Sunday, October 19, 2014

Penny Dreadful | "Closer Than Sisters" and "What Death Can Join Together"

In "Closer Than Sisters," Penny Dreadful finally reveals the story behind why Vanessa Ives is so invested in helping Sir Malcolm find Mina. In fact, it dedicates the entire episode to that without checking on any of the other characters or the show's main plot. I won't go into detail about the answers it reveals though, mostly because they don't matter.

On it's own, this is a fine episode. I enjoyed seeing younger versions of the characters and the story of their changing relationships is a good one. It's also a fantastic showcase for Eva Green's acting talent. The woman has absolutely zero self-consciousness and throws herself completely into whatever her role demands, whether it's in Penny Dreadful or Casino Royale or Dark Shadows or 300: Rise of an Empire or Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. Whatever the quality may be of what's going on around her, she's amazing to watch. But as good as "Closer Than Sisters" is on it's own terms, its answers are totally mundane and not worth all the build-up they got in the previous four episodes.

The show gets back on track in "What Death Can Join Together," even if it doesn't progress the story very far (or at all). One interesting thing about having "Closer Than Sisters" in the rear view mirror though is all the questions that it didn't answer. Before I knew her story, I was fascinated by the way Vanessa interacted with the other characters, especially Dorian Gray. On the surface, she seemed attracted to Dorian, but I always wondered if there was something else going on with her. She seemed too smart simply to have fallen for his superficial charm. But "Closer Than Sisters" doesn't give any evidence that Vanessa is especially insightful about men. Instead, when she and Dorian continue their relationship in "What Death Can Join Together," it appears that she really is just smitten with him. That humanizes her character a lot while making Dorian even more dangerous.

The quest for Mina takes a false step forward when Vanessa's tarot cards suggest a ship and Malcolm leads an investigation onto a quarantined vessel from Cairo. Vanessa's off on her date with Dorian, but Ethan Chandler joins the party along with Malcolm's manservant, Sembene. They find Dracula there, along with Mina and three other of Dracula's "wives," but Dracula and Mina escape and no real progress is made.

The best part of Malcolm and Ethan's section of the episode is a conversation between the two men about Ethan's dying girlfriend Brona. Though Brona sort of broke up with Ethan in the fourth episode, that was really about something else and she's too in love with Ethan to really want him out of her life. They quickly get back together in "What Death Can Join Together," though the issues Brona cited when breaking it off haven't gone away. She's still not long for this world and Ethan is in for a lot of heartbreak that he seems ready and willing to bear for her sake. It's a lovely relationship and Ethan describes it perfectly when Malcolm warns Ethan that Brona will "cease being who she is." "Then," Ethan replies, "I will love who she becomes."

That's such a beautiful, mature idea. It's the definition of unconditional love and it of course raises the question of whether Malcolm feels the same way about Mina. If Mina is forever changed by her experience with Dracula, will Malcolm continue to love her anyway? Or will he write her off as no longer being his daughter? From what we know about Malcolm so far, he could go either way.

"What Death Can Join Together" also revisits Frankenstein, his Creature, and Van Helsing. A couple of episodes ago, I questioned why the Creature seemed so happy at the Grand Guignol, but so upset around Frankenstein. This episode explains that by going deeper into the Creature's experience at the theater. He's attracted to the show's main actress and she treats him kindly, so it's easy to understand why he would be happy when he's working around her. But he's also afraid of being rejected by her, which has to be part of what's driving him to want a Frankenstein-built companion of his own.

As for Frankenstein himself, he spends the episode hanging out with Van Helsing and learning some more about vampires. At least until the Creature shows up to remind Frankenstein in a violently dramatic way not to let himself get distracted. Like the rest of the episode, the plot doesn't move forward any, but we've now checked in with all the characters again after a week away from most of them, and even learned a thing or two about where their heads are at. Hopefully that tees us up for a slam bang couple of last episodes. I don't expect everything to be resolved by season's end, but I would love for it to finish with a satisfying arc for at least one of these characters.

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