Penny Dreadful Review: “Evil Spirits in Heavenly Places”
In which Lily smacks down the patriarchy despite only being alive for like, a hot minute.
This week’s Penny Dreadful picks up right where we left off, with Vanessa finishing her witchy tale in front of the whole gang. Also, I want to apologize for the Patti LuPWN joke I clearly should have made last week, because she was amazing in that episode.
While Eva Green is no doubt the MVP of every episode of Penny Dreadful, “Evil Spirits in Heavenly Places” was particularly kind to both Victor and Dorian – two characters who haven’t gotten a real chance to shine in their roles yet this season. I’m choosing to interpret Angelique’s character the way Jonny Beauchamp interprets her: as a trans woman struggling to find her way in Victorian London. Viewed in that light, I really love Dorian’s entanglement with Angelique, and the way he treats her like a fascinating and worthy object of affection is heartwarming for a show set in a decidedly less-progressive time when it came to gay and trans rights (like, you know, they might die over it). And unlike other anachronistic elements of the show, Dorian really brought the 1890s home with a trip to a Gossima parlour. Though the game didn’t really catch on until about a decade later (when they introduced a celluloid ball and renamed it “ping-pong”), the early adopters championed the game in venues like this, before home versions became widely available. Angelique was right not to let Dorian win; though he might pout prettily, he appreciates the challenge.
Victor, too – so frequently outshone by his creations – enjoyed a few stand-out moments in this episode; the dress shopping, of course, being at the top of my list. When he’s torn away from his science, Victor is so adorably awkward and bumbling, and he even managed to pull a real smile out of Vanessa (when’s the last time that happened? Never? I think never). I admit I did laugh out loud during the episode’s early scenes, though, when Victor showed a real resistance to believing in witches, comparing them to fairies and pixies. Like, dude, zombies and vampires you’re cool with, but witches are a step too far?
And while Nice Guy John Clare continues to draw my ire, Lily is quickly becoming my new favorite character. Sure, she’s a bit naive, having just been born a few days ago; and yeah, she needs to get out more and experience the world. But even cooped up in Victor’s lab, Lily already knows what’s up with the patriarchy, and the fact that it’s total BS that basically everything women do is (at least perceived to be) for the benefit of men. You tell ’em, Lily. As an aside, if Lily truly was wearing a tight-laced or S-bend corset, there’s no way she would have been able to dress herself. Seems like Victor should have invested in a wool or leather “health corset,” instead.
It’s a good thing Victor is falling in love with his “cousin,” because John Clare is quickly becoming infatuated with the blind gal at his work who deserves way, way better than his fedora-wearing ass. It’s fitting that she decried the ghastliness of the reconstructed crime scenes, a perfect metaphor for the literary shift from the pastoral to the shocking. The Romantic-era Clare, charmed by Wordsworth, would of course bond with her over their hatred of the vulgarities of modernity. I also think it’s worth mentioning that when she referred to the kindness of giving charity to “fallen women,” she didn’t mean ladies who had tripped on the street – she meant girls who had engaged in sex before marriage.
And I can’t go a whole review without mentioning our Big Bad this season, though the witches did fall by the wayside a bit this week. I did like Hecate’s attempted (and failed) subterfuge with Ethan – though she did get one thing right: Northwestern began admitting women in 1869, one of the first schools to do so. But despite his comment about the Pinkerton detective agency, there’s no way by the end of the episode that Ethan could have mistaken Hecate’s true intentions – which has to be both terrifying (for Vanessa), and a relief (for him, since he might assume that his father has given up his hunt).
Other elements of this episode I quite enjoyed were the inclusion of a Punch and Judy puppet show, which made a resurgence at the fin de siècle; more Sembene time and backstory, because heck yes; Mustache Watson and Shitty Holmes, who jump to “this crime was magic!” like, way too fast; and Lyle’s like about a “thicket of obfuscation,” because – though “thicket” is my least-favorite word in the English language, that turn of phrase was just so wonderfully Dickensian that it stood out in my mind. I’m looking forward to more gang shenanigans next week! And probably more Satan stuff too, I guess.
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