Penny Dreadful Episode 4 Review: “Demimonde”

In which everyone has some deep, dark secret, and is getting laid.
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“Demimonde” is, in keeping with the whole “thematic title” thing Penny Dreadful‘s got going on, very much about the hidden darkness beneath the mundane selves that we present to the world. It’s also about Josh Hartnett getting as much tail as possible. I’m getting my wish every week!

First, we’ve got Vanessa, whom creepy-vamp Fenton insists on calling “Mother” — perhaps after Amunet, the mother of darkness, and the spirit so desperate to inhabit her body. Vanessa is (not-so-subtly) compared to nightshade, a beautiful and exotic flower that will kill you if you get too close. We know she’s got some Big Bad in her past – Vanessa betrayed Mina in some fashion – and now the vamps are after our Miss Ives in order to end the world. So, you know, just the usual stuff, really.

Speaking of the vampires, we finally got a look at Fenton’s “master” this episode — or did we? The creepy, Orlok-looking creature that breaks into Vanessa’s bedroom is assumed to be the great leader of the vamp cult, but I’m not convinced. Last episode, we learned that Mina was engaged to Jonathan Harker before becoming “embroiled with another man — but not entirely a man.” I would think this means that the vamp who has made Mina his thrall could pass as a charming, attractive man — or at least transform into one when the need arose. Also, I think I’m just secretly hoping for a big-name actor to suddenly surprise us all by swooping in as Dracula. Is that really too much to ask?

Ethan’s secrets are also bubbling to the surface in this episode – his refusal to donate blood means that there’s either something up with his blood (because he is a werewolf), or he has some pretty damning scars all over his arms (because he is the Ripper). By the end of the hour, there’s essentially no question that Ethan’s got something to do with those killings we’ve been seeing all over London. Even Brona’s past returns to haunt her – insecurities about her turn to prostitution and her place in Victorian society drive her away from the one man in town who doesn’t care about her gig and isn’t overly-concerned about catching consumption. Brona’s on the way to Bride of Frankenstein-ing herself more and more with every episode.

Dorian returns in “Demimonde,” and, despite my initial reservations about Reeve Carney and his characterization, did manage to grow on me a bit. Horrible leather pants and ’90s-style metal chain-necklace aside (Dorian would never), Carney gave Dorian a little more charm this week – I could almost see why Vanessa might be so enchanted by him. Dorian’s ennui and general indifference was played beautifully, and the choice to not show his famous portrait was a good one — it just serves to build the suspense for the back half of the season. I still have some issues with Dorian’s greasiness and penchant for violence, but Carney definitely took steps in the right direction this week.

“Demimode” also saw David Warner’s introduction as holy whoa it’s Van Helsing, you guys, yes! A hematologist working closely with Frankenstein to examine the properties of Fenton’s blood, we learn that Van Helsing is “intimately” familiar with “hemotophagy,” better known as “the eating of blood.” There’s no way you bring in a guy like Warner and make him Van Helsing if we’re not going to eventually see some sweet, Buffy-worthy action from him, so I’m pretty stoked about this entire situation.

Then we’ve got Nice Guy Caliban, who pulls Victor aside to insist that despite his own not-so-hotness, he is owed a smokin’ bride. Okay, Caliban. Let’s get you a fedora, too. There’s also definitely something up with Malcolm’s man, Sembene, who is spotted listening in on Van Helsing, keeping watch over Vanessa at the Grand Guignol, and getting business done when it comes to feeding Fenton. We meet a little girl named “Lucy,” a name too similar to Dracula’s “Lucy Westenra” to be mere coincidence. And finally — sadly — it has been determined that Blonde Actress Lady’s name is, in fact, “Maud,” meaning she’s likely neither Dorian Gray‘s Sybil Vane nor Phantom‘s Christine. They can’t all be winning theories, what can I say.

And, of course, the moment when the collective voice of Tumblr exploded at once: Ethan and Dorian gettin’ it on while under the influence of the Green Fairy. Dorian, though fascinated by the assuredly-poisonous darkness that lies beneath Vanessa’s carefully-maintained exterior, instead finds himself drawn to Ethan’s simple-minded ‘Murican act. Dorian, in his endless quest for beauty, interest, and pleasure, decides that Ethan’s case is the more fascinating, and the audience is treated to more of Josh Hartnett making out with attractive people.

I would also just like to point out one thing, internet, and it has to do with our boys, here. Most of the “Demimonde” reviews I’ve read up to this point online shout about how Ethan is suddenly gay! or Ethan is trying to escape himself and his problems by being someone he’s not! or Ethan likes ladies and just Dorian! But what we should be saying is this: here we have an honest exploration of two bisexual male characters, something we rarelysee on television at all. Let’s honor Game of Thrones‘s great Oberyn Martell and try to avoid bi-erasure when talking about Penny Dreadful. Okay, internet?

Great. Thank you. Oberyn forever.

You can (and should) check out Penny Dreadful Sunday nights at 10pm on Showtime!

(via Showtime)

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Image of Sam Maggs
Sam Maggs
Sam Maggs is a writer and televisioner, currently hailing from the Kingdom of the North (Toronto). Her first book, THE FANGIRL'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY will be out soon from Quirk Books. Sam’s parents saw Star Wars: A New Hope 24 times when it first came out, so none of this is really her fault.