Penny Dreadful Season 3, Episode 7
Posted by Sage
We’re at a critical juncture here, people. Penny Dreadful ends its season (ALREADY? I know, y’all.) on Sunday with extra-long finale. And I’m a little stuck here in this penultimate episode, which lays out threads that could either be tied up satisfactorily or be botched so completely that it makes me rethink my whole relationship with this show. I have faith in PD the way Catriona has faith in Vanessa; I don’t think it’ll let me down now.
Let’s start with our fathomless leading lady. Vanessa gives herself to Dracula at the conclusion of this episode, this time with conscious awareness of who he really is. Meanwhile, Ethan, Kaetenay, and Sir Malcolm are speeding to her side as fast as their ship can carry them. Now, so far, Penny Dreadful has done a terrific job of subverting the traditional woman-in-peril storyline, and I hope that the finale is going to turn the concept of damsel-ing on its head yet again. But there’s no question that Vanessa’s soul is in danger at least, and that the only people who know her better than her dark prince are either dead or in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
Meanwhile, I’m not that mad at Dracula. As I guessed earlier in the season, the feelings and experiences he shared with Vanessa are real. Or at least he insists that they are. He’s honest-to-god in love with Vanessa, and legitimately fancies himself the savior of all the shunned and broken things. Dracula cherishes his night creatures like Dr. Sweet loves his pets. (Though Renfield might tell you he has a funny way of showing it.) His courting of Vanessa, in that way, was not an act.
There’s a terrific consent metaphor in this episode, and we see one instance of permission being asked and given and one of it being soundly denied. Vanessa comes to the museum to kill Dracula. Catriona (Cat, to her girlfriends) tells Vanessa that the dragon is essentially mortal while he’s in his human form. So she shows up armed. Yet, the second she decides to engage Dracula in conversation about his pursuit of her, I know she’s lost. (If you give the guy who wants to “rain pestilence” down on humanity a chance to explain his side of the story, your objectivity MIGHT be gone.) Dracula plays it so damn cool. He gives her space. He doesn’t try to overpower her. What he does do is play to her ego. And Vanessa may be very kind, but she does enjoy being praised. She betrays Mina again, not a minute after chiding Dracula for sucking the life out of her.
Dracula: How am I cruel? To love you?
Vanessa: You’ve lied to me from the first moment. You tore my heart.
Dracula: Have I lied? You met a man who marvels wide-eyed at the miracles of nature. So I am. You met a man who has known pain and tragedy. And so I am. You met a man who wanted to possess you for his own ends but, instead, he fell in love. That’s the man I am, and the monster.
Vanessa: Even now you twist at me. All the years. All the assaults on myself, on my friends. On my dear Mina, who died with your teeth on her throat! How dare you speak of love?
Dracula: Dare with me.
Vanessa: I will not lower my head and feed with the animals. I will never serve you.
Dracula: No, I don’t want you to serve me, Vanessa, I want to serve you. The Mother of Evil.
Another ego is out there running rampant and writhing on a 20 foot dining table. Dorian’s growing disillusionment is in Lily’s blindspot, and that is her downfall. His home is overrun with Lily’s women, and though he’s seated at the head of the table, their battle cries would drown out any word he said. The training is complete, and it’s time for this army to get to work. Billie Piper acts the living shit out of a monologue about the keening women of Ireland and their deaths at the whim of powerful men. And then she demands that her followers go out into the night and pay tribute to the “pagan practice” of her ancestors. Later, the women drink, dance, and congratulate each other on their work. A pile of severed right hands make up a Pinterest nightmare of a centerpiece. Dorian walks through the revels like a put-upon dad at a rowdy slumber party. Justine, who’s been caressing a fellow soldier, stops to taunt him. And Dorian’s reaction reveals a man at his breaking point.
