Penny Dreadful Season 3, Episode 5
“The World Is Our Hell”
Posted by Sage
Ahem. A synopsis of this episode by me, your HOF Penny Dreadful recapper:
Kaetenay, Sir Malcolm, Jared Talbot, Inspector Rusk, all the Marshalls: “Ethan, no.”
Hecate and Ethan: “Ethan, YES.”
I mean, any episode would have paled after last week’s two-handed tour-de-force “A Blade of Grass.” But “The World Is Our Hell” also suffers for being essentially 60 minutes of exposition. It’s taken Penny Dreadful two and a half seasons to get to Ethan’s origin story. And maybe, yeah, he had to get to the Western wilderness that created him to make that happen. But it’s not the show’s finest of storytelling choices. Anyway, I started watching this show because of Billie Piper, monsters, and Victorian England. The desert is boring and I don’t like watching horses suffer. Can we get back to the filthy streets of London, please?
Hecate and Ethan are a few days away from Ethan’s family ranch when the episode begins. Rusk, the Marshall, and his men are on still on their tail; Kaetenay and Sir Malcolm are bringing up the rear. We can assume that word reached Ethan’s father about the bloodbath at the Cascabel Trading Post, so he must be on the lookout for his son’s arrival. Everyone in this episode either loves Ethan or is afraid of him; in some cases, both. And on the bright side, Josh Harnett gets his first meaty material of the season because of it.
Themes of guilt and punishment hang heavy over this episode. Ethan and Vanessa were well-matched as friends, soldiers, and more because of their shared self-hatred. But Ethan has no one to share his torments with out in the desert, because Hecate isn’t capable of feeling what he feels. “The only decent thing about me is the shame I feel,” he tells her. He holds onto that remorse like a life raft, and we’ll soon see why. Hecate accurately points out that shame is simply a side effect of morality. Ethan has violated god’s law; not the wolf’s and not her master’s. Relieving himself of his sins is as easy as transferring allegiances.
Hecate’s allegiance was transferred for her. (Everyone else tells their stories in this episode, why not the witch?) Her own mother handed her over to Lucifer when she was only five. She describes the devil’s nails scratching her soft, pre-pubescent stomach. And there’s something interesting about the relationships between children and parents here. Hecate has beauty and power and eternity (“WOULDST THOU LIKE TO LIVE DELICIOUSLY?”); it’s so good that she wants to share it with Ethan. She’s a recruiter. Yet she still hates her mother for abandoning her. “Something, isn’t it?” she says. “To be betrayed the person supposed to protect you?”
I don’t know if you got this yet (SARCASM), but Ethan hates his dad. He really fucking hates him. It’s been 84 years since he first said so, and we finally found out why. I’m wondering why Penny Dreadful didn’t go with a flashback here instead of another campfire tale. Was this episode sponsored by the Boy Scouts of America? Can I get some action over here?
I’m guessing that John Logan and episode writer Andrew Hinderaker worried that a visual of the ambush that Ethan describes would have turned audience opinion too strongly against him. Ethan wasn’t handed over to the devil by his dad, but he considers his old master to be just as evil. He was enlisted in the army against his will. And that army’s war was to drive out the owners of the land they wanted for themselves. Ethan was a pawn in his father’s Old West gentrification project and his target were the few survivors of the Apache tribe still in their area. Under the command of a fellow rich boy, Ethan and his outfit slaughtered a group of Apaches in the early morning light; women and children included. After his leader dumped the mangled body of a boy into the river to poison it, Ethan executed him and rode to the next Apache camp to claim his death. Kaetenay refused, knowing it was more cruel to force Ethan to live with his actions. That’s how long he’s been chasing absolution. Like Victor says to Henry in his Bedlam lab, “After all, it is our memories that make us monsters, is it not?”
Instead, Ethan kept on fighting. This time, as an Apache. Kaetenay was his “Apache father” and he was fully accepted into their ranks. And…this seems like a huge thing to just gloss over? I’ve got issues with this storyline, because it feels both too big for the time allotted and also too simplistic. Kaetenay tells Sir Malcolm that the Apaches were dehumanized as they were killed off; the fraction of the tribe that was left were forced to become the animals the white men always thought they were. There are no innocents. War is hell. A country can be built on genocide and then leave it out of its history books. Shouldn’t the devil be breathing down more necks in this case than just Ethan’s? Is it his duality (Henry, you’d be into this) – man and beast – that puts him on the edge of that cliff?
