We're trained to want Penny Dreadful's Vanessa and Ethan to get together. But do we really?
I want to talk about the moment of weirdness between Ethan and Vanessa this week, but first let's get through the rest of the stories.
In Creatureland, John Clare (whom I misidentified as John Claire last week, due to maybe not knowing about John Clare the English poet) is getting preeetty fucking sick of not having a Frankenbride for his very own. So Victor rather smartly gives him a big nudge toward Lily -- where Clare, true to fashion, fails to connect with her. John Clare is a lot of things -- miracle, monster, remarkably well-read -- but above all he is socially awkward. In his meeting with Lily, he only succeeds in pushing her closer toward Victor -- which is exactly what Victor knew would happen.
However, in the subterranean homeless shelter/soup kitchen Vanessa is still volunteering at, he is relaxed and charming. They recite the John Clare poem "I Am!" together, and then Vanessa teaches him to dance -- not realizing his intended partner is the girl who so memorably melted Victor's defenses at their lunch in an earlier scene. Clare is, ultimately and unfortunately, all too classic a male archetype: the guy who wants a "perfect" girl just because that's what he thinks he needs; meanwhile, he doesn't realize there's already someone with whom he's natural and comfortable. More on that in a moment.
Other things happened this week. Sir Malcolm and Evelyn Poole finally fucked, though she keeps stabbing him with a barbed ring. Oh, and also she's torturing his estranged wife's brain remotely with a fetish doll, to the point where the poor woman's in such agony she slits her own throat with a razor. Now Malcolm and Evelyn are free to marry -- and she's free to adopt the Vanessa Ives doll she made last week and push it around in a pram! I'm sure that's how this will all play out.
Dorian and Angelique continue to be a couple, though it'll be at least another week until we know whether this storyline will ever intersect with the others. This time around, Angelique is humiliated in public by a former (and disgruntled) client. This prompts her to appear before Dorian dressed as a man, in what she assumes will be the moment where he flees like all the others; instead, what he does is assure her that he likes her for her. Then he takes her to Pound Town, specifically the Explicit Cable Sex District. (AKA the neighborhood behind the Sports Authority.)
Detective Rusk and Ethan have some good back-and-forth of their own, and there's new information for the viewer: "Ethan Chandler" is not Ethan Chandler's real name. Also, while Ethan gives Rusk and his sidekick the slip, he's firmly in the sights of Roper, who claimed last week not remember anything. And if Roper works for Ethan's dad, that means he must know Ethan's real name. Which is, of course, the central mystery of Penny Dreadful.
Ferdinand Lyle, god bless him, is still piecing together the Verbis Diablo narrative, and this week he hits a snag. There's an odd phrase that gets repeated in several languages: in Latin, Lupus Dei -- or, Wolf of God. Anyone know of any wolves in Penny Dreadful?
So this brings us back to Ethan and Vanessa. It's an episode where two different women climb into men's beds for safety -- the first being Vanessa sleeping in Ethan's bed (he takes the couch, ever the gentleman) when she has visions of Nightcomers in her own room. The second time, it's Lily, seeking refuge in Victor's bed because she's scared of a thunderstorm. Here, Victor shows less willpower than Ethan, and ends up escorting Lily to Pound Town, though just to the Sheet-Covered Buttocks District. Simultaneous to that, Vanessa and Ethan are walking through the Murray Mansion, converging on the staircase from opposite directions.
We're trained, as viewers, to want the two attractive, sexually compatible leads of a television show to hook up: Sam and Diane, David and Maddie, Dwayne and Whitley. And to have Vanessa and Ethan looking all sweaty and bothered in the middle of the night WHILE literally every other major character (except Sembene and John Clare) is getting it on would seem like the obvious time to make this happen. But Penny Dreadful does not do this. Instead, they let us see Ethan and Vanessa giving each other the "Pound Town? Yes?" look -- then cut away to the other characters. The next time we see Vanessa and Ethan, she's touching his hair and then moving past him, down into the house -- as if to say, "I don't need a protector after all, but thanks."
Do I want to see Ethan and Vanessa get together? I think I don't. I like them much better as friends and allies, people who share a common bond and burden. And frankly, she's a little out of his league. I mean, she's a clairvoyant who's the Devil's #1 draft pick, and he's a guy who can, uh, shoot stuff. Ever see that movie where the guy shoots the Devil to death? No? That's because everyone knows that wouldn't work. Yes, he's a werewolf, too, but that's hardly on par with the Devil frantically swiping right.
But Penny Dreadful is a show that likes to ask questions about faith, and this season has seen a lot of discussion between characters about their relationships with God. Ethan is an atheist who was clearly raised Catholic, yet now he's been handed a Symbolic Object that says he may be the Wolf Of God. What does a fella do with that kind of info? Whether the show ends up using this a climactic trump card, with Ethan saving Vanessa from her witchy predators, it makes sense for now that Ethan would see himself in that savior role. My hope is that, yet again, Vanessa doesn't need saving, that she'll call on her flashback witch training to save herself. And then she should hook up with John Clare, who seems like a better fit for her; he'd walk up and gently rest his hands on her shoulders as she was hard at work translating the Verbis Diablo. (You saw the Mad Men finale, right?)