After devoting an episode to the very personally revealing flashbacks of Eva Green’s supernaturally-tormented character Vanessa Ives, Penny Dreadful dived back into continuing the primary storyline with its sixth episode.
While Brona, the prostitute girlfriend of Josh Hartnett’s Ethan Chandler, an American gunslinger in Victorian London, continues to succumb to tuberculosis, Frankenstein’s monster Caliban (Rory Kinnear) may have found a candidate for the bride he’s forcing his creator to make for him when an actress who performs at the grand guignol theatre he works at (and lives in) actually showed him kindness – and no sign of being shocked by his scarred face. The woman even suggests that he shouldn’t hide himself away from the world the way he does. The deep emotional reaction the monster had to the woman’s kind words was palpable.
Reeve Carney’s sleazy and lascivious Dorian Gray continued seducing his way through the cast, adding Vanessa to his list of conquests that also includes Brona and Ethan. Surely Vanessa must be the most impressive of the bunch, with the demonic forces that their tryst brought to the surface.
These relationship issues were subplots, however. The main thrust of this episode, the element that got advanced the furthest, was the vampire storyline and Timothy Dalton’s character Sir Malcolm Murray’s continuing search for his daughter Mina, who was abducted by the creatures of the night.
Adding clues already gathered to a lead that came to Vanessa in a vision, Sir Malcolm led Ethan and his assistant Sembene on a raid of a ship from Cairo that had been quarantined in the harbor for four months. As the three men made their way to the ship, young Doctor Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) was delivered information on vampires by Professor Abraham Van Helsing – a character from Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula, here played by the great David Warner.
Van Helsing has had tragic dealings with vampires in the past. His own wife had been turned into one, and the only way to bring the situation to an end was to drive a stake through her heart and decapitate her. Clearly Van Helsing doesn’t hold out much hope that Sir Malcolm and Mina are going to have a happy ending when they’re reunited.
Van Helsing played an important role in Stoker’s novel, leading a group of vampire hunters into its climactic scenes, and in the 115+ years since its publication, the character has been something of an iconic hero in the horror genre, especially when played by Peter Cushing in the Dracula films produced by Hammer. So most viewers with some horror knowledge will likely be expecting a lot from him as the series goes on. It’s shocking just what Penny Dreadful does with him.
Featuring as it does characters from Victorian era literature, Penny Dreadful also places itself in a very interesting alternate universe with this episode, as the 1845-1847 penny dreadful story Varney the Vampire is a published story within its reality, inspired by folklore but not a true tale. More interesting is the fact that Frankenstein is familiar with the works of poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, so much so that he even quotes some of Shelley’s work. That’s where the title of the episode, ‘What Death Can Bring Together’, comes from. So Percy Bysshe Shelley exists as himself in the world of Penny Dreadful, and yet his wife Mary must never have written her most famous novel. Because it was in his wife’s novel Frankenstein that this appreciator of his words was created. It’s somewhat mind-boggling.
I have to admit that I found a portion of this episode dull, my attention was wandering at times, I certainly did not care whether or not Vanessa was going to be the latest notch on Dorian Gray’s bedpost, but things turned around and the episode made up for its less interesting moments with a riveting, fiery action scene that had Sir Malcolm, Ethan, and Sembene taking on a ship full of screeching vampires. That ended things on an exciting note, and gave Sir Malcolm a glimpse of his daughter before she was taken away by her vampire master. Mina doesn’t yet appear to be a lost cause, but with this rescue mission blown, finding her again may prove to be very hard.
There are only two episodes left in this season of Penny Dreadful, with still no resolution in sight for any of its storylines. It will be very interesting to see how things progress from here, and how satisfying the finale can be when the characters seem so far from solving any of their problems.