TV- Penny Dreadful: “What Death Can Join Together”- A monstrous indulgence


The Master… ?

As the finale draws ever closer, the events of Penny Dreadful become increasingly hectic and unpredictable. What Death Can Join Together brings back the shows’ main characters after the “prequel” episode Closer Than Sisters. Sir Malcolm’s (Timothy Dalton) pursuit of his vampire daughter finally culminates as a full-blown self-destructive obsession. Meanwhile, Vanessa (Eva Green) begins to explore the darkest recesses of her own soul whilst spending the night with Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney). Interestingly, the episode seems mostly dedicated to character progression. The main narrative of the show (the search for Mina) has not really advanced. Considering that there remain only two more episodes in the season, the writing feels almost arrogantly confident. It is impossible to say how close the characters are to finding Mina and her “master” (Count Dracula?). The episode features a very well-shot action sequence and some excellent performances, but feels a little superfluous. Instead of setting the groundwork for a strong season finale, the creators of the show seem to be indulging their love of gothic horror and of the macabre.

In the last episode that was not a flashback, Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) succumbed to the sexual advances of Dorian Gray. It is odd but intriguing that nothing about his shocking tryst with another man is even referenced. Chandler’s sexual encounter with Gray could have formed the basis of a love triangle with Vanessa or Brona (Billie Piper). Instead, it is not mentioned and instead becomes a small glimpse into Gray’s seductive power and Chandler’s complex sexuality. Instead of dwelling on previous events, Chandler and Sir Malcolm embark on yet another expedition to find Mina. Their investigation takes them to a quarantined “plague ship” at the London docks. This is a pretty obvious reference to the Demeter, the ship that carries Dracula to the English coast in Bram Stoker’s novel. Just as it was in Dracula, the crew of the ship have fallen victim to a powerful vampire that is hiding in the ship’s hold. Chandler, Sir Malcolm and Sembene (Dany Sepani) descend into the plague ship, only to find themselves surrounded by vampires. The ship location is a great set for a tense horror sequence; claustrophobic and dark, it is a fantastic locale to set a vampire attack. Unfortunately, the episode is in such a hurry to get to the dramatic human vs. vampire battle that the ship is fairly underutilised. More problematic is the fact that so much more is shown of the “Master” vampire this time. Whereas before, the “Master” was a horrifying entity (one of the best-designed live action vampires in TV history) because he was displayed only in shadow in brief cuts, the audience is now treated to a far better view of the creature. This is absolutely the wrong thing for the show’s creators to do, since showcasing a monster always diminishes its effectiveness and menace. Perhaps this monster is not the “Master” after all, and that the true antagonist of Penny Dreadful has yet to reveal himself. But even so, the episode’s lack of subtlety in dealing with the supernatural is disappointing.

The second subplot of the episode deals with Victor Frankenstein’s (Harry Treadaway) ongoing torment at the hands of his monstrous creation Caliban (Rory Kinnear). Still demanding a female monster as a companion, Caliban intends to destroy Frankenstein’s whole world unless he gives in and creates a new creature. It seems that Caliban has his eyes set on Maud (Hannah Tointon), a beautiful actress at the theatre where he works. The cinematography and editing of previous episodes seemed to hint that Brona would be transformed into a female monster, but this seems to have been dropped (Penny Dreadful is fond of subverting audience expectations) in favour of showcasing Caliban’s attraction to Maude. Only time will tell if this is yet another red herring, though it would be thematically effective for Maude to die and become a monster (since she “dies” every night on stage).

Perhaps the best element of this episode is interestingly also the worst; David Warner reappears in the perfectly-cast role of Professor Van Helsing and masterfully delivers exposition, only to make a very swift exit from the series altogether. This seems like a wasted opportunity, since Van Helsing would have made a great recurring character on the show. Instead, his character leaves without ever communicating with the show’s cast (other than Frankenstein). During his brief appearance, he reveals his tragic life history and informs Frankenstein about exactly what vampires are. A fact that many audience members may not have realised is that none of the vampire-hunting characters of Penny Dreadful actually know what vampires are or how to adequately fight them. It makes sense that people living in a setting in which vampires are real would not be familiar with the popular culture tropes associated with vampires, such as how to kill them. Van Helsing passes this knowledge onto Frankenstein before leaving. Perhaps this will allow Frankenstein to come into his own as a man and prove himself to his allies (something that he has been anxious about for several episodes). The most important scene in this episode seems to be when Van Helsing shows Frankenstein a cheap horror magazine, finally showcasing an actual penny-dreadful in a show named Penny Dreadful. Whilst this episode certainly has its fun and exciting moments, it does little to advance the series onwards. Hopefully, this episode represents the calm before the storm and that the penultimate episode will be more exciting and gleefully horrifying.

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About George Willcox

George Willcox is in his early twenties and has recently been awarded a Master’s Degree in Film Studies. Film and filmmaking has always been his passion since he was a very small child. George has previously worked as a cameraman and as a film editor for a number of independent film productions, television news and lifestyle programmes. Currently, he is trying to expand my resumé as a film and television screenwriter as well as a film and television critic. Whilst he is extremely passionate about making films, George's academic studies on the subject has imbued him with a strong desire to work within the media industry in a writing capacity. George considers himself skilled at writing in an entertaining yet clear and concise manner. During his university studies, he was commended for the quality of his academic papers and short film screenplays (one of which was an award winner at his university). Outside of his film and television interests, George enjoys hiking, reading and video gaming.
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