A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
An ebb tide is when sea levels fall over several hours, slowly churning backwards to reveal the intertidal zones hiding beneath the cerulean waters. It’s an apt metaphor for the revelations of truths, unveiling the realities that had always existed but were thinly veiled by something that had never seemed to call too much attention to itself. The waters of the ocean exist, there’s hardly something too revelatory about that, but like so many of the characters in this magnificent hour of storytelling, the intertidal zone is what they are surprised by. There’s no massively shocking events outside of one, but even that is cloaked in a narrative inevitability and a marvel at how the script neatly ties everything together for the final push forward as the Tale of Dracula comes to a head. Penny Dreadful’s third season has felt significantly like Game of Thrones in how far it has scattered its myriad of thrilling characters and their accompanying, intricate stories. Vanessa was off on her own, Ser Malcolm went in search of Ethan on an entirely different continent, Lily was gathering her army with Dorian, and John Clare went from the darkened shores of the Arctic to find his long-last family in the hopes that he may at least see them, if not gain their acceptance after what had happened to him. But it largely worked, to the show’s immense credit. Penny has a benefit in this specific comparison in that its cast is significantly smaller than Thrones, allowing it to pull in more character-based focus without having to worry about getting to the next part of the map before the hour is over. The simmering pace works well until Penny sometimes has to wrap up some storylines and or characters and then it stumbles in that wrap-up. Ebb Tide does such an excellent job of preparing the disparate storylines in preparation for the finale that one hopes it doesn’t stumble again like it did with Madam Kali in the previous season finale.
An episode of Penny would be remiss without some reference to a great piece of nineteenth century literature and Ebb Tide is no exception. Vanessa notes the poem “Alastor, or The Spirit of Solitude” by Percy Bysshe Shelley in her conversation with Catrionia, a poem noted to be amongst the first major publications by Shelley in 1816. The poem chronicles the journey of the Poet who traveled far and wide, from the Caucasus Mountains to Persia to the mountains of Cashmire. He meets an Arab woman whom he rejects in favor of a woman he had created in his mind but one night he finds in his dream a veiled woman instead. She brings with her a vision of the world that lay beyond the realms of the physical now. She is a bridge of sorts between the world of spirits and demons and the realms of men and women and as he attempted to cross that very bridge, he found himself ensnared within the darkness that took away his connection to the world of souls. That touch was like a drop of Elixir to the Poet, who spent his time going far and wide to discover the bridge to the world of souls once more. The Poet takes a boat across the surface of the water in the hopes that within the enthralls of nature, he might see the veiled woman once more, see that world of souls yet again. The Poet indeed met the veiled woman once more as the physical world began to fade way from his senses and he finds himself at the precipice of accepting death to reach that very presence. The irony here, as per my reading of Shelley’s poem, is that the Poet could only find transcendence into the world he so ardently craved through the reality of death.
The episode opens up on a woman who embarked upon such a quest, to find transcendence through the destruction of men benefiting from the societal constructs of the patriarchy and exhibiting open misogyny while they did so. Lily is walking through a quiet graveyard, her black frame highlighting the misty graveyard in some of the most hauntingly beautiful cinematography this show has ever accomplished (and that’s saying something). She walks towards a woman who had just buried her child. “Was it a girl?” she asked quietly and the grieving mother nods wistfully. “My heart breaks for you,” she added in a muted tone, looking upon the grave of the child with the closest expression to true grief we have seen from Lily in a bit. She notes that her daughter is in good company before walking right over to a grave marked “Sarah Croft: 1890-1891”. She places flowers on the grave of her dead daughter, barely holding back her tears as she carries forth the promise of creating a world in which women will no longer be treated as being second-class citizens to men. A key expression in this hauntingly depressing opening is the expression of the mother who had just buried her child. When Lily talks to her about the wretched state of women and the rising above the patriarchy in what a traditional Victorian individual would consider to be fairly radical, the woman’s expression is not one of excitement or understanding. It’s of bemusement, concern, and perhaps even a smidgen of fear. Lily doesn’t notice this, blinded by her own grief and fury at a world that had tossed her around like a rag doll by men to be used however they wanted and resurrected her only to do more of the same. That blindness to the people around her ends up costing her significantly with Dorian, who plays the most notable card of the series and helps Victor in kidnapping her. He had felt, as she noted quite pointedly, like a spoiled child who was no longer getting what he wanted and she was blind to those emotions until it was too late. Victor and Dr. Jekyll both are trying to reach that transcendent path for their own personal gains, but for that to happen, the Lily of now has to die. It’s a sickening, despicable sight, Lily chained as three men loom over her with the promise that they would turn her into a proper, docile woman.
Vanessa begins the hour with John Clare, a man desperately in need of a friend. He is saddened deeply by his isolation, but echoing the words of Dr. Seward last week, she notes that he has to bring himself to trust people. If he does, then perhaps he might be rewarded with love and company. And if he doesn’t receive that, then they couldn’t possibly be more alone than they were now. John Clare receiving a reward for that trust as his wife and son accept him for whom he has become is some of the most emotional work this show has done and that’s an astounding accomplishment. He has come home and despite everything that had happened to him and everything he had done, to his family, him being there mattered more than any of that. It brings tears of joy to the eyes, tears Vanessa won’t be letting go of anytime soon. Vanessa’s journey as the Poet reaches a dark conclusion and it makes a significant amount of sense. Dracula is not like Lucifer, he is not a demon who makes his path forward on the accounts of fear and threats of unmitigated hell. He makes his presence felt through the art of a darks seduction. Vanessa has fallen in love with him as he has fallen in love with her (the difference are astutely noted between the two, however). Vanessa storms into the House of the Night Creature, noting his cruelty, his ripping into Mina’s body and soul. In human form, Dracula could be killed like anyone else, but he plays his cards here with remarkable adroitness. She spits in his face but not for a single moment does he let slip any anger, any cruelty towards that her that one would expect. “I will love you till time has lost all meaning,” he croons with so much conviction that even the wisest in his presence would believe him. The creatures of the night, of the dark are not all evil, all terrible beings who tear apart and destroy. They must be accepted for there is a place for them as well. “I accept myself,” she notes and she succumbs in a damning, tragically miscalculated moment. She is powerful, but she is split between the three components that comprise her being and Dracula is half of Satan himself, perfecting his art of dark seduction over millennia. Vanessa had simply never met an adversary so powerful, so in tuned with whom she is and what a part of her, that dark part of her she was so ashamed of at times, truly wanted to hear, to feel, to believe. The absolute tragedy of it all, regardless of the outcomes, permeates through every frame, echoing about the blackened screen as if in understanding that they had all crashed against a glass ceiling entrenched above all of their screams.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+“I hope you always think that.”
+“People are better than we think.”
+Vanessa remembering the orderly from the clinic
+“Can we be more lonely than we are now?”
+Lily declaring the tale of the Keening as her
+A pile of bleeding hands
+“You’re still learning the language. I wrote the bloody book!” This was easily the best portrayal of Dorian Gray in the entire series so far and now coincidentally I want him and Victor dead.
+“You are a great, fertile bitch of evil and I love you for your fertility and your power.”
+“Three distinct people.” Neat observation from Dr. Seward there and on that note, is she suspicious of Renfield? It certainly looks like it.
+Catriona is a delight. Her talk about prejudice, myths, and idiot children looking for history in the Bible was fantastic.
+“I could use some whiskey more.” Vanessa is a stiff pourer, mind.
+“So much noise in anarchy.”
+“You fucking cunt.”
Episode Title: Ebb Tide
Written by: John Logan
Directed by: Paco Cabezas
Image Courtesy: Fanpop