[This is a review of Penny Dreadful season 1, episode 6. There will be SPOILERS.]
Thus far, Penny Dreadful has delivered all-consuming experiences week after week. Each episode did its part in building a world loaded with fascinating components and further developing the show’s strikingly unique and rich brigade of characters, but episode 6 marks an astounding new achievement. ‘What Death Can Join Together’ lives up to the title and actually manages to take the large majority of what we’ve learned and experienced, and link it all together.
‘Closer Than Sisters’ and ‘What Death Can Join Together’ make for an exceptional pairing. Dorian says it in this very episode; Vanessa is a very poised person, and so is Sir Malcolm. From the start of the show, the two have flaunted composed demeanors, selling themselves as amicable partners. However, after discovering the truth behind their situation in episode 5, it’s only natural to reassess what we’ve seen of them, come to understand why they’ve put up this façade and then identify the cracks in it, conjuring loads of tension while still maintaining a semblance of that original connection.
Episode 6’s opening spat is mere bickering, but now even the simplest exchange bears an enormous amount of weight. Vanessa agreeing to contact Mina isn’t just about moving the narrative forward. It’s also about character development. The argument and then the reconciliation help define Vanessa’s stance in their relationship. She will honor her goals and principles, but also knows when to concede and give Sir Malcolm what he wants and needs. And the same is true of Sir Malcolm, too. Despite the trauma of their past and more recent disagreements, he still cares enough to recognize that Vanessa desperately wants and needs her date night with Dorian.
The back and forth is a challenge to track and that makes Vanessa’s budding romance with Dorian the ideal complement. Vanessa’s interactions with Sir Malcolm now personify all the hardship of her past, but her scenes with Dorian do the exact opposite; they remind us of the bright, loving and innocent version of Vanessa that existed pre-illness. What happens to Vanessa in ‘What Death Can Join Together’ is ‘Closer Than Sisters’ all over again and it’s terrifying. She can be such a kind, passionate woman. It’s truly heartbreaking to see her lose it in an instant, especially when we’re well aware of the horrors that follow and how they can devastate the main mission.
We’ve still got zero information on what Ethan’s all about, but his scenes with Brona do make their connection more palpable than ever. It’s been plain to see that they adore one another, but there hasn’t been enough chemistry between the two to feel it until now, just when Brona is on the brink of death. The race to find some sort of cure is on, but it’s becoming more and more likely that in order for her to live, she’ll have to die and have Frankenstein bring her back to life. But if Frankenstein reanimates Brona for Caliban, what’s to become of her relationship with Ethan? Or better yet, what if Brona remains loyal to Ethan? Will Caliban force Frankenstein to find him another?
Hopefully Caliban manages to find love somewhere soon because he just annihilated one of Frankenstein’s most promising resources. Not only was Van Helsing offering Frankenstein extremely rare and remarkable information, but he was also taking the form of a confidant of sorts. Frankenstein’s reaction to Sir Malcolm barring him from his next expedition suggested he’s on the hunt for some sort of father figure and then one just happens to appear and tell him, “If I had a son, I’d wish him a long and easy life.” Of course Van Helsing then notes that Frankenstein’s life won’t be easy, but there’s still a sense that Van Helsing could have made it just a little bit better – but now he’s dead.
There’s a lot going on in episode 6, but it works because of how well it all comes together. Sir Malcolm may be able to help Ethan care for Brona, but Brona’s passing could be the answer to Frankenstein’s troubles with Caliban. However, until that happens, Caliban will kill anyone close to his creator, including the one man with information on what the group is up against. Simply put, Dorian makes Vanessa happy, but also ignites the evil within her, compromising the group’s access to Mina and now possibly their own lives as well.
If ‘What Death Can Join Together’ proves something, it’s that we can’t take anything lightly. We’ve come to know a number of main players and have experienced profound events with each and everyone of them, and episode 6 verifies that every ounce of it matters and that’s a major part of what makes keeping up with Penny Dreadful an immensely satisfying and worthy experience.
Penny Dreadful continues next Sunday with ‘Possession’ at @ 10pm on Showtime.
Follow Perri on Twitter @PNemiroff.