‘Penny Dreadful’: Been There, Done That

Published 10 months ago by

Ethan Vanessa Penny Dreadful Episode 7 ‘Penny Dreadful’: Been There, Done That

[This is a review of Penny Dreadful season 1, episode 7. There will be SPOILERS.]


What Death Can Join Together’ is a remarkable installment of Penny Dreadful because even though most of the characters are off doing their own things, it still manages to tie them all together. ‘Possession,’ however, has the benefit of taking place in a single location with most of the main players fighting for the exact same thing yet the narrative feels more disjointed and plodding than ever.

As per usual, all of the performances are impeccable. Eva Green is disturbingly good at giving way to demonic possession, Timothy Dalton nails expressing both a desperation to save Mina and also regret for how he treated his son in the past, and Josh Hartnett emotes more than ever, convincing you that this isn’t just another mission – he deeply cares for Vanessa. Trouble is, even the best performances don’t amount to much when you’re working with a weak script.

‘Possession’ is a bunch of scenarios and story beats we’ve experienced before. The writers likely intended to introduce possession in ‘Séance’ and then give you a sense of how bad it can get in ‘Closer Than Sisters’ so that what happens to Vanessa in this episode feels like the utmost challenge. But the build-up fails and instead we just get scene after scene of Green losing it to her “dark whispers.” She is quite good at it, but the repetition leaves the episode with little to no forward motion.

Ethan Sembene Sir Malcolm Penny Dreadful Episode 7 ‘Penny Dreadful’: Been There, Done That

It is fun seeing Sir Malcolm, Ethan, Frankenstein and Sembene unite to save Vanessa, but once the thrill wears off, the narrative just wades in lackluster side conversations. We know Sir Malcolm is a bad father. What did the talk about returning to Egypt to bring home Peter’s body do for the character? The revelation didn’t even seem to have an effect on Ethan. And why bring up Frankenstein’s drug addiction now? It’s nice to learn a little more about characters you’ve come to know and like, but this is the second to last episode of the season. Every minute matters and at this point, not a single one should be wasted on throwaway details.

Perhaps the possession scenes and side conversations would have meant something had they led up to a mind-blowing ending to propel us into the season finale, but when you reach the end of ‘Possession,’ it isn’t even clear how you got there.

What was it that tipped Ethan off that Vanessa isn’t like a daughter to Sir Malcolm? And what about that necklace? Was it just a stroke of luck that he remembered he had it on him and that it wound up doing the trick? How’d he even know how to use it? There’s no need to spell everything out, but when so many elements of the solution are so difficult to wrap your head around, they can’t be tangible and that makes the big finish less rewarding.

Sir Malcolm Vanessa Penny Dreadful Episode 7 ‘Penny Dreadful’: Been There, Done That

The same is true of that last little bit of information regarding Mina’s whereabouts. Vanessa seems to have figured it out, but how and why now? Between the vision and the title of the final episode, ‘Grand Guignol,’ it’s almost a sure thing that Mina is at the theater, but the reveal means nothing when you haven’t participated in figuring it out.

Even if we’re not meant to know the answers to some of these questions and there’s actually some sort of major revelation on the way in the finale, we still need to be part of the process in some manner. In episode 7, the rules of the world are in total disarray, characters are coming up with ideas and doing things without much explanation or justification, and we’re just left to take it for what it is. It can’t work like that.

Half the fun of Penny Dreadful has been coming to know these characters and trying to figure out the Mina mystery right along with them. In ‘Possession,’ however, some characters are too far ahead. When you should be reveling in their new discoveries, you’re too busy trying to figure out how they achieved them and why they’re important, making it impossible to really appreciate them.


Penny Dreadful continues next Sunday with the season 1 finale, ‘Grand Guignol,’ at @ 10pm on Showtime.

Follow Perri on Twitter @PNemiroff.

Follow Perri Nemiroff on Twitter @PNemiroff
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  1. Perfect review. Knowing that it was the second to last episode made it all the more frustrating with the pace of the story this week. I have no idea what happened in the last few minutes with Ethan. Was he possessed by God? He seemed to not even know what he did at the end. And is he a werewolf or what? Have they just thrown that out the window? I love the acting and atmosphere of this show but I find the pacing ridiculous for an 8-episode series.

