This week’s episode of Penny Dreadful had us on the edge of our seats as always, and since the finale is next week, it only heightens the suspense and makes waiting for the next episode even harder. In the last episode, we were left with Sir Malcolm trying to have a conversation with Vanessa after her return from her date with Dorian, only for Vanessa to start levitating like Linda Blair in The Exorcist. Her head didn’t spin, though her symptoms of demonic possession in this episode are just as unnerving.
The first scene opens with a seemingly calm Vanessa lounging on the chaise longue in Sir Malcolm’s salon. “To be beautiful is to be almost dead, isn’t it?” she muses. “The lassitude of the perfect woman, the languid ease, the obeisance. A spirit trained, anemic, pale as ivory and weak as a kitten…” She then speaks incongruously of corpse photography. Malcom tries to reach her, reminding her that she had a “a spell or a fit of a kind” that was “unnatural” the previous evening and asking her if she remembers anything of it. Vanessa–or the demon who is using Vanessa as a vessel and speaking in her voice–is both delighted and intrigued at the prospect. Vanessa begins to speak in Mina’s voice and speaks of Malcolm’s transgressions during their childhood, particularly his affairs and his constant time away that drover his wife to laudanum addiction, and then mentions his affair with Vanessa’s mother. We also learn that during his travels, Malcolm was quite cruel to the African natives and had affairs with some of the women…and even pushed his own son to do so even though Peter had been reluctant.
Vanessa’s episode grows worse as she uses telekinesis to scare Malcolm, causing papers, books, and pieces of furniture and broken glass to fly around the room. It’s finally Sembene who strikes Vanessa, knocking her unconscious so that he can take her up to her room and restrain her before she really hurts someone.
Malcolm calls Victor to examine Vanessa. She is apologetic and seems to be well again as she sits in front of her vanity brushing her hair. Victor asks her if he can make a “discreet examination,” and Vanessa taunts his regard for her modesty. During the course of the examination, Victor remains clinical and professional and treats Vanessa as he would one of his patients. He is trying to determine the cause of her illness, and Vanessa believes he will bring in an alienist, though he insists that he doesn’t favor that. He suggests that she should eat, and she replies that she wouldn’t like soup for dinner, but “Cornish gay man, expertly carved by a beautiful boy in a restaurant.” Vanessa notes that his hands are clean and asks him if he likes cleanliness, to which he replies he does. She teases him that he could be a version, and she almost bites him before he jerks his hand away. “There’s a line from Shelley that haunts me: ‘No more let life divide what death can join together.'” She also hints that she knows what he fears more: a “greater demon” — Caliban.
Malcolm tells Victor that he has called Ethan to help him. Victor asks more clinical questions; he believes that Vanessa is suffering from hysteria that has stimulated “a psychological break or dissociation.” He stops speaking when an army of ants begins to crawl out from Vanessa’s tarot cards and up the wall to Vanessa’s room.
Ethan comes to Malcolm’s house and hers the sound of Vanessa’s screams. He sees Vanessa curled up on the floor in front of her bed, and he pities her lot. He asks her if he can help her, but she replies, “You have no idea how I fight this thing…but it is adamantine.” Ethan takes her hand, and she asks him if she can answer her questions. She asks him who fucked whom on the night of his encounter with Dorian, and she crawls on the floor like a spider toward Ethan while she suggests that they tell Brona and tells Ethan that Dorian had sex with her, too, while she coughed up blood, and took pictures of the act. Ethan is horrified by what he sees, and he watches as Victor and Malcolm take hold of a shrieking Vanessa and inject her with a sedative so she sleeps.
Malcolm explains to Ethan that Vanessa has been possessed by the devil, or one of them. Ethan is shocked. “Fuck me!” he exclaims. he turns to Victor. “Well, you’re a doctor! Do something!”
Victor replies,”This is a bit beyond my usual practice.”
