Eva Green, Harry Treadaway/Showtime

Following last week’s foundation-laying flashback, “Evil Spirits In Heavenly Places” is more concerned with getting the second season’s plot up to speed. There are no earthshaking developments or jaw-dropping revelations, but the conflicts come into clearer focus and there’s time to spend getting to know the characters in ways we haven’t necessarily seen before.

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Working toward the inner circle from the outer edges, let’s start with Dorian Gray, who continues to be a tangential presence in the larger narrative. He’s still seeing Angelique and their relationship is a surprisingly public one, all things considered. It’s not hard to see why they’ve hit it off; as Angelique notes, they’re both living their lives as the people they want to be, not who they are. (The difference is that Angelique’s expression of her true self requires only makeup and appropriate wardrobe choices, not an enchanted portrait.) Although Angelique attracts a few disapproving glances, she and Dorian are able to enjoy the trendy new game of table tennis and even share a passionate smooch without causing a scene. It’s hard to believe that can last, and even harder to see how this new relationship, charming though it is, fits into the big picture. The safe bet is still that Angelique has secrets not yet revealed, but if so they’ll have to wait at least another week.

In the realm of the reanimated, the creature now calling himself John Clare continues to explore his more sensitive side, bonding with Lavinia, the waxwork maker’s blind daughter. It’s a well-worn horror trope—the sightless person oblivious to surface ugliness but seeing the gentle soul inside—but there’s a tension underlying their interactions since we already know the violence that lurks beneath Clare’s current placid facade. We also learn that Lavinia’s father has further plans for expanding his macabre tourist attraction by adding a display of flesh-and-blood freaks. It’s not too farfetched to assume he already has his eye on his newest employee as a potential exhibit, and that such a proposal won’t go over too well with Clare.

Clare’s opposite number Lily is relearning the harsh realities of Victorian gender politics and pushing back against them…to a point. With Victor’s permission, she decides not to wear the uncomfortable corset, a restrictive garment men use to “keep women from taking over the world.” But she chooses to keep her new shoes because, well, she likes them. The reason Lily has new clothes at all is because Victor talked Vanessa into accompanying him on a shopping trip for his “cousin,” thus providing a rare opportunity for Penny Dreadful to showcase the lighter side of Eva Green. We’ve seen Vanessa put through the wringer so often already, it’s a delight to see her enjoying herself for once, and you can see how Green relishes the change of pace in the playfully mocking way she whispers “decolletage” and “undergarments.” You could argue this is a throwaway scene, but it’s important to see how these characters behave in mundane situations every so often, and a little humor once in a while certainly doesn’t hurt either.

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Chandler misreads a close encounter with a Nightcomer after he “rescues” Hecate from an accident she has staged. He quickly picks up on the fact that she’s not who she says she is, but jumps to the conclusion that she’s a Pinkerton sent by his father to drag him back to the United States. The truth becomes clear later at Sir Malcolm’s estate, where the team is busy trying to piece together the puzzle of artifacts from the British Museum. Each artifact contains a fragment of a story, but each piece is in a different language because that’s just the way the devil rolls. It all appears to point to Vanessa, who is understandably reluctant to accept that she’s “the subject of an eternal Satanic quest.” Before they can decipher any more of the code, however, the Nightcomers attack in a well-edited, sinister sequence in which they emerge from the wallpaper at various points around the Murray manse. From a narrative standpoint, their attack doesn’t amount to much; it plays as if it was dialed up just because the episode needed some kind of jolt at the end. On those terms it’s definitely effective, but some of the episode’s best moments have nothing to do with things going bump in the night.

Stray observations:

  • There was some discussion in the comments last time about whether Angelique is a transgender woman or a transvestite. I don’t begin to claim any expertise in this area, but as long as she keeps referring to herself as a woman, I’m sticking with transgender regardless of its anachronistic quality. For what it’s worth, Jonny Beauchamp, the actor who plays Angelique, agrees.
  • Inspector Rusk’s investigation into the Mariner’s Inn Massacre continues to make little progress, as the only living witness claims not to remember anything.
  • Sir Malcolm confesses he’s “courting” Evelyn Poole, and Lyle advises him to proceed with caution. Playing both sides against the middle?

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