Penny Dreadful Review: “Demimonde” (Season 1, Episode 4)

Episode 104

The fourth episode of Showtime’s Penny Dreadful, titled “Demimonde,” feels like an improvement over the past episodes of the show in every way. It’s extremely sexy, scary and compelling television, complete with some extremely intriguing plot developments and character progressions that make me excited to see how Penny Dreadful‘s second half (for Showtime only ordered eight episodes for the show’s first season) continues the story.

True to its name, “Demimonde” expands our knowledge of the supernatural underworld growing in Victorian London. Most excitingly, this episode holds our first look at the horrific Master served by vampire Fenton, the one whom it was hinted had found Sir Malcolm’s mansion at the end of the last episode (but more on that later).

First, we get to see one of the eerie, drug-fueled orgies overseen by resident bachelor Dorian Gray. He lounges on one of his many fine chaises, surrounded by partygoers in various states of undress, watching as others engage in a variety of sexual acts throughout his living room. It’s a scene that proves Penny Dreadful to be a worthy addition to Showtime’s risque library. The look of disinterest on Dorian’s face suggests that, though he’s the king of parties such as these, he longs for a human connection outside of a purely physical one. Above all, he’s a desperately lonely man, pained beyond belief by his austere, refined surroundings (Reeve Carney’s expressive features do a terrific job of communicating this without a single word). After the partygoers leave, he walks over to a painting on his wall (a portrait of a blonde woman) and pushes on it to reveal a secret passageway. Descending down the dark hallway behind the portrait, Dorian walks around what appears to be another antique portrait, which we only see from behind. Clearly mesmerized by what he sees, Dorian takes a seat and looks on. Cue opening credits. I’m sure we’ll see what Dorian’s portrait looks like soon enough, but that tease still got me riled up. After all, Dorian is still one of the most mysterious parts of Penny Dreadful.

We next see Vanessa, sitting on a bench outside a Catholic church. A precocious little girl sidles up beside her and asks why she won’t go in. Vanessa clearly has an answer to that question, but she smiles slyly and asks the girl why she thinks that Vanessa even wants to. Their conversation quickly turns to the death of the girl’s mother, a fact she’s somewhat proud her father felt her old enough to confide to her. “We put mother into the ground, but I don’t think she’ll stay there,” the girl says, unnerving Vanessa. Of course, the girl means heaven – or “the other place,” but Vanessa is disturbed all the same.

She spots Dorian and follows him to a garden, where he is carefully caressing flowers, enamored with their life. She took an interest in Dorian back in “Séance” and it’s clear that he still holds a great attraction for her. And why shouldn’t he? Vanessa has shown repeatedly that she has a strong interest in broken creatures, from Sir Malcolm to Ethan Chandler, and the death-obsessed playboy fits neatly into that category. Together, they examine a beautiful plant, one which Vanessa finds quite alluring. “Touch me, with your finger, softly, my scent on your neck. Open your lips, taste,” is how she describes to Dorian what the plant says to her. He smiles. “Deadly nightshade,” he notes. She feigns shock, but the identification doesn’t seem to phase her too greatly. After all, it’s highly appropriate for two people who seem bent on testing the fabric between life and death. They look at a rare orchid from Borneo, one which spends decades in development to bloom only for a moment. “Is it poisonous?” Vanessa asks. “Like all beautiful things, I hope so,” Dorian replies with a grin. He soon departs, leaving a deeply aroused Vanessa behind. It’s as if Dorian has a drug-like effect on her.

Meanwhile, Victor is analyzing the blood taken from Fenton with the help of a new addition, Professor Abraham Van Helsing (David Warner). The blood exhibits several rare qualities, according to Van Helsing. Most intriguingly, it contains a unique property (Hannah’s wink, after Van Helsing’s late wife, considering he discovered the procedure which makes it visible), which prevents coagulation. That would assist with hematophagy, he says – “the eating of blood.” Victor isn’t entirely surprised by this development, given Fenton’s bloodlust, but he’s curious about how much Van Helsing knows.

When asked, the professor tells Victor, “Sir Malcolm is looking for a cure for something he doesn’t understand.” “Do you?” Victor asks. “Intimately,” Van Helsing replies. And anyone who read Bram Stoker’s Dracula will appreciate just how truthful an answer that is. There’s nothing of the Ancient Egyptian forces behind the vampires discussed in this episode, but it’s exciting to see Dracula’s most formidable foe introduced at this stage. A showdown between Sir Malcolm’s band of misfits and the vampiric forces in London is inevitable, and I’ll be shocked if Van Helsing isn’t involved.

While studying with Van Helsing, Victor spies Caliban out on the street, watching him. When he confronts his creation, the message is one we’ve heard before. Caliban wants a beautiful mate, as soon as possible. Like Dorian, he’s growing weary of his existence, but he feels that Victor has the know-how to make him happy. “Do not temporize, demon!” Caliban says. “Be at it! My bride must, must be beautiful,” he says. “To match her mate?” Victor sneers. Not a smart move, but he can’t resist the urge to poke fun at his hideous creation. After Caliban’s usual threats to snap Victor’s neck and leave him in the gutter, he makes his exit, leaving Victor to shake his head at the unfortunate situation in which he’s found himself.

Comments (14)

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  1. e jerry powellsays:

    She spots Dorian and follows him to a botanical garden, where he is carefully caressing flowers, enamored with their life.

