Penny Dreadful: “The Nightcomers” Review
Penny Dreadful eschews all other storylines this week to devote an hour to flashing back with Vanessa and her meeting with the Cut-wife.
If Vanessa has an origin story, it would be this week’s episode. In “The Nightcomers,” we meet the Cut-wife, see Van pull a tarot card for the first time, and witness the power Mrs. Poole has over her men. Cattle was blighted, rabbits skinned, herbs identified, and we were treated to a heaping helping of Patti Lupone. This was big, strong stuff that’s sure to intensify the battle between light and dark, Vanessa and the bad witches—as it explains why anyone would mess up a nice hardwood floor with a scorpion drawn in blood. Spoilers for “The Nightcomers” follow.
Ethan Chandler has some follow-up questions about Vanessa’s new floor-art. She must really trust him, because the rest of the episode focuses on Vanessa telling him the story of meeting the Cut-wife, the town witch. It’s not clear exactly when this meeting happens, though it’s before we meet Van in Season One. The Cut-wife is sort of the opposite of a midwife; she specialized in abortion. The witch, whose name turns out to be Joan, is gruff and unpleasant. Luckily, she’s also perceptive, knowledgeable, and surrounded by helpful artifacts and magical tools. This is where Vanessa is introduced to—and eventually acquires, her fancy tarot deck. Fans should know that this deck is available, and quite inexpensive, at the Showtime store.
In the course of the episode, we observe Vanessa’s training in herbology and learn a use for mandrake root that isn’t covered in the Harry Potter books. We also see that the townspeople hate the Cut-wife, even as they send their daughters to her, that their baby-making mistakes can be erased. Joan provides a necessary service, though that doesn’t prevent her from slut-shaming a young girl during a procedure. Yikes!
But “The Nightcomers” isn’t just Vanessa’s origin. It’s also the beginning of the conflict between Vanessa and Mrs. Poole—our favorite makeshift Liz Bathory. Poole is, in fact, the sister of Joan. They had a falling out when Poole chose to follow the darkest demon she could find, while Joan endeavored to stay on the side of the light. Hence, Poole becoming a Nightcomer and Joan remaining a Day Walker. Vanessa is seeking only to help her friend, Mina. Joan thinks that’s small thinking, since there are many girls who could use her help. Impoverished, trod-upon girls at the mercy of some really terrible men.
Poole wants the land Joan lives on, and wants Vanessa as a gift for her Master. To this end, she enchants Geoffrey, the local rich-guy and asshat. Nothing says witchcraft quite like blighted cattle; and nothing says enchantment like sexual slavery. So Poole gets her blight on, eventually whipping the whole town into a witch-burning frenzy. Eventually, a lynch mob of about 20 citizens swarms Joan’s house and burns her alive while Vanessa watches—powerless to help. They don’t attempt to kill Vanessa—probably a testament to the fact that they DO need a Cut-wife. But they brand a cross into her back. I wonder if this has actually helped her since.
What do we need to take away from “The Nightcomers?” This is where the tarot comes from. It’s also where Vanessa first heard the Verbis Diablo—and once you hear it, and speak it, it is never forgotten. There’s also a book, one that should only be opened if abandoned by the gods. When opened, it changes the reader forever, and is not to be done lightly. Vanessa holds the deed to Joan’s home, so we may see her there later on. It might be a good place for Van and Poole to face off.
Though her role was small, newcomer Carla Langley left an impression as the teenage girl in need of a procedure. When she later turns on Joan, I really hated her. That’s quite a feat for someone who had less than a dozen lines. Despite not seeing Frankenstein, Caliban, Dorian Gray, Brona, the wax museum, or Sir Malcolm—”The Nightcomers” was a vastly entertaining episode of Penny Dreadful. It’s sure to figure greatly in the main conflict of the season, which is shaping up very nicely.
See you’s next week!