  2. This review is spot on. Great Job.

  3. I guess Ethan faced something like this in the past , maybe on his own skin and the necklace was a method to keep the dark inside him and now he sacrificed that to save Vanessa. Or, maybe, just clumsy writing

    • The necklace was something Billie Piper’s character gave him in the previous episode.

  4. I switched this over to my Netflix (watch for free absically, after package fee) list. Too much sex and too disjointed, filmed also with too much lack of lighting so the screen is half-dark for some scenes. Not worth the $15 a month solely to watch Showtime, which I added and dumped because of this show. A shame, so much potential, and now it is just kind of “the good is good, the bad is mad, the rest is a bit meh”. I’ll finish the series, but on Netflix.

  5. The title for this episodes is actually Possession; otherwise, wonderful review.

    If Green doesn’t get an Emmy nomination, something is wrong with the Academy.

  6. Never mind, got further down into the review, and realized you had it right.

  7. The episode did seem to feel too much like previous installments that centered around Vanessa, but I guess it was a means to an end to provide more exposition about Sir Malcolm, Frakenstein, Ethan and to a lesser degree Sembene. The whole point of the season has been the search for Mina so I guess the plot line of Malcolm using Vanessa as bait for the vampire that has Mina had to play out. Hopefully the finale will provide some closure one way or another with the Mina scenario and open up the other story paths concerning Ethan, Frankenstein and Caliban (who they made a point of keeping in background literally throughout the episode).

    The one thing I did take away from this episode concerning Ethan is that aside from what viewers can assume is going on with him by the clues they have given so far, it seems like there is more to him than just being a Western gunslinger. The significance of him using the religious charm Brona gave him and clearly having a formal education in Latin and religion leaves the impression he was not just some s**t kicker in the United States and probably plays into why he is hiding out in Europe along with whatever else he is hiding.

  8. Plowed through all 7 episodes. They need to trim 10 minutes from each, starting with the g@y scenes and n@ked male @ss scenes.

    Series tries for too much and accomplishes nothing. Should have focused on the vampires, which are cool. Or Frankenstein monster.

    • I doubt the sole writer, creator and main exec producer, John Logan who is openly gay really wanted to cut any homoerotic elements.

    • I love how there was one scene where two dudes kissed, and SO MANY VIEWERS are losing their minds over it. If you can’t handle seeing two dudes kiss then you need to grow up.

  9. Tatiana Maslany in Orphan Black. Allison Tolman in Fargo, and Eva Green in Penny
    Dreadful. While I’ve just named three women…regardless of gender…these are the
    three performances that continue to impress me the most on a weekly basis.
    Once again, Green was brilliant. There is nothing quite like the viewer getting lost
    in a show or film, and Green continuously pulls this off. Perhaps it’s because of Eva
    Green, that I disagree with much of your review.
    We know very little about Ethan Chandler’s past. But we do know that Ethan ‘claims’
    to not believe in God. So, his performing a form of exorcism…in Latin…was indeed
    shocking. Was he once a man of the cloth? We don’t know…yet.
    Yes, there are many questions. But not having those questions spoon-fed to us, does
    not mean that the show was disjointed. It means that the viewer is being asked to
    wait for some of those answers. In the episodes’s coda, Vanessa now knows where Mina
    is being held. Okay, what’s the problem with that? Because we didn’t find out
    immediately how Vanessa knows this…that’s the problem? Before we discovered the
    dark secrets of Vanessa’s past, I had already felt a disconnect between Sir Malcolm
    and Vanessa. Of course, it always felt to me that Sir Malcolm’s distance from the
    world was largely about the welfare of his daughter. Now we know it’s because Sir
    Malcolm has lived a selfish life, and that Vanessa betrayed Mina on the eve of her
    wedding. So, Ethan can ‘feel’ the lack of chemistry between Sir Malcolm and Vanessa.
    Since I’ve felt that lack of bonding from the beginning, I don’t find this confusing
    in the slightest. I also don’t see Sir Malcolm’s ‘bad father’ speech as unnecessary.
    Quite the contrary, this is a man looking for absolution. Certainly, the
    episode wasn’t perfect. But it wasn’t plodding (for me), in the slightest.
    The episode being contained to the house (even a large house) was wonderfully
    claustrophobic, and as you mentioned…seeing the group unite to save Vanessa, was
    terrific. But much of my enjoyment from the episode, was due to the unspoken
    performances by the cast. While it was very nice to see and hear more from Sembene,
    it was the Priest’s reaction to seeing him in the house, that broke up the tension,
    and made that scene work so well. But of course, it was the reaction from
    all of the characters (particularly Ethan), to the demon’s knowledge of their past
    that was so chilling and effective.
    Penny Dreadful is not a CBS procedural. It shouldn’t require giving answers so we
    don’t have to ask any questions.

