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

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Back in Malcolm’s home, Vanessa comes down in a va-va-voom dress, ready for her date with Dorian. Oddly, Malcolm tells her she looks beautiful and to have an enjoyable evening. Given the history between these two, I’m still unclear on why Malcolm feels fondly towards her. Didn’t she break up his family by killing chances that his daughter could marry a handsome, mustached captain? Could it be that their collaboration in finding Mina has caused him to return to thinking of Vanessa as a daughter? It was previously shown that Vanessa has a sexual attraction to Malcolm, but he doesn’t try to flirt with her in this scene (which may mean Malcolm actually has some morals, unlike we’d previously been led to believe).

Ethan loads his gun while Brona lies in bed, getting ready to go meet Malcolm and Sembene for another expedition into the supernatural underworld of London. She tells him that they shouldn’t kiss anymore, lest she infect him, but upon hearing that he rushes to her side and passionately locks lips with her. Like every other character on this show, he’s not repulsed by death so much as drawn to it. “If you get sick?” She asks. “Then you’ll take care of me,” he says. Brona, however, doesn’t think she’s long for this Earth, and she hands him her medallion. “Saint Jude, patron saint of causes long since lost,” she explains.

When he meets Malcolm and Sembene, Ethan’s surprised not to see Vanessa. Though Malcolm tells him that she’s out for the night, he doesn’t take kindly to the one member of their little mystery gang that he trusts being AWOL. Still, they travel on, to a plague ship that Malcolm thought looked suspicious. The ship came from Cairo – like the symbols on the insides of the vampire they dissected – and has been in quarantine for a long while. The situation smells of “chicanery,” according to Malcolm.

Meanwhile, though he doesn’t get to go on Malcolm’s expedition, Victor gets some excitement of his own when Van Helsing decides to bring him in on a secret – one which they must keep from Malcolm, for it would be “unendurable” to him. Helsing explains that the love of his life fell prey to a vampire, and Helsing had to drive a stake through her heart and cut off her head to put her to rest. Van Helsing suspects the same will be true for Mina. “Do you know the word vampire?” he asks. Helsing shows Victor a penny dreadful called Varney the Vampire. He calls its subject a creature who “exceeds the limits of life and death,” noting that its victims are cursed to “a walking death.” As a species, the vampires are like a pack, with the goal of “survival, propagation and conquest.” Van Helsing admits they move too fast for him to know their endgame. If this was coming from anyone other than Van Helsing, I’m sure Victor would have scoffed and walked away, but the look on his face as his mentor brings him into the fold is deadly serious.

On their date, Dorian and Vanessa talk about philosophy (which doesn’t do much for Dorian) and religion (which he likes the idea of, but little more). “I have a complicated history with the almighty,” says Vanessa And as we all know, that’s putting it lightly (remember the spiders in the series premiere?). “I think, Mr. Gray, there are tremors around us, like the vibrations of a note of music, hidden music. Some might be more attuned to them than others,” she says. Dorian opines that those people must “endure uniqueness,” but Vanessa is more struck by the loneliness of being alienated from those who can’t feel the things she feels. “To be different, to be powerful, is that not a divine gift?” asks Dorian. They banter and determine that those who are unique always seek others who share their rarity, so that they can no longer be alone. It’s clear that Dorian and Vanessa feel that they’ve found a similar connection in one another.

Things go well, and they end up back in his home, looking at the portraits which adorn his walls. Though Vanessa can catch a whiff of what each person in a portrait gave away of themselves in it, she can’t read Dorian. They talk about who they want to be in that moment, and Dorian, a narcissist of peculiar humility, claims that he wants to be “myself without limits.” He encourages her to abandon her control over herself as well, to be free. She insists that’s not a good idea and tells him that something would take her place if she relinquished the reins. Still, it’s clear that he’s doing a fine job of seducing her. Dorian comes up behind her and asks to kiss her neck. Wanting that, and so much more, Vanessa pleads with him not to ask anymore – just to do. He leads her upstairs.

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