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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Penny Dreadful serves up a big reveal

Wes Studi, Josh Hartnett/Showtime
Wes Studi, Josh Hartnett/Showtime
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Vanessa’s new friend Dr. Sweet was always going to be something more than a mild-mannered lecturer at the Natural History Museum. His appearance in the season premiere was innocuous enough, but John Logan isn’t in the habit of introducing new characters who don’t have secret lives. ”Predators Far And Near” posits Vanessa as the aggressor in their budding relationship. We can tell there’s something up with Sweet when he can’t even remember her name—as if Vanessa is even remotely forgettable—but I’ll admit to being caught off-guard by the big reveal that this milquetoast is the fearsome Dracula.

That’s the genius of the vampire master’s human disguise, which does raise certain questions yet to be answered. (For instance, how long has “Dr. Sweet” been a lecturer at the museum? Was he just sort of hoping Vanessa would drop by someday, or is there a bit of magic involved in her attraction to him?) Poor Vanessa: she’s finally taking steps to pull her life together, she meets a nice, seemingly harmless guy, and he turns out to be the prince of darkness who has been stalking her. Maybe dating just isn’t her thing. For now, though, she’s still in the dark about Sweet’s secret, a state of affairs that lends her efforts toward self-improvement added poignance.


“Predators Far And Near” finds all of our characters struggling to figure out exactly who they are now that their ties to each other have been (temporarily, at least) severed. Ethan has no say in his future, which would appear to be brief indeed, at least until the full moon rises. Still in the clutches of his father’s hired guns, he’s about to get help from two unexpected sources. Kaetenay appears to him in a vision as we learn the Apache is yet another person with good reason to want to see Ethan dead. He doesn’t, though; he’d even turned down the opportunity to scalp Ethan in favor of seeing him live to suffer at length. Now he appears to have other plans for Ethan, and obtains his location in their shared vision. Ethan’s other secret helper is Hecate (who I completely failed to recognize in her appearance on the train in last week’s episode), who turns up in her Nightcomer form while Ethan is wolfing out and assists him in slaughtering his captors.

Back in London, Doctors Frankenstein and Jekyll are getting back to work in another great Gothic laboratory. Jekyll is on the staff at Bethlem Hospital, the notorious asylum better known as Bedlam, which keeps him supplied with subjects for his experimental treatment. At this point it’s still not clear whether Jekyll is already experimenting on himself, but we do see his formula in action, albeit in reverse, as a raving, violent patient is transformed almost instantly into a calm, reasonable fellow. This raises Victor’s hopes that the beast within Lily may yet be rendered dormant. The former Brona Croft has come a long way, however, and has agency and plans of her own. The exact nature of such plans is not yet clear. but they begin with the rescue of a young woman from some sort of gentlemen’s torture club. They definitely do not include Victor Frankenstein, as she explains to him in no uncertain terms after catching him lurking outside her window.

While the rest of the characters seem trapped in the worst versions of themselves, Vanessa is doing her best to confront her past mistakes and shake free of her demons. Considering she began the season in a near-feral state, her sessions with Dr. Seward appear to be doing some good (you know, aside from the fact that Dracula’s slave Renfield is using them to collect information for his master). Seward promises Vanessa they will see their way through her crisis of faith, and instructs her to do something that will make her happy. Happiness is fleeting in this world, however, and although Vanessa finds it while attending a theatrical production of 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (consisting of projected drawings, barely animated) with Dr. Sweet, we know her prospective new romance is doomed from the start.

How and when everyone else will fit into this developing crisis remains an open question. “Predators Far And Near” lives up to its title by continuing the scattered, globetrotting approach from the season premiere, and with only nine episodes slated for this year, it’s possible that we’ll see the group reunited closer to the end than the beginning. (Now that I’ve said that, watch them all come together by the end of next week’s episode.) I’m not impatient for that to happen, but I am curious to see how long the show will let these separate journeys play out. Will a more sprawling, Game Of Thrones-like approach work for Penny Dreadful over the course of a full season, or will the status quo be restored sooner than later? I’m looking forward to finding out.


Stray observations

  • I also look forward to a future session with Dr. Seward where Vanessa explains she was seeing a werewolf for a while, but now she’s dating a vampire.
  • In addition to the usual horror influences, there’s a touch of Sergio Leone in the Western sequences, particularly the scene where the dead lawmen are photographed upright in their coffins.
  • “Do all your people speak so enigmatically?” “Yes.”
  • Vanessa’s hero is Joan of Arc. “She heard a voice and believed it.”
  • Vinyl is fine, but I prefer the warmth and intimacy of Victorian cylinder recordings.
  • John Clare: presumably still walking.

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