Penny Dreadful: “Demimonde” Review

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Blood flowed freely on this week’s Penny Dreadful. “Demimonde” brought us a night at the theatre, deadly flora, and deadlier fauna. We met new characters, saw copious amounts of rats, and heard Caliban make a rather ridiculous addendum to his previous request. Wax cylinders played the hits of the day, Sembene brought Fenton a pressie, and Ser Malcolm began planning another trip to Africa. Oh, and we saw a vampire that looked astonishingly like the one from Episode One. “Demimonde” was not for the faint of heart, and you can expect episode spoilers after the jump.

“Demimonde” began with some artful and hedonistic displays of nudity in Dorian Gray’s living room. Dorian is sort of the Captain Jack Harkness of Penny Dreadful, since it seems no one of either gender can resist him. When the party dies down, Mr. Gray steps past a painting that looks very much like Brona Croft, and into a room that contains…it. We know what it is. It’s the famed “Picture of Dorian Gray.” We don’t get to look at it, but we do see him looking at it. He does not appear especially tormented.

Cut to Vanessa sitting outside a church. A young girl approaches, wondering why Vanessa doesn’t enter. The girl is well spoken and a bit precocious. She also has a nanny whom she calls “a beast.” Normally, we could take that as an insult. But on Penny Dreadful, it could be far more literal. The girl talks of her mother, and how the dead don’t always stay underground. Vanessa is taken aback by this, even after the girl explains that she means the dead go to heaven. We’re more taken aback to find that the girl is Lucy. It seems all of Dracula’s girls already know each other.

Penny 1.4 Vanessa Lucy

Vanessa enters the botanical garden where she encounters Dorian. They discuss the duplicity of deadly flowers–how they entreat their prey to touch them, taste them. Watch for the amazing phrase “The adder beneath the rose.” The interactions between Gray and Vanessa don’t feel as titillating as I think they’re supposed to. But then, will they or won’t they is an awfully tired trope.

We see an old man looking at a blood slide through a microscope. Eep! It’s David Warner as the hematologist Malcolm paid to consult with Frankenstein. The hematologist has developed a serum, Hannah’s Wink, that prevents blood coagulation. Why keep blood liquid? For eating. This is not some random doctor. It’s Abrahim Van Helsing. Frankenstein can’t stay. He’s very unhappy to see Caliban waiting for him across the street. What does Caliban want now? He wants Frankenstein to get upon the task of creating him a mate. Oh, and she needs to be pretty. Because even an undead murderous blackmailing monster shouldn’t have to be stuck with an ugly girl, right? *eyeroll* Caliban already smashed Victor’s equipment and trashed two of his labs. So it’s gonna be awhile.

Ethan and Brona continue their relationship. She reveals how she had been engaged to a brutal man who abused her. When she complained to her mother, it was made clear to Brona that poor girls either get married or become whores. Brona decided she’d be better off fucking for money. I can’t say I disagree. Ethan doesn’t judge—after all he’s got so many sins at his back it would kill him to turn around. Chandler decides to take his dying girlfriend out on the town that evening.

Penny 1.4 Brona Ethan

Fenton is still on the short bus to crazy town, and still calling Vanessa “Mother.” Duh, she’s the wife of Dracula. Victor plans to give Fenton blood transfusions. Odd that he does no blood tests first—surely they knew about blood types in the 1890’s? We’re also reminded Victor and Ethan dislike everything about the other. Victor thinks Ethan is a savage Indian killer; while Ethan calls Victor a “bloodless dandy.” Neither man is entirely incorrect. Conversation turns to the inciting murders; and Ethan is visibly unnerved. That’s when we realize that it was Ethan who murdered the mother and her daughter in the opening scene of the series. He’s a werewolf. That’s why he woke up disoriented and filthy on the wharf. Chandler Sr. is probably one too. Malcolm invites Chandler to accompany him to Africa, making Victor jealous.

