Penny Dreadful Review: “The Nightcomers”

In which Eva Green earns herself what should be her 1000th Emmy.

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Much like last season’s “Closer Than Sisters,” this episode of Penny Dreadful takes us back, way back into time, to examine a heretofore unknown aspect of Vanessa’s past, and her experiences at a way less awesome Hogwarts.

Frankly, I’m surprised to see an all-flashback episode like this so early in the season; last year, they waited until episode five to take us back, whereas now we’re getting it in episode three. It’s a difficult thing to consider when reviewing, because it completely halts the forward motion of the show, stunting its momentum; but it’s written so well and executed so flawlessly by Eva Green that it’s still a wonderful episode. It’s always worth noting that backstory should not be confused for character development, and that we don’t get much new out of this episode, necessarily; but it’s a fascinating watch, and does give us some further insight into her character, and into Evelyn Poole’s.

And (though overshadowed by Green’s brilliance here), Helen McCrory continues to creep me right the hell out as the leader of her Satan-loving witch coven. Manipulating her husband into killing her enemy for her – after nearly tricking that same enemy into re-joining her coven – proves just how strong Poole’s force of will truly is. I must admit, though, I didn’t love Poole’s portrayal as a dominatrix, as it only furthers the widely-held and completely meritless belief that practitioners of BDSM are linked to evil or cultish behavior. Dommes were not even uncommon in the nineteenth century, despite what you may believe about Victorian sexuality; it was known as the Golden Age of the Governess, and Houses of Discipline, famous for their flagellation, abounded in London. That being said, the episode did an excellent job of drawing attention to the painfully – and sometimes lethally – dangerous fates than can befall powerful women.

And poor, poor Daywalker Joan Clayton fell victim to the worst of that this week, as she was burnt alive for being a witch – but mostly for being in Poole’s crosshairs. Many of Clayton’s lines reminded the audience of how difficult it is and always has been for women who held any sort of ability, and especially those who used it in the name of female reproductive health. As Clayton said, “so it is always for those who do for women.” The home abortion scene was a nice reminder of what will probably befall us all should we see a Republican win the next election (burn, so to speak).

Well, at least we known where Vanessa Ives learnt i’ all, as Hagrid would say. Her innate abilities may be God-given, and the Devil’s hunt for her eternal, but her knowledge of the arcane and the Arcana came from Clayton. Ives certainly isn’t fully human at this point, given her inability to enter Clayton’s safe zone at the beginning of the episode, but she’s definitely got a long way to go before she becomes full Nightcomer – including a lot more Verbis Diablo and a peek into that terrifying tome Clayton points out to her. The Devil card in the tarot isn’t cut and dry; it can represent the scapegoat, the thing for which we blame our troubles. It also often symbolizes the fact that service to the Devil is entirely voluntary, and something you can consciously remove yourself from – once you realize you are merely being tricked into your doom by outside forces. Something interesting to ponder.

One last thought – I never want to see a bunny killed on TV again. Thanks.

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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.