Mon
Jun 16 2014 4:00pm

Shoot-Out at the Undead Corral: Penny Dreadful Ep. 6 “What Death Can Join Together”

Penny Dreadful What Death Can Join Together

It’s no spoiler that in the Harry Potter books He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is actually named Voldemort. And though those books didn’t make Voldemort’s name a spoiler at all, Rowling did pull back the curtain on Voldemort’s whole deal fairly slowly, giving us just a smidgen of information about her particular dark lord with each book. But if you’d already known who Voldemort was, say, because he appeared in an older book or TV show before, then the slow reveal of his machinations may have gotten a little old.

The latest Penny Dreadful keeps on teasing out the existence of “the vampire” or “Dracula,” but continues to relegate their version of this famous monster to not only to He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named status, but instead to He who must not be named, clothed, understood, or seen for more than a few seconds at a time.

After last week’s flashback into the pasts of Vanessa, Sir Malcolm, and his daughter Mina, “What Death Can Join Together,” brings us back to the morning after the crazy night in which Dorian Gray ditched Vanessa Ives at the theatre, got drunk with Ethan Chandler, and made out with him. Now, it seems as though everyone is doing their own version of the walk-of-shame. Ethan comes “home” to Brona Croft’s crumby flat and tells her he totally loves only her. Brona tells him they’re not really broken up after all and that she is sorry and they both agree that their lives are terrible, but they’re cool with that.

Penny Dreadful What Death Can Join Together

Hitting the Tarot deck fairly hard, Vanessa sees visions of a boat and tells Sir Malcolm about it. Both come to the conclusion that there are probably one or two boats down by the docks and high-five each other for using quasi-mystical powers to come to such astonishing conclusions. But before they can really start talking about which boat they’re looking for and why, Dorian Gray shows up and shamelessly apologies for ditching Vanessa the previous night. He invites her to go on and adventure with him, which ends up just being him having her photograph taken by one of his lackeys, though unlike previous photo sessions, this one doesn’t turn pornographic.

In full-on brooding and being a weirdo mode, Sir Malcolm frowns his trademark frown while Sembene warns him that even if they find Mina, there’s a real chance she’s already “lost.” Malcolm tries to play a little bit of a word game with Sembene, thinking it’s cute to say “if you find something, they’re not lost,” and Sembene looks at him like he’s a moron and essentially says “you know what I mean.” As I’ve mentioned before, I often feel like Sembene is the only character on Penny Dreadful who really knows the score. If he turns out to be an all-powerful Martian Manhunter style alien, I’ll be shocked and delighted.

Penny Dreadful What Death Can Join Together

In an attempt to unravel the secretes of the blood-sucking monsters, Frankenstein is checking out the body of Fenton, but concludes there really isn’t much weird about him, other than the fact that he acted weird. In an analogy that is slickly also a literal explanation of what is going on; Frankenstein likens the communication Fenton had with his “master” to that of echolocation and bats. We can’t see it but it’s there. Victor! If only you knew!

Soon, though, Van Helsing shows up and takes Frankenstein out for some serious bonding time and tells him all about vampires and actually uses the word “vampires” a few times. In a cool meta-move, Van Helsing pulls out a real penny dreadful called Varney the Vampire and claims that while it’s shoddily written, there are some truths inside of it. Score one for old-school genre literature! It may not look like much, but it’s got (vampires) where it counts.

Penny Dreadful What Death Can Join Together

All of this goes fine and it seems like Frankenstein is acquiring yet another father figure (Sir Malcolm was similarly nice to the good doctor previously) in the form of Van Helsing. But it is not to be, as Caliban—Frankenstein’s original monster—shows up from nowhere and snaps Van Helsing’s neck. Why I’m not more prepared for Caliban to show up and randomly kill people is unclear, but it seems to be a fairly consistent plot device of Penny Dreadful, one which is effective, terrifying, and fits nicely with the show’s unique blend of deadly earnestness and mild goofiness, too. Caliban, of course, is still determined to get his bride, and is newly pissed off about everything since he’s just recently had his heart broken by fellow thespian, Maud.

While Vanessa has a hot-and-heavy date with Dorian Gray, Sir Malcolm, Ethan Chandler, and Sembene raid a plague ship in the hopes of finding Mina and some vampire stuff. In a scene which echoes the aspects of the first episode, the trio look at a bunch of pale-faced almost-dead-women and conclude none of them is Mina. But after a brief glimpse of “the vampire,” all the ghost-faced gals awaken and start attacking the Dreadfuls. Ethan is doing the double-six-shooter-thing, while Sembene is rocking his curved blades. Wesley Snipes, John Carpenter, and everyone in From Dust Till Dawn is briefly homaged here, as this shoot-out ends in Sir Malcolm seeing Mina and (maybe) Dracula fleeing to evil safety.

Not content to have regular, nice sex, Vanessa is cutting Dorian Gray a little bit while they are getting it on, which she somehow seems to know won’t do him any permanent damage. However, whatever demon or possession inside of her awakens in the middle of this, and she gets up, and leaves, acting, if not the most possessed we’ve seen her, certainly the most frightened. While Dorian Gray goes to look at a “mysterious” painting, Vanessa heads back to Dreadful manor—and in perfect Ghostbusters style— levitates off the ground. Sir Malcolm is bummed out, because he really wanted to tell her something, and now, it’s going to be hard, because she’s levitating.

