Penny Dreadful has returned and we all feel tingly in our hearts and souls. This season’s premiere, Fresh Hell, gave us a steaming dose of everything we love about Penny Dreadful (and also some steaming horse guts).
This season picks up almost exactly where the first season left off, with Vanessa Ives walking through the snow in an idyllic Victorian park. We see Evelyn Poole aka Madame Kali (the medium from episode 2 of season 1) step out from behind a statue and begin to chant in a strange guttural language. Ives stumbles to her knees as visions flash in her head, though we aren’t sure if they are visions of the past or future.
Cut to Ethan Chandler, American werewolf in London, waking up in the blood splattered common room of the Mariner’s Inn. There are bodies and bundles of rope everywhere. He books it over to the Murray Manor, where he meets Ives, who is arriving in her carriage. He asks to speak with her outside of the house and they go on a carriage ride. Ethan explains that he needs to leave London, perhaps go to Spain or Russia. Ives probes on why, especially in the wake of the things they have experienced and fought together. Ethan “explains” that he has blackouts with violent results and that being around him is dangerous. It’s the classic “stay away from me or you’ll get hurt” and Ives is having none of that shit. She asks how she can help before the carriage stops with a bump and they hear screams.
Just as they go to investigate, strange humanoid creatures burst into the carriage, screaming and grabbing at Ives. They are bald, with patterns of brands on their skin, as well as weird teeth and eyes. They aren’t all that distinctive from last season’s vampires, which is a bit disappointing. These all also happen to be female, and very naked. Penny Dreadful has never been a show to shy away from the nudity, but they almost always do so in a way that serves the scene at hand, rather than for just titillation. Ethan and Ives do their best to fend off the creatures, but the carriage gets flipped on its side and they go sprawling. One of the creatures grabs for Ives and speaks some more of (presumably) the same guttural language as Madame Kali spoke. Ives surprises everybody by talking back to it. We don’t know what she says to it but I can only assume it is the demonic equivalent of “Step off” because the creatures flee. Ethan and Ives climb out of the carriage to find their driver and horses ripped to pieces. In the background, the creatures turn into normal, clothed women who walk away into the night.
While this is happening, over at Victor Frankenstein’s house, he and Caliban are lowering a very dead and very naked Brona Croft into a big tub of…water? Something. Victor has definitely improved his reanimation setup since Proteus. Caliban tells Victor he’s off to find a job and Victor awkwardly asks if Caliban will leave him alone once he has his bride. Because Caliban can’t ever say anything that isn’t a depressing poem, he claims that he and Victor are “bound on a wheel of pain…what is Dr. Frankenstein without his creature?” It’s all rather meta.
Back at the Murray Manor, Ethan is chatting with Sembene about what happened and tells him not to let Ives out of his sight. Ives is more shaken than we’ve ever seen her, physically and emotionally. She immediately pulls the same “stay away from me, I’m dangerous” shit as Ethan did on her mere hours ago. Oh goodie, I can’t wait for this constant back and forth. Ethan says he’ll come back tomorrow when Sir Malcolm returns and goes outside to…stand watch? He basically just lurks outside the front door, presumably because he was previously staying in the Mariner’s Inn and that’s not exactly an option anymore. And who’s watching the watcher? Yet another mysterious woman on a nearby rooftop.
Speaking of Sir Malcolm, everybody’s favourite asshole father figure has returned to his seaside estates to see Mina buried. His wife, Gladys says she can’t tell what makes her sadder: Peter’s empty coffin or Mina’s full one. It’s actually very moving, considering we barely know Gladys. Turns out, Malcolm barely knows her either because he offers to return home so they can find some of the happiness they once had. Gladys calls him out for being a shit husband and father, claiming that the children were all they had together and they are now gone. She banishes him to London, or Africa, or anywhere away from her.
Caliban goes on a job hunt/scowl tour of London but nowhere is hiring. He gets distracted looking at a begging boy before happening upon the Putney Family Waxworks, who are looking for workers! They sure do seem to need staff, since Caliban wanders all around the place, which presumably charges admission, without paying a penny. Caliban loves it though, probably because he likes being around other lifelike things made by humans. When he finds Oscar Putney, Oscar claims that nobody wants to work there because it’s creepy. Caliban says he finds it familiar, because of course he does. Oscar offers him the job on the condition that he meet the rest of the Putney family that night. He then introduces his big moneymaking idea: a sort of true crime section of the waxworks featuring scenes from the murders of Jack the Ripper, and the Mariner’s Inn Massacre.
Hey, speaking of the Mariner’s Inn, we see a surly inspector of Scotland Yard checking the place out while an unidentified man pesters him about when it’ll be available again. It seems the owners want to tear the place down for tenement blocks because probably nobody wants to stay in the murder inn. This inspector mutters something about bricks replacing wood in London before informing the man (and us) that there was a survivor of this attack.
Ives has spent all day in her room, pacing and smoking. We know from last season that she doesn’t smoke tobacco so she might be high as fuck right now. It’s definitely not helping her paranoia.
