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Penny Dreadful: “What Death Can Join Together”

David Warner, Harry Treadaway
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Sir Malcolm: “She will cease being who she is.”

Chandler: “Then I will love who she becomes.”

The men are discussing Brona Croft, whose consumption has reached such a critical state she is urging Chandler to stay away from her, but their words have a much broader application to the world of Penny Dreadful. Flip-flop the lines and they could be talking about Mina, who has already ceased being who she is. Sir Malcolm continues to insist he loves her and believes she can be saved, but an increasing number of his colleagues are skeptical about that. Frankenstein’s monster has his eye on a woman who, if he had his way, would cease being who she is in order to become something he loves. Almost everyone in this world is becoming something other than what they were, and that’s just fine with Dorian Gray, who believes transcending mere humanity is a gift. Vanessa has reason to believe it’s a curse.


Penny Dreadful isn’t quite ready to reveal which side of that debate it comes down on (if either), but after dipping into the past last week, the series takes a few steps forward with “What Death Can Join Together.” Having lost their only lead thanks to Fenton’s untimely demise, Sir Malcolm prevails upon Vanessa to conjure up a vision. It doesn’t really work that way, but the Tarot cards suggest a ship, and Sir Malcolm’s research indicates a quarantined freighter out of Cairo as a likely nest where Mina might be found.

That Sir Malcolm doesn’t invite Vanessa along on his exploratory mission indicates he still has trust issues with her (and after last week, we know why), which doesn’t escape Chandler’s notice. Chandler still has secrets of his own, and he’s definitely not talking about what happened between him and Dorian Gray. Gray’s purpose in the story so far appears to be to have sex with all the other regular characters; this week it’s Vanessa’s turn, and their rough, bloody romp becomes a threesome when her demon (or a different one?) joins the party.

Frankenstein’s creature would settle for a single mate, and when one of the actresses from the theater deigns to acknowledge his existence, it’s all too easy to imagine him presenting her corpse to his maker for reanimation (especially after he spies her kissing another man). That doesn’t happen (yet, anyway), which isn’t to say the creature’s patience is limitless. After Van Helsing gives Frankenstein the lowdown on vampires (revealing in the process that he’d driven a stake through his wife’s heart and cut off her head, which is not the story Frankenstein remembers) and urges him to astonish the world, the creature shows up to snap his neck and once again demand his creator provide him a bride. (Moral of the story: Never say the words “My life is practically over” aloud, especially if you are a character on television.)

The week’s big set piece is the raid on the plague ship, which is exciting enough even as it turns out be one big delaying tactic. Mina and her master are there (along with a nest full of rapidly dispatched lady-vamps), but the ship catches fire and a burning beam prevents Sir Malcolm and company from reaching them. If nothing else, this sort of “drat, we just missed them” development is true to the spirit of the original penny dreadfuls (in which serialized stories could carry on for dozens or even hundreds of installments), but it’s a trick that would get old in a hurry if the search for Mina storyline continues beyond this season.


That’s an open question at this point because while Penny Dreadful remains an alluring attraction, extremely watchable minute to minute, there’s a curious lack of urgency to the narrative and a haziness to the overall shape of the season. Certain events, such as Vanessa rising up off the floor and spinning around in front of Sir Malcolm, have an almost random quality. I enjoy spending time in this world, but I’m not as invested as I might be if the stakes were a little clearer. (For instance, the Egyptologist’s apocalyptic mumbo-jumbo from a few weeks back hasn’t amounted to much so far.) Here’s hoping everything will snap into place in the season’s final two episodes and render these qualms moot.

Stray observations:

  • It’s a shame David Warner couldn’t stick around a while longer, as he made the most of his handful of scenes. Like the original Hammer Films stars, he has the ability to make utter nonsense sound completely convincing. Still, Frankenstein’s monster snapping Van Helsing’s neck? That’s awesome.
  • I had to rewind and listen to Dalton saying “chicanery” three times. He really seems to be enjoying himself here.
  • Varney the Vampire is an actual penny dreadful from the 1840s. Wikipedia tells me it originated “many of today’s standard vampire tropes,” and also includes a subplot that rips off Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
  • Speaking of which, Dr. Frankenstein quotes Percy Bysshe Shelley this week (giving the episode its title in the process), conveniently ignoring the fact that Shelley’s wife created him.

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