Spoilers may come to light.
In this week’s Penny Dreadful 1×04 Demimonde, we are given more insight into the curious character of Dorian Grey (Reeve Carney). I must accept I’m not sure what to make of him yet. The episode opens with what looks to be orchestrated sexual debauchery at Dorian’s place. I would call it an orgy but it looks more like a display for his amusement, a painting come to life. He seems rather distant to it all as if his mind is elsewhere. For a moment, I was reminded of how Game of Thrones’s Oberyn Martell would have handled that scene. But it’s after the orgy is finished and Dorian’s guests are gone that we get a revelation. Behind one of the paintings there’s a secret passage, because you can’t have that many paintings in a room without one being a secret passage of course, leading to room with a large painting. This, we can almost safely guess, is the proverbial portrait of Dorian. We don’t get to see it though.
Miss Vanessa Ives (Eva Green) is sitting outside a church. A little girl approaches to ask her why she doesn’t go in. It’s one of those eerie conversations that reeks of otherworldly warning. Or threat. One recurring theme that I saw throughout the episode is that each of the main characters is being haunted – or even hunted – by something else, and they are not innocent of it. Miss Ives seems the one with the most ominous threat hanging over her head (the devil, if you believe the Egyptologist from episode two). By coincidence or by design, she spots Dorian leaving the church and follows him to a greenhouse. They discuss deadly beauty by a Atropa Belladona or deadly nightshade and are both enticed by death with a double entendre with a rare orchid. It’s a dance with a double entendre, but if Dorian seemed the one infatuated with Vanessa when they first met, it’s the medium that seems to be following him around town in this one.
Doctor Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) is testing the vampire’s blood along with noted hematologist, Professor Van Helsing (David Warner). It’s quite a subdued introduction to such an iconic character. I surely hope he’s going to be a recurring one. Van Helsing notes this blood is unique in the sense that it does not coagulate, an effect he calls “Hannah’s Wink” after his late wife. When Victor inquires on the purpose, Van Helsing indicates that it assist with hematophagy, the eating of blood. At this, the young physician gets up and closes the door to the study to prevent the prying ears of Sembene, who’s seating outside, to hear the remaining of the conversation. Van Helsing reveals that Sir Malcolm is searching for a cure for something he doesn’t understand. “Do you?” inquires Victor. “Intimately,” replies Professor Van Helsing.
Dr. Frankenstein interrupts the chat when he gazes out the window. Yes, there’s the whining of a horse, but I think Victor can now sense when his creation is nearby. It’s a weird connection they share. Caliban is adamant that Victor provides a mate for him soon, something the young doctor doesn’t seem in a hurry to be about doing. When Caliban states vehemently that his bride must be beautiful, Victor sarcastically replies “to match a mate.” This earns him a threat from Caliban, who reminds him how easy he can snap a neck. “The future,” states the creature, “belongs to me and my kind, the immoral races. Look upon your master.” Victor is going to need a body soon. My money is on a certain irish girl.
Later on, the team tries something new with the chained Fenton. Victor attempts a blood transfusion, hoping that will turn Fenton into a more amicable creature. He first selects Ethan as a subject, something that Ethan turns down as a bad idea – obviously hiding something about his own condition. As they wait for it to take effect, Victor and Malcolm discuss the recent murders, once again drawing protest from Ethan. We’re obviously coming close to a revelation about Ethan Chandler. I agree the lycanthropy theorists here, but we’ll have to see.
Sir Malcolm talks about an expedition in Africa that draws too close of a parallel line to Alan Quartermain (I believe there’s not a review of this series that has not seen the similarities with A League of Extraordinary Gentlemen). Sir Malcolm seems eager to invite Ethan Chandler, something that doesn’t sit well with Victor. Sembene interrupts. Fenton is awake. However, the transfusion doesn’t placate him for more than a second as he demands blood. Blood is provided by Sembene… and an unfortunate house feline.
Brona and Ethan Chandler are off to the theatre. This is of course, the Grand Guignol, which also seems to be the same night that Dorian Grey, Miss Vanessa Ives and even Sembene (Danny Sapani) are in attendance. The theater is presenting the play “The Transformed Beast” and since there’s no such thing as coincidence you can guess who in attendance is more identified with the theme of the man turning into a wolf. Caliban plays his role as a theater rat to perfection, running about causing thunder and pumping the fake blood into the lead damsel in distress. Less amusing turns out to be the reunion of all the main characters.
