Penny Dreadful is gorgeously gothic, bloody, strange, literary, and occasionally messy. Each week, we break it down. Lets dive into Season 3, episode 6: “No Beast So Fierce.”
“If they force you to your knees, you must be quick and vicious.”
If anyone has any doubts that Penny Dreadful is the most boldly and unapologetically feminist show on TV now, Lily’s speech during her murder lessons should quash those. It’s a heady bit of dialogue, and Billie Piper chews it gloriously:
We are not women who crawl. We are not women who kneel. And for this we will be branded radicals. Revolutionists. Women who are strong and refuse to be degraded and chose to protect themselves are called monsters. That is the world’s crime. Not ours.
Lily’s every scene this season continue to be among the best Penny Dreadful has to offer. Justine, for her part, is getting too bold for her britches, speeding past revenge and straight into misandry.
It’s clear that a conflict between Justine and Dorian is brewing, and at the moment, it’s uncertain which side Lily will land on. But Justine’s rogue nature provides an unexpectedly tender scene, when she threatens Victor and Lily spares him.
“I suppose I’m sentimental about him,” she says. “Besides, you never know when we might need his unique services.” Her tone is arch, but there’s truth in her words about “sentiment.” Although Lily is a fascinating character, the end of Season 2 was in danger of making her a pure creature of id and vengeance. She and the show both acknowledge that here (“the anger, the hate, the loss…sometimes that is all I am”) and by doing so, make it clear that Lily is far more nuanced than pure rage.
“I’m not most people”
Awkward question: Is Dracula actually the best boyfriend on this show? Sure, he’s evil and ultimately has nefarious intentions toward Vanessa, but in an ironic twist, he’s far more supportive and caring than Ethan, who’s spiraling into a hell of his own making; more than Victor, who seeks to change Lily and won’t take “no” for an answer; and more than Dorian, who doesn’t quite understand Lily. Dr. Sweet understands Vanessa in his own way (“I love you for who you are, not who the world wants you to be”). And sure, he also secretly wants to drink her blood, but minor details. It’s to the writers and Christian Camargo’s credit that even though we know the good Doctor’s true nature, he continues to be so damn charming and fun to watch.
It’s also easy to forget that Penny Dreadful takes place five years before Bram Stoker wrote Dracula, but we’re reminded here when Vanessa discusses Dracula with with her intriguing new friend, the Thanatologist Catriona Hartigan. Neither woman immediately associates Dracula with vampires, instead lingering on the medieval history aspect of his tale — which makes sense because the novel is not out yet.
Hartigan is no replacement for the transcendent Ferdinand Lyle (hopefully he will return from Egypt soon and is not off the show for good) but from her fencing introduction to her profession, she’s an intriguing addition to this world.
“Lead us into temptation and deliver us to evil”
Ethan’s Wild West storyline continues to be too rushed to feel as meaningful as the show wants it to; but luckily it seems to realize that. This episode dispatches most of its central characters in short order, including Bartholomew and Hecate — a character whose relationship with Ethan never felt organic. The dinner scene and table-shootout is gloriously tense and bombastic. Just as Lily and Vanessa’s scenes are all about female domination (Vanessa: “you seem to be a woman who understands why submission to another would be intolerable”), Ethan’s dinner scene is toxic masculinity (whiskey, steak, posturing, guns) made literal.
And so, even though the show has arguably dispatched with Jared Talbot too soon and Ethan’s jaunt to the West has not entirely worked, it’s not overstaying its welcome either. This ending, with Ethan and Malcolm against the world — unaware that, across the ocean, Vanessa has accidentally turned to Dracula and Ethan’s former lover is scheming for world domination and a bloody battle of the sexes — is an intriguing sign for the narrative to come.
- Vanessa to the man she doesn’t know is secretly Dracula: “Every time I’ve given my heart, it has led to catastrophe.”
- Guys, Ferdinand Lyle hasn’t left the show forever….right…..right?
- This is the second time Vanessa has had sex to the backdrop of a creepy room filled with taxidermy animals. I guess it’s good to know what you’re into, especially if it’s oddly specific.
- Caliban’s segment is short this week, but it’s amazing how watching him cry used to be tiresome in all his self-pity, but after “A Blade of Grass,” it’s utterly heartbreaking.
- The dialogue was particularly beautiful this week. Victor: “I can take all your anger and rage and make it go away. Make you whole and human. Free from the burden of hate. Unblemished by sadness.”