Penny Dreadful: “Verbis Diablo” Review
Brona and Caliban meet again, Ferdinand Lyle returns, Mrs. Poole acquires, and Dorian makes a new friend.
“Verbis Diablo” saw the return of two characters we didn’t see in the season opener. We were reminded of the fatal flaws of some of our favorites, and that a few of our dramatis personae are biding time until their next disaster. Frankenstein lies, Caliban flirts, Chandler steals, and Ferdinand Lyle goes through life thinking everyone believes him to be straight. Spoilers for “Verbis Diablo” follow.
This week begins, unsurprisingly, with Vanessa recovering from another bout of occultish phenomenon. Sir Malcolm assures her that “wherever we walk, we walk together.” But you know, he probably told his wife that at some point, and his mistress, and his children. And yet, he’s not near any of them anymore. To get her mind off things, Malcolm takes Vanessa to a place that makes him feel “like a better person.” He knows he’s not, of course. It’s a soup kitchen for people with cholera, which is probably among the most depressing non-asylum places you can go in this time period.
At casa del Frankenstein, Victor and Caliban attempt to communicate with the now-revived Brona Croft. It’s not clear what, if anything, she’ll remember from her previous life. Caliban seemed to remember nothing, but Proteus remembered lots. I can’t help noticing that even when Caliban is trying to be nice, he’s still a selfish ass. Victor’s attraction to the reanimated girl is uncomfortable, as is the tremendous spate of lies he dumps on her before she can even speak. If he’s going to pretend they’re related, he should try to be a little less Lannister about the whole thing. Also, her accent is gone. What’s that about?
Later, we get a marvelous scene with Caliban at the soup kitchen, chatting about religion with Vanessa. See Caliban, when you’re not acting like a selfish, trod-upon jackhole, other people are more pleasant to be around. Caliban seems to have formally adopted the name “John Clare.” And John Clare can’t shut up about Wordsworth. Does the glory of life extinguish the fear of death? That hasn’t been my experience, or his. His thoughts on Christianity versus pagan humanism though, are fascinating. Note the look on his face when Van tells him he has beautiful eyes.
The Chief Inspector at The Yard has located the sole survivor of the massacre at Mariner’s Inn. He doesn’t look so good. Nobody knows when or if this Mister Roper will be able to say what happened. But the copper seems pretty serious about learning the truth. Elsewhere in London, Dorian Gray is pining over Vanessa when he’s approached by a bold but homely woman named Angelique. Author note: Angelique was my mom’s second choice for my name—but she decided to go with the weird one. Happy Mother’s Day, mom. Anyway, this bawdy woman invites Dorian to her bedroom, but he declines. Odd, as I wouldn’t have expected Sir SexALot to decline afternoon sex, or any sex. Angelique leaves her card with Dorian, who seems intrigued. Before long, Dorian goes to her place of work, confirming that it’s a brothel. That’s when Angelique confirms that she is, in fact, a biological male. As expected, Dorian is not at all dissuaded.
Sir Malcolm heads to a chemist shop to buy Vanessa a gift. He runs into Mrs. Poole and the two chat over perfumes. Before we realize it, she’s whispering the Verbis Diablo into Sir Malcolm’s ear, and he doesn’t even seem to notice. We already know she wants him out of the picture to clear her way to Vanessa. Does this mean Sir Malcolm will die this season? That would be awful. Later, Chandler and Vanessa head downstairs to receive a guest. It’s Ferdinand Lyle! Lyle is immediately taken with Chandler, the gruff gun-slinging American. He’s also thrilled to be asked to translate the forgotten language, even as Frankenstein scoffs. Turns out, there are relics and artifacts with the Verbis Diablo written on them. Lyle and Chandler decide to steal all of them from the British Museum.
Malcolm and Mrs. Poole head out to a romantic date at a shooting range, where he busts out a Mauser semi-auto prototype. Those wacky Germans! He also lets her know that he is married, and won’t be divorcing his wife (for whom he has no love). Poole is damn good with the Mauser. Back at chez Frankenstein, Brona (now renamed Lily) is getting her hair dyed blonde. Doctor Who fans rejoice, amirite? Lyle and Chandler arrive at the British Museum, where their presence does not go unnoticed. They find a family crest with wolves on it, reminding us that Chandler is a werewolf—and that he also knows Latin. They find Verbis Diablo the artifacts, and steal them seemingly without incident.
A young couple with a baby is boarding a train. But what’s this? One of the Poole daughters is following. This can’t be good. And it’s not. The colicky baby’s parents are killed in a trice, and the baby is taken for…well, we don’t know yet. We do know that whatever it is, it’s for devil work. We also know that the songs people sang to babies back then were creepy and terrible. Fishy in the dishy indeed. Back at the Malcolm home, Lyle and Chandler arrive with the stolen goods, and the group sets about the task of figuring out what all of it is. There are several languages represented, and the person who last owned the artifacts was either crazy, possessed, or some combination of these. “John Clare” and “Lily” meet again, and Caliban is thrilled that she can speak. But she’s clearly not interested in him romantically, though she’s open to starting over again. She’s been told that they were engaged, but of course that isn’t so. I shudder to think what will happen if she should meet Ethan Chandler again.
When we finally get to Poole’s place, things get really interesting. Lyle is in cahoots with them. Apparently Ferdinand is being blackmailed. Poole has pics of him doing sex things with men. Yeah, what an enormous and unthinkable shock, right? But Lyle could lose his position, his marriage (and wife’s money), and his general standing in the community if it comes out that he’s gay. I guess that’s presuming that there’s someone who knows him that doesn’t already think he’s the gayest and most flamboyant man in town. He dishes everything he knows about Sir Malcolm and Vanessa. Poole doesn’t think much of this, and decides not to do anything with this new information. That’s when her daughter shows up with the baby in a satchel. Yikes.
Showtime does a great job with this next scene, straddling a fine line between showing something gratuitous and making it suitably horrifying without grand Guignol. Hearing her cut the baby open while not actually seeing it was—damn. Very disturbing. Poole is in a room that seems to be only for this purpose, as it’s full of creepy dolls that serve as poppets for the objects of her machinations. She needed the baby so she could use its heart in a black magic spell that she’s casting on…Vanessa. The doll looks just like her. When the spell is finished, we cut to Vanessa and see that she feels what has just happened—though she’s unable to articulate it. Previews suggest that next week we’ll learn why Poole has this malicious interest in Vanessa.
This was a strong episode. I can see that Mrs. Poole is carrying the drama this season, since she’s our main source of conflict for both Malcolm and Vanessa. Helen McCrory is a delight onscreen. It’s hard to say what will happen with Dorian, since last season he seemed like little more than a reason to show nudity and freaky sex stuff. I’d also like Chandler to do something more interesting this season, and for Sembene to get some real screen time. What are you hoping will happen this season?
See you’s next week!