Penny Dreadful What Death Can Join Together

This was a super-exciting, bang-up episode of Penny Dreadful, and in many ways even if you hadn’t even seen a single episode yet, you’d still probably be totally hooked by this one. The writing seems to have a sense of urgency here, which makes a little bit of sense considering there are just a few episodes left. Still, I worry there’s a pay-off or two that just might not be coming.  With both the mystery of Ethan Chandler, and the situation with (probably) Dracula, I wonder if because the writing is already on the wall, that much of what comes next won't be a surprise. Because even a casual viewer is aware the vampire is a vampire and that Dorian Gray has a painting that makes him immortal, I’m not sure how the various plotlines in Penny Dreadful can surprise me in the next couple episodes.

To be fair, because the show is rooted in so many classic storylines, maybe everything here is meant to be a little bit predictable, and perhaps the point of Penny Dreadful is that being a satisfied viewer is not the same as being a surprised one.


Ryan Britt is a longtime contributor to Tor.com.

10 comments
Kimani Rogers
1. KiManiak
Thanks Ryan.

This was one fun episode! I was totally shocked when Caliban broke Van Helsing's neck. Caught me completely off-guard; I had a nice laugh at that one. I did find Vanessa's slightly violent and bloody sex with Dorian Gray a little bit out there. Like Ryan, I guess she knew that he would heal; otherwise this seems a little disturbing.

One thing I didn't get (maybe I missed some exposition): Why Sir Malcolm was trying to exclude Vanessa from the trip to the ship. He even went so far as to lie to her, and I wasn't clear why he didn't want her there.
S Barlow
2. Lizzibabe
Sir Malcolm was trying to keep Vanessa from being a target since the vampire has come after her once already.

in other news I am SO OVER Caliban. In the original story, it seems like Victor Frankenstein deserved what he got, but here all Victor did was run away because he freaked out over a screaming crying naked man in his lab. in return Caliban has killed two people Victor cared about. Like this is going to help him get what he wants. Eventually, Victor is going to have nobody and nothing less to lose. Even a mouse will fight tooth and nail if cornered.
Greenygal
3. Greenygal
I don't think it's going to help Caliban either, but Victor isn't any better here than he was in the original story; it's not just that he ran away because he was frightened, it's that he never came back. Given that the monster stayed in Victor's place long enough to teach himself to read, that makes it pretty clear that Victor was never coming back and didn't give a damn what happened to the newborn he had created.

(On the other hand, Caliban's situation is way better than the original monster's. Seriously, dude, you have a job and a friend and people who talk to you without screaming. Is it really so imperative that you get a monster mate RIGHT NOW that you have to get all murderous about it?)
Greenygal
4. Aginor
Love this show, even if I can't really explain why....

So for the most part, we know the monsters we have. Dracula-but-maybe-not-dracula is running about London, being chased by the Great White Hunter, demon-possessed hot girl, and an American Werewolf in London, being assisted by Dr. Frankenstein and Dorian Grey while Frankenstein's monster randomly kills characters we think are important (are we sure he didn't escape from Game of Thrones?). Still, that leaves us wondering exactly what being is possessing Vanesssa (Satan? Or maybe a name that we might suddenly snap our fingers and say "oh, that makes sense"), at what point we get a werewolf transformation, and more importantly, when will they introduce the new characters Dr. Jeckyll, Captain Nemo, and Tom Sawy... oh wait, entirely different story there, never mind.

I love this show, but when I suggest to other people that they should watch it, I'm at a loss to say why...
Tom Smith
5. phuzz
I'm sort of expecting a Dracula vs Wolfman vs Frankenstine's Monster showdown. With Dorian Grey umpireing.
jazz tigan
6. tredeger
The craziest part of this show is that, because it is happy to play the musical chairs routine with relationships in the way that is so popular with contemporary television (permutation over all else), the literary ramifications are that Dorian Grey and the (likely) Bride of Frankenstien('s monster) are both the wolfman's sloppy seconds for someone (Vanessa & Caliban).
Greenygal
7. Van Helsing the Younger
I wanted to see VH go toe to toe with the Master before he got pipped. Did not want the Phantom of the Penny Opera to kill him first. I am supposed to dislike Caliban and it does not take much. Crying over the girl. I can almost hear him singing "Christine". Boo Hoo. The ship was nice and tied it into the Dracula legend. Can't wait for Wolfman to show up. Vanessa is a stark raving luna-babe. Eva Green is so good it hurts not to see her in every scene.
Chris Nelly
8. Aeryl
Yeah, it definitely got me excited for what Malcolm wanted to tell her.

Ethan is by far my favorite character, and I hope he eats Caliban, once he finally goes wolf.

It was so sweet when he was talking to Malcolm about Brona, about loving her no matter who she became, and offering her dignity is dying.

I wondered for a minute if he'd have problems killing Mina, because he's so sympathetic to those he sees as fellow monsters, but no, he'd be appalled by the lengths I think Murray is prepared to go to possess his daughter. He'd see her in chains and find victims for her himself if he needed to(I think this may be what the Africa trip's about, lots of wild game for her to live on), so he wouldn't "have" to kill her.

So yeah, Ethan would definitely side with Vanessa and kill Mina.
Jim Adcock
9. dlairman
I think we are meant to believe that this is all "predictable", because we "know" the characters. But I think we are being played - I cite the death of Van Helsing as evidence, suddenly (and quite violently) surprising us with an unexpected turn. Also, I believe Vanessa was excluded because Sir Malcom is worried that her connection to The Master might tip him to their plans. I'm a bit concerned that they went into the vampires' lair at night...
Chris Nelly
10. Aeryl
@9, That's twice they've done that, the first episode was titled Night Work.

I guess it's unsporting ,old chap, to go hunting prey when it hibernates.

But again, this show hasn't made it clear that vampires are harmed by sunlight, or impervious to regular weaponry. Fenton was pretty squirrelly in the basement, with the sun shining right on him, and they've all been able to kill the vampire spawn without resorting to Van Helsing's methods that were mentioned this episode.

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