New Show Recap: Penny Dreadful, Episode 1.04, “Demimonde”

Happy Friday, all! We’re helping you wrap up your work week with the recap of the most recent episode of Penny Dreadful. And guess what—there is some good news about the series: Showtime has decided to renew it for a second season! So if you haven’t started watching yet, you can start watching now! But you need to start at the very beginning to understand everything that’s going on.

This episode opens with an orgy at Dorian Gray’s house. Despite all of the spectacle around him, Dorian seems very bored and almost annoyed with the attention bestowed on him by a young man. Later in the evening, when everyone has left, Dorian wanders through the house and into a secret passageway which leads into a hidden room. Here, Dorian sits in a chair and gazes at something that seems to be hanging on the wall. Can we presume that it’s the infamous picture? And what’s up with the leather pants?

The scene after the opening credits features Vanessa sitting contemplatively on a bench outside an old Catholic church. She’s approached by a little girl who is out on a walk with her brother and their nanny, and the two strike up a conversation. The girls asks Vanessa why she won’t go into the church even though she seems to want to, judging from the way she looks at it. Vanessa and the girl have a brief conversation, and Vanessa seems amused by the girl. The girl mentions her mother, who recently died and was buried, but she adds, “I don’t think she’ll stay there. They never stay, do they?” Vanessa thinks that the girl means that her mother might be one of the undead, though the girl is only speaking of the soul traveling to heaven or hell. The nanny calls for the girl—who, believe it or not, is named Lucy—and Vanessa is soon left alone with her thoughts. She rises and leaves the area of the church and goes to the local arboretum, where she sees Dorian Gray marveling at the beautiful, exotic flowers kept inside. Dorian confides to Vanessa that he likes to see one extraordinary thing every day and offers to take her through the arboretum. He is fascinated with the duplicity and hidden depth of flowers, and to illustrate his point, he tells Vanessa to smell a bloom and describe the scent. “Delicate,” Vanessa replies. “Subtle fragrance like a berry, but not a woodland thing, not a thing of the forests…but of the jungle.”

Vanessa and Dorian in the arboretum
A flirtation in an arboretum. Image via Fansided. Penny Dreadful belongs to Showtime.

“What does it say to you?” Dorian asks her.

“Touch me, with your finger, softly, with my scent on your neck. Open your lips and taste.” Vanessa, who seems to have forgotten herself, opens her eyes and stares at Dorian. He identifies the plant as deadly nightshade, a lethal plant. They speak further about the plants, and Dorian remarks that the plants “seem so enticing and luxurious, but within, there’s a dark thing waiting…Which one of us does not have our secrets, Miss Ives?” Vanessa stops, startled at this, though Dorian smoothly sidesteps his way out of a potentially awkward situation and shows Vanessa his favorite flower, a very rare orchid which is only found in Borneo and can take up to fifteen years to bloom. “All that tine perfecting itself. A lifetime for six perfect flowers.”

“Is it poisonous?” Vanessa asks him.

“Like all beautiful things, I hope so,” he replies, and takes his leave of her, though he does tell her he will be at the theater that evening.

At the Murray home, the hematologist Professor Van Helsing (David Warner) has arrived to take a look at the blood samples taken from Fenton. The blood contains a unique chemical that keeps it from coagulating, and that it’s an adaptation allowing a creature to consume blood as food. Victor asks Van Helsing how long he has known Sir Malcolm and what Sir Malcolm may have revealed to him. Van Helsing informs Victor that he’s familiar with creatures like Fenton downstairs, and that he believes that Sir Malcolm is looking for a cure for an ailment that he doesn’t understand. but he is intimately familiar with it.

Victor sees Caliban lurking in the courtyard and goes out to confront him. Caliban reminds Victor of his promise to make him a mate, but Victor implores him to have patience because in order to fulfill Caliban’s demand, he needs to have money, and he has to wok in order to earn money. He explains to Caliban that he needs supplies and a test subject. Caliban makes it clear that he wants a beautiful bride. “To match her mate?” Victor quips. Caliban roughs Victor up and tells him, “The future belongs to the strong, to the immortal races, to me and my kind. Look upon your master.”

The next scene shows Brona and Ethan in bed together, and she tells him about her past. She had been engaged once in Belfast to an abusive man. Where she grew up, there were no options for women: you either married or you whored, and instead of being married to a husband who abused her, Brona chose life as a prostitute. Ethan comforts her: “We’ve all done things to survive. There are some sins on my back, it would kill me to turn around.” To cheer her up, he offers to take her out on the town that night after he gets home from work.

At the Murray house, Victor is trying to inject a serum in Franklin’s neck. Fenton asks for Vanessa, and he insinuates that everyone wanted Vanessa and that something may have passed between her and Malcolm. Ethan wants to know why exactly they’re going to give Fenton a blood transfusion, and Malcolm explains that they’re trying to find a cure for whatever is ailing Fenton, though they’re not sure of his disease. This hearkens back to the blood transfusions Van Helsing gave an ailing Lucy in Dracula. Victor asks Ethan to donate some of his blood for a transfusion, though Ethan refuses for some unknown reason. Malcolm provides the blood sample instead.

