brutal in return.”
Sir Malcolm demands a loyalty oath from everyone. One by one, everyone, including the creepy butler who never gets to say anything, nods. Ethan is the last hold-out. He finally says “I’m with you,” to Vanessa. She replies in kind. It seems their oaths are only too each other.
Next we learn that Mina was not at the zoo and that the chief vampire they are all hunting may not even want her. He may want Vanessa. Vanessa is furious to learn Sir Malcolm was using her as bait, and seems increasingly convinced that Sir Malcolm is withholding information from her.
Meanwhile, Ethan tells Vanessa about Brona. They have a fond conversation about her that has a lot of responsible non-monogamy potential. They discuss her consumption, and Vanessa notes Ethan will get it too, but after all, everyone loves a lost cause, suggesting not just Ethan’s feelings for Brona, but her feelings for Ethan.
Victor takes his leave, but first reminds everyone they’ll be responsible for the guy in the basement they are either trying to torture or cure, forever. Hey, the dear doctor’s not perfect, but at least he learns from his mistakes.
The episode ends with basement guy in chains happily informing his unseen master of his continued servitude.