If Brona is disturbed that Ethan knows Miss Ives, she is really vexed to be recognized by Dorian. Brona runs out of the theater followed by a perplexed Ethan. She breaks with him on the spot, vehemently telling him to go back to his fancy friends and that if he wants to fuck her again he will have to pay like the rest. As she runs away, her coughing bringing up blood, I can’t help but thinking she’s going to end up in Victor’s operating table soon enough. Dorian catches up with Ethan, who’s beside himself. He suggests the gunslinger he can provide him with a chance to be someone else if he joins him. This is going to go from bad to worse, but Ethan is looking for an escape.
Back at Sir Malcolm’s residence, Sir Malcolm assures a jealous Victor that Ethan is nothing but hired gun to him. I believe the doctor has started to see his employer as a father figure. A noise from upstairs alerts them that they’re not alone in the house. Unbeknownst to them, Fenton has been chewing on his own wrists, slimming them to slip away from his chains. He then follows Victor and Sir Malcolm as they examine the rooms upstairs. Something or someone seems to be in Miss Ives room – a master vampire very much like the one we’ve already seen, but is this big D himself? He steals away, while Fenton attacks Sir Malcolm. Victor hesitantly tries to help him, but gets pushed away by inhuman force. Sir Malcolm manages to rid himself of Fenton who ends up impaled on a piece of glass sticking out from the broken window.
Dorian’s provided entertainment for Ethan ends up being an underground betting club where a dog is set loose upon rats. Gee, Dorian knows how to show his friends have a good time. Ethan balks at the spectacle and ends up getting into a fight with an uppity british gentlemen posse.
Miss Ives returns back to Sir Malcolm’s residence to find a brooding Sir Malcolm. He tells Miss Ives that the creature that showed up was in her room, looking for her. It was all a ruse, a ploy to get himself invited. Do vampires in this world follow the old rule that a vampire can’t enter a human dwelling unless he is invited? Please say they do. Vanessa is concerned that Mina, who guided her to Fenton might be working against them. When Sir Malcolm states that Mina has reason to hate Miss Ives, he gets a very revealing reply. “I betrayed your daughter once,” Vanessa spits out. ‘”You ignored her your entire life, so have the courage to face your own sin before you cite mine so easily.” After wishing Mina had Vanessa’s cruelty and stating she is the daughter he really deserves, Sir Malcolm ends with another amazing quote: “We can lose every battle except the last.” Whoever is writing the dialog for this show, my respects.
Dorian takes a bruised Ethan back to his place, where it seems that his bruises heal quite quickly – or perhaps that was not even his blood at all. Dorian provides some absinthe, something that Ethan has never tasted. All the while, he’s calling the sharpshooter out stating he’s playing a character. Somehow he knows or guesses more about Ethan. As he plays a piece of Wagner opera, Ethan seems to be affected by something and then promptly kisses Dorian. They go into a full makeout session, which leaves me a bit puzzled. At this point I was sure Ethan was going to be revealed as something else, mainly a werewolf, but I didn’t expected this at all.
Highs: Professor Van Helsing appears. Victor remains one of the most intriguing characters, powerful and vulnerable at the same time. Caliban seems to have an even higher character trait of an over the top ego and vulnerability, so much so that he has to be shown in small dosage to prevent overload. I loved the whole theater of gore with their turn of the century special effects, and the innocent reactions from the audience. There has to be more of Sir Malcolm and Vanessa Ives squaring off, their relationship seemed the strongest but it’s based on mutual need rather than admiration.
Lows: Until what haunts Dorian Grey is revealed the character does not stand with equal footing with the rest. I get it that Ethan Chandler has a secret and it might be that he’s a werewolf but I didn’t see his attraction to Dorian coming at all, or understand the rhyme or reason beyond shock value. I guess everyone’s attracted to Dorian, but I don’t see him or Ethan coming onto their own as fully fledged characters yet. Can we get started on character building for Danny Sapani as Sembene? He’s the most underdeveloped of them all and his name is in the opening credits. Can we have some lines and some backstory for him soon?
That will do for now.