As they wait for Fenton to wake up after the blood transfusion, Victor and Malcolm discuss the Spitalfields murders. Malcolm believes that the woman and her child were killed by an entirely different creature, since they were mutilated and their organs were taken, but they were not exsanguinated. Ethan grows agitated and demands that they stop talking about the murders. Malcolm changes the subject and speaks of his plans to travel to Egypt and explore the Nile, and he invites Ethan to come with him. Maybe in case Sir Malcolm runs into the Scorpion King?

Vanessa returns to the house, and young Fenton is awake. They go downstairs to see that the transfusion has had the desired effect, as Fenton indicates he’s hungry. They give him an apple, but he howls that he needs blood. The transfusion hasn’t worked.

Ethan and Vanessa discuss what they have just seen, as Ethan is quite disturbed by it. “How far do we go?” he asks, and she replies, “To that, I dare not hazard an answer.” Downstairs, Malcolm and Victor watch as Sembene provides Fenton with a blood source—a cat—which the young vampire devours.

Later that night, Ethan and Brona are dressed up in their best, and he takes her to see a play at the Grand Guignol Theater, where the troupe Caliban works for is performing. Also present are Dorian and Vanessa. Brona is enthralled by the performance, while Vanessa and Dorian engage in some serious eyefucking.

Ethan and Brona at the theater
A night on the town. Image via Soundonsite. Penny Dreadful belongs to Showtime.

At the Murray home, we discover that Malcolm is quite serious about going to Africa and taking Ethan with him. Victor is a little put out, though he understands that he isn’t as athletic as Ethan is. Malcolm tells Victor about his son, who died at a very young age in Africa, and who was much like Victor. He assures Victor that he only wants Ethan with him as a marksman. We also get to see Caliban in action at work.

In the cellar, someone is coming for Fenton, and it’s clear it’s his master. Fenton, who seems to be under some kind of compulsion, bites into his wrist and starts to drink his own blood. Malcolm and Victor hear someone in the house, and they go to investigate. When the enter Vanessa’s room, they see a hideous creature in there with Fenton. The craeature flees as Fenton attacks Victor. Malcolm overpowers Fenton and stabs him with a shard of broken glass, killing him.

Between acts, Ethan takes Brona to the bar for a drink, where they see Vanessa and Dorian. Ethan introduces her to them, though Dorian makes it clear that they have met before. Brona is very aware of the effect Vanessa, a disarming, educated woman of the upper classes, has on both Dorian and Ethan, and she leaves the theater, though Ethan runs after her. She’s overcome with jealousy and anger at the fact that she’s dying, and she more or less breaks up with Ethan, telling him, “From now on, you fuck me like anyone else, after you’ve paid.” She runs into the street, her sobs and coughs wracking her body so much that she’s forced to take refuge in a doorway. It’s clear that her consumption has worsened and she’s dying.

Dorian has followed Ethan into the street, and he proposes that he help Ethan to forget himself for one night. They go to an East End gambling den where they place bets on how many rats a terrier can kill. Ethan, disturbed by the carnage, heads to the bar and orders a drink. As he drinks, he keeps replaying the horrible things he has seen in his mind, and even gets into a barroom brawl. Afterward, they head to Dorian’s house, where they indulge in absinthe and listen to a piece from the opera Tristan and Isolde. Sadly, Kylie Minogue doesn’t show up as the Green Fairy. Dorian waxes poetic about how he gets carried away by sensation and likes to feel different things and shows Ethan his collection of paintings. Ethan, emotionally and mentally weary and intoxicated from the alcohol he has consumed, leans over and kisses Dorian. It’s clear they’re going to have sex.

Vanessa returns to the Murray home and discovers that the creature came to Malcolm’s house and had been after her, and that the creature engineered Fenton’s capture and more or less invited himself into the Murray home. This doesn’t bode well for Mina, who may be in the creature’s thrall and most likely manipulated Vanessa into setting the creature’s ultimate plan into action. Vanessa betrayed Mina during their youth, though we don’t know what occurred, and Mina is clearly using Vanessa’s guilt and the guilt Malcolm feels over being an absentee father against them and to accomplish what her master wishes her to do.

I really enjoyed this episode, particularly since it showed the tensions between the different characters and the cracks in Sir Malcolm’s alliances. My favorite character right now is probably Dorian. He seems very sophisticated on the surface, and he is able to charm anyone he meets. As a viewer, I can’t help but be drawn in by the things he says and his whole aura. He’s an homme fatale, rather like Hannibal, though he’s not a cannibalistic serial killer (I hope not, at least). He has a dark, terrible secret that he must hide, and because of this, he’s able to pick out those who are also hiding dark, terrible secrets. Anyhow, I can’t wait until next week’s episode!

2 thoughts on “New Show Recap: Penny Dreadful, Episode 1.04, “Demimonde””

  1. I expected Dorian Gray to be the character I could not bear — mannered and tediously decadent. What a pleasant surprise to see how down-to-earth he is compared to what he could have been. He’s self-absorbed, yes, but he managed to simulate compassion (or maybe he actually is compassionate?). I have to admit, I did not expect him to have sex with Ethan — that was a bit of a jaw-dropper.

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