Calling the Serpents
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
The concept of Hell is hardly a unique one, prevalent over the course of an abundance of mythologies from the clay tablet traditions of ancient Sumer to religions of antiquity and beyond. People are noted to be afraid of death much in the same way they are afraid of the dark. I disagree. I find that people are less afraid of the dark and the actual event of death itself than what comes afterwards. That tenuous grip on not knowing is terrifying, because people want to know, they want to be able to have some certainty and in death and less so in darkness, that certainty does not exist. The concept of Hell and its abundant equivalents was born out of that desire to understand, to know what lay once one’s eyes had closed in the physical world. In Ancient Egypt, for example, a time and place entrenched in Penny Dreadful lore, Osiris symbolized a break from the hierarchy of religious afterlife, noting that eternal life awaited all those who followed him, regardless of their wealth, status, or its adjoining privileges. When a person died, they faced judgment by a tribunal of divine judges and faced with two options. If a person had lived a life of righteousness, then they would be allowed to go into the Two Fields. If a person was condemned, then they would be thrown to a devourer and the lake of fire in which it resided (critically, there was no mentioning of eternal torture to be found anywhere in the texts as the dead individual would simply be annihilated). The concept of Hell in Christianity is often argued to have been derived from this ancient Egyptian construct, most infamously rooted in the present day imagination of what the Medieval Ages were like. Life in those times was often brutal and short and so consequently people became significantly enamored with what awaited them after their death and since actual life was so hellish, the obsession with going into heaven rose exponentially.
But as the Lady Melisandre noted in Game of Thrones, hell is what we live in now. That is of course her perspective and not a grand declaration of absolute reality, but the characters in Penny Dreadful arguably and with good merit would agree with her assessment. The episode, sadly sans Vanessa, opens up to wide shots of the American West with Ethan and Hecate coming upon a dry bed where there, upon a time, used to be a river. Without water, their horses would die and they surely do, bringing them to death’s doorstep before Malcolm and Waetenay show up to save their lives. The stunningly beautiful landscape is equally harsh and hellish, a concise visual encapsulation of the tribulations Ethan and Hecate go through on their way to the inevitable, whether they know it or not. Hecate gets some welcome development here, noting that she cares tremendously for all the honest creatures of the world, of which humans are none. Both her and Ethan had been enlisted by their matriarch and patriarch, respectively, taken towards a juncture of service in which they found an abundance of pain and little else. Hecate noted that she was a child when her mother had entrusted her to Lucifer and she had felt pain like Ethan could never imagine. Ethan remembers that his commanding officer was the son of a Senator with whom he had massacred an Apache village because those were his orders. He shot his commanding officer in the face after he joked that they would receive medals for massacring the Apache village. Hecate notes his story, takes it into her own, and notes quite somberly that the God Ethan believed in was watching all of this unfold and he didn’t do anything except laugh. Hecate’s point hit a nerve in Ethan and it sticks through as their group is captured by Ethan’s father’s men, their long chase at an end at last.
The confrontations with his father leads to the episode’s weakest point, the cliffhanger that wondered on the question if Ethan would really bring himself to put a bullet through his racist father’s head. Ethan had quietly brought himself to the brink of darkness and the episode’s closing before the trigger of that proverbial darkness is pulled is, to say the least, extremely irritating. Victor Frankenstein’s reckoning with darkness, however, was arguably already passed. It seemed at a time perhaps that he would learn with Lily’s defection but that only made his madness, his desire to control everything within his sight that much stronger. Victor’s hubris is beyond maddening, him already lording his superior serum over Henry. It seems to work, but it renders the patients catatonic before they open their eyes once more. And when they open their eyes, they seem to forget why they were there in the first place. Dr. Jekyll’s eyes narrow in a quiet understanding that seem to, at that moment anyhow, escape his peer’s notices. He reminds Victor in no uncertain terms that he had been warned quite ardently at Cambridge of his questionable methodologies, the lesson of which Victor patently ignores and instead portends to throw Henry’s own past with Cambridge in his face. Henry remains calm for the moment (although that cool exterior is likely to shatter soon enough). In a season thematically rich with the ideas of submission and the treatment of women in a society, Victor’s desire to grasp and “humble” Lily into a submissive state transitions him into a far more antagonistic role than he could ever believe. Victor’s hubris, refusing to humble, is soon to shatter one would expect and at that moment, there may simply not be another serum powerful enough to bring him back from the proverbial brink.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+“I’ve developed a superior method.”
+“Ah, but do they?”
+“I adore all the honest creatures in this world. It’s humans I hate.”
+“The first one I killed, she’s just standing there.”
+Hecate’s spell calling the serpents
+“Such music my master makes.”
+“I find your methods questionable, Victor.”
+“I will send my father to Hell and laugh while I do it.”
+Ethan looks good in a suit.
+“That is a pain no father should know.”
+“I was riding alongside a man.”
Episode Title: This World Is Our Hell
Written by: Andrew Hinderaker
Directed by: Paco Cabezas
Image Courtesy: Fanpop