Penny Dreadful’s latest chapter, What Death Can Join Together, is its weakest outing to date. It’s especially disappointing coming off of last week’s polarizing journey (that I personally loved) into the backstory of Vanessa Ives. Although the talented Coky Giedroyc (ITV’s Wuthering Heights) directed both episodes, this new outing has none of the sumptuous visuals and centered storytelling that made last week’s so unique.
We return to the show’s present-day narrative and spend a good half-hour pushing through a great deal of exposition, setting up the more action-oriented last 15 minutes of the show. Ethan Chandler, Sir Malcolm Murray, and Sembene embark on another hunting expedition spurred on by Ives’s confused and vague clairvoyance. Ives, on the other hand, embarks on date night with Dorian Gray, and, Gray being Gray, we all know where that ends up. Additionally, Victor Frankenstein seeks advise from the welcome Van Helsing who offers up a clever variation on a great line from Coppola’s Dracula:
Van Helsing (referring to his dead wife): She did not succumb to a disease properly.
Frankenstein: Of what did she succumb?
Van Helsing: I drove a stake through her heart and cut off her head.
Enter the official confirmation that we are indeed facing vampires as it is the first time the word is actually used in the series. Not that we really guessed otherwise. The creatures all look appear to be inspired by Murnau’s Nosferatu with their bald heads, alabaster skin, and protruding fangs.
The episode culminates in on a quarantined ship fresh from Egypt. The search party of Murray, Chandler, and Sembene discover another nest of vampires, this one containing the master himself who still manages to escape with Mina in tow. Elsewhere, Gray, whose idea of foreplay involves a knife and much cutting, officially seduces Ives, and they engage in passionate, writhing sexual activities. During the moment of orgasm, time stops, and Ives is called out to by the demon that originally possessed her. The episode closes with an unintentionally amusing ending where Murray begins to confess a secret to Ives just before Ives rolls her eyes in the back of her head and begins to levitate. Guess the secret can wait.
The episode’s major theme seemed to lie around a single exchange of dialogue between Murray and Chandler when Murray, after hearing of Croft’s worsening condition, warns Chandler of the altered persona she will become in her near-death state. Chandler replies “Then I will love who she becomes.” That thematically pungent piece of dialogue could apply to almost every character across the show: Murray and his love for the transformed Mina, the Frankenstein Monster and his demands for a Bride, Dorian Gray and the possessed Vanessa Ives. Love persists through transformation.
My overall problem with this episode lies with all of its exposition and plot movement. My favorite moments of Penny Dreadful are always the detours. I love that the show took the time to explore the Grand Guignol theater. I love that the early séance sequence during which Eva Green was allowed to own the screen with her contortionist acting abilities. Writer John Logan finally feels like he’s starting to rush toward the finish line, and it’s slightly disappointing.
As we approach the season finale, you begin to wonder how far the Mina-centered plot will continue. It would be wise to end it in the first season as it is starting to wear thing and feel less original than the show’s other competing parts. It is my hope that Logan, in Season 2, continues to explore the colorful detours that he’s sprinkled into the first season. The show is richer when it strays from the path.