PENNY DREADFUL Recap: “What Death Can Join Together”

     June 15, 2014


Penny Dreadful has become one of those delightful shows that starts strong, and then just keeps getting stronger.  After the exceptional “Closer Than Sisters” last week, it was possible, even probable that “What Death Can Join Together” might hit a speed bump.  Though the plot didn’t really advance much in this hour, it showed that Penny Dreadful is so good with its character development that it doesn’t need to. Mina is still seen in glimpses, the Creature is still in emotional pain, Vanessa and Dorian spent scintillating time together, and Victor had some difficult lessons to learn.  And yet, the world-building in Penny Dreadful is so strong that it was still an incredible hour.  Hit the jump for some possible “chicanery!”

penny-dreadful-eva-green-posterThe word “vampire” was finally uttered in “What Death Can Join Together,” and with it, Van Helsing (David Warner) brought up the fact that the word and the idea of a vampire was relatively unknown at the time (unlike the saturation we deal with today…).  And of course, a mention of penny dreadfuls was brought up (yet again), to do what any good horror tale should do: say that these pulp novels are full of fiction, but also speak of truth.

Vanessa and Dorian had an interesting conversation about being different and being alone.  I mentioned last week that the show’s world punishes those who seek power and glory.  They are given that power, but everything else is taken away.  Vanessa has been given certain abilities, but they are ones she can’t control.  She can never be free, or they overtake her (which happened during her animalistic copulation with Dorian).  Dorian, too, is alone and bored, having been granted immortality, and a portrait which soaks up all of his transgressions.

For Victor, Van Helsing was finally able to illuminate the nature of the The Master which Sir Malcolm seeks, and why, as Sembene warns Sir Malcolm, if Mina cannot be saved, he needs to know what he is willing to do.  Van Helsing spoke to Victor about the wife he loved deeply, who did not in fact succumb to disease; rather, “I drove a stake through her heard and cut off her head.”  That will get one’s attention.

Like Malcolm, Van Helsing assured Victor that he has much to contribute, but that he is not the rough-and-tumble type to be going on adventures without protection.  This time, Van Helsing offers his, saying that since he’s near the end of his life, his loss would not be as great.  Of course, the fact that he’s essentially the only vampire hunter on Earth is kind of a big deal, so the Creature killing him was indeed a huge loss (most especially for Malcolm to get further information about how he might get to and save Mina). It also showed how Victor’s “mistake” in trying to reanimate a human continues to haunt him.

penny-dreadful-s01e06-rory-kinnearThe Creature killing Van Helsing also added yet another twisted dimension to his personality.  He was hated at first for killing Proteus, but after his backstory, he was pitiable.  The same was true after he gave Maude (Hannah Tointon) the book about Lucifer as a love note, which she recognized as such.  She was kind to him, but she isn’t going to fall in love with him.  His confusion over that caused him to lash out and kill Van Helsing in order to spur Victor on in making him a bride.

To shift gears for a minute for comparison: one of my main complaints about the FX show Fargo is that everything that happens is expected.  There’s a fatalism to the world that drives the action in such a set way that there are few surprises.  Miraculously, Penny Dreadful, a show which pulls its characters from age-old literature, manages to bring about constant surprises.  The show does a lot of foreshadowing, but also manages to throw in quite a few frights and twists.  The Creature told Victor that he would kill everyone he loved, yes, but our minds were on this new adventure Victor was having with Van Helsing, and threat of vampires.  That’s very good pacing and storytelling.

Back to the supernatural: the problem with those Sir Malcolm has assembled to search for Mina is that they are all different from regular humans.  As Vanessa says, it can be a curse, and for this group, it really is.  Ultimately though, they are connected through death.  As Victor quotes from Shelley (the perfect thing for another Shelley’s creation to be doing), “No more let life divide what death can join together.”  Not if Sir Malcolm and his posse can help it, anyway.

Episode Rating: A

Musings and Miscellanea:

penny-dreadful-s01e06-rory-kinnear-1– My online screener stuttered a few times during the screams Vanessa heard from the painting, which was actually an awesomely creepy effect.

– “Do not ask permission.  Do a thing because it is your desire, not my allowance. You must risk rejection” – Vanessa.

Eva Green‘s accent really wavered in this hour.  I feel more and more that they should have just let her be French.

– Malcolm playing dad when Vanessa dressed up for dinner was kind of sweet.

– Malcolm: “She’ll cease being what she is.” Ethan: “Then I’ll love what she becomes,” talking about Brona.  I can’t help but feel this is foreshadowing Brona being turned into an immortal.

