Eva Green, Josh Hartnett/Showtime

Much of “And Hell Itself My Only Foe” serves as connective tissue between last week’s blockbuster and next week’s finale, yet it’s still a generally strong episode in what has turned out to be an outstanding sophomore season. As Vanessa and Ethan are wrapping up a loose end at the Cut-Wife’s cabin (it turns out that Two-Face the Pinkerton is nowhere near as fearsome as he looks), Frankenstein arrives to take them home and bring them up to speed: Sir Malcolm is a prisoner at the witches’ castle, where the ghosts of his past threaten to drive him insane.

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Back in London, Lily’s visit with Dorian Gray gives a little more focus to a couple of storylines that have been unfolding on the periphery. For one thing, Gray actually does recognize her as Brona, albeit a strikingly transformed Brona, so he’s a little more observant than he’d let on. More importantly, his role in the bigger picture becomes clearer when Lily gives him what is basically the same speech she’d given the Creature earlier. She’s assembling a monster squad—a legion of doom to go up against our heroes en route to conquering the world. My guess is that this is mostly set-up for season three (which will happen, as Showtime has officially given the green light), with their portion of next week’s finale likely playing out as a rescue mission.

John Clare is the one in need of rescue, as his one sliver of trust in humanity has been betrayed. The sweet blind girl convinces him to accompany her into the under-construction portion of the wax museum, where she locks him in a cell. He is to be the main attraction in the hall of living freaks Putney has been planning all along. Honestly, I’m not clear how this is supposed to work. Surely it won’t take long for Clare to convince at least one of the paying customers that he’s being held against his will. I suppose Putney could make an announcement to the effect that it’s all a show, so pay no mind to any pleas for mercy you may hear, but it still strikes me as a pretty dicey operation, especially right in the heart of London. No matter how it plays out, however, the story has served his purpose: Clare will be only too eager to join Lily’s crusade, especially since he fell for Lavinia’s treachery immediately after explaining to her that true evil is not ugly, but seductive and beautiful. He may have been describing Lily at the time, but now it’s clear that Lavinia also fits the bill.

Also in need of rescue: Sir Malcolm, locked up with hallucinations of his family in various stages of decay. They may not be real, but everything they say about his responsibility for each of their deaths is true, so it hardly matters that they can’t physically harm him. Vanessa is intent on setting out immediately to free him, but arriving after dark means dealing with the Nightcomers at full strength. Also, the full moon has come around again, so Ethan is going to inconveniently turn into a wolf. (Ethan being Ethan, of course, he can’t just come out and say this, which continues to be annoying but shouldn’t be a problem for much longer.) Still, it’s hard to blame Vanessa when she sets off on her own anyway, since she’s the one who has the special bond with Sir Malcolm, and there’s no telling how much longer he’ll be able to hang onto whatever shreds of his sanity remain.

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The episode’s final ten minutes or so play out as a series of intense cliffhangers, with our heroes separately facing off against their fears. Ethan and Sembene become trapped in a staircase as the full moon rises and the change overcomes the former (after an attempted suicide thwarted by Sembene). Vanessa finds herself in the doll room (she hates dolls, remember), where her own effigy calls her out as a murderer. Like Sir Malcolm, Frankenstein is surrounded by his “family”: all three of his creations, including our old friend Proteus. If the season has taught us anything, it’s that these powerful but damaged individuals stand no chance alone; they’ll need each other to get through the night and maybe even avert the apocalypse along the way. Only one hour to go.

Stray observations

  • This week’s title is another line from John Clare (the poet, not the monster), from a poem called “I Lost The Love Of Heaven.”
  • Ethan Chandler is actually Ethan Talbot, a nifty little Easter egg that puts him in line to be an ancestor of Universal’s classic Wolfman, Larry Talbot.
  • “I’ve held balls, as you know.” Oh, we know, Dorian. We know.
  • Ethan gives Lyle the world’s tiniest gun for the raid on Poole’s castle, and it’s both appropriate and hilarious.
  • Hecate’s storyline hasn’t had the strongest development along the way, but it is fitting that Poole’s obsession with youth would come back to bite her in the form of someone who is still actually young, with no hocus-pocus involved. Her attempt to sway Ethan to the dark side doesn’t appear to take, but her backwards escape from his room through the mirror is pretty cool, nonetheless.
  • Showtime won’t be making the finale available ahead of time, so look for next week’s review at the witching hour. (Or, you know, wait until the next morning. You could do that, too.)

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