Synopsis: When the Poole witches crash Dorian Gray’s ball for Angelique’s societal debut, it becomes a bloody bacchanal.
Victor Frankestein’s no longer a virgin. Dorian Gray shows the tender, all-accepting face of depravity to Angelique, a Victorian transgender woman. The episode commences with all the characters who got laid last episode humming happy little tunes. Penny Dreadful’s dramatic ante remains merciless.
We start with Angelique and Dorian: their pillow talk centers around Angelique’s coming out as a transgender woman. Dorian nearly orders it. “Anathema. In this house, we celebrate the unusual, we set the tune and the world follows.” It’s a reckless, but thrilling philosophy. He then prattles on a grand scheme for ball of the rich and famous for Angelique’s coming out. He wants them to gape at her uniqueness. She seems understandably uncomfortable, but secretly pleased – but I wonder if this is this truly for Dorian, who has practiced his otherness in the safety of his class all his life, to decide?
Meanwhile, Sir Malcolm waltzes through the manor door in last night’s opera suit in a walk-of-shame, reliving his jolly rutting days at Eton; all the while his demonic possessed wife was found dead by suicide. He doesn’t react with the appropriate amount of solemnity; he seems rather intrigued by it all, as if he’d witness second hand a sort of scandal. What Vanessa, Ethan, and Sembele don’t realize is that he’s under Evelyn ’s spell.
Speaking of which, she’s designing a fetish, or voodoo doll, of Sir Malcolm. She wills its tiny heart to life squeezing it as if it were an atomizer, and kisses it full on the lips. Yeesh.
We get only one scene with Caliban this episode: blind Livinia, who designs wax figures for her father’s macabre wax museum, starts to see the monster behind the poetry and kindness. She asks to hold Caliban/John Clare’s cold hand. “Despite your past, I know you are kind, but why am I frightened?”
Ethan’s hounded by his past this episode, particularly of the origins of his lycanthropy. He gets a visit from Pinkerton Agent Roper, whose torn-up face has been patched up with cowhide. He asks Ethan to forgive his glower: “Hard to express much through a quarter inch of leather.” I can’t help but relish the way Roper speaks: in Western Amurican hyperbole! He threatens to scalp everyone, especially Vanessa, if Ethan doesn’t return home to his father. “I hope that we reach a speedy and pacific resolution to our situation.”
At Putneys’ wax museum — a sort of proto Madame Tussaud’s – Ethan encounters Inspector Rusk at the recreation of the Mariner’s Inn. Rusk tests Ethan on its accuracy. Ethan dodges the question, to which Rusk counters that it’s accurate — but it’s missing a bit more cannibalism. He speaks of lions eating humans during his time in the Transvaal Boer Wars. “It was much like the Mariner’s Inn.” Ethan says that there’s a purpose for the lion’s killing, but Rusk believes otherwise. “There’s a sort of blood lust that tremors through the animal. I wonder if they remembered afterwards. This frenzy. What do you think?” Rusk snarls on, that he won’t stop until Ethan’s head is mounted on a plaque.
Back at Satan’s artistic toy box of an autobiography, Victor says that he thinks it’s of no use in their fight against the Night Comers. Vanessa mentions that he sounds like her friend Mr. John Clare; Victor pales.
When he’s asked about his cousin, he’s prompted to speak about how his intellect (and his virginity) have alienated him all his life. “It’s the strangest thing, Ms. Ives. I was bound to live with exceptionality. I was not like my brothers. I was resolutely this disjointed thing, this freakish thing. So I came to celebrate what uniqueness I had.” “And now?” “I wear a flower. I find, lo and behold, I’m just like everyone else.”
Word somehow gets to Mr. Lyle about Dorian’s ball. As the Night Comer’s informant he passes it on to Evelyn. “The time must come when the spider must touch the fly,” she sniggers. The fly, of course, is Vanessa. Then in another one of John Logan’s effusively indulgent speeches, Poole links youth to poison: did you know that in the Renaissance, women put belladonna (a poison) in their eyes to dilate the pupil? This simulates erotic experience. “They slowly killed themselves through addiction.” Probably a hint to what she’s done to Sir Malcolm.
And then another speech by Poole might suggest that she speaks for Lucifer: “Despite what you may think, I didn’t turn from God. He turned from me. He turned from all of us. Look around. You tell me where is he in this city of perpetual suffering?” “There are those who say that you can find him within,” Lyle says, who was seen in last week’s episode secretly consulting his Torah. “They’re wrong.”
Over a half-formed Shepherd’s pie, Victor also tells sweet, sweet Lily about the ball. She promises that she’ll work very hard not to embarrass him – it’s a risky move to socialize her more, especially since Lily (as Brona) was one of Dorian’s lovers. But who is he to deny her?
Vanessa asks Ethan to be her escort to the ball. He declines because it’s on Friday night, a full moon. He prefers to shackle himself up with Sembele, asking him to “Watch” him transform.
Angelique and Dorian take center stage at the ball and have an inaugural waltz. Everyone claps. No one spits on her, no one looks down their nose at her – it’s a wonderful dream come true.
But the initial, opulent high settles down when Dorian encounters Lily/Brona on Dr. Frankenstein’s arm. Dorian says that maybe they’ve met in another life, that her hands are the touch of marble. Angelique and Victor watch, bereft; Victor is especially militant over Lily.
Vanessa boldly strides into the ball alone, without a chaperone. Ferdinand Lyle, having a crisis of loyalty, does everything he can under the guise of tact to save Vanessa from the Night Comer ambush.
But too late. Evelyn arrives with the clean-shaven Sir Malcolm on her arm and a smile that breaks Vanessa down. Lyle begs Vanessa to escort her home, but before they can leave, Hecate and her two other sisters descend upon her, leading one of the best climaxes I’ve seen on television in a while:
Vanessa hallucinates a violent monsoon of blood upon the ball, dropping on sheet music, violins, paintings, the oblivious dancers. It’s a stunning sequence, horrific and terrible in its visual and sound design. It’s a real torrent and not a sorry little piss of blood.
And it seems like Penny Dreadful took the classical Wolf Man route with Ethan’s werewolf design. After the influences of Twilight and True Blood, of what sells, I’m always a bit cynical about the pop culture werewolf. But it was a glimpse half-obscured in shadows. Definitely room for surprise.