Penny Dreadful’s sixth episode, “What Death Can Join Together” is sort of a return to earlier episodes, following last week’s storyline. While “Closer Than Sisters” focused exclusively on Vanessa’s relationship with Mina and her father Malcolm, episode six features the whole gang.
Unfortunately, this one-week absence from Chandler, Frankenstein and the rest, did more to alienate viewers from the story than to illuminate Vanessa’s origins. This is partly to due to the fact that Penny Dreadful’s tempo remains sort of hazy and unhurried. The stakes are never really clear and while the whole crew is trying to save Mina “before it’s too late”... it’s not clear when that will be.
At the beginning of the episode, Malcolm demands that Vanessa produce a vision to help them locate Mina. She tries to read the cards, and though she isn’t able to summon preciseness, she does see a ship. Dorian Gray conveniently arrives and asks her to come on an adventure with him. Malcolm insists she goes and Gray takes her to have her picture taken. While this exercise—Dorian Gray taking someone’s photograph—is a fun little wink in the face of literature, I’m not entirely sure what it does to move the plot forward. I guess it serves to illustrate the growing relationship between Gray and Vanessa, but since Gray seems to sleep with all of the principal characters, their relationship doesn’t seem special; these little moments feel more cute than interesting.
Vanessa asks Gray to dinner (very un-Victorian) and when she presents herself to Malcolm, all dressed up, they share a father/daughter moment that seems both genuine and especially sweet considering they’re literally surrounded by blood and gore.
Malcolm then takes off to a quarantined Egyptian cargo ship with Sembene and Chandler. Though Victor Frankenstein has established a sort of quasi fatherly relationship with Malcolm Murray, his efforts to join the gang on their more violent escapades have been thwarted again and again by Murray, who, having lost a son in Africa, feels responsible for Victor’s safety.
It’s interesting that parenthood should play such a prominent role in the show. Malcolm lost a son, Frankenstein lost a mother, Vanessa lost her family, Chandler’s relationship with his father (or lack thereof) is echoed between Frankenstein and his son.But again, until this theme starts to move the plot forward, it does nothing more than serve as an interesting adornment.
Chandler, Sembene and Murray descend into the bowels of the ship (much like in the first episode) and discover a veritable harem filled with white-haired, black-eyed women. This is, presumably, what becomes of the Vampire’s mistresses. With each monster woman they encounter, Murray shakes his head, “It isn’t her.” When all the women awaken at the same time, the three men must ward off a baker’s dozen worth of crazed female harpies. During their battle, they accidentally set the ship on fire and when the vampire emerges with Mina in tow, Malcolm and his friends are separated by a huge fire, unable to save her. While they survive the battle, they are left, yet again, without Mina.
Penny Dreadful seems to be getting a little lost in it’s own mythology. There is so much going on—so many prophecies, so many red herrings, so many promises of important reveals—it’s becoming difficult to wade through it all to find out what the show is really about. The most tangible stakes—rescuing a main character’s daughter—become less exiting under the weight of all the other… stuff that’s going on. I mean, I’ve written a pretty comprehensive six hundred word review and I haven’t even gotten to the part where Frankenstein’s monster kills Van Helsing; there’s just too much going on. Too many mysteries. And the show is rapidly becoming as garish as the period which inspired it.
Leland Montgomery is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and contributor to Paste.