Malcolm informs both men that things might be worse than they thought: that the creature that they seek believes Vanessa to be an incarnation of the Egyptian goddess Amunet. If Amunet takes Vanessa, untold horrors would be unleashed on the world. Ethan insists on getting a priest to help her, though Victor scoffs at the idea. Malcolm doesn’t want to involve anyone else; his plan for right now is to keep Vanessa alive and be supportive of her while she fights the demon inside of her. Ethan tells them he will stay and help them support Vanessa. He also asks Malcolm what Vanessa had said before they had injected her. Malcolm replies Vanessa was speaking in Arabic; she said, “Let me die.”
Time passes as Vanessa fights the demon. Malcolm, Sembene, and Victor are shown attending her while she screams, and Ethan is at her side and cleans up her messes. Victor is down to his very last nerve as he paces the room, and he is shown injecting something into his arm.
Vanessa awakens and sees Ethan at her side. She asks him for water, which he gives her. Ethan is kind and gentle with her and tells her that Victor believes that Vanessa ought to be restrained so she doesn’t hurt herself. Vanessa admits that the thing inside her scratches at her to get out and it feels terrible. Ethan suggests getting a priest, but Vanessa is unsure as she has fallen from faith. She thanks Ethan or his kindness, for she doesn’t remember what she does when she’s possessed. She begs him not to let her hurt anyone else, and she knows that Ethan will have the heart to do what is right; she wants him to kill her. Ethan says he will do it, and maybe she will go to heaven, but most likely hell, where he was flung when God cast him out. Vanessa is having a dream, and Lucifer, in the guise of Ethan, is terrorizing her. Lucifer says he could kill her, but he won’t because of the potential he sees in Vanessa. He teases Vanessa and tells her that she can’t resist him forever, but she defiantly protests that she can, “for my soul is my own.” She asks Lucifer what he wants of her. He replies that he wants her to be the Mother of Evil and rule the darkness with him at his side. He wants Vanessa to help him conquer God and rule in his stead. Lucifer kisses her gently, stroking her face, and whispers, “Darkling, listen.”
Downstairs, Victor is shooting up again.
Malcolm asks Ethan if he will go to Africa with him, and Ethan demands to know why Malcolm wants to go. Malcolm reveals he wants to go to Africa and visit his son’s grave by a lake. Malcolm buried his son by the lake himself and continued on his journey to find the source of the Nile. He wishes to return to Africa so he can bring his son’s body home. Incredulous, Ethan retorts, “Keep telling yourself that.”
Upstairs, the demon is tormenting Vanessa, trying to get out, and she is scratching herself bloody. Victor, Ethan, and Malcolm restrain her and Victor sedates her again.
Downstairs, Malcolm and Victor are seated in the salon, and Malcolm has deduced that Victor is a drug addict and keeps shooting himself up with morphine. Victor is addicted to it. When Malcolm goes upstairs to sit with Vanessa, Victor is left alone. He slowly goes to the window and opens the curtain to see Caliban standing in the courtyard. Ethan enters the salon, and Victor asks about Vanessa. Victor says he will try a transfusion in the morning and some proteins to keep Vanessa alive, but they may have to let her go. In the conversation that ensues, Ethan admits he doesn’t believe in God and Victor tells Ethan that he believes in everything but God. Ethan takes the opportunity to express his doubts to Victor about Malcolm. Ethan doesn’t believe Malcolm is being honest with any of them about what’s going on with Vanessa. Ethan is sure Malcolm wants Vanessa to live, but he’s unsure of why. Ethan tells Victor about the Americanization of young Native American children, and how, if the children return to their tribe, they can’t fit in anywhere because they have forgotten their old ways. They don’t fit in anywhere, like Vanessa, and they roam the earth until they die. It’s clear Ethan understands much about Vanessa.
Victor notices that it’s snowing. He also asks Ethan to teach him how to shoot. In the cellar, Ethan patiently instructs him, and tells him to put his figure on the trigger very gently, like “surgery.” He warns Victor of the possible noise. On Ethan’s cue Victor shoots. Victor really gets into the power of handling a gun, and Ethan warns him, “Take it easy, Annie Oakley!” Victor asks Ethan to show off his mad shooting skills, which Ethan does. Vanessa shrieks again at the noise, and is restrained once more. We see Sembene sitting in the hallway by her room, and Ethan joins him with some food. Ethan tells Sembene how he has been all over and even picked up some cooking skills.
