After over a one year hiatus, I’m picking up Penny Dreadful again. Season two episode two’s Verbis Diablo is a pleasant surprise with the return of quirky gay Egyptologist Ferdinand Lyle and the meeting of Caliban/ John Clare/ the Creature and the singular Miss Vanessa Ives. Strangely, when you pair two melodramatic characters, they tend to mellow each other out.
Vanessa Ives is deeply tormented about the witches so Sir Malcolm takes her to a proto-soup kitchen to cheer her up, before he wanders off and is bewitched by the Head Witch Evelyn Poole. She cheats of course by casting a spell on him, instead of using her womanly wiles. Vanessa has a productive conversation with John Clare, who of all people persuades her that there is still some beauty in the world. She tells him he has beautiful eyes.
Meanwhile, our ghostbuster gang recruits the eccentric Egyptologist to break and enter the British Museum to get the only written copy of the Verbis Diablo. Why this is helpful? No idea.
Ethan Chandler and the Egyptologist Ferdinand Lyle (Simon Russell Beale) bring back the goods, but not before Lyle demonstrates that he’s a terrible liar and that Chandler has a classical education and knows how timber wolves work. Oh and, Ethan’s last massacre has one survivor.
Doctor Frankenstein brings back Brona, dyes her blond (because blondes are more fun), and renames her Lily in his very own production of My Fair Lady, except, of course, he’s her “cousin” and she’s promised to the Creature.
Dorian Grey makes a new “friend” named Angelique (Jonny Beauchamp), because all Grey’s friends are fuck buddies.
There’s a baby sacrifice and a Vanessa Ives doll happens. I’m not sure of the exact process, because I had to look away for the last three minutes or so. Oh, and silly Lyle is secretly in league with the witches, because they blackmailed him.
I’d forgotten that Eva Green talks with a frog in her throat, and it does a pretty good job at offsetting how stunningly beautiful she is. Her problems are pretty bad, but at least she’s not homeless and/or has cholera.
It reminds me of this great Louie CK quote from Fresh Air:
I saw a movie once where Spencer Tracy catches this woman about to kill herself — it’s a pretty dark movie for the time — but I forget the name of the movie, but Spencer Tracy is on a boat and sees a rich, young girl about to throw herself off the boat because her fiance left her for another woman and he’s trying to talk her out of suicide and he says to her, “Do you have a job? Do you have anything that you do in your life?” which was a funny thing to ask because she’s, like, a 1920s socialite and she said, “No,” and he said, “I think you should get a job, because it’s very hard to be sad and useful at the same time.”
Vanessa and the entire Penny Dreadful crew are not the kind of people who should be left alone with their thoughts. So it was refreshing cutting of the melodrama to have our characters to swap out ruminations of the soul to the earthier problems of ladling out stew and moving boxes.
For an episode called the Devil’s Speech, there’s a whole lot of mundane conversations between our extraordinary characters. One time I was talking to a friend at a bar and an older woman leaned over and said, “I don’t mean to intrude, but your conversation sounds so trivial.” We were aghast, of course, but I think this episode was buoyed up by the exchange of small details about each other’s lives rather than grand stories and pronouncements. As the saying goes, the devil is in the details.
And the award for the most fucked up of the episode is Doctor Frankenstein. Because what are you going to do when Brona remembers that you murdered her? John Clare can also split people in two so good luck at making goo goo eyes are her.
John Clare seems to be doing okay because he has righteous anger on his side. Dorian Gray is burying his problems in sex — or does he have a sex addiction?–, but Angelique seems nice enough. Sir Malcom is being seduced by a witch and Vanessa Ives is being pursued by witches, but they still have each other. I do like the Renaissance getup of the witches.
Cupcake Enjoyment Rating: 4/5
Carrot Quality Rating: 4/5