Penny Dreadful / Screen

With some help from Dorian Gray, Penny Dreadful‘s “Demimonde” finally makes Ethan Chandler interesting

Finally we have Van Helsing. It’s a pretty small development in the greater scheme of “Demimonde” which, most importantly, sees some relationships forming and ending and shifting around while the larger arc of vampires and Mina also gets addressed. But Van Helsing (David Warner) is now around and helping Victor and Malcolm come up with a cure for vampirism. He disappears after his initial scene so he’s not that important (yet) besides telling Victor what we already know: that Fenton feeds on blood. This Van Helsing is more doctor than vampire hunter, and not nearly as young or dashing as recent iterations of the character, but it’s still good to see him. Between him and Dorian casually taking in an orgy at his place, it was a pretty good start to an episode.

“Demimonde” thankfully gets a lot of its boring stuff out of the way in the beginning. And unfortunately after last week’s episode, the boring stuff is to Frankenstein and Caliban as well as Brona and Ethan. Now that all the twists and turns appear to be done for with Victor and Caliban, it’s better that the show give them some breathing room especially since their story is now following the source material more closely. Caliban wants an attractive mate (and Victor just has to mention that Caliban isn’t all that attractive himself), and is pushing a busy and reluctant Victor to make it happen sooner rather than later. That’s all there is really, and after that we don’t see the two interact again (though we do see Caliban working his butt off at the Grand Guignol) which is a big relief.

On Brona and Ethan’s end, their relationship also implodes fairly quickly and that’s also a relief because it was badly done in the first place. That being said, I don’t expect this to be the end of them, but I do hope it’s an opportunity for the show to fix the mistakes they made in developing their relationship.  It’s not that Brona’s not interesting (I mean that’s kind of it), but Penny Dreadful seems to be going for some kind of starcrossed lovers thing between her and Ethan. It works better in “Demimonde” than it did last week, since Brona makes an emotional confession to Chandler about her past, laying some groundwork for their connection that wasn’t just that they met in a hotel and thought the other was amusing. But watching the two of them engage in the London high-life is boring, though it picks up some with the two of them attending a show at the Grand Guignol and crossing paths with Dorian and Vanessa (who spend the first act making eyes at each other from opposite balconies). It doesn’t get a lot better when Brona, faced with her one-time sex buddy and the polished and dignified Vanessa, calls it quits on her and Ethan. Like a lot of the relationships between its characters, Penny Dreadful skips steps in order to hit these points. Brona pointing out her own mortality and the impossibility of a future for the two of them makes sense, but seeing as how their relationship didn’t even become one until last week, it feels  hollow.

The same is true of Malcolm and Victor, who are suddenly ascending to a new level of a surrogate father/son relationship because Victor reminds Malcolm of the son who died on one of his expeditions. This itself isn’t the weird part, since Malcolm saying so doesn’t feel as strange as what prompted it: Malcolm extending an invitation to Ethan to join him on an expedition and Victor getting jealous as if there’s some reason that Malcolm should feel partial to either one of them. It doesn’t feel as though any of these people have known each other long enough to be reaching these points so it looks more as if Penny Dreadful is just trying to hit its marks after suddenly realizing that it’s running out of time to do so now that we’re at the halfway point of the season.

Strangely the best developed relationship is shaping up to be Vanessa’s and Dorian’s. It’s probably because they’re bound by some kind of inexplicable attraction, but the show’s taking it slow in that regard. Just when it looks like their relationship is about to advance, after a run-in at a garden and at the theater, Dorian takes off to show a despairing Ethan an underground dog-eat-rat arena and leaves Vanessa on her own.  Though it’s hard to take Dorian seriously as a sexually arousing Lothario (especially when it comes to Eva Green’s Vanessa who seems far out of his league) with his haircut and the fact that he looks like he’s seventeen, no one is immune to his charms. Not even Ethan Chandler.

I didn’t start watching this show (or even this episode) thinking it would end with Josh Hartnett and Reeve Carney making out, but I’m glad it did. I’ll just say it: Ethan’s boring. He’s so, so boring. Even more boring than the doomed Brona, who may or may not be dying in the street as the episode ends. After last week’s interlude with the wolves, there’s speculation that Ethan is Penny Dreadful‘s Wolfman, and with his adamant refusal to take part in a blood transfusion that could be the case, and his recurring discomfort with all mentions of the killer terrorizing London could indicate that he’s the perpetrator. And there’s no way “The Transformed Beast” being put on wasn’t implying something to that effect. I hope Ethan is a werewolf because that would inject some much needed energy into his plodding story. But for now, Dorian does the trick.

Ethan and Dorian’s bonding session back at his house was strangely hilarious, especially when they drank absinthe and Dorian toasted to “the most mysterious thing in London: Ms. Vanessa Ives”, to Ethan’s befuddlement. Then it took a turn for the nearly dangerous as Ethan’s flashes to a blood-spattered spectator at the dog-eat-rat thing as well as the still-active killer terrorizing London led him to grab Dorian by the throat. He was either going to kiss him or kill him, and since Carney’s a regular, he wasn’t going to die.  So kissing it is.

Everyone just loves Dorian Gray. It would have been weird if he and Ethan didn’t fall into bed together since Dorian Gray isn’t exactly known for his platonic friendships, and Ethan skipping away from Dorian’s with the happy start of a bromance would have been ridiculous. But Dorian is at the center of quite the romantic entanglement now from Brona to Vanessa to Ethan, and it’s strange how he was arguably the center of the episode (both opening and closing it) after being such a hard character for Penny Dreadful to find use for previously.

Back at Malcolm’s mansion Fenton draws his master there, who’s apparently on the hunt for Vanessa. It’s a mostly anticlimactic sequence since Fenton attacks Malcolm, gets thrown off and killed while his master lunges out the window without actually doing any harm himself. This is the first episode where the greater supernatural story, searching for Mina, has fallen to the wayside in favor of the tangled web of relationships. Vanessa and Malcolm’s harsh words after Vanessa returns home are indicative of their own faults (Malcolm often ignoring her and a one-time betrayal on Vanessa’s part) in pushing Mina to ally herself with Dracula and apparently turn against them now. And next week’s “Closer Than Sisters” looks like it will finally shed some light on what really happened to get Mina to where she is now.

Stray Observations

  • Dorian’s “favorite” portrait is hiding in a secret room where he goes to examine it when he’s feeling existential and in crisis. So when are we going to see it?
  • I still only understand about 10% of what Brona says. I’ve given up on trying to understand more.
  • The team dynamic is really fun. The traded barbs between Malcolm, Chandler, Vanessa and Victor gives this dark show some much-needed levity. It was also funny to watch Victor and Malcolm try to come up with ways to feed Fenton before Sembene solved it by killing a cat and giving it to him. But I’m still irritated that Sembene isn’t an actual character on this show.
  • Malcolm said Ethan was just a finger on a trigger (and nothing compared to Victor of course), but I bet he was wishing that finger was around when Fenton jumped him and Victor was absolutely useless.
  • If Ethan is a werewolf, should Vanessa have picked up on it? She realized that Victor has secrets, but she hasn’t caught on to Ethan’s yet.
  • Theory: Brona’s totally going to die, and Victor will use her corpse to make Caliban’s girlfriend. And then the love quadrangle thing already in play will explode.

Leave your thoughts in the comments.

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