Penny Dreadful Review: “What Death Can Join Together” (Season 1, Episode 6)

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Meanwhile, Victor swings by to visit Malcolm, letting him know that the autopsy on Fenton didn’t turn up anything noteworthy. He sees that Malcolm is looking at documents of ships in the port and inquires about it. Rather coldly, Malcolm cuts him off. “You will not be required, doctor,” he says, not even looking up from his documents. We already know that Victor reminds Malcolm of his own son, who perished on an expedition to Africa, but still, the rebuke stings, and Victor stalks off.

Few things on Penny Dreadful have been as constant as Sembene’s silence, but Malcolm’s faithful servant finally speaks up when Victor has departed. Turns out, those weird cheek bumps have been concealing the tongue of an eloquent orator. “Say you find her, but she cannot be saved,” he begins, harkening back to Vanessa’s statements at the end of last week’s flashback episode. “If I find her, she will be saved,” Malcolm retorts, not wanting to have this talk. “For all the blood we shed, for all the miles we have walked, Malcolm, we are not the same,” Sembene says, shaking his head. “Where I come from, we know, some people cannot be saved. Say your daughter is one of them, what then? Know what you are going to do.”

Between this little exchange and the final lines of “Closer Than Sisters,” in which Vanessa claimed she loved Mina enough to kill her, things definitely aren’t looking good for Mina. I wish I could care about her more, but she’s hardly been a character on Penny Dreadful, so all of Malcolm’s pain and suffering in thinking about the possibility that she may be beyond his help isn’t really shared by this viewer.

I am fully invested in the Vanessa/Dorian dynamic, however. These are two death-obsessed individuals who have been dancing around one another since the second episode, attempting to pick one another’s brains without exposing themselves. We catch up with the pair in Dorian’s dwelling, where he has her photographed by the same man who previously shot his lovemaking with Brona. A little creepy, yes, but their conversation is stimulating. Vanessa mentions that certain tribes of people believe you give a part of your soul away every time you’re photographed. Dorian doesn’t disagree with that sentiment, and she smiles, asking what he’ll do with the part of hers that she’s given him. “Protect it,” he replies automatically.

However, Dorian admits, “I prefer paintings.” No, really? At this point, Penny Dreadful is just baiting viewers with teases about Dorian’s portrait (which, sorry, remains off-screen in this episode). I’m sure Oscar Wilde would find the whole thing hilarious, though. Dorian explains that painting can capture eternity, pushing her to admit she knows a lot about eternity. She takes the photograph for him, but as Vanessa considers that the picture will be “for eternity,” her pleasant smile morphs into a troubled frown.

Back at the theater, Maude finds The Poetical Works of Milton waiting for her, wrapped in a parcel. When she sees that it contains a picture of Lucifer, she guesses that Caliban is the one who sent it. As he watches from behind a panel, Maude meets with her lover and calls it a “love token.” “Do I have a rival?” The man teases. Caliban tenses. “Hardly,” she replies, her voice full of cruel laughter. A single tear wells up in Caliban’s eye, but he doesn’t start weeping until he’s safely back in his shadowy nest beneath the stage. I felt bad for the guy for a moment – I mean, we’ve all been there – until I remembered that he actually ripped poor Proteus in half for the crime of simply existing a few episodes back (RIP Proteus). Sympathy for the devil? I don’t think so.

Dorian and Vanessa’s courtship is going a lot more smoothly than Caliban and Maude’s. He drops her home, and she claims she’ll spend the afternoon “ruminating.” As he walks off, she asks him if he has plans for dinner. Dorian, ever the player, replies with a slick smile, “Not anymore.”

Victor isn’t having such a promising day. He sits in the town square and watches young ballerinas practice in a nearby studio. “Subject??” He writes in his notebook, but obviously his heart’s not in abducting and murdering a young woman to serve as Caliban’s wife. Professor Van Helsing arrives to distract him, and they have lunch, shooting the breeze about the nature of romance. “I was cursed with poetry early on, creates very unrealistic expectations,” Victor notes. Van Helsing tells him that he has to embrace life outside of his work and meet people. “Look up, my friend,” he says. “Our work must not control us – we must control it.” Of course, Van Helsing has no inkling that Victor’s “work” includes a crazily strong, psychotic reanimated corpse bent on murdering everyone Victor loves. A little bit harder to control than most test-tube experiments.

Victor tells him that he’s “compelled,” and Van Helsing presses him further about that. By way of an answer, Victor asks, “Do you believe in fate?” “Deeply,” says Van Helsing. “I don’t mean justice. I mean retribution – I mean facing the consequences of your actions that have produced calamity,” Victor clarifies. It’s clear that Caliban is haunting him. Victor’s still in denial in some ways that he could have created a creature of such brutality and anger, but in other ways he’s scared that he isn’t in denial, and that that’s exactly the kind of creature he would create. Shaking, Victor recounts a line he says is from “Shelley.” Any viewer paying attention should have pricked up their ears at that, but it turns out that Victor is taking about Percy Bysshe, not Mary. The line, from Adonais, is, “No more let life divide what death can join together.”

I love how Logan’s writing weaves all the narratives together simultaneously. Victor is facing the consequences of “actions that have produced calamity,” but so are the other characters. Vanessa slept with Mina’s groom-to-be and alienated her best friend, destroying both their families and sending Mina into the arms of her Master. Malcolm also played a role in that, after having an affair with Vanessa’s mother. Ethan, too, is running away from his mysterious crimes in America, which clearly caused an uproar of some sort. The Shelley excerpt can also be applied to multiple characters. If one takes it literally, the line is about Victor’s plans to cobble together a mate for Caliban from a dead (or murdered) young woman who never would have gone for Caliban when alive. It also refers to Vanessa’s union with Amun-Ra, if she is indeed the Amunet we believe her to be. Could Brona’s impending death from tuberculosis also make her apply? Or, if we step back a bit, we can consider that death is what joined together this odd assortment of characters in the first place – no doubt gunslinger Ethan would never have crossed paths with the young Doctor Frankenstein had fear of Mina’s death not worked to unite their group. Anyway, Van Helsing is troubled by Victor’s demeanor, but he leaves without understanding what is going on with his friend.

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