– Really great montage of Vanessa’s face as she began to let the darkness overtake her.  I mean, it’s not surprising I guess when you cut someone and drink their blood that things are about to get a little crazy …

– We’re still not being shown Dorian’s portrait.  Nice build-up (if it is ever revealed).

– Few things are as horrible to think about than “a plague ship.”

– I very much appreciate how the vampires in Penny Dreadful are horrible, and that they are all connected to the Master (i.e. they do not sleep or wake without him).  Victor’s comment about them having some kind of echolocation like bats was also a nice touch.

– How great was the fight with the screeching vampires?  Finally!  Vampires that aren’t sexy or sparkly, but animalistic hunters.

– “Chicanery!” – Malcolm.

– “Do not weep.  I have learned that skill.  It brings no solace” – The Creature, with his exceptional cadence and diction.

– “For the dead travel fast” – Van Helsing (R.I.P.)

  • randommale7

    Penny Dreadful continues to be captivating television!

  • Redjester

    Solid show, although it seems I’m the only one that could do without the Frankenstein’s monster storyline. It really kills an otherwise great show for me, not sure why.

    • Gallan

      He seems a significantly shallower character than in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I can’t help feel, there is no justification for him being such a dick.

      • Polarboy

        The way I see it is that in a way he is still a child without the learned filter for his emotion, that we get through socialization, and yet he has the adult intelligence to deeply feel the worst emotions in the human condition.

      • Science Advisor

        The first ‘resurrected’ creature had memories, so this one likely did as well. They claimed the first taught itself to read, which is about as silly as it taught itself to speak just by reading. Many of the characters are two dimensional and are not being developed. They simply are tossed in for one purpose and left dangling or written out (like Van Helsing).

        I thought they *might* be clever enough to recruit it to the team, but apparently I was too optimistic about the producer’s creativity. Now that the monster is a confirmed murderer (the first was jealousy against another ‘monster’), it is an antagonist with no redeemable features.

      • Polarboy

        Well to say that I disagree with your comment would be an understatement. For a start Caliban, or Victor’s first monster, has never shown signs of remembering his former life, or should I say his brain hasn’t recalled previous memories. Your point is based on an assumption because of the other creature regaining some memories, would he have recalled everything, maybe, but that hardly matters when discussing Caliban.

        Your other point about many of the character’s being two dimensional also doesn’t hold to scrutiny. Very few shows spend as much time with character development as this show, and while some characters have yet to be delved into as thoroughly as Sir Malcolm, Vanessa and Victor. I have no doubt that they will be given the methodical way the others been fleshed out. If Ethan and Dorian don’t get the same treatment before series end then you may have a point with regards to them.

        As for them not being “clever” enough to recruit Caliban straight away, well that in my opinion is the most banal and obvious way they could have dealt with him. Also while Caliban may have felt jealousy toward the second monster that wasn’t his only motivation and he actually felt in some ways it was a mercy given his more than turbulent journey from his birth until that moment.

        Lastly I will again put forward that the way in which Caliban developed from his “birth” means that while his intelligence wasn’t arrested, at least for long, his emotional development is. Think about what would happen if someone was born an adult without the time to develop the tools needed to navigate and control their impulses and emotions.

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    if this program continues to become the awesome thriller it appears to be, and thus tying characters together , then one things for sure..THE GUNSLINGER’S HOOKER GIRLFRIEND MUST INEVITABELY END UP AS “THE MONSTER’S” BRIDE!

  • Mark Pontin

    Eva Green’s accent did NOT waver from British-ness in this episode. I’m British.

    However, her accent is inconsistent across British class lines — and has been in all episodes. On the other hand, this happens to many people in real life — and often people with interesting backgrounds.

  • Science Advisor

    Her jaw movement looks German, and the accent coming out when this happens looks like they hired a voice actress to re-record her lines. Other times she speaks normally. It keeps ripping me out of any immersion.

    Luckily there is little of that since the first episode. The story and pace are developing as if this were a full 22 episode season, instead of a short-run 8 episodes with only 2 to go. Unless they meaningfully advance the Frankenstein, Werewolf, as well as the Vampire storyline, this will be the only season I watch. I just cannot stay interested when they move this slowly and keep messing up the lore (bullets kill vampires, silver does not bother werewolves, etc.).

  • Diego Fernando Salazar Proaño

    How is it possible that the very harmless M’s assistant from Skyfall gets so menacing as The Monster. It’s just awesome!

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