A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
The relationship between a predator and a prey is ostensibly quite simple at the onset of thought. One eats the other, not out of malice or some preconceived notion of evil destruction crafted by Satan but out of the basic recognition of the cycle of life and death. A cheetah chases a gazelle for sustenance but it’s hardly that simple. The cheetah evolves to run faster to catch its prey with the least amount of expended energy as possible and the gazelle evolves to run faster from its predator. That co-evolution is hardly a distinctive pattern in terms of biology but it is distinctive in terms of how people tend to think about the principle of evolution as being a singular arrow towards a positive position (the principle itself is surely developed with the Victorian world of Penny Dreadful by now as On the Origin of Species was published in 1859). There are evolutionary combinations of the predator and the prey, a facet people think even less about considering humans themselves can function easily on either docket of that understanding. Even less so, if possible or true, is the identity of a predator. A cheetah is fairly obvious a predator from general understandings alone, even if one was somehow unaware of their carnivorous nature. All one has to do is look into their nascent or experienced understandings of phenotypical traits to make a marked note of the feline to note it as ferocious. The same principle, regardless of its extreme flaws, can be applied to humans. It is applied often through the eyes and ears of uninhibited prejudice, sexism, and the institutional constructs of racism, something our keen Dr. Jekyll is keenly aware of. The severe flaw is embedded through those biased constructs of prejudice, sexism, and racism and how that turns out is fairly self-evident (at least one would hope). Other times that isn’t the case, as with Vanessa and Dr. Sweet. There the blindness comes from a place of trust, passion, and attraction and it brings forth yet another catastrophic blow to Vanessa’s fairly complex existence. There’s every reason to look for a predator near and far yet there’s every reason not to do the same and the drama that rises from that duality is thrilling.
The nature of dualities has always been a fairly large concern for the Penny Dreadful lore and the narratives it is based on, most obviously embodied within God and the Devil. But more so than ever before, John Logan’s creation is focusing on the dualities within ourselves, the battle between good and evil everyone embarks upon, almost never fully embodying one side or the others but coming perhaps closer than they ever really ought to have to begin with. It is no mistake that Dr. Jekyll is arriving at this juncture of the story, the perfect personification of that battle that is going to become more important than ever before. Him and Victor to begin are sitting in a cafe across the street from the infamous Bedlam Institute, which embodies the principle of duality itself in its pristine exterior that hides the horrors of inhumanity within. Victor is at least getting nutrition from Henry, who laments that his English father abandoned his mother as if she was nothing, a brute and a monster that cast a damning light on the Social Darwinism whose great claim was underlined in Rudyard Kipling’s infamous ode to white supremacy: “The White Man’s Burden.” Henry’s mother was an Untouchable in more ways than one, simultaneously because of social hierarchies about the station of birth and her death at the hands of leprosy that literally left her a woman whom could not be touched. The basement of the Bedlam Institute is wracked with the horrors of how mental health patients were (and still are in many cases) often treated, leading to the wonderful duality laid out in Dr. Jekyll’s lab. An instrument of beauty and terror at the same time, it’s a room in which Henry seeks to render the beast dormant (which suggests quite tantalizingly that Mr. Hyde is surely on the horizon). It’s a serum in an instrument of life and death that is injected visibly through a patient’s veins that look as if they are ready to burst forth at any given moment. He shudders violently before quieting down. He raises his head in an almost mournful manner, glancing upwards to see perhaps a reflection of his clean, dormant being.
