Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Penny Dreadful: “Memento Mori”

Illustration for article titled Penny Dreadful: “Memento Mori”

How good can a Penny Dreadful episode be if Eva Green doesn’t appear in it at all? Pretty damn good judging from “Memento Mori,” a near-perfect hour of the series that kicks every ongoing storyline into overdrive. While Vanessa and Chandler are shacking up out on the moors, so much is happening back in London that it’s hard to know where to start.

Maybe with the character I have the least use for at this point: Dorian Gray. After spending the first half of the season in his own show-within-the-show, he’s now latched onto Lily, but he also represents the logical end-point of Poole’s obsession with eternal youth and beauty: jaded self-absorption. We may have come to care about Angelique, but for Gray she was never much more than another novelty to keep him amused until the next thing came along. Earlier in the season I speculated that Angelique might have another secret of a more supernatural bent, but the truth is much sadder than that. She’s an outsider who thought she’d finally made a meaningful connection, and by stumbling upon Gray’s secret chamber within the portrait gallery, she now realizes she was just another distraction for a true monster. She says she can accept him for who he is—and that mutual acceptance, after all, was the basis of their relationship in the first place—but it’s too late: he’s already poisoned her. Seriously, fuck this guy. John Clare can’t tear his head off soon enough.

Speaking of the Creature, he’s finally met his match and then some. After his umpteenth manhandling of Victor, Clare catches Lily at home alone. Until recently we might have feared for her safety, but despite all his bluster, she’s meaner than he could ever be. She’s also been lying about not being able to remember her past, or at least some of it: her account of the degrading life of a Victorian prostitute is probably Billie Piper’s finest moment of the series to date. The dehumanizing process began long before Victor hooked her up to those electrodes, and she lets Clare feel every bitter remnant of her former self even as she seduces him in seriously weird fashion. “My monster. My beautiful corpse.” Unlike Gray and Angelique, they truly are monsters who have found each other, and they have a common goal, which is very bad news for Victor Frankenstein.

There was never any question about whether Evelyn Poole and Sir Malcolm were two kindred souls who had found each other, except in Sir M’s mixed-up, magically fogged mind. The only question was how long it would take him to realize he’d been had. The moment of truth arrives while Poole is toying with the Sir M voodoo doll’s baby heart; she momentarily takes control of him, but Sembene, revealing a previously unseen level of power, is able to snap Sir Malcolm out of it. This happens just as Sir Lyle has finished explaining the complete story revealed by the artifacts (and if you’re going to do a big exposition dump, Sir Lyle is definitely the man for the job): Lucifer and his brother were both cast out of Heaven, one sent to Hell and one sent to earth. The devil’s brother is the vampire master who feeds on blood by night, and Vanessa is the vessel who will allow them to reconquer Heaven and bring about the apocalypse. So…pretty big stakes!

Poole has lost more than just Sir Malcolm, as Hecate is now in open rebellion against her mother. This mutiny storyline is on the underdeveloped side; it all but came out of nowhere this week with Hecate’s attempted recruitment of Sir Lyle and taunting of Poole’s failure with Sir Malcolm. Poole does make an attempt at salvaging the relationship by offering Sir M the same chance at eternal life, but he’ll only go along with that plan if she and her brood let Vanessa live. That’s a deal-breaker, of course, and she leaves him to contemplate the wreckage of his past surrounded by his family of the dead.

With nearly every scene in “Memento Mori” going off like a firecracker, the episode was almost over before I realized we hadn’t seen Vanessa and Chandler at all. This is serialized television at its thrilling best, cross-cutting between multiple narratives that have simultaneously built to dramatic peaks and opening up a tantalizing array of possible ways for all hell to break loose. Next week’s episode should bring the complete team back together for what is setting up to be a killer final two hours of the season.


Stray observations

  • Am I the only one who thought of Disney’s Haunted Mansion when Sir Malcolm danced with his wife amid the pale, ghostly figures?
  • After finishing off her victim, Lily knocks over his house of cards. A shot at potential award-season competition, perhaps?
  • When Chandler gets back from the moors, it’s about time for him to his secret with the rest of the team. Not only does Sembene already know, but now Inspector Rusk is dropping by with Wild West handbills asking questions about a “beast” Sir Malcolm had warned Scotland Yard about. Sir M also has an alternate translation for “hound of God” from the artifact puzzle: wolf.