That’s a man with no concept of morality (even the twisted one Lily upholds) and no capacity to love, by the way. This is bad news for Lily, who is so wrapped up in being a general that she doesn’t see the signs that he’s about to betray her. Lily’s arc this season is the kind that’s usually reserved for male characters. The hubris, the extremism, and later, the fall. We learn at the top of the episode that Brona Croft had a daughter, Sarah, who only lived one year. When she goes to the cemetery to bring her flowers, Lily spots another mother watching a tiny casket being lowered into a fresh grave. She approaches her, and man is this poor woman confused.
Lily is so high on her own plans that she has lost contact with reality. She promises this mother that “the day a good woman will have to undergo such indignity is almost past.” Lily believes that a matriarchal society will eliminate the greed that packs the poorhouses in her city and leaves children without medicine and clean water. And hey, if you know me, you know I’m not going to argue against that theory. But a matriarchal society can’t keep children from dying. It can’t eliminate disease or accidents or god’s will. Lily is certainly operating from a righteous place. But her expectations are wildly unrealistic, and she’s setting herself up for failure. Dorian decides she must be punished. Not for that – the girls could slaughter every other man in London and he wouldn’t raise an eyebrow – but for ignoring him.
So an unholy alliance comes to claim Lily, and it’s like the patriarchy itself dragged her into that carriage. Listen: each of those three men represents an attitude towards women that makes up what we call toxic masculinity. Dorian wants to penalize Lily for acting against his wishes and for being too independent from him. Victor wants to “fix” Lily so that she’ll be worthy of his love again. And Henry is just a sadistic asshole who wants to watch. “You’re safe here,” Victor says to Lily once she wakes up in Bedlam. He truly believes it. (“We’re going to make you better.” “Better than what?”) I submit that Vanessa’s first act as Queen of Evil be to smite all three of these fuckers.
Victor’s other living creation is finally getting a win, no thanks to his maker. Too long has The Creature been the Eeyore of this band of monsters. After some light (and well-meant) stalking of his former family, he makes contact on the advice of his dear friend Vanessa Ives. (“We’ve been unhappy long enough.”) His wife is a lot more understanding about the walking dead aspect of things than I would have been, but I suppose it goes to show what a strong and unconditional bond they had when The Creature was alive. (Meanwhile, my gross brain throughout most of their reunion scene: “Are they gonna have SEX? Is that even safe? Wouldn’t that technically be considered necrophilia?” And so on.) The Creature doesn’t hold back when he talks about Victor’s callousness and ambition. “He created life, but has no care for its nurturing,” he says. But there’s no much anger left in the words. Not anymore. And there’s none at all on his wife’s side. “He has brought you back to us,” she reasons. “For this, I bless him.” Yeah, but you guys don’t have a clue what he’s up to RIGHT THIS SECOND.
For now, the patriarchy is in the lead and the night creatures are celebrating. But as Dr. Seward said, Vanessa’s is a “true” split personality. The light is on par with the dark. She may be high on the power, but will she really let the Ethan and Malcolm (“the baby”) perish with the rest of humanity (“the bathwater”)? Penny Dreadful finales are tend to be battlegrounds, and I wonder if Lucifer will be back to fight his brother for his lady again. All I know is that a lot of people who are no strangers to “night work” are converging on London. And that Eva Green needs a friggin’ Emmy.
- Vanessa is so cute in the mornings, wtf.
- “I haven’t slept so well in years.” “I hope it was the company.” Oh god. Ohhhhhhhhhh my god.
- “You were kind to me once and I loved you for it.”
- I rarely know what is Kaetenay talking about.
- A DATE:
- Kaetenay: “Does she have a feeling for things not of this earth?” Ethan and Malcolm exchange a glance. In unison: “Yes.”
- Okay but Vanessa’s face when Kaetenay appeared to her and mentioned Ethan.
- “You are a great, fertile bitch of evil and I love you for your fertility and your power.” A. What a compliment! B. Enough with the hints. Is she pregnant with the anti-Christ or what?
- “Right as rain, yes I will.”
- Remember when Cat called Vanessa “my darling?”
Can you BELIEVE it’s finale time already? We’re going to be live-tweeting the whole thing from @HeadOverFeels. For now, let’s talk about “Ebb Tide” and Dorian’s man-scarf in the comments.