    A botanical garden? No. That was the famous Kew Gardens.

    In other news:
    Clearly, Brona’s gonna die and Frankenstein is gonna find her.

    That whole Chandler/Grey thing was set up from the moment they met in the theater. All of the primitivism through the whole episode, the beast at theater, the rats in the underground fight club, complete with the Chandler beat-down, the sexual tension over the colognes. Tristan und Isolde on top of all the absinthe was the final straw. Chandler, like many men, including Grey, has a bit of the bisexual in him, which is kind of intriguing. The animalistic way that Chandler makes his final approach to Grey…

    And now Brona is between Grey and Chandler, which was probably not the way she saw that going, but it won’t matter at all soon enough.

  2. mypalfishsays:

    The bisexuality kind of ruined the ep for me. Just don’t see the character of Chandler doing that.

    1. Brett Arelsays:

      yeah, I didn’t need to see that I mean…your right, that kinda ruined the episode for me in the end and honestly I’ve always been creeped out by Dorian Grey as a character

      1. suzychsays:

        Brett, sorry — I didn’t realize, before posting, that the blank lines that I inserted before the comment on Wilde’s novel didn’t register at all here on this comment site. Well, that’s good to know, I guess.

      2. Brett Arelsays:

        I’ve got no against bisexuality or sexual orientation, it just took me by surprise that’s all

      3. suzychsays:

        I thought it was kind of interesting — a bi-sexual werewolf (if, as it seems, a werewolf is what he is)? Why not? Bisexuality was certainly part of the dark underbelly of Victorian society (as was sexual abuse of children — but I doubt this series will go there, and so much the better). And the essence of D.G. is a morally “corrupted” person taking pleasure in drawing innocent others into similar corruption. I’m not saying that bisexuality is a form of corruption, but it certainly was so judged by the Victorians; though the sexual hijinks the upper classes got up to told quite a different story.

      4. Eirasays:

        As for the abuse of children, something along those lines has been hinted at during Vanessa’s performance during the seance.

      5. suzychsays:

        “Abuse of children” is inevitable, if we’re out to rake up the major ugliness of the time and place. Look up a book called “Green Fruit” (non-fiction, about the Victorian child sex trade). Ugh. Though they’ll have to do something super-Gothic with it, it will sit very oddly with the darkly playful flavor of all those fictional monsters. The kids who were sex slaves in that setting were real; Frankenstein and his monster weren’t. I think that makes the difference between PD and, say “Ripper Street”, which is trying to be about the real crimes of the time, not a monster mash-up. So . . . maybe not?

  3. Shaunsays:

    Was Dorian looking at a mirror or a painting? Sorry to ask – I have not seen the show yet (I’m traveling) but it makes more sense for him to be looking at the painting of himself which captures all of his sins/wounds.

    1. Isaac Feldbergsays:

      I’ve come around to your guys’ train of thought on that one – rewatched the episode, don’t know how I missed that the first time, but definitely a painting. Not the biggest revelation in the episode, but certainly a neat one.

  4. suzychsays:

    This might be a *spoiler* for viewers who aren’t familiar with the full spectrum of dangerous monsters the writers are apparently intending to add to the show, so here’s a sidebar for them as is interested:
    SPACES so that if you’re not, you can avert your eyes:

    Dorian Grey is the protagonist of a famous novel by Oscar Wilde (“The Picture of Dorian Grey”) about a good and innocent young man who retains his youthful good looks as he descends into depravity in London, deliberately corrupted by a cynical nobleman. Hidden upstairs in the attic, a portrait of Dorian painted by an artist friend mysteriously changes over time to show on Dorian’s painted features the increasing ravages of villainous and destructive self-indulgence. It’s a short book, and a good one. In a movie version years ago, the Allbright brothers (two real-world painters) furnished a “picture” that by the end of the story positively glowed with putrescent tumors.

    Meanwhile, on the show, somebody’s bound to go to Egypt so that The Mummy can join the party. Other candidates for inclusion?

    1. Brett Arelsays:

      ….The Mummy is a nice and hopeful possible touch to the series since we’ve already got quite a few monsters here already, maybe someone who can help explain the Hieroglyphic/Vampire connection

  5. Brett Arelsays:

    Anybody else kinda thinking that Chandler is The Wolfman? I mean it’s been hinted at in a subtle way so far

  6. Julie Maximsays:

    Yes. Those familiar with the story, know Dorian was looking at a painting. I’m not sure whether I want to ever see the painting or not. Sometimes, the imagination is better than reality could ever hope to be. We didn’t see the painting in the book, after all.
    I’m loving where this show’s going! TV right now is the best it’s ever been. It’s a golden time for horror. Many things about this show surprise me, which is hard to do. I know some people have taken issue with Penny Dreadful’s Dorian, but I can’t imagine why. If someone had taken the character straight out of my mind, they couldn’t have done a better job. I love the actor’s portrayal; he is perfection.
    And that makeout session, oh that makeout session! Never saw that coming in a million years! I don’t know why I’ve been so dumb to this masterieces details. I’m usually the first to notice things. But I’ve been the idiot over Penny Dreadful. Didn’t see the coming of Victor’s first monster. Didn’t see the kissing coming. Didn’t see the writing on the wall that Brona is the Bride. And lastly, overwhelmingly, foolishly, did not see that Ethan is a wolf! I too saw him as a weak link. Bravo Penny Dreadful. Bravo!

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