Penny Dreadful / Screen

Penny Dreadful finally says ‘vampire’ in “What Death Can Join Together”

Since last week’s episode was just a big trip down memory line “What Death Can Join Together” has a lot of catching up to do. There are only two more episodes left this season, and there needs to be some movement on the main fronts. For the most part this episode does this, finally having someone utter the word “vampire”. It’s a mild annoyance, that’s slowly grown into a larger one, that we all know what the group is going after vampires. But they don’t know. They don’t even know vampires exist and hardly have the ability to guess with the only vampire stories they’ve got appearing in penny dreadfuls which are only read by a specific few. 

Enter Van Helsing who takes Victor under his wing to give him a crash course in vampirism. While it’s cool to see the show playing with Van Helsing some, making him the vampire hunter we know him as and telling Victor about the vampires’ goals, it feels like we’ve been plodding toward this reveal about vampires. It’s supposed to be something revelatory, but the problem with revelations like that one in a show like this one is that everyone watching already knows and doesn’t need the lesson. We’re already several steps ahead of the main characters who are just now putting a name to the creature they’re fighting. The only interesting bit Van Helsing mentions (besides having to stake his wife and cut her head off) is about conquest, which he considers to be one of their motivations. If we’re going alone with the mythology of the Egyptian god and goddess combining to create an uber god who will destroy the world, I suppose that fits in well here.

And just so we don’t forget that Victor’s on a deadline, Caliban turns up and kills Van Helsing. I hate to say it, but I hate Caliban. This episode didn’t help anything with him pining over the leading lady at the Grand Guignol and being very upset that she already has a boyfriend and isn’t interested in him which seems to scream that Caliban is likely to kill her himself and offer her corpse up to Victor as a subject. Everytime he turns up and calls Victor “demon” and snaps someone’s neck or puts his hands through their chest I’m just unmoved. To be specific, I’m annoyed. It doesn’t help that every conversation he and Victor have is the same one: Caliban wanting Victor to hurry up while Victor is usually intimidated into silence.

While Victor’s learning everything there is to know about vampires, Malcolm, Ethan and Sembane are actually encountering them. After Malcolm pressures Vanessa into having some kind of vision she has a vague sense about a ship which leads the trio to a plague ship populated by a bunch of snoozing blond lady vampires. When they eventually awaken it cues a fight with lots of screeching and gunfire that culminates in a fire breaking out and Dracula escaping with Mina, with Malcolm unable to help her. Considering the only stakes the show’s actually been clear about is Mina (though even that is wonky considering everyone being so sure Mina’s no longer capable of being saved), it was good to see her in the flesh. But there’s only so long the show can float this idea of her being just outside of Malcolm and Vanessa’s reach before it gets boring especially if the show plans on extending their search into next season.

The entire episode on the plague ship is marked by Vanessa’s absence. She’s on a date with Dorian Gray, and Malcolm’s hiding his plans from her. With the events of last episode it’s easy to understand where this distrust comes from, and his decision to leave her out of the loop and instead send her happily into Dorian’s arms probably cost him his chance at getting Mina back tonight. Recalling their descent into the vampire nest in the pilot, it’s hard to imagine that they would have had as harrowing an encounter if Vanessa had been in town. And it’s not lost on Ethan who’s thrown his hat into the ring mostly because of Vanessa’s positive impression, and he reminds Malcolm that he’s going to lose a lot of battles if he can’t bring himself to trust Vanessa.

Ethan’s interlude with Dorian last week is glossed over aside from his return to his and Brona’s home where she’s in bed and coughing. Though he tells her he went out with Dorian (“He’s a devil that one”), he skips over the part about sleeping with him and instead assures Brona that her behavior the night before is perfectly forgivable. “What Death Can Join Together” is a pretty big advice session for Ethan who, after Brona’s warning that he keep his distance from her just to be safe, kisses her anyway and vows to love Brona even once the her disease escalates. He passes this wisdom along to Malcolm who got some more advice from Sembane about Mina perhaps being beyond saving right after an episode that had Vanessa promising to kill Mina if necessary.

Out with Dorian, he and Vanessa are diving right into the heavy conversation topics like philosophy and religion. Dorian’s interest in Vanessa is due to her mysteriousness, which he sees as being equal to his own. The two of them being together means that they’re not alone. But while Dorian’s uniqueness is tied to his portrait (before which he stands and watches the wounds sustained during his and Vanessa’s sexcapade disappear), Vanessa’s is considerably darker. The episode was pushing the possession angle long before it happened with Vanessa telling Dorian she can’t relinquish her control because it’ll mean something else taking control. After this it’s only natural Vanessa gets possessed, hearing a voice greeting her and assuring her of all the fun they’re going to have. They’re not off to a great start with Vanessa returning home and shocking Malcolm with her levitation.

Stray Observations

  • Yes, Lucifer does mean “bringer of light or something like that” but you should probably stay away from naming your children that just because.
  • Victor’s storyline was kind of a bore, but kudos to him for quoting Percy Shelley and pretending that Shelley’s wife didn’t write him into existence.
  • Apparently Penny Dreadful only has three types of vampires: Draculas, blond women and Fenton.
  • Was Sembane bitten? I think he was, but no one addressed it. I know they don’t know about vampirism being spread that way, but you’d think someone would say “Hmm Sembane you okay? Can’t believe she bit you like that.” But what am I saying? Sembane’s the only non-white person in this entire cast, and his days are truly numbered. I’ll be surprised if he lives out the season, whether he was bitten or not.
  • Dorian: “I like being looked at.” I’m sure you do.
  • Vanessa showing Malcolm her dress was very adorable.

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