Penny Dreadful: “What Death Can Join Together” Review

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After spending a whole episode finding out the most mundane “terrible secret” ever, Penny Dreadful brings its ensemble cast back with more bloody, sexually-amped hijinks.  “What Death Can Join Together” gave us unnecessary apologies, deep discussions over dinner, and a vampire battle on a burning ghost ship.  Ser Malcolm is still pretending he’s the only person who’s ever known suffering, while Caliban attempts to make a new friend.  Does anyone else find it hilarious that Dr Frankenstein keeps quoting Shelley?  We’re nearing the end of Season One, but Season Two is being written as we speak.  Spoilers for “What Death Can Join Together” after the jump.


This week’s Penny Dreadful opens with the realization that Vanessa’s room is no longer a suitable place to sleep.  Fenton’s gory death has put the kibosh on that.  Ser Malcolm accuses Vanessa of not caring about Mina, and not trying hard enough to bring her back.  Whatevs.  He could stand to keep in mind that he’s not the only one who’s lost someone.  Sembene, who we still know almost nothing about, attempts to prepare Malcolm for the possibility that Mina may be too far gone to be saved.  How Sembene knows this is anyone’s guess.  Malcolm refuses to even consider that he may find his daughter and not be able to save her.  Vanessa tells Ser Malcolm that she’ll do her best to find another clue.

Brona has a rough night coughing blood onto her pillow.  She apologizes to Ethan for her outburst outside the Grand Guignol.  Ethan, like me, feels that no apology is needed.  It’s quite reasonable that someone would be occasionally bitchy or depressed around healthy, happy, privileged people when they’re dying and can’t even afford enough medication to be comfortable.  Ethan explains that he spent the night hanging out with Dorian, but conveniently doesn’t mention that they fooled around.  Apparently Brona and Ethan love each other with all their respective hearts.  I thought they were mainly friends with benefits, so it’s a good thing they explained that.

Penny 1.6 Brona Ethan

Vanessa and her puffy sleeves consult her Penny Dreadful tarot to see what she can see.  She has a vague auditory “vision” of a ship, some men, and something awful happening.  We can safely assume that this is foreshadowing.  Vanessa tells Ser Malcolm, but he pays her no heed.  Enter Dorian Gray, wondering if Miss Ives in the mood for an adventure.  Ser Malcolm gives her leave, so she goes with him.  She’s never actually had her picture taken before, so it’s a new experience for her.

Victor Frankenstein is examining the poor mangled body of Fenton.  Aside from his being anemic and malnourished, he’s pretty average.  Victor suspects that Fenton called the head vampire using some variation of echolocation—like a bat would.  Neat!  He plans to confer with Van Helsing.  Down at the theatre, Caliban has an actual conversation with Maud, the fetching actress who gets ripped apart by a werewolf on stage.  She’s sympathetic to Caliban’s deformity, and speaks of her brother, Lucifer, who was badly burned in a work accident.  She’s impressed by his books.  For a few minutes, it seems like Caliban might actually be able to meet a girl the old fashioned way—even though just talking with Maud almost gave him a panic attack.

Penny 1.6 Book Lucifer

Vanessa and Dorian are enjoying the obligatory conversation about how some undeveloped tribesmen believe photos steal a part of your soul.  Gray explains that he prefers paintings—which we, the audience, already knows.  Unlike Brona Croft, Vanessa leaves her clothes on for the photo.  She also looks directing into the camera as if daring it to take some of her soul.  Later, Maud returns to her dressing room to find a gift from Caliban.  It’s a book with an awesome picture of the pre-Satanic Lucifer, bringer of light.  Caliban is crushed to learn that Maud has a boyfriend already, and that he is no match for the handsome actor.  Like many damaged men, Caliban feels cheated by his bad luck with the ladies.