Later, Ethan and Hecate seek refuge in a cave covered in Apache markings. He tells her the story of the first Apache (MORE TALKING). He was a boy who undid one of Coyote’s pranks: covering the world with darkness and the creatures of the night. The child vanquished them and “won back the day.” Hecate gets that Ethan always fancied himself the boy in this story. But what if he’s meant to be the other? Maybe he’s the bringer of the darkness. And, well, a guy can only have his ego stroked so much by a hot girl who can speak Parseltongue before he finally starts to believe it. He finishes the story of the incident that drove him out of the country. He brought his Apache comrades to his father’s home to raid it for food, water, and supplies. I doubt he was naive enough to believe, as he says he did, that no gunfire would be exchanged. After all Kaetenay’s people lost at the hands of Talbot’s? Perhaps Ethan needed redemption so much that he believed himself truly accepted. When really, the tribe saw in his presence and opportunity to rain down punishment on their tormentor. Either way, the Apache disregarded their promise as soon as they set foot on the property. “You brought the devil to my door, Sir,” his father says later. “And you gave them the key.” It’s too much. There’s too much to atone for, and you know what? It’s exhausting. “I slaughtered women and children, and murdered my friend, and I will send my father to hell, and laugh while I do it,” he declares. “I’m done trying to be good.” And then Ethan and Hecate bone, because of course they do.
Ethan and his three fathers finally converge when Jared Talbot’s men find Sir Malcolm and Ethan with Kaetenay and Hecate, both near death. (Hecate, dying of thirst and Kaetenay, of a demon snake bite.) They’re bought back to the Talbot’s gorgeous ranch house, which is peopled only by Jared and his silent, obedient men. Hecate and Ethan are nursed back to health. Kaetenay was left to die in the desert, per Ethan’s orders. Though I’m sure he didn’t, and we will see him again. (As Were-Snake Kaetenay, perhaps? A girl can dream.) We know Jared is not the solicitous host he’s presenting himself as, because he’s played by consummate bad guy Brian Cox. Still, he gives the good ol’ boy welcome to Sir Malcolm, plying him with praise of Ethan and his best whiskey. The conversation turns icy when Malcolm gives his opinion about the best possible future for their son. Jared is like, I am a very important murderer in these parts, you English sissy, but Malcolm’s faced worse monsters. I don’t think Malcolm necessarily believes what Kaetenay does – that Ethan’s fall means the end of the world – but he for sure is not a fan of this blow-hard.
Jared: There are mountains named after me.
Malcolm: And at what cost? Your home’s empty. Your son hates you. Your vainglorious pursuits have led to nothing but bloodshed and heartache. But you’re right, the whiskey is very fine.
And that’s exactly it. Malcolm hits on Jared’s motives in this international pursuit of Ethan. Jared has nothing. He is completely alone, and knows very well that he will “writhe in hell” for what he himself has done to build his empire. He wants Ethan with him while he lives out his days. He wants to punish his son for the rest of his life for enabling the slaughter of the rest of the family. Jared takes Ethan to the house chapel – the room where it happened. Like a child’s old bedroom, it’s been kept exactly as it is, waiting for Ethan’s eyes. There’s browned blood spatter on the walls; pews and tables lie on the floor where they were thrown aside. Jared sets the scene for Ethan, who missed the carnage while he was stealing his father’s horses. They ran his older brother Paul through with lances. They scalped his own mother. And they cut out his sister’s tongue and eyes while Jared watched. (Is she still alive? I suppose we’ll find out.) But Jared’s graphic retelling just pushes Ethan further into the decision he’s already made. Why think about the role he played in those deaths when he can lean into the darkness and never feel guilt again? “You will repent,” his father says. “Or I’ll send you to hell myself.” Ethan is over it. “I’m done repenting, and I belong in hell.” That’s nice. I miss Vanessa.
- Alternate titles for the episode include “Ethan Has Three Daddies” and “Three Men & A Werewolf.”
- Meanwhile, back in London, Jekyllstein are back at it again with the radical mental health treatments. Poor Mr. Balfour is restrapped to Jekyll’s Sweeney chair, ready (but not at all ready) to be turned into “an innocent lamb.” Victor followed through on his promise to juice up the juice. As part of his ongoing effort to tame Lily, he’s decided that sticking an 8-inch electrified syringe into a conscious man’s eyeball is the way to go. It works, though. Balfour has no memory of his arrest or crime and he loves that queen, he does. Henry starts an argument with Victor for no other reason than to let the audience know that hey, he’d be up for casting out his own bad memories if he could. If Victor is going to jam that thing into his friend’s brain too, let it be known that that’s NOT the kind of penetration I was hoping for here.
- In terms of endearments, Henry has moved on from calling Victor “old man” to calling him “old sport” and I just…
- Honestly, couldn’t the Rusk arm story have been saved for another episode? I could have watched this whole episode with my eyes closed and it wouldn’t have made a difference.
- Did I mention that I hated it when the horses died.
- “Such music my master makes.” God, I need her to go head to head with Vanessa this season.
- Victor, you big creep.
- The dolls in Hecate’s room were a nice callback.
Were you bored too, readers? Tell us what you thought about this ep in the comments!