Dear readers, I’m not going to lie: this next scene grossed me out harder than any scene Penny Dreadful has ever done, and it did so without a shred of gore. Victor is working away in his lab, talking to himself and dead Brona. He rests his head on the edge of her tank and talks about what she’ll be like, and how she’ll learn all about the world. He mentions that he’ll miss talking to her, so we can guess that he’s been doing this for a while. He idly starts tracing the stitches from the autopsy and things get…fondly. Now, Victor is a doctor, he’s around corpses all the time and to him they are simply that: specimens. So when Victor goes from idly tracing stitches to circling Brona’s dead ass nipples, there is a distinct tone shift. This is no longer a professional examining his work; this is a straight man examining a naked woman. It’s wicked creepy. Horrifyingly, Victor starts to move his hand down south when he is (thankfully) interrupted by a knock at the door. He leaps up like a boy caught masturbating (and in a sense, he was), promises dead Brona that he’ll be back, and runs off to answer the door. It’s Sembene, summoning Victor to the Murray Manor, telling him he needs to bring nothing but courage (good luck on that one Victor).
Over at the waxworks, Caliban meets Oscar Putney’s wife, Octavia, who is a real hardass. She runs the books and seems to be trying to scare Caliban off, though it’s possible she’s trying to vet out a lazy worker. She tells him that the hours are long and the pay is not great, but he agrees. Octavia summons their daughter Lavinia by smacking a tin of coins on the table, because as it turns out Lavinia is completely blind. She asks to touch Caliban’s face, which he is not thrilled about, but she claims she will never meet him otherwise. He consents and seems to realize as she runs her hands over his scars, that she of all people truly doesn’t care what he looks like. It’s very sweet. After Caliban leaves, Octavia confronts Oscar about hiring Caliban and how he’ll scare away all the customers. Oscar promises that Caliban’s face will make their fortune.
Much like a puppy, Ives is waiting on the stairs for Sir Malcolm’s return, and when he walks through the door she goes straight for the hug. It is an incredibly heartwarming moment. When everybody is assembled in the parlour, Ives and Ethan explain what happened. Ives reveals that the creatures were speaking the Verbis Diablo, the language of the devil. Despite having fought vampires and resurrected people, Victor is some how skeptical because the language is supposed to be a myth. Victor, I know you want to go back to your weird masturbatory fantasies, but come on! Ethan shows some more of his surprising depth of theological knowledge when he explains that after Adam left the Garden of Eden, he could no longer understand the language of the angels because he had been corrupted by the Devil. Hence, the Verbis Diablo. Sir Malcolm gives a great motivational speech about how they kicked vampire ass before, and now they need to band together to protect Ives. Everybody is on board except for Ives, who again claims they can’t help her with this. Sembene cuts to the chase and asks her what they are. Ives tells everybody they are witches.
Cut to what I am hereby naming Witch Manor, we get a beautiful long shot traveling through the spooky interior of the mansion. It is decorated in skulls because subtlety is overrated. We hear a haunting voice singing “the Unquiet Dead”, a song we heard Ives singing last season. We see Madame Kali bathing in a huge bathtub full of blood, with a dead woman next to it (even though you’d need at least 25 people to fill that tub), smoking and singing. The creators of Penny Dreadful have often said that since last season’s villain was largely ephemeral, they wanted a very clear and present villain this season. It doesn’t get much more clear and present than bathing in human blood.
Madame Kali consults with her witch underlings, including her daughter Hecate. She is pretty pissed at them for not fetching Ives, but sees that they aren’t up for this assignment. Hecate mentions Ethan, calling him “Lupus Dei” (God’s Wolf), which is interesting seeing that as far as we know, Hecate never saw Ethan wolfed out. Kali decides that Hecate will go after Ethan, while she will seduce Sir Malcolm. Together they will somehow…fetch Ives for their master Lucifer (yes, that Lucifer). There are some pretty weird mother/daughter sexy moments. One of the underlings, Beth (most boring name of the bunch), interrupts asking to try again since Ives knew the Verbis Diablo. Kali shoots her down as much as you possibly can, which is to say that she slits Beth’s throat with a retractable knife ring.
Ethan and Malcolm promise to protect Ives the best they can. Ethan asks to stay at the house, which seems to amuse Sir Malcolm, probably because in the whole last adventure they were on, Ethan never stayed at the house, but now since Ives is in trouble, he’s staying.
There is a thunderstorm brewing and it’s time for Brona to liiiiiive. Victor and Caliban flip all manner of switches, and open up the roof so they can extend a lightning rod. It does make a whole bunch of rain fall on Victor’s electronic equipment but…science magic? Lightning strikes, and a very alive Brona climbs out of the tub. Get that girl a blanket!
Ethan and Ives are going to bed, and their eyes meet just as they are at their respective doorways. It’s romantic in a way that they have never been before. Fellow Dreadful Thoughts co-host, Ashleigh Shadowbrook, maintains that Ethan and Ives will not bang this season, but I beg to differ. There is something to this short scene that has not entered into Ives and Ethan’s relationship before.
Neither of them act on it, however, and Ives closes her door only to grab some candles and slice open her thumb with a knife. She draws a scorpion in blood on the floor and begins to pray vigorously in Latin. Over at Witch Manor, Kali is also praying to Lucifer, promising to make Ives suffer to prepare her for him. The episode ends with the intercut prayers as lightning flashes and the witches appear behind Ives.
All in all, this was a solid episode and a fantastic season opener. It set up all sorts of delicious and terrible things to come. The tone has definitely shifted a little more to the campy, but the core of Penny Dreadful is still there.
Also, where the hell is Dorian Gray?