Through the first six episodes of Penny Dreadful, it's been difficult to find a hero in the crowd of original characters mixed in with literary classics. Who to root for? Who is wearing the white (or at least grayish) hat? There's the vision seeing Vanessa Ives with her creepy eyes and evil streak, Sir Malcolm Murray and his self-centered quest for adventure, Dr. Victor Frankenstein and his neglect of his first creation, Dorian Gray who wants to do it with anything with legs or a stem (remember the orchid?) or the elusive Mina who is so whiny and wimpy it's difficult to hope for a tearful reunion with daddy.
In "What Death Can Join Together," we finally have a hero on our hands in the form of a crass American gunslinger with a soft spot for sick, slightly whorish gals.
The previous episode was a satisfying reveal of many answers to the questions Showtime's scare-fest has set up that it seemed possible that a resolution would come by the finale in episode eight. The characters were shown as so unsympathetic, would we even care if they ever found Mina? The answer is yes because of this week's offering. Let's take a look.
This installment picks up right where the last episode left off. Sir Malcolm pressures Vanessa to have a darn vision already; he's got a daughter to find. An epic stare-down breaks out with Vanessa promising to try harder. She relies on her go-to move, breaking out her trusty tarot cards in search of a vision. A teeny mini-vision happens with the voice of Mina calling, "Help me." Vanessa keeps flipping the cards over -- and Bingo! I mean Uno! She hears more screaming but can't decipher the full meaning. She tells Sir Malcolm it could suggest a ship and something terrible happening to it. I see the connection.
Dorian Gray shows up with his fancy pants scarf asking Vanessa if she'd like to have an adventure. She asks, "Now?" not wanting to seem that easy. Sir Malcolm pushes her onward, obviously trying to get her out of his hair.
Dorian gets her back to his place and turns to his go-to move, photography. His camera has the oddest effect on Vanessa, turning her all cute, friendly and coy. What did you do with that evil, sometimes-possessed bitch, Mr. Gray? Dorian says he prefers to be painted over photographed. Wink, wink. Sure you do, old man. Dorian doesn't bust out his green drink and instead drops off Vanessa without even a goodbye kiss. She invites him to dinner, so there's hope yet for a "more than orchid" connection.
Holding Out for a Hero
Ethan Chandler is caring for a deteriorating Brona Croft. She says she's sorry about rushing off jealous last night. She tells him, "You're a good true man." He says, "I love you with all my heart." That was quick, but we'll take it because we need someone to care about. This is our man!
Ethan is loading his gun with Brona worried because she loves him with all her heart too. They have so much in common. Sex with Dorian for one. She tells him to not kiss her anymore. He answers by planting a wet one on her. Perhaps that wolf blood blocks the consumption. She gives him her necklace to wear ... the Patron Saint of Causes Lost. These two lost puppies need each other and we need them to be the heart of the show.
Sembene approaches Sir Malcolm asking, "Say you find her but say she cannot be saved?" Malcolm replies, "If I find her, she will be saved." Servant gives master something to chew on with, "No, for the blood we share, for the miles we've walked, Malcolm, we are not the same. Where I come from, we know. Some people cannot be saved. Say your daughter is one of them. What then? Know what you are going to do." This moment has been foreshadowed so many times, will any of us be surprised if Sir Malcolm has to make a difficult decision by season's end?
Sir Malcolm shuttles off Vanessa for her Dorian hookup -- I mean, date. Smiles and cheeriness are all around with the older man complimenting Miss Ives on how beautiful she looks. Vanessa is nervous and insecure, unaware that Sir Malcolm is on a mission this night. The second she leaves, the explorer and Sembene are off to meet up with Ethan on the docks. They are in search of a particular ship.
They chit chat about Brona's worsening sickness, with Malcolm warning about the effects of consumption. Ethan insists he's not leaving his girl. Nice talk.
