Penny Dreadful, Season 2, Episode 6, “Glorious Horrors”
Written by John Logan
Directed by James Hawes
Airs Sundays at 10 pm ET on Showtime
Last week’s Penny Dreadful ended with several of the main characters shacking up for the night. This week is very much a “morning after” episode. Gone is the glow of a night of unexpected pleasure, replaced by a dull feeling of “What now?”
This has been a very up and down season for Penny Dreadful. There’ll be a rather flat episode that only serves to get the plot moving, which will then be followed by something magnificent. This week’s episode, “Glorious Horrors”, definitely falls somewhere in the “flat” realm. It’s redeemed in the end with a fancy ball that ends in a shower of blood, but it takes its sweet time getting there.
Sir Malcolm (Timothy Dalton) learns of his wife’s untimely demise, which he takes very much in stride. In fact, he’s more bemused than grieved. Of course, Sir Malcolm is not himself. He’s under some sort of enchantment, courtesy of Evelyn Poole (Helen McCrory), this season’s big bad. And “Glorious Horrors” gives the audience the first real look into Evelyn’s psyche. McCrory has been fantastic this season, sinking her teeth into her villainous character. Here, though, viewers get an almost tender moment with Evelyn, as she and Lyle (the always welcome Simon Russell Beale) have a chat about the end-game of their torment of Vanessa (Eva Green). The scene is well-played between the two performers, with a touch of melancholy. It doesn’t go as far as to make Evelyn sympathetic—after all, she does have a room full of creepy puppets that are brought to life with the organs of dead babies. Yet as McCrory’s Evelyn utters that the reward for all her Satanic worship is “to live forever while the world suffers,” it’s clear that she realizes being an immortal hell-witch isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
The rest of the bulk of “Glorious Horrors” is neither glorious nor horrifying, instead focusing on checking in with the characters that the season has yet to really get much use out of. John “The Creature” Clare (Rory Kinnear) pays a visit to the daughter of his employer, who asks to feel his hands. Noticing how ice cold they are (since he’s a reanimated corpse and all), she becomes afraid and tells her parents later: “It’s as if Mr. Clare isn’t really alive!” Because obviously this is the conclusion one draws when one feels someone’s cold hands.
Inspector Rusk (Douglas Hodge) meets up with Ethan yet again, hinting that not only does he know that Ethan is a killer, but he also somehow knows that Ethan is a werewolf. Rusk continues to be an utterly perplexing character this season, serving no purpose beyond giving Josh Hartnett’s character more backstory to reveal. One keeps waiting for some major revelation about Rusk, and perhaps showrunner John Logan is saving that for the finale to lead into next season. But for now, this character maintains his current status as “dead weight.”
“Glorious Horrors” finally gets some life zapped into with its climax, set at a lavish ball held by Dorian Grey (Reeve Carney) as a party for Angelique (Jonny Beauchamp). Penny Dreadful always shines when it lets its beautiful-looking cast look even more beautiful all dressed up in lavish surroundings, and this sequence is no exception.
Dr. Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) and Lilly (Billie Piper) attend the party, which proves troublesome, since Lilly (back when she was Brona) and Dorian have a history together. Dorian is enraptured with Lilly, and seems to forget all about Angelique to focus on her—a scenario that makes Dr. Frankenstein very displeased. At the very least, this sequence finally gives Reeve Carney’s Dorian Grey some relevance to the on-going plotlines of this season. What part he has to play in the overall arc has yet to be seen, but it feels nice to have Dorian interacting with the main cast again.
It all culminates in a bloody wonderful scene, in the very literal sense, as Vanessa first encounters Evelyn and the two women have a brief verbal sparring session. Vanessa and Lyle are planning on leaving, but Vanessa spots Evelyn’s daughter Hecate (Sarah Greene) in the crowd, and everything begins to spin. Director James Hawes shines most during this scene, as up until this point the direction of “Glorious Horrors” had been a tad stilted and of the point-and-shoot variety. Here, though, Hawes pulls out all the stops, as droplets of blood begin to rain from the ceiling of Dorian’s large house, slow at first, then becoming a torrential downpour of red ichor that drenches the party-goers. For their part, the guests continue to waltz as they become more and more obviously saturated with blood until Vanessa passes out. It’s such a great scene, and the very epitome of the type of Hammer Studios-style horror that Penny Dreadful can pull off, that one is almost willing to forgive how lifeless the rest of the episode has been.
But “Glorious Horrors” truly has more downs than ups. There are only four more episodes left in season two, and as such, it seems that now is the time for everything to really buckle down and start getting to the good stuff. There’s no more time left for the on-again/off-again nature of this second season so far. Logan hopefully will spend the rest of season two having more moments like bloody rain-soaked balls throughout, and less going through the motions.