Saturday, February 6, 2016

Women in Horror: Penny Dreadful Season 2

Penny Dreadful continues to be an amazing show in its second season. Here are my spoilery thoughts.

The Good

Vanessa Ives

Although the cast is quite extensive, Vanessa is clearly one of the main characters. She is both the most tortured and complex character on the show. I love her ability to be opposing things at the same time: disciplined and wild, weak and powerful, prickly yet deeply sympathetic and kind. This season goes more into her history and shows how she harnessed her powers with the help of the Cut Wife, an abortionist and witch that locals hate but ask things of on a regular basis. In this season, we see new sides of Vanessa. She spends episodes in solitude, frightened out of her mind because of the new villain's torments, most uncharacteristic of her after last season. She grows throughout the season, deepens her relationships, creates new relationships, and comes out stronger than before. Her conversations with John Clare/Caliban were some of the best written and it was nice to have them interact since they previously hadn't. I'm glad the writers turned away from continually punishing her evil vagina and harping on her past, one time transgression. Of course she can't be happy though. She and Ethan developed a relationship, but he left due to his wolfy state even though she accepts him completely just as he accepts her. Eva Green is always magnetic on screen, but especially as the most intriguing Vanessa.


At first, I was upset by Brona's transformation into the subservient Lily. Brona was fiery and defiant where Lily was just happy to be whatever Victor wanted her to be. Victor and Brona's relationship was frankly kind of gross and disturbing to watch. He creeped on her naked dead body, convinced her he was her cousin, and then manipulated her while she was vulnerable and ignorant. Victor grew controlling and brutish as their relationship progressed. He wanted her to be only his and didn't even want her to leave the house. Brona pretty much manipulated him and fooled everyone from day one. She turned into this vengeful angel for women and highlighted the discrimination, abuse, and degradation of women during this era. The speech below is amazing and gratifying in a show set in the Victorian era. Much of the shows events are unrealistic in regard to the treatment of women and it's nice to see that acknowledgement and such a strong response to it. The end of the series has her teaming up with fellow immortal Dorian Gray, dreaming of world domination.

* The Villains

This season's villains are a coven of evil witches that worship and serve the devil in return for youth and power. These ladies don't mess around. They cross taboos of all different kinds to achieve their goals. One particularly controversial scene features one of the witches brutally killing a couple and their baby, taking the baby's body back to their lair, and using its heart to cast a spell. In 2015. it's still taboo to kill a baby or child on film. It gets under people's skin to destroy the most vulnerable and innocent of society. Even though these villains are women, they don't spare the innocent and have no stereotypical maternal instincts towards children. They are formidable opponents and send Vanessa cowering. I wish the ending hadn't been so lackluster.

* Angelique

Angelique is a transwoman during the Victorian era. It's well known how women have fared and transwoman had it much worse. She was rejected by her family and decided to live as her real self instead of pretending to be someone else for their benefit. Angelique works as a prostitute, but has the freedom to be who she is for the most part. She's a bright light in the show because she's so confident, untouched by all the horrible shit in this world. Her boldness, confidence, and joy made the show a little less pitch black. It was nice to see someone not totally depressed or crippled with fear. Her relationship with Dorian was sweet. It was refreshing to see a couple happy instead of tortured, trying to keep each other apart for whatever reason. The other controversial scene of the season features Dorian and Angelique having sex in one of the most explicit scenes I've seen on TV. Angelique is obviously still physically how she was born since there is no alternative at the time, so this scene ruffled a lot of feathers and had people clutching their pearls. I love how the show always treated her as a women no matter her physicality or her dress. Of course this world isn't accepting of her, so we see some of that plus some of her ensuing doubt and temptation to pretend to be what everyone thinks she should be. The only problem with her story line is that it didn't really relate to anything else going on except revealing Dorian's portrait and the ending of her story line.

* The Cinematography and Costumes

There are so many gorgeous scenes in this series even though it's bloody and messy.

* Things to look forward to next season

On top of more beautiful costumes and sets, so many things are in store next season: Dorian and Lily teaming up to take over the world, Ethan's trial, Caliban's next steps, Vanessa's more healthy future, and Dr. Frankenstein's self loathing and pain over creating homicidal creatures.

The Bad

* Dorian Gray

Most of his story is outside of the main story and he becomes pretty evil for no apparent reason. I like him with Lily, but not at the expense of Angelique and her life. She was accepting and he rejected her in the end after treating her like garbage when he found someone shinier and newer. I get that his whole thing is being a hedonist, but that doesn't necessarily mean evil.

* Caliban/John Clare

Caliban is an interesting character and outside of the threatening to kill everyone in Victor's life and mooning over Lily, he hasn't really done much. His stagnant story line became interesting the end when the people he worked with tried to imprison him as a sideshow freak. That end is predictable but satisfying. I did really enjoy his scenes with Vanessa in the shelter for cholera patients where they spoke of literature, poetry, and life. She treated him as a human and he acted his best. He's a philosopher and romantic at heart. His threats and violence are more a reaction to people's horrible treatment of him than an inherent part of his nature.

* The ending

The witches were formidable villains and I was genuinely worried about Vanessa and her friends. Unfortunately, the final battle was a bit anticlimactic and of course one of them easily gets away to make trouble later. It's just a bit anticlimactic.

Overall, Penny Dreadful season 2 is much more even than the first. Almost everything has gotten better and the problems I had were few.

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