They find their boat and enter deep within the darkness, finding one young lady, not Mina. They search finding several more "sleeping" bodies. Sir Malcolm feels "she must be here." They look at each one ... "Nope, not Mina" over and over. The ruckus awakens all the vampires and a huge fight ensues with Ethan, Sir Malcolm and Sembene fighting for their lives. These vampires don't die easily, taking a page from World War Z ... they are some quick little monsters.
The sort-of-heroes kill the blood suckers with the ship catching on fire. Sir Malcolm spots the creature holding Mina by the neck. She screams for her father. He tries to go after her but is stopped by a falling beam. So close...
Back at Sir Malcolm's estate, Ethan gives the explorer a lecture saying, "At the end of the day, we only have the people we trust, like Miss Ives. You better get ready to trust her or get ready to lose a lot of battles." Ethan is now apparently moonlighting as a therapist. Love it!
Deep Thoughts with Van Helsing
Victor Frankenstein is chatting with Van Helsing, the renowned vampire hunter, about the newly autopsied Fenton. The older man takes the younger scientist under his wing waxing philosophical and offering advice. "Work can't control us." Victor argues that sometimes we are "compelled." He asks, "Do you believe in fate?" and we know he's talking retribution. He adds that facing the consequences of his actions have "produced catastrophe." Is that any way to talk of your firstborn?
What is Victor's first pancake up to? He is hiding in the bowels of the theatre, meeting with a pretty young actress. She needs him to fix her blood tube that allows her to die a disgustingly bloody death on stage. Is fix my blood tube code for let's date? She confides that her brother, Lucifer (no joke), was in an accident on a ship and disfigured. She's kind to firstborn and sympathetic with his "radio only" face. Later, he spies the girl kissing a man and is devastated. He thought they were engaged.
Van Helsing continues his tutelage of Victor, confiding that they will share a secret that Sir Malcolm cannot know. He begins his Vampire 101 lesson with a little tale of his first marriage. He says he drove a stake through his late wife's heart and cut off her head. Ouch.
The vampire hunter shows a Penny Dreadful as a textbook explaining all things vampire -- they travel in packs, survival is their goal, basic stuff.
Van Helsing gives young Victor a pep talk, saying the younger man can change the world. In a deja vu moment, Victor's first creation shows up to pull Van Helsing down a dark alley and snap his neck. He wants a companion, and he wants her now. No time for wasting with a vampire hunter. Victor, I think you are destined to lose everyone you love.
A Match Made in Heaven or Hell
An extra flowery Dorian shows up for his hot Vanessa dinner date strutting like a peacock, bragging about all the isms he's investigated. Braggadocious-ism must have been at the top of the list. Philosophy is a hot topic tonight. They talk religion, rituals and being different. Vanessa says there are tremors around us like the vibrations of music. Some are more attuned. What do those people do? She says it's a dreadful curse like being alien. He says it's a divine gift. These two seem like a match made in heaven. Or maybe Hell.
Foreplay involves a tour of his paintings, all portraits. He puts on some mood music and compliments her "composure." What a sweet talker. He asks, "What if you were to abandon it?" She says she can't. Liar! He licks her neck and freaky sex time begins. Dorian pulls out a knife, with Vanessa more than willing to wield it. She cuts him on the chest licking his dripping blood. Her mouth opens to epic proportions and I think she may swallow his head whole. She bites him, and at the moment of climax, she freezes and hears the creature's voice calling her his child and asking what games she's playing. She runs out, leaving a naked, bleeding Dorian to wander his house looking at his paintings.
Vanessa shows up at Sir Malcolm's looking like she's been wandering the streets homeless for a week. Her creepy eyes have returned (Penny prerequisite) and her head is flung back. She levitates off the ground with Sir Malcolm watching in horror, so let's call it another episode done.
"What Death Can Join Together" showed the characters as a touch more likable, and revealing Ethan as a hero we can actually get behind. Next week's episode promises to be a real "head spinner," with Vanessa once again being controlled by the creature. Let's hope the old skull crew doesn't make a return appearance.
Penny Dreadful airs Sundays at 10pm on Showtime.
(Image courtesy of Showtime)