Sembene tells Ethan: “When I first saw the ocean, I thought it must be a lake. Nothing could be so lush, like the mountains or the moon.” Ethan asks Sembene about his background, but Sembene is evasive about it. Ethan thinks Malcolm may have saved Sembene’s life, and Sembene is there because he owes Malcolm the favor back. “Or I saved his and now he’s my responsibility,” Sembene replies. They agree that they all owe each other, and Sembene advises Ethan they ought to go for a priest.
“Do you believe in God?” Ethan asks Sembene.
“I believe in everything,” Sembene says.
Malcolm goes to Vanessa, who is exhausted and restrained, and he seeks her help since she is in between life and death like Mina is. He begs her to reach out to Mina and find her. Vanessa is weak and insists it’s difficult, but Malcolm insists she try. Vanessa realizes Malcolm let things escalate to the point they did so that Vanessa would be near death and hopefully would be able to find Mina. “How cruel you are!” she weeps.
Ethan enters the room and sees Malcolm with Vanessa, and he is PISSED. “Get the fuck away from her. Whatever game you’re playing, I’ve had enough! We need to end this!” He insists that they go for a priest so Vanessa can have her last rites . Malcolm and Victor have come to terms with the fact Vanessa is dying. (Victor has ulterior motives, of course!) “You want a daughter? There she is!” he tells Malcolm, pointing toward Vanessa’s room.
Malcolm capitulates and sends for a priest. “Sir Malcolm, I swear to Christ, if she’s right, if you let all this happen so you can manipulate her, I’ll rip your throat out,” Ethan threatens. Victor is freaking out now, since he most likely won’t get Caliban his bride. Malcolm asks Victor for something to stay awake, and Victor gives Malcolm a cocaine derivative that he had been given as a child for asthma, though it left Victor with a taste for drugs. Malcolm tells Victor of how he left his dying son in camp so he could explore Africa further, and though he promised to name a mountain after Peter, he was thinking of himself and named it for himself.
Father Matthews, the Catholic priest, arrives. Malcolm immediately tells the priest that Vanessa is possessed by demons and hopes for an exorcism. Father Matthews says he can give last rites or an extreme unction, but he can’t do an exorcism without the express permission of Rome. Victor, impatient, snaps out, “Then give her the last rites and get the fuck out of this house, you ridiculous man!”
The priest agrees to do last rites, and Malcolm leads him to Vanessa’s room. Vanessa, in the throes of possession, groans when she sees the priest. The priest sets about performing the sacrament. The demon inside Vanessa talks about how it engineered the crucifixion of St. Matthew. Vanessa attacks him. biting a chunk of flesh out of his neck. The demon has fully taken over Vanessa, and Ethan remains with her as the others take the priest out of the room. When Vanessa recognizes Ethan, she begs him to shoot her in the heart so that she can die and be free. Ethan is ready to do it, but instead, he remembers the St. Jude medal Brona gave him. He presses it to her forehead, chanting the prayer to the saint. In this way, Ethan exorcises the demon from Vanessa’s body. Vanessa survives, though she is weakened by her ordeal. Ethan stalks out of the house and into the snowy night as Malcolm and Victor hurry to see to Vanessa.
Later, Vanessa is fast asleep, and she is having another vision. “The claw will slash and tooth will rend, there cannot be a happy end,” she keeps hearing in her dream. Her eyes open. She goes to Malcolm as he is dressing and tells him, “I know where Mina is.”
I am very excited for the last episode of the season. Each episode has revealed more about all of the characters and their motivations. I had major Ethan feels this last episode, because we’re shown that he’s a good, kind person who is there for more than his own reasons and for the money. He honestly cares about the people around him, particularly the women in his life, and has proven to be the staunchest ally to Vanessa. It looks like we’ll see what’s up with him in the next episode!