As Victor and Henry prey upon the patients of Bedlam with what appear to be cures for now, the episode begins with an uncharacteristic cold open that thankfully doesn’t last a second longer than it needs to. A young girl, clearly trafficked from somewhere, is roughhoused into a room blindfolded. She’s terrified and understandably so, looking about at the room of nearly all middle-aged white men who were the so-called embodiment of the very grace, privilege, and chivalry that defined the heroes of Kipling’s imagination. What people get out of seeing someone clearly not consensually receiving such a tremendous amount of pain is something beyond me but thankfully the scene takes an immensely different direction before the first instrument, the whip, manages to take any cracks at actual flesh. Before any instrument of torture is raised into the hand, however, the girl spits in her torturer’s face in a show of defiance. Lily and Dorian gaze in pride and when her torturer to be strikes her down, that pride quickly turns into cold, unbridled fury. As the whip rises into air, Dorian rises calmly and shoots the whipper-to-be. Lily rises quickly, stabbing several men to death while Dorian shoots the ones on his side. She holds up one man by a knife in his throat, letting it go before another bullet from Dorian’s gun pierces him as well. Billie Piper’s Lily is fascinating, her turn from the demure rebirth of Brona to the terror that Victor Frankenstein unleashed going down a route that promises more chaos, death, and destruction, but while she is a predator in this sense, those she is preying upon hardly deserve a bounty of empathy. She notes, however, her understanding of her actions and the duality they represent to Victor but she knows where she is right and she refuses to step back. It’s that embodiment of a duality that makes Lily so compelling and the arc of her rescuing women who suffered the same way she did so they could take down oppressive patriarchs one of the most exciting development Penny Dreadful has yet to construct.
Ethan is a walking duality, the werewolf who is aided in his attack of his captors by Hecate, who knows how to make an entrance like no one’s business. A predator, he had preyed upon Kaetenay’s family and had come to him that night, begging for death. Yet Kaetenay decided that he would let him live, that he despised this man so much that he would let him live and watch him suffer through whatever life he ended up garnering. As Ethan is looking forward to a visit from two father figures, Vanessa finds a motherly one in Dr. Seward. Never the general maternally type, she listens quietly as Vanessa goes through the litany of her terrifying experiences. It’s quite a litany to be sure and it’s unsurprising to see Dr. Seward trying to hold back from the inevitable tears. She instructs Vanessa indulge in some semblance of happiness, which in her case is far easier said than done. She arrives where she is naturally the most happy: amidst zoo specimens and garnering a lecture from the lovely Dr. Sweet. They have a lovely back and forth on whom they admired. Dr. Sweet had a sweet spot for Jules Verne (and let’s be honest, who doesn’t?), that his stories pushed him farther into the boundaries of what would be convened as being as being science. For Vanessa, her Captain Nemo is Joan of Arc. She remembers reading about this heroic woman who grasped her own destiny because of a voice from God giving her a beacon of hope in defeating the English. She had the power of conviction behind her to the degree that legends were crafted that she sang upon her funeral pyre, true and uninhibited on death becoming her fate. I’m quite sure that Vanessa doesn’t believe that Joan was signing at her funeral pyre if not actually screaming at one point but it’s what that legend represents that comes to mean so much to her. It’s perhaps foreshadowing from Logan for Vanessa’s rise and reconquering of her faith, but it may be equal parts foreshadowing for her sacrifice to save the world and if it’s the latter, I don’t know if I’m ready for that to occur quite just yet. But what I do know is something that seemed as a duality immensely obvious but also utterly shocking simultaneously. Renfield arrives to his master, begging for blood as payment for his report on Vanessa’s groundbreaking confession to her therapist. His master, perhaps pleased by the report, obliges, rolling back his sleeve as Dr. Sweet, a.k.a. Dracula, raises his red eyes upwards, looking through the rafters and into the haunting sky above.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+“Now, you are mine.”
+“You familiar with the territory?”
+“You wouldn’t like it. No one does.”
+“Who wants to remember their shame? Or sin? Or foolishness?”
+“The uppity little half-breed…”
+“What we won’t do for love.”
+“Do something that might make you happy.”
+Dr. Seward, trying not to cry. Patti LuPone, killing it once again.
+“Man is no great thing.”
+“Cursed with Jules Verne.”
+“We’re not made of such stuff as our heroes, are we?”
+“We shall have, my dear, a monumental revenge.”
+“Don’t threaten the Queen.”
+“I need no man to save me.”
+“You will not like what I am becoming.”
Episode Title: Predators Far and Near
Written by: John Logan
Directed by: Damon Thomas
Image Courtesy: IMDB