    • This comment is perfectly said, can’t help but agree with you.

    • Well said. While I understand some of the reviewer’s (and other’s) frustration, especially since this is the penultimate episode, I never found it remotely plodding but was deeply involved every minute of the show. Sure, like much of the show the tropes–in this case possession–are fairly well known, but I found the way it was handled interesting. Honestly, my only real question was did Ethan check in with Brona at all during that week?

      • Thank-you both (Dazz and EricMontreal22) for your kind words.
        Interestingly enough, you both also brought up a couple of good points.

        Dazz commented that Brona gave Ethan the pendant…which she did. But it made me think about that scene. Didn’t Ethan have some reluctance in accepting the pendant from Brona, or did I imagine that? Perhaps it has religious connotations that makes Ethan uncomfortable (just guessing, of course).
        EricMontreal asks a very interesting question…
        I sure do hope that poor Brona wasn’t all by her lonesome the whole time Ethan was with the group.
        I know we still have the season finale to come, but I’m already looking forward to the ten episode second season. Good stuff!

        • I just assumed he was reluctant to take the pendant because he thought Brona could use it more… Was it a St Jude pendant–for desperate cases and lost causes? At the time that would seem to fit Brona more, I assume he thought?

          I’d like to think Ethan snuck back to see her a few times, despite the comment about being sick of being in that house for so long…

    • I couldn’t agree more. I never once felt it was plodding. This show is often at its best when it’s building character rather than plot. It’s like a great gothic novel in that the creation of an atmosphere of malevolence and dread is of more importance than the plot. I honestly don’t really care about where this story is going, the actors are all just so good, it’s just a treat to watch them.

      • Perfectly said. The atmosphere and characterization and yes, tantalizing mysteries are so well done that the hour always flies by quickly for me. It is a lot like a gothic novel, or the later Victorian variation of them, Sensational novels. Yes, those, like Penny Dreadful, had outlandish plot twists, but they really are more about the slow build of dread, atmosphere and mystery. VERY slow build. Even the books it is using–Frankenstein, Dracula and Dorian Gray are hardly plot heavy at all.

        I have little doubt that Showtime picked this project up partly because they wanted a horror show after the success of FX’s American Horror Story. But that’s a show that, especially last season, was all plot driven, making the characters inconsistent and often ruining whatever atmosphere it was trying to create.

  10. the only thing about this episode that bugged me, was the lighting on some of the scenes. too dark to see what is going on

    • I’ve heard that from others. MY TV contrast may be higher than it should, as I didn’t have that problem and for the most part I LOVE the lighting on the show–especially loved when they used the lighting from windows reflecting on floors, etc, to show the progress of the day into night.

  11. Ethan waited til the end when she asked him to shoot her, alas being a ‘lost cause’ where the powers of St. Jude can be applied (whos on the medallion)… How he knew how to use it? Maybe he was a priest in his past to maybe cure his ‘werewolf’ curse… we’ll see next episode ;)

  12. In the scene before you see Frankenstein resting in a room downstairs under a painting depicting a operation you see Ethan waiting on the stairs with a mirror behind him. In the mirror you see a reflection of a wolf. Is it a hint?

    • I noticed that too, but then wasn’t sure if I was just seeing things. It must have been a deliberate tease.

  13. I think they found out they were being renewed before this was written and they had to extend it so the finale for the season leaft things unanswered. Ethan has a very checkered past and this will be revealed. He may have been a failed priest, who knows how someone can repeat the expelling of a demon in Latin. I think Ives got his age right and he is older than we think, his father is the leader of the pack and wants him back. So this episode is a tie in for the first 6 and a foil for the season finale. Still the best horror series for looking at subreferences and plots, like the Caliban story line mirroring the Phantom and where is the real Master, Dracul? I am guessing he is not going to be one of the Ugly Yellow Minions. So much to look forward to.