While Vanessa puts on a scandalously revealing dress for dinner with Dorian, Dr Frankenstein is seeking a subject for his next project—the bride of Caliban.  He takes a break for dinner and work talk with Professor Van Helsing.  As expected, David Warner is understated and wonderful.  He talks of the love of his life, a beautiful woman in a blue dress who died from an unexpected stake through the heart, followed by a beheading.  Funny, since David Warner is also beheaded in The Omen (1976).  Frankenstein is haunted by a line Percy Shelley wrote about the death of John Keats in Adonais.  No more let life divide what death can bring together.  This line, in the context of Penny Dreadful, can refer to absolutely anything.  I find his quoting of Shelley particularly amusing since Percy’s wife, Mary Shelley, actually wrote the novel Frankenstein.  Victor worries if the universe will take retribution on him for his pride and hubris.  Spoiler alert: it will.  Van Helsing seems to genuinely like Victor, and vice versa.

Penny 1.6 Van Dorian

Brona doesn’t think Ethan should kiss her anymore, but he’s not afraid of getting sick.  Hell, he’s probably got pack-immunity.  Ethan sought new accommodations for Brona.  Sadly, he can’t afford anything better than an asylum, which would be utterly terrifying in this time period.  He decides to keep her with him at the inn, even after Ser Malcolm offers to pay for her stay in a better facility.  The last half of the episode intercuts three scenes—Vanessa’s date with Dorian, Victor’s evening with Van Helsing, and Ser Malcolm as he Sembene, and Ethan can go check out the ghost ship from Vanessa’s vision.  Guess what?  It’s full of vampires…and chicanery.  He actually says chicanery. 

Van Helsing and Victor enjoy an after dinner walk, where Victor learns the unendurable truth that vampires exist and one has Mina Murray.  Van Helsing explains that Ser Malcolm can never know the full truth of what has his daughter.  Vanessa and Dorian discuss whether being exceptional is a gift or a curse, whether it’s better to be unique or alone—and if that’s even a choice people have.  They then go back to his place to play music and look at portraits.  Riiiight.  Frankenstein seems unmoved by the pulp comic explaining vampires, but Van Helsing explains that they drink blood and transform their victims.  He’s starting to get it, I think.  Van Helsing is telling Frankenstein that his life will be long and difficult, but that someday he can “astonish the world.”  In a single blink, Van Helsing is dragged into an alley and murdered by Caliban the dickish, who I’m totally losing my patience with.  Farewell Van Helsing.  I was totally counting on you to kill this vampire.  Victor is left alone in the alley with his horror.

Penny 1.6 Caliban

The fearless vampire killers do a swell job of shooting all the blond vampire chicks on the ship—for all the good that’ll do.  The editing and photog work is excellent here.  They don’t see Mina, and Ser Malcolm concludes that she isn’t there.  This is where bringing Vanessa might have come in handy, since she’d have surely felt Mina’s presence.  Of course Vanessa is busy having corset-wearing bloodletting sex with Dorian Gray.  Until…  But wait, Mina is on the ghost ship.  She calls out for her father, but there’s fire everywhere and he can’t get to her.  The vampire takes her away and Ser Malcolm is powerless to save her.  You just know that’s gonna put him in a terrible mood!  Vanessa’s violent sexcapades lead to another time-stopping vision.  She hears the demon voice again, with more talk about what games they’ll have.  She flees the Gray home without a word.

Back at the Murray home, Ethan attempt to console Malcolm, saying they’ll find Mina again.  She’s alive, right?  That’s good news, isn’t it?  Malcolm reminds Ethan of his overbearing father, so he’s got no problem giving the old man a little straight talk.  It was wrong to exclude Vanessa, and if Malcolm doesn’t get over that shit, he’ll never find Mina and bring her home.  Across town, Dorian Gray is scrawny and enjoys walking around naked.  He stands in front of his portrait watching his wounds magically heal.  I’ve decided that I don’t want to see the actual portrait of Dorian Gray.  The longer they make us wait, the higher my expectations until it’s just better dramatically to never show it.

Penny 1.6 Creature

Ser Malcolm hears Vanessa return home, and is about to tell her that he hasn’t exactly been honest.  Before he can, he sees that she’s a friggin’ mess.  When she levitates and spins around in mid-air, it’s enough to end any attempt at conversation.  She’s clearly possessed, and has been fighting it off for some time.  How much longer will she last?  With two episodes remaining in the season, I’m confident that she’ll hold out.

Overall, I’m finding Penny Dreadful to be enjoyable, but very uneven.  Excellent camera work, multi-facted characters and inspired writing gives a nice lift to emotional clichés and excessive melodrama.

See you’s next week!