The Hall of Mirrors
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
It is a mark of what one may astutely consider to be brilliant dark comedy that Victor Frankenstein of all people is aware of the impossibilities of trying to enshrine human nature within the realms of good and evil, wholly separated. “Good and evil, braided be,” he whispers to his good friend Dr. Jekyll in a harried, hurried state. Shazad Latif shows the first true glimpse at the madness of Mr. Hyde hidden beneath his cold, methodical exterior and it’s an exciting moment harkening towards significantly darkened horizons. But in that moment, he’s expressing a desire that Victor cannot hope to understand as of yet. Whomever and or whatever Mr. Hyde became was a terrifying enough prospect for Henry that he learned how to bottle that rage, to suppress it, perhaps even control it. That control, however, only lasts for a limited time and one wonders when we’ll see that control snap away. Victor may have some ideas but he fundamentally disagrees with his friend that any being could bottle away their good or their bad to become truly an embodiment of one or the other. He doesn’t, of course, have Henry’s impetus towards achieving that goal, but it’s a notable moment nevertheless. Victor does in that moment become arguably more of a hypocrite than he’s ever been before. He understands his own complexity, how impossible it is for him to bottle away his light or his darkness. But he doesn’t seem to understand the same for Lily. He would, of course, make the argument that he’s trying to save Lily from a path of pure evil but in doing so, he’s reverting her towards whom she was to him before she revealed her complexity, her duplicity. He wants her to be the same Lily that he thought he had created. Victor would never admit it, but he sees it and therein lies the true darkness braided that he could never let go. When his eyes light up at the thoughts of taming Lily, it’s hard not to see glimpses of the fire that Lily so ardently wants to stomp out.
The injustices of the patriarchy is the most ostensibly notable theme throughout the episode, commanded effortlessly by Billie Piper’s fierce Lily. She sits with Justine at a cafe, drinking what I stereotypically presume is tea. They notice a man ogling them and Lily notes with a noticeable lack of sarcasm that all men were utter slaves to their desires. Justine agrees, adding that she had never known a man who didn’t want to either fuck her or beat her. The underlying assumption of men who wanted both was unspoken but greatly understood. The Justine raises a question that everyone watching Penny Dreadful has asked at one point or another. What is the point of Dorian Gray? He’s a fantastic character but his story simply isn’t as gripping as those of the characters around him. His tragic romance with Angelique was brilliantly done and the subsequent reveal of his portrait seemed like a fantastic capper. After that, he partnered with Lily and I’m not quite sure what he truly stands to gain from any of this. Lily assures Justine and perhaps by extension the audience as well that Dorian is unlike all the others. Then they witness a group of suffragettes being harassed and beat by a group of police offers. Justine looks upon them with an admiring fondness, but Lily notes that while the patriarchy is their enemy, she does not seek equality. They together do not seek equality. They seek mastery “By craft. By stealth. By poison. By the throat quietly slit in the dead of the night. By the careful and silent accumulation of power.” But they could not perform such a feat by themselves. When an army was within their grasp, there was only thing they could do. They would go to war and all who stood in their way would be slaughtered. It’s a chilling manifestation but a thrilling one and however one feels about Lily’s methods, her anger rising from the cruelty and despicable inhumanity of the patriarchy is something no one could deny.
Vanessa’s luck continues to spiral downwards. She begins the hour in Dr. Seward’s office, agitated that her therapist didn’t really believe a single word of hers about her experiences with the world of spirits. It’s hard to truly fault Dr. Seward’s pragmatism, to be quite honest. It is the responsibility of the therapist to not necessarily believe everything their patient is saying, but to have enough of an understanding that they believe that their patient believes what they are saying to be the truth. That isn’t good enough for Vanessa and she angrily grasps Dr. Seward’s hand. In keeping with the episode’s primary theme, she gives her a psychic reading, noting that she had been hurt by a man and he would have killed her if she had not done away with him first. Her look of shock is confirmation of Vanessa’s accuracy but also an indication that this was a patient she had to be more serious than usual about. They adopt the method of hallucination, but that was only a method that would work if Vanessa trusted Dr. Seward implicitly and explicitly. Vanessa quietly agrees and they are transported into the white cushioned room so prominent in the promotional material for this season. Eva Green once again manages to convey the terror of her position so unnervingly it makes it even more ridiculous that she has yet to be nominated for an Emmy, let alone win one. This white room is ironic in its coloration, for it’s where the Darkness speaks to her the most clearly. At least that’s the implication but just in case John Logan wasn’t content with all the misery being heaped upon Vanessa and by extension the audience, he adds another twist of the knife. Penny Dreadful has done some truly phenomenal work with John Clare, and him revisiting his past in this episode was a powerful exploration of everything he had lost before his ostensible death. The most affecting sequence, the one that drove me to tears, was John Clare looking upon his wife and child, the latter of whom had developed black lung from working in the nearby factory. It’s a powerful sequence whose emotional heft I can barely describe in words here, made even more tragic by the revelation that the man John Clare used to be was the orderly who brought food to Vanessa when she was a patient in that white, deafening, cushioned room.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+The opening shot of Ethan’s hand trying to avoid the light
+“I will follow you to Hell. I will lead the way, Wolf of God.”
+“They are all those things which walk in your nightmares. Shall we walk together?”
+The gorgeous of London
+“Like a ghost walked through a room.”
+“There is no mercy, anywhere.”
+“How many corpses have you left in your wake, Ethan?” The cut to the shot of all the decaying bodies Ethan left behind was a beautiful little editing trick.
+“Do you believe in the occult, Marshall?”
+Simon Webb’s The Suffragette Bombers: Britain’s Forgotten Terrorists is a great read on some of the more radical feminists of Lily’s days
+The Chinese Dragon as a symbol
+John Clare seeing Vanessa before Dracula shows up
+Justine stabbing her pimp to death
+The three way of blood was odd, but it worked
+“Feed.” What makes this even more tragic is Vanessa genuinely feels something for Dr. Sweet and it’s so clear that it’s going to end in unmitigated tragedy that it hurts
+“All those Invisible Women.”
+“Liberty is a bitch who must be bedded on a mattress of corpses.”
+Renfield snatching and eating the bug was a great little touch
-Why was the vampire following Vanessa and Dracula even there? I’m befuddled as to his specific purpose
Episode Title: Good and Evil Braided Be
Written by: John Logan
Directed by: Damon Thomas
Image Courtesy: Sky