Penny Dreadful: “Demimonde”

(Episode 1.04)

TV Reviews
Penny Dreadful: “Demimonde”

Halfway through this week’s episode of Penny Dreadful, I paused the show and thought to myself, “This doesn’t make any sense.”

After all, we were halfway through the first season and still didn’t know anything about Vanessa or her relationship to Sir Malcolm, nor did we know who Ethan Chandler was, or what he was fleeing, nor did we know the relationship between Sir Malcolm’s children and his voyages in Africa. There was a lot we didn’t know. It wasn’t more than five minutes after I resumed Demimonde that the show suddenly started answering all of the questions I’d been pondering.

The fourth installment of Penny Dreadful begins in Dorian Gray’s opulent parlor. He’s hosting an opium-fueled orgy, and though the party seems to be poppin’, Mr. Gray looks less than enthused. In the next scene, Dorian surveys the wreckage of his drawing room. Instead of cleaning up, he descends into a mirror-lined secret passage, which leads to a massive vault. The vault is completely empty save for a huge canvas covered in cloth. This is, I’d imagine, Dorian Gray’s portrait. In a flourish, he rips off the cloth. The camera moves away, denying us a peak at the painting.

What’s interesting about Dorian Gray is that, compared to most of the other characters, he’s not that bad of a guy. Sure, he likes to party and have sex, but so does Charlie Sheen, and I doubt he has a demon portrait of himself hidden away in an attic. (Okay, maybe he does …)

The fact is, we’ve yet to see what makes Dorian Gray evil. In Oscar Wilde’s story, Dorian Gray is a sociopath who toys with the emotions of others. In Penny Dreadful he’s just a pansexual rich kid.

“Demimonde” moves on to the parlor of Sir Malcolm. Sir Malcolm and company have captured a proto-vampire, Mr. Fenton, and Dr. Frankenstein attempts to give Fenton a blood transplant to cure him of his carnivorous inclinations, but Frankenstein’s attempts fail. Fenton continues to call Vanessa “mother” which is actually pretty creepy.

Chandler, disgusted by what he perceives as violence towards Fenton, returns home to Brona Croft. Chandler and Brona go on a date (not a very period term, I’ll admit) to the Gran Guignol where they find Dorian Gray and Vanessa Ives. Back at Sir Malcolm’s house, Malcolm admits to Victor that he reminds him of his son. The show is so dark that sweet little moments like this really stand out. The heart-to-heart, however, is brief.

Fenton manages to escape from his shackles by chewing off one of his hands. Malcolm and Victor confront him in Vanessa’s room, where they discover Fenton’s master, a twin of the vampire they killed in episode one. Fenton screams, “Mother’s not here!” and the vampire jumps out the window. Fenton is thrown to the ground and conveniently lands on a shard of glass, which kills him.

Back at the Gran Guignol, Vanessa and Chandler flirt, fairly aggressively, which aggravates Brona. When Dorian Gray shows up, Brona leaves and tells Chandler that, unless he wants to start paying, their relationship is over. Chandler and Dorian leave together, first attending an underground dog fight. For a second time, Chandler is disgusted by the violence he perceives around him. As he tries to drink away his troubles, a group of foppish aristocrats pick a fight with him.

After the brawl, Dorian takes Chandler home, where they drink absinth and talk about art. In a sort of unexpected move, they share a kiss and begin to strip. Though I wasn’t aware Victorian England was so sexually progressive, I’m definitely not complaining.

What’s interesting about this week’s episode is that it became clear that Logan has been hiding clues for the audience. The first clue was in the premiere, “Night Work:” when the mother and daughter were slaughtered, Chandler goes to the crime scene and looks awfully suspicious as the bodies are carted out. Then, in “Seance,” Chandler wakes up naked under the pier covered in scratches. In last weeks episode, Chandler is able to calm the wolves he and his companions meet when searching for Mina in the zoo. This week, our clue appeared first was during Fenton’s blood transfusion. Frankenstein initially asked Chandler to volunteer some of his blood for the transfusion. Chandler refuses, saying “I don’t think that would be a good idea.”

Then, in Sir Malcolm’s study, as Sir Malcolm and Frankenstein read about the murders depicted in “Night Work,” Chandler grabs the newspaper and throws it into the fire. “Do you think it’s one of ours?” Victor asks, referring to the vampires the group is hunting for. “No,” Sir Malcolm responds. “Their blood wasn’t drained.”

Chandler takes Brona to The Transformed Beast, a play in which the hero is transformed into a wolf-like creature under the full moon. It’s clear that Chandler is a werewolf, which isn’t all that groundbreaking of a theory. (Or at least that seems to be the general consensus in the blogosphere, though I didn’t get it until the tail end of the episode.)

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