Fenton’s transfusion blood comes from Malcolm. It appears to work at first, with Fenton calming down and gaining a more even pallor. But when Vanessa shares her apple with him, the vampire boy becomes enraged. He wants blood, raw meat, intestines, flesh. Victor and Ser Malcolm discuss butchering something for him, but Sembene murders him a cat. Bon Apetit, amirite? Later, Malcolm explains to Victor why he doesn’t want to take him to Africa. Ethan is a hired gun whom he doesn’t give a crap about, but Victor is far too important to risk. Victor also reminds Malcolm of his dead son, Peter.

Penny 1.4 Wolf

Night falls and it’s time for the theatre—the Grand Guignol in fact. Ethan and Brona, Dorian, Vanessa, even Sembene are there (it’s his night off). Caliban dashes around doing his job, and we can’t help noticing the candles and gas lamps so perilously close to the heavy curtains and flowing gowns of the ladies. It’s a friggin’ fire trap. The crowd loves the Grand Guignol, and why not? It’s bloody as hell, and contains a werewolf. Werewolf. Did everybody get that? Werewolf!!! Honestly, Penny Dreadful, audiences are sharp about such things. No need to bash us over the head.

I was reasonably sure Caliban would catch a glimpse of Brona and fall instantly in love. That didn’t happen. Ethan, Dorian, and Vanessa chat in the lobby. Having prostituted herself to Dorian, Brona was humiliated to see him socially. She runs out. When Ethan goes after her, she screams at him that their relationship isn’t going anywhere, that he’s basically fucking a skeleton, and he should be with Vanessa if that’s what he wants. She proceeds to hack her lungs up alone in the street. I can’t help notice how many people walk by and ignore her. I find that both gross and terrifying.

Penny 1.4 Malcolm Vic            Ser Malcolm and Victor are alone at Malcolm’s home when they hear thumping upstairs. Fenton has escapedand is creepily following the pair up stairs. There’s a scuffle, and a vampire! In the end, the men are unharmed, the vampire escapes, and poor Fenton dies, crying for Mother. Outside the theatre, Ethan and Dorian discuss how awesome it would be to transform into someone else. The gents take a short trip to…at first I thought it was a fight club, which explains why they weren’t talking about it. Then I thought maybe a cockfight, or a dog fight. No… There were pits, but they were filled with rats. Rats! I hate swarms of rats. These appeared to be Rattus Norvegicus when they should have been Rattus Rattus. But I’ll let that go. We see a dog. I was utterly horrified that I might have to watch a dog get eaten by a swarm of rats. Again, no. A bunch of snobby drunk rich guys were slumming for fun, placing bets on how many rats the dog would kill. Really? I did enjoy watching Ethan beat up those pompous, American-hating Brits who think watching things kill other things is a “sport.”

Afterwards, Dorian and Ethan head back to his place where we get a look at a truly sweet absinthe fountain. Absinthe tastes like rotten wood mixed with feet, so they add sugar and enough water to bring out the tannins. It should actually be clear when drunk—but when the men drink to Vanessa, it’s bright green. Dorian admits that he has a favorite portrait, but that it isn’t in that room. *Wink* Also, Ethan heals very quickly. I didn’t notice that before. Anyway, Dorian is always looking for the new experience, whether it’s women, cologne, or watching things bleed. Before long, Ethan and Dorian are making out. That was much more surprising for me—unlike the werewolf stuff, I felt like we got no hints at all about Ethan’s fluid sexuality.

Penny 1.4 Dorian

Vanessa returns home to give more vague clues about her relationships with Ser Malcolm and Mina. It’s clear now that the Creature is looking for Vanessa, and Malcolm makes no bones about the fact that he wishes this had happened to her and not his sweet Mina. But it’s not like he’s blameless in all this. We’re at the halfway point of Season One of Penny Dreadful with “Demimonde,” and I feel like they’re consistently asking more than they’re answering. Still, I’m enjoying the show so far, and am stoked to see where they’re going with the less obvious stuff.

See you’s next week!