Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Penny Dreadful 3x07 Review: “Ebb Tide” (The Night Creatures) [Contributor: Rae Nudson]

“Ebb Tide”
Original Airdate: June 12, 2016

“You may be done with hell, but it’s not done with you” might as well be the slogan for Penny Dreadful and its band of warriors fighting against the night. Hell is never going to be finished with Vanessa, Ethan, and their friends. After this week in the real world, I’m thinking hell might never be finished with any of us. All there is to do is fight like mad against the night creatures and hold on to your humanity for as long as you can.

Lily is perhaps most directly in danger of losing her humanity since Victor is determined to erase it with Jekyll’s personality serum. I have loved so much about Lily’s storyline this season and the way Penny Dreadful brings the pain and anger of women to the forefront of her story. Lily is well on her way to raising an army of forgotten women ready to rise up. After a rousing speech on a table about the tradition of keening in Ireland after a death, she sends the women off to prove their conviction by cutting off the right hand of a man. (Lily specifies she wants them to go after bad men, but Lily and her ladies don’t seem to know of any good ones, so I’m guessing any old John would do.) The women are more than willing to comply, and quickly disembodied hands pile up on the table where Lily once stood.

But Lily still has one man in her life: Dorian. She assumes Dorian will be supportive and encouraging of her plans to topple those in power, but she forgot that Dorian is accustomed to a certain amount of power himself. And when Lily and her protoges threaten his power in his own home, he — like the many other men Lily has known — lashes out. As the one man Lily trusted and looked to for companionship, Dorian’s betrayal hurts. But it underscores her struggle, and when Dorian, Victor, and Jekyll stand over Lily as she is chained to a chair, it is clearly meant to be horrifying, not glorifying. The hero of this story is Lily, not the men who want to control her. Victor even says outright, “We’re going to make you into a proper woman.” There is no subtext about this: the monster in Lily’s story is the very real patriarchy.

The monster in Vanessa’s story is also very real: a new boyfriend who lies to you. Just kidding, it’s Dracula — but for Vanessa they are one and the same. Vanessa wakes up still in the museum where she consummated her relationship with her new beau. (Why did they stay there overnight? Nevermind.) She looks dreamy and happy, like a woman freshly in love, and it kills me that the man she thought was giving her a new life is there to take life away from her.

Lucky for Vanessa, having her head in the clouds because of a new crush doesn’t keep her from her research, and her new friend Cat is there to provide the details that Vanessa’s texts leave out. Cat says that Dracula has presented differently throughout the years but that he always lives in the house of the night creatures. Cat assumes this can be taken many different ways, but Vanessa takes it literally and realizes that Dr. Sweet is Dracula. It’s so refreshing this realization wasn’t dragged out for the rest of the season, keeping Vanessa in the dark for far longer than necessary. For a woman as smart and knowledgeable about the underworld as Vanessa, it makes sense that she would put together the truth quickly. Lesser shows — especially those that deal with the supernatural or superheroes — love keeping women in the dark about the true identity of their suitor. But Penny Dreadful dove right in and allowed this story to go into much more interesting directions.

Instead of being hidden from or ignoring Dr. Sweet’s true identity, she faces him head on. But his persuasive skills are too great even for Vanessa, and he tempts her to his side with promises that he loves her as she is, and that she won’t need to change or try to be normal for him. (Dracula is preying on her biggest fears and insecurities, just like bad boyfriends do in real life.) Vanessa is so tired and worn from fighting for her humanity for so long, that she has momentarily given in to the dark side because it promised her that fight could end. I have no doubt she’ll be back, but I’m looking forward to her dalliance with the devil.

Humanity is also what Ethan showed when he walked away from killing his father. In a twisted way, Malcolm also showed grace when he killed Mr. Talbot, because it spared Ethan’s soul but still got the job done to keep him safe. Kaetenay’s visions were a great way to tie the trio to the action in London without them actually being there, and his interaction with Vanessa was creepy and wonderful. You all know that I’m a huge Ethan and Vanessa shipper, and I’m so relieved Ethan finally remembered he loved her and is on his way back to her side. Whether Kaetenay, Ethan, and Sir Malcolm will make it back in time to help Vanessa isn’t clear, but they sure are trying.

Ethan wasn’t the only one with family issues this episode. John Clare has taken Vanessa’s advice and reached out to his family once again, to give them the choice to let him back into their lives. He explained what happened to him to his wife, who is quite gracious and accepting of the otherworldly, and I’m so happy that he seems to be making connections again to those that love him. His wife welcomes him home with open arms and reintroduces John Clare to his son. Penny Dreadful has been exploring ideas of parents and children, and how those who create life are responsible for nurturing it. I hope John Clare’s story turns out better than Victor’s or Ethan’s, but since it’s Penny Dreadful, I’m only expecting more heartbreak.

Post Script:
  • Lily’s aesthetic is killing me. Where does she buy her fabulous supply of black evening gowns, and how can I sign up for them?
  • The tradition of keening sounds really touching, and Lily’s story of the women keening as the ropes went around their neck was great.
  • The scene of John Clare reaching out to his wife as so many people passed between them, and then her decision to go to him and close their physical and emotional gap was beautiful. 
  • Dr. Seward doesn’t believe Vanessa and is convinced she is a genuine split personality. 
  • “I’ve known very little grace in my life, but I did with her, and with you.”


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