Sometimes, all you need is a big, ugly cry.
You know, the kind where your face ends up covered in snot, your nose and eyes are swollen and you share the same coloring as a ripe tomato.
And sometimes, you need this, but you don’t know you need this. So, it’s up to someone, or something, to let you know that you need this, so that ugly cry doesn’t stay trapped within your soul forever, turning you into some kind of horrible monster (or is that just me?)
So, enter one of my favorite television shows…
No, not Buffy the Vampire Slayer, although thanks to the Scoobies, I learned the meaning of “ugly cry” at a relatively young age.
No, I am talking about the “other” show about vampires.
Yes, that’s right...Penny Dreadful!
I know, makes sense, right?
You need some catharsis, so just watch a period horror show series and you’re good, right?
Well, actually, the answer is yes.
Penny Dreadful may be that “literary show period show with monsters”, but once again, it has proved to us that it is much, much more than that.
I mean, if you’ve been faithfully watching the show from the beginning (or binge watching, I won’t judge), you have probably realized this already: that Penny Dreadful is much more than meets the eye. It has shown us that it, in fact, is much more than meets the eye time and time again. And that is the reason why I love the show so much.
But just when I think I can’t get blown away again, it happens. I watch, as is my custom on Monday nights right now, and I get my socks knocked off. And all for the price of just under one hour of my time!
So, let’s get to it, and review and dissect this week’s episode, titled A Blade of Grass.
The episode begins with Vanessa trapped in a fugue state. Vanessa has traveled back in time to her days as a patient in a mental institution, the Banning Clinic. Dr. Seward tells Vanessa that she is trapped in this state until she comes to some kind of resolution, but that she will not abandon her.
Vanessa is trapped in a padded cell at the Banning Clinic. Her only reaction is with the orderly who would later become The Creature. At first, the orderly plays by the rules, and tells Vanessa that she is not being tortured, and that what is being done to her is being done in the name of science. However, the orderly gradually comes to believe that this is, in fact, not true, and begins to show compassion towards Vanessa.
One day, the orderly brings Vanessa a blanket, after she is forced to undergo hydrotherapy and is shivering and wet. The orderly comes back later and takes the blanket from Vanessa, as it is against regulations. Vanessa reacts by clawing him in the face. The orderly subdues Vanessa, and Vanessa is then confined to a straight jacket.
Because Vanessa is confined to a straight jacket, the orderly is forced to feed her himself. He brings a wooden spoon from his house, as the wooden spoon will not hurt her mouth. Vanessa complains that she is being tortured because she must become “normal”, as the current social structure will not accept a woman like Vanessa, who deviates from the norm.
The orderly begins to open up to Vanessa. He will not reveal his name, but talks about his wife and son. Vanessa tells him that she thinks that she has been touched by Lucifer. The orderly leaves the room, but turns to Vanessa, and tells her he believes her story about Lucifer, as he was there. His eyes then shine black.
Vanessa begs Dr. Seward to pull her back to the present, but the doctor tells her that is impossible at the moment, as Vanessa must work through these memories.
During her time in the institution, Vanessa is robbed of her ability to speak, as she is gagged. One day, the orderly removes the gag, and brushes her hair and puts some makeup on her, to restore her sense of dignity. Before removing the makeup and mussing up her hair again, he holds a mirror before Vanessa’s face, and reminds her that this is who she is. The orderly reads Vanessa poetry, and fantasizes about a day when they can walk out of the institution together. The orderly then leaves the room, telling Vanessa that it is Christmas day, as he shuts the door.
Over time, Vanessa becomes closer to orderly. One day, she removes her gown and attempts to seduce him. The orderly responds to her kiss, but pulls back, and puts the gown back on Vanessa. He begs her to get better, as he has seen what happens to Dr. Banning’s lobotomy patients.
The orderly then begs Vanessa to talk to him about her problems, and pulls up a chair. Vanessa brings up Lucifer, and the orderly’s eyes turn black, and he introduces himself as the devil. The devil tells Vanessa that her God has abandoned her, and that if she gives herself over to him, they can rule the earth together.
A laugh then echoes through the room. Lucifer cowers in the corner, as the devil’s brother, also wearing the orderly’s face, appears to Vanessa. We find out that this second entity is Dracula, and unlike Lucifer, he wants Vanessa’s flesh and blood. Vanessa nearly gives herself over to Dracula, but snaps out of it, once she hears his name. Vanessa then cites the Verbis Diablo and levitates, coming back to reality with the orderly next to her bed.
Taking the advice of the orderly, Vanessa pretends to be “normal,” in the hopes that she will be released from the clinic. However, she refuses to deny her faith, and the doctor refuses to release. Instead, he shaves her head and schedules her for a lobotomy instead.
The night before Vanessa’s surgery, the orderly pays her a visit and tells her that he has tendered his resignation, as he believes that his employer is engaging in inhumane practices. However, he promises Vanessa that he will not leave before she receives the anesthesia, as he wants that last face she sees to be the face of someone who loves her. Vanessa kisses him, and both weep.
