My biggest criticism of last week’s episode of Penny Dreadful was the lack of explanation despite it being the mid point of the season. Somehow the people over on Showtime read it, wrote, filmed, and aired an episode in retaliation. I just needed a few answers. Instead they gave an entire backstory to the show’s most enigmatic character: Vanessa Ives. Saying she’s the most mysterious character on a show that thrives on mystery is saying something, so for the writers to unravel her first was surprising and refreshing. The result was the best episode of the season so far and an Emmy-worthy performance by Eva Green.
The episodes is framed by a letter that Vanessa is writing to the already gone Nina. She addresses it to her as if she is actually going to receive it, which is heartbreaking in itself, however it is nothing compared to the episode that was to follow. We track all the way back to Vanessa’s childhood growing up next door to Mina. The two girls were inseparable, however it seemed that Vanessa saw the world in such a different way. However, there was a dark side to her. Well, I suppose, a darkness in her that was festering, waiting to make finally make itself known. She described it as something “behind my back, waiting for me to turn around.” What is more terrifying is that it has always been there, but never manifests itself until she sees her mother and Sir Malcolm having sex in the maze. Much of the episode refers back to her dialogue during the seance in episode 2 (see our review here). Everything from Peter’s death, to seeing Sir Malcolm with a woman was covered.
However, the most disturbing part of the episode is that we never find out when or how the demon took root. When she is speaking directly to it, it mentions that she could of stopped it at any moment, by she chose not to. This free will makes us question who Vanessa really is as a person. Following a saucy tryst with Mina’s soon to be husband (when I mean soon, I mean the night before), it seems that the Demon takes full hold. Her parents send her to a mental asylum where she alternates between a cationic state and a full manic possession. Then, the doctors begin their “treatment” with ice baths, and sprays with a fire hose, before finally drilling into her brain. It’s quite dreadful. After seeing Peter before he leaves for his fatal trip to Africa she has a discussion with the demon in the form of Sir Malcolm. “Something whispered. I Listened.”
Although we got a lot of answers from the episode, the question of what haunts Vanessa still remains. In one of the more shocking and terrifying images of the episode, Vanessa has sex with an unseen entity. All we know now is that her and Malcolm weren’t at the best of terms when they began their adventure to find Mina, but it was refreshing to get some light on this character. I always try to inject some humor (as bad as it can be) into these reviews.
So many critics are dry with their delivery, but I feel the need to be ernest here. This episode of Penny Dreadful was one of the most painfully beautiful episodes of television this year. They have proved that they are more than the horror drama that they are defined as. Despite the episodes clear supernatural undertone, there is still the heartbreak and commentary on the way that we treated and still treat those with mental disorders. Maybe because it’s a cause that I am personally invested in, but more than that the show pulling back the curtain on one of their finest characters to reveal even further complexity was thrilling, captivating, and fantastic. *I’m giving this episode a 9.8 out of 10. This is the highest score of any episode of any show I have reviewed on this site so far. However, it’s not without reason. I’ve always tried to be reasonable with grades, but this was truly a masterpiece. WATCH THIS SHOW!