The penultimate episode of the first season of Showtime’s Victorian era horror series Penny Dreadful largely deals with, as did a flashback episode earlier in the season, the possession of Vanessa Ives, the character portrayed by Eva Green.
While Vanessa’s extrasensory perceptions and supernatural aura have come in handy for the characters as they seek to rescue the daughter of explorer Sir Malcolm Murray from the clutches of a powerful vampire, the force inhabiting her has also primarily been a torment for the woman and a nuisance to those around her. Most of the time she can keep some control of her demeanor, but occasionally she experiences spells during which she has no control at all over the spirits channeling through her. Thanks to her dalliance with Dorian Gray in the previous episode, she has again become overwhelmed.
But Vanessa’s possession may be more than a mere inconvenience. There is more to it than her simply being able to taunt a person with their darkest secrets, which she somehow knows every detail of. Sir Malcolm has come to fear that the evil at work around them may believe Vanessa to be an incarnation of the Egyptian goddess Amunet. There is an apocalyptic prophecy among the vampires of Amunet being united with the god Amun-Ra and becoming the mother of evil. If Vanessa is not protected and helped, she could bring about the end of the world.
Sir Malcolm’s worries are confirmed in a nightmare Vanessa has in which she speaks with the devil dwelling inside her. He wants to rule over a dark, scorched, dead world with her, devouring human hearts and eventually overthrowing God Himself.
It’s a very intriguing, creepy scenario, unfortunately the bulk of the episode concerns not attempts to exorcise her demons but of people simply sitting around and having chats while guarding her, bickering about what to do.
This was not a particularly exciting episode, but it also wasn’t without its standout moments. Scenes of American gunslinger Ethan Chandler being the voice of reason, and of him giving Doctor Victor Frankenstein shooting lessons, further cemented the character as my favorite presence on this show, and Josh Hartnett did great work both when playing Chandler himself and the image of Chandler that the devil inside Vanessa takes on while visiting her in her dreams.
Now that we know what’s going on with Vanessa, Chandler is the most mysterious character, even proving to have some kind of religious knowledge that is helpful in breaking supernatural trances.
Every time Vanessa is unleashed in an episode, it proves that it was truly a coup for its creators to land Eva Green in this role. If a lesser actress were to attempt to play out the scenes of possession in the way Green does, it could come off as cheesy, over-the-top, laughable. But when Green plays these scenes, they are incredible, captivating, harrowing, jaw-dropping. She appears to be throwing everything of herself into this performance, and never once does it ring false. She truly is believable as a woman possessed. It’s exhausting to watch, I can’t imagine how tiring it must be for her to actually do.
This series likes to move along at a deliberate pace, sometimes making me wish it would push along some of the storylines a bit more quickly than it does. Only one episode remains for this season, but there’s still an immense amount of ground for it to cover. It’s a relief that it has been renewed for a second season, because it’s certainly going to require one.
As the episode comes to a close, there has been a breakthrough in the search for Sir Malcolm’s daughter, but at this point I’m really not expecting Penny Dreadful to provide much in the way of resolutions in the season finale.