Penny Dreadful: “Possession” Review
Vanessa isn’t feeling well in this week’s episode of Penny Dreadful. In “Possession,” a demon makes his intentions known. We learn of more dastardly doings by Ser Malcolm Murray, and finally find out whether or not Peter got his mountain. Sembene makes a suggestion; Victor learns a new skill; and we learn that Ferdinand Lyle’s Egyptologist rantings were more than mere comic relief. If you’re not a fan of CGI spiders, you might want to avoid a tarot reading from Vanessa any time soon. “Possession” is the penultimate episode of the first season, and there be spoilers after the jump.
I wonder if the title, “Possession” is any indicator of why Vanessa’s mood is so sour this week. LOL, jk. Of course it is. Vanessa’s demon has returned, and the fellas are up in arms to help her. You’ll no doubt notice the parallels between Vanessa’s story and that of Lucy Westerna from Dracula. The woman possessed of an evil spirit, wasting away and tied to a bed. In another room, various male suitors, including a doctor and an American cowboy, puzzle over her condition and wonder what’s to be done. What, indeed? They should be consulting with Van Helsing. Alas, he is unavailable due to an unfortunate neck-snapping.
Vanessa is easily the strongest performer in all of Penny Dreadful, though she is ably supported by the rest of the cast. Van takes on various personas this week as the demon seeks to…well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Perhaps most unusual of all, we see Vanessa in pants. Her monologue about dressing up corpses in makeup and taking pictures for wank materials? Eeeeeeew, but oddly titillating, no? Ser Malcolm continues his attempts to gain answers from Vanessa, with very little success. She’s more interested in channeling Mina, who talks of her depressed fat mother who cried for the husband who did not love her. As Mina, Van confronts Malcolm about the hundreds of women he cheated with. We learned that he even encouraged Peter to participate in his debauchery. Gross. That’s when objects start flying around the room—the tell-tale sign of demonic possession. Sembene addresses the issue in his own unique way.
Vanessa seems calm when Victor Frankenstein arrives. He means well, of course, but is a self-important ass. His examination is laughable, as is their conversation. I was struck during this scene how much I hope that’s Eva Green’s real hair. It is spectacular. Victor confirms that he isn’t married. We assumed this, since we’ve never seen him near a woman. We learn here that like many possessed people, Vanessa knows things she couldn’t know. She knows of Victor’s obsession with the Shelley verse, No more let life divide what death can join together. Frankenstein leaves the room, assuring us that he intends to discover far more than he has. He asks Murray if Van has “experienced sexual trauma,” and whether or not she’s “intact.” Far as I can tell, Malcolm lied both times. As the men talk, CGI spiders emerge from the tarot—the same spiders that emerged from the crucifix earlier. Are they symbolic of the Demon, the Creature, of evil itself, or are they just scary?
Enter Ethan Chandler. By this time, Vanessa is growling like an animal. She knows his secrets too. She knows they have a lover in common, someone Brona Croft was intimate with as well—and there are pictures. Van is fighting the thing inside her, fighting it with all she has. I gotta say though, what the demon is offering her doesn’t sound half bad. I don’t speak Arabic, but when she rambles and screams, she’s asking to die according to Ser Malcolm.
Finally, Malcolm lays it out for Ethan and Victor: Vanessa is being possessed by a demon. Also, as Lyle explained, Vanessa may an incarnation of the goddess Amunet—the hidden female. Whether she is or not, the Creature may believe she is, which is why he wants her. Ethan sums up what we’re all thinking with a delightfully exasperated, “Oh, fuck me.” Ser Malcolm is less interested in what Vanessa wants and more about pumping her for information that could lead to Mina. If it turns out that he’s also Vanessa’s father—which it totally could, Malcolm will be an even bigger a-hole than he is already. Ethan says it’s time to call a priest, which Victor thinks is stupid. Ethan got pretty angry at the mention of an “old gypsy woman,” didn’t he?
We learn a new thing about Victor Frankenstein this week. He’s a morphine addict. How Bela Lugosi! He admits that it’s an addiction. We later learn that he developed a taste for narcotics when he was repeatedly “treated” with cocaine as a child. That’ll do it. Victor claims that he takes morphine for pain, but we don’t know whether he means physical pain or, more likely, emotional pain. When he looks out the window, we’re reminded that the demands of Caliban still loom over him. Ironic then, that Victor doesn’t have a woman in his life either. Upstairs, Van and Ethan speak until Ethan’s eyes go dark and we see that he’s possessed as well—just for a bit. Vanessa again begs to die, but that’s not what the Creature wants. He wants her to submit. She won’t. He wants her to be the Mother of Evil, to rule the darkness over a scorched earth. Not a bad gig, really. But no…she prefers Roman Catholicism to everlasting darkness. I guess there’s no pleasing some people. For a moment, Vanessa and Ethan enjoy a peaceful embrace while Sembene sits, watchful, down the hall.
Every time Ser Malcolm reveals something about himself, I like him just a little less. We already knew he left Peter at base camp to die so he could continue his mission to secure more glory for himself. But learning that he actually named Peter’s mountains after himself? Thoughtless, arrogant, I…I don’t even have the words. Screw that guy. His many failings are probably the only reason he’s trying so hard to help Mina now. Of course, he wants her back for his own selfish reasons—and because he knows he looks weak if his daughter is taken from him and he can’t get her back. I sort of hope he dies at the end of all this. Victor is right, he doesn’t have a single shred of decency left.
Ethan is unimpressed with Victor’s efforts to keep Vanessa alive. With an almost unnatural changing of the subject, Victor borrows a gun from Ethan and asks to be taught how to shoot. Ethan is only too happy to oblige. The two men shoot happily in the stone basement until Sembene comes down to inquire about the noise—ostensibly at the request of Ser Malcolm. We learn this week that Ethan can cook. Ethan assumed that Ser Malcolm saved Sembene and brought him to England. The truth is actually what I assumed, that Sembene saved Ser Malcolm’s life and now Sembene feels responsible for him. Sembene, who believes there’s some truth in every religion, also thinks it’s time for a priest. Sembene and Ethan seem to be the only honorable men in this equation.
Finally, a priest actually shows up. After they give him the scoop about her possession, the father is clear in saying that he’s only there to hear her confession and give the Last Rights. He didn’t agree to have a hunk of his face bitten off, so that must have been a fun surprise for him. Even more fun is when Vanessa’s latest fit ends with hieroglyphs appearing on her chest—Amunet and Amun Ra. It’s all true. Ethan jumps in and for a minute, we think he might shoot her and put her out of her torment. She begs him to do it. Instead, he blesses her with Brona’s medallion and recites the exorcism ritual in perfect Latin. Wowsers! It seems to have some effect—the Demon sounds mad. Vanessa sleeps peacefully after that, at least for a while. Exit Ethan—though he leaves the door open, letting us know that he’ll be back.
Vanessa seems disturbed but physically fine when she wakes, we don’t know how much later. The claw will slash and tooth will rend. Sounds like more werewolf talk to me. Suddenly, Vanessa knows where Mina is.
Next week is the season finale of Penny Dreadful. I predict that Victor will offer to play doctor for Brona, but will actually attempt to use her to fulfill the demands of Caliban. I think Victor would do anything to relieve his guilt, and I’m not at all sure he deserves that. What will become of Vanessa? It’s hard to say. But we’ll know soon enough. I anticipate decent closure at the end of the season, and will be bummed if it’s all cliffhanger.
See you’s next week!