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Apocalyptic storm clouds gather on Penny Dreadful

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In keeping with the two previous episodes this season, “Good And Evil Braided Be” acts as a sort of anthology episode collecting the discrete adventures of each of the main characters. As the hour progresses, however, there are indications that these individual storylines may be pieces of the same puzzle after all. The episode is heavy with foreshadowing of a looming, world-ending (or at least world-altering) event, the nature of which only a few of the characters appear to comprehend. The exception, for most of the episode anyway, is John Clare: while the others are looking forward and planning for a dark future, Clare is gazing back into his past as he slowly recovers memory of it. We might think he has no connection at all to a larger plot until, for the second week in a row, an episode ends on the revelation of a character’s secret connection to Vanessa. More on that later.


New alliances are being formed, the most unlikely of which is that between Ethan and Hecate. Ethan is a reluctant participant in his own story throughout the hour. We are told he has an important role in preventing whatever apocalyptic event is to come, while he is told the opposite by Hecate: she calls him the Wolf of God and tells him she wants to “liberate his truest self” and rule the darkness at his side. Ethan has the demeanor of a man who would like to opt out entirely, but for now he’s simply going with the flow, even if it means the slaughter of an innocent rancher couple in order to steal their horses. On one thing Hecate and Kaetenay agree: The deaths they cause along the way are just a drop in the bucket compared with what is to come, so why break a sweat about it?

Kaetenay’s motives continue to be elusive. One minute he’s saying a terrible end awaits us all if they can’t save Ethan. A few scenes later he says they must save him if they can or else kill the evil he’s become. If only Ethan can save them, killing him doesn’t sound like the best idea. Then again, if Ethan gives into his dark side, perhaps it is he who brings about the apocalyptic event. It’s all vague at this point, but there’s still pleasure to be had from watching two old pros like Wes Studi and Timothy Dalton share scenes together. Malcolm intervening when the men on the train try to exile Kaetenay from the “whites only” car suggests the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

The friendship between Frankenstein and Jekyll looks more and more like a partnership of convenience. They have the same goals in mind, but Victor can’t help lording his self-proclaimed scientific superiority over his former schoolmate, insisting he can make Jekyll’s formula last longer, perhaps even permanently, thanks to his knowledge of electricity. They have a basic philosophical divide, as well: Frankenstein’s view of good and evil is summed up by the episode’s title, while Jekyll believes in a stark separation of the two. We must embrace the good and bury the evil. Given all we’ve seen on Penny Dreadful, all I can say is good luck with that.

Lily has embraced the evil, but not for its own sake: she has a cause. While having tea with her protégé Justine, she looks with disdain upon a group of suffragettes as their protest is shut down by the police. Lily is a woman for a new age: a militant feminist many decades before such a term would ever be used. She’s not interested in mere equality; she wants to achieve “mastery” by assembling an army of fallen women. You have to wonder where Dorian thinks he fits into this plan. Lily treats him as an equal, but his character remains the weak link in this ensemble. There’s not much more to him than his carnal appetites.


Vanessa is half of two new pairings this season, one that may do her some good, and another that can bring only doom. Her sessions with Seward are tense for obvious reasons: the doctor can’t believe the things Vanessa tells her about her past are anything but the manifestation of mental illness. Vanessa believes her doctor views her as simply a great subject for study, but she is able to prove herself to an extent by psychically reading a traumatic event from Seward’s past. On the other hand, Vanessa’s outings with Dr. Sweet are very pleasant from her point of view, but ominous from ours given what we know about him. Dracula taking his date to a hall of mirrors feels like a deliberate provocation, but apparently the legend of the vampire not being able to see his own reflection doesn’t apply here.

When Dracula’s lead familiar corners Vanessa in the hall of mirrors, it’s not clear exactly what he’s trying to accomplish. Maybe he’s acting impulsively, out of jealousy, but in any case he sparks a memory in Vanessa with his mention of her previous meeting with his Master in “the white room, long ago, where there was no time.” Vanessa convinces Seward to hypnotize her in order to recover memories of this room, which turns out to be the cell she was held in at the Banning Clinic. It is here that we get the revelation mentioned above: that her orderly was the man who would become Frankenstein’s creature. Given the touching relationship that developed between Vanessa and John Clare last season, this feels like another cruel blow in waiting for her. Yet it’s also a way to pull Clare back into a larger narrative that isn’t quite visible yet, but looks very dark indeed from here.


Stray observations

  • “Good and evil braided be” sounds like it must be a quote from something, but the only references I could find online pointed back to this very episode. Anyone?
  • The phrase “painted with blood” has come up several times, and we see it literally manifested in the threesome involving Lily, Dorian, and Justine (after the latter has killed her longtime tormenter). Overall, this episode is one of the show’s bloodiest outings, with throats being slit all over the place.
  • John Clare revisits his old life and finds his family is now destitute without him. Forced to work in the factory, his son appears to have developed black lung. The show has done an incredible job of turning Clare into a sympathetic character while never losing sight of his monstrousness.
  • Renfield eats a bug. Because that’s what Renfield does.

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