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TV Review: Penny Dreadful: Season 1, Episode 7

06.22.2014by: Chris Bumbray

Episode 7: Possession

SUMMARY: Sir Malcolm (Timothy Dalton) and Ethan (Josh Hartnett) try to save Vanessa, who's now in danger of losing her soul with the diabolical possession of her mind and body beginning to take stronger hold.

REVIEW: Last week's PENNY DREADFUL concluded with Vanessa revealing herself to Sir Malcolm, with it clear that she's now possessed by a diabolical force who believes her to be the reincarnation of Amunet, the so-called “mother of evil”. This week kicks off with a possessed Vanessa tormenting Malcolm by posing as Mina, and then torturing him by revealing the darkest secrets of his African safaris, where she suggests that Malcolm forced himself and his son on various native women, further challenging the notion of him as any kind of hero. Whether or not he's guilty isn't explicitly revealed, but whatever the case it's clear his colonial activities were far from noble.

Vanessa's possession takes precedence this week, with Vanessa as a person mostly absent as her mind and body seems utterly devoured. Victor – who we find out is (probably) a virgin, tries to convince Malcolm that the possession is in her head. However, a sudden plague of spiders changes his mind, while Vanessa goes full Regan (a little EXORCIST reference for you) as she tries to fight her possession. Vanessa even reveals Ethan's secret of his midnight dalliance with Dorian Grey, who's so far slept with three of the six main characters on the show, and more than ever seems to be involved in some kind of diabolical pact with the devil (or “a devil” as Malcolm says).

Once again, this episode features outstanding acting by Eva Green. More than Hartnett – who was initially sold as the star – PENNY DREADFUL is proving to be an amazing showcase for her talents. Physically, she's put through the wringer here, with this being almost as brutal an episode for her as episode five. At one point her possession is so brutal that she starts ripping her skin off, only to be saved in the nick of time by Malcolm and Ethan. Hartnett, who's been used somewhat sparingly so far, gets a nice scene where the dark spirit poses as him and tries to seduce Vanessa into surrendering to a life as Amunet, which she's having a harder and harder time resisting.

Overall, this is a character-driven episode, with juicy background given about Sir Malcolm, as well as insight into Ethan's dark past – where it's suggested he was part of a brutal regiment that tore Native American children away from their families. Victor also gets some much-needed development, as it's revealed this week that he's becoming a morphine addict, a fact only known so-far to Sir Malcolm, who still seems to have some kind of fatherly affection for him. Ethan and Victor also get a chance to bond as he tries to instruct Victor in the “manly arts” meaning they get drunk, and shoot-guns. Looks fun actually.

Finally, Sir Malcolm, who's increasingly being revealed as one of the show's darker, more ambiguous characters tries to use Vanessa's tormented state to have her somehow get a hold of Mina's spirit, leading Ethan to believe that Malcolm may have engineered her possession. This seems fairly unlikely though. As bad as he is, I think Dalton's still playing one of the good guys, if a dark one. The episode doesn't end particularly well for him, as in an exhausted state he gets Victor to give him a shot of “ye olde cocaine” which no doubt will lead him into some dark places – potentially in season two. The episode ends on a dark note with Ethan coming close to killing Vanessa, before suddenly, perhaps abruptly revealing a talent for exorcism, pulling out a St Christopher's medallion and spouting some Latin which seems to have full-on cured her. Huh? Dude, why didn't you do this earlier?

While the whole “Ethan as an exorcist” twist seems a tad abrupt and convenient, overall this was another good episode, with only one remaining this season. Caliban was almost entirely absent, although Vanessa's vision of the grand guignol seems to suggest he'll be a factor next week, with Vanessa's final line revealing she knows Mina's whereabouts. Clearly the season won't end with a full-on resolution, but as this has already been approved for a second season that's not necessarily a bad thing. The mythology here is complex, and clearly this has been designed for a long run. Given how solid this season has been, that doesn't seem out of the question.

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