Vanessa then comes to in Dr. Seward’s office. The doctor is startled and apologizes for the cigarette burn she gave to Vanessa in an attempt to rouse her. Vanessa states that she remembers everything, and reminds the doctor that she has told her in the past that people name things that frighten them. Vanessa says that she is no longer frightened, and that the creature who had frightened her previously is named Dracula.
And on so many levels, too.
First of all:
All. The. Feels.
Now, Penny Dreadful is kind of a feelsie show, but this episode really outdid itself. Really outdid itself, in fact. Let me count the ways…
Now, Vanessa and Caliban (whenever are we going to find out his government name?) have had a handful of scenes together. In particular, there was the poetry scene last year (somewhere along the line The Creature developed a taste for poetry, who knew?)
And there was the scene in the last episode of the second season, where the two shared a dance…
But now, we have this episode.
I don’t normally care about awards (Emmy, cough, cough) but really, this episode not winning SOME kind of award is simply criminal!
I mean, this episode was (mostly) done by two actors (although Patti Lupone did a fabulous job, as always.) It mostly took place in one room. And the special effects were minimal (although the shadows that appeared when Lucifer and Dracula took over were pretty cool.)
And this episode was mind blowing. In fact, it may be one of the best episodes that the series has ever put out. Which is saying something.
We also had one actor (Rory Kinnear) play three different roles in one episode. All in his orderly get up. This brings the number of roles played by Mr. Kinnear up to four (The Creature, the orderly, Lucifer and Dracula.) Is there anything this man can’t do?
Let’s talk about Mr. Kinnear for a minute, too.
Many of the accolades for this episode are probably going to my girl Eva Green (and this is not necessarily a bad thing), but Mr. Kinnear simply blew me away after I watched this episode.
I have always had great love for Caliban. He is one of my favorite characters on the show. But, to be honest, I never thought (or cared) much about his pre-Creature life. I knew that he had one, but it never really crossed my mind.
Until now. And I had made some assumptions last week. And we know what happens when you assume…ASS!
This character arc was NOT what I expected. For some reason, I had thought that maybe Caliban’s job as an orderly had hardened him. At the beginning of the episode, my assumption was correct. He was pretty rough with poor Vanessa there for a bit, with the force feeding and having to subdue her when she scratched his face.
But, as this show likes to do, it all got turned upside down. And in a good way. The orderly began to read Vanessa poetry. And he brought a wooden spoon from home, so Vanessa’s mouth wouldn’t be hurt.
And the brushing of Vanessa’s hair and application of make-up, to remind her of who she was…beautiful. Although when he removed her make-up and clumsily mussed her hair back up again…I think that was actually the most heart-wrenching part, as it symbolized Vanessa having to shed her humanity yet again.
I also loved his story about building a ship with his son, and the realization that people (as in Vanessa) are often forced to live where it’s cold and lonely. But having even just one person who believes in you can make the cold and loneliness vanish, at least for a little while.
This episode may be considered to be “Vanessa-centric”, and that thought would not necessarily be wrong. However, I consider this episode to actually be more about Caliban than anything. Clearly, the time he spent with Vanessa changed him, and he came away a better person because of that. And his character became much more interesting because of that.
Of course, I need to throw some accolades at Eva Green.
As if you couldn’t figure that out…
I don’t know how she does it. Very few people can make crawling on a ground, being nose to nose with what may be (literally) evil incarnate, look classy, but Eva Green has that ability, and should get an award for it, if such a thing exists.
And even when she is clawing a poor orderly’s face, she still manages to evoke sympathy. I mean, who does that?
My girl, that’s who!
Before we are done here, I want to talk about the ending a bit.
It would have been easy (and logical) for the episode to end after Vanessa threw down some shade via the Verbis Diablo. But this is Penny Dreadful. So nix easy, and (sometimes) you can nix the logical with that, too.
It was pretty clear to me that, along with being Caliban-centric, this episode was about Vanessa not forgetting her humanity, even though she has not one but two forms of (literal) evil incarnate fighting over her. The scene at the beginning with Dr. Seward telling Vanessa that she would not abandon her for anything (another gem in this episode, aka Patti Lupone proving she is worth her paycheck) was some pretty good foreshadowing of this fact.
Vanessa has clearly spent much of her time alone in her struggles, with no one to turn to.
Then, enter the orderly. Although I still believe that this episode is actually Caliban-centric, as his time with Vanessa effected a massive change in him, it is pretty clear that Vanessa benefited from this friendship as well.
I think that perhaps Vanessa needed a reminder that relying on others is not necessarily a bad thing, so her mind forced her to remember someone who was kind to her. Someone who loved her. Someone who was willing to sacrifice for her.
In short, someone who reminded her that she is worthy of love and support, no matter what other-wordly forces that would try to lame claim to her. A worthy human, in other words.
So that’s it for Blades of Grass. Join me next week for the review and dissection of episode 5, titled The World is Our Hell.
Tune in next week…same bat time, same bat channel!