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Penny Dreadful, Ep. 2.02, “Verbis Diablo” sets the pieces in motion

Penny Dreadful, Ep. 2.02, “Verbis Diablo” sets the pieces in motion

Penny Dreadful Verbis Diablo Eva GreenPenny Dreadful, Season 2, Episode 2, “Verbis Diablo”
Written by John Logan
Directed by James Hawes
Airs Sundays at 10 pm ET on Showtime

The game is afoot in “Verbis Diablo,” the second episode of Penny Dreadful’s second season. Whereas season one had a tendency to seem unfocused, introducing its ensemble rogues gallery of players, season two has its eye on the prize. That prize is Vanessa Ives (Eva Green), for whom secret witch and target-practice expert Evelyn Poole (Helen McCrory) has ill intentions.

“Verbis Diablo” finds Vanessa tormented by the threat of witches out to do her harm, so Sir Malcolm (Timothy Dalton) says he has just the thing to make her feel better: visiting a bunch of cholera patients. Because nothing cheers someone up more than dying folk. Here Vanessa has her first encounter with the Creature (Rory Kinnear), alias Caliban, alias John (make up your mind, sir). The two share a touching little scene that is strongly acted by both Green and Kinnear, where they talk about Wordsworth and Blake, and where Vanessa tells the Creature he has beautiful eyes. But the Creature’s beautiful eyes are set on the reanimated Brona Croft (Billie Piper). I’d joked in my review of the last episode that perhaps her reanimation would fix Franken-Brona’s terrible accent, and it turns out it has! Piper is using her natural accent now in reanimated corpse form and it’s certainly an improvement. Brona is a much more interesting character overall now that she’s been brought back to life and Piper’s performance as a wide-eyed innocent taking in everything for seemingly the first time is endearing. Not so endearing is how much Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) clearly has the hots for her. As luck and plot devices would have it, Brona has no memory of her previous life, which is great news for Victor since he’s the one that killed her.

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As for super witch Evelyn Poole, she’s trying to seduce Sir Malcolm and the two of them go on a nice little date to a shooting range, where Sir Malcolm reveals to her that his marriage is over, though to avoid scandal he won’t divorce his wife, and Evelyn reveals to him that she can shoot the center out of a bullseye with ease.

The highlight of “Verbis Diablo” involves the return of Simon Russell Beale as the delightfully flamboyant Ferdinand Lyle. The Penny Dreadful gang brings Lyle in to help get to the bottom of all the witchery going around and Lyle happens to know all about the Verbis Diablo, aka the “Word of the Devil.” He tells the group about a monk named Brother Gregory who believed he was possessed by demons, or even the devil himself.  Brother Gregory wrote down everything the demon told him, and it just so happens that the text he wrote down is stored away inside the British Museum, where Lyle works. Beale is an absolute delight and while some may find his mincing performance a bit much, it truly is the best aspect of the episode, especially in the scenes where he not too casually flirts with Josh Hartnett’s Ethan Chandler. Beale’s deliberately comical performance is the perfect bit of distraction for the last-minute reveal that he’s secretly working (although reluctantly) for evil Evelyn Poole.

Speaking of returning characters, Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney) is back and still pining over Vanessa. His lovelorn state might be at an end though, because he encounters the mysterious Angelique (Jonny Beauchamp), a prostitute who reveals herself to be a man in disguise–a revelation that Dorian is clearly fine with. There’s not much to this exchange, but it is clearly setting up events to come.

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“Verbis Diablo” ups the creep-factor near its climax, when Evelyn Poole is brought the body of a dead infant by one of her shape-shifting daughters. Evelyn proceeds to take the baby’s corpse into a big room where she has a whole bunch of creepy puppets–because of course she does. If there was one thing Penny Dreadful was missing in its carnival haunted house, it was scary puppets. Evelyn cuts the heart from the baby and places it inside a rather giant puppet modeled after Vanessa. Clearly, only positive things can come of this.

Like the previous episode, “Verbis Diablo” is still more season set-up, but the focus and drive that writer John Logan imbues the episode with improves greatly on the formula. The only flaw so far seems to be Inspector Rust, played by Doug Hodge. Despite Hodge’s solid performance, the character so far seems like dead weight as he investigates Ethan’s werewolf murders from last season’s finale. Logan’s script is no doubt building Rust towards something more important, but so far he’s failed to make much of an impression. But as long as Logan keeps the momentum on display in this episode going, and as long as he makes good use of those creepy puppets, season two of Penny Dreadful will continue to flourish.

Chris Evangelista