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Penny Dreadful Reviews: "What Death Can Join Together"

          “What Death Can Join Together” is a wonderfully poetic and foreboding title, and in a way the episode itself lives up to it quite well. We learn a couple new things, most notably, the term “vampire” is dropped for the first time. But mostly we’re privy to some gripping new conflict and character developments.
          There are a number of things happening with different characters in this episode. Strangely we don’t pick up where “Demimonde” left off and the episode never addresses Dorian and Chandler’s sexual encounter. Chandler reconciles with Brona and cares for her as she sickens more. Dorian just moves from one major character to the next as he takes Vanessa out and later seduces her. Sir Malcolm actually encourages her while he, Chandler, and Sembene seek out another vampire nest on an abandoned ship. And Frankenstein meets with Van Helsing who confides in him his knowledge and experience with vampires, finally naming them, and becoming another father figure of sorts to Frankenstein.
          Apart from one scene at the beginning where Sir Malcolm and Vanessa get in an argument we don’t have much of a connection with the last episode. In all honesty, this one could have come first. But we do sympathize more with Vanessa and have a better understanding why Sir Malcolm to some degree doesn’t trust her, something Chandler and most of the audience would agree he should by the end. There’s also a very conscious focus on Van Helsing teaching Frankenstein about vampires and how Sir Malcolm doesn’t understand them paralleled with Sir Malcolm’s denial that Mina could be beyond saving. Oh and way to give Sembene a bigger role. There’s a good scene where he warns Sir Malcolm that Mina may be doomed and asks what he’d do if he can’t rescue her. And it becomes pretty clear that that’s probably the case.
          We finally got another really great action sequence as our heroes search a vampire nest and seemingly can’t find Mina. They awaken the vampires though which leads to some pretty awesome fighting. Both Sir Malcolm and Chandler are pretty adept as they were before, but Sembene shows that he’s really a badass! He has all sorts of hidden weapons and is very agile when fighting these creatures. I can certainly see why Sir Malcolm keeps him around. At the end of the scene they’ve defeated most of the horde and set the place on fire. We presumably see Dracula with Mina at his side crying for help -and she quite clearly is turning into a vampire. You wonder what it’s going to take for Sir Malcolm to accept she may be beyond his help. It puts Vanessa’s declaration that she would kill Mina in a more merciful light.
          Vanessa goes on a date with Dorian and their dialogue is strewn with double meanings as they talk about beliefs and how they view differences in people. Not surprisingly because he’s trying to charm her, Dorian is more optimistic in his outlook of uniqueness being a gift rather than alien. Vanessa also gets her photograph taken and there’s some nice commentary on the superstition that pictures steal a piece of your soul. And props on the detail that she doesn’t smile for her photo which no one did in the nineteenth century. Just like Chandler before her, Dorian shows Vanessa his portraits before having kinky knife-scratching sex, during which Vanessa is contacted by some spirit or demon and she leaves in fright. The idea that sexual exertion brings about an evil presence makes her experiences even more akin to exorcism and possession stories. Afterwards she comes home and just as Sir Malcolm prepares to reveal his nights’ activities she begins to levitate. What this means, I’m very curious about. Also we saw Dorian’s scars heal as he stood in front of his portrait which isn’t a shock to anyone familiar with the character. But we still didn’t get to see his Portrait! I wonder when it will be revealed. We’ve seen his ass though, and I respect this show for thus far being pretty equal opportunities gender-wise when it comes to the nudity.
          The Frankenstein-Van Helsing scenes were very interesting. There’s a good bit where Frankenstein asks if he believes in fate and quotes his favourite Shelley poem given the episode its title (which again is something of an easter egg for literature fans considering Shelley’s wife created his character). Earlier, Frankenstein also marks the first comparison to bats and echolocation following his operation on Fenton. David Warner is again terrific as Van Helsing educating Frankenstein on vampires by using actual penny dreadfuls as examples. The reveal that Van Helsing’s wife didn’t actually die of illness, that in actual fact he was forced to put a stake through her heart and cut off her head possibly foreshadows what will have to happen to Mina -and it may actually happen to Mina! For if this episode’s taught me anything, it’s reminded me that this series is not bound to follow the books its characters are based on. I figured with the introduction of Van Helsing that he would naturally accompany them to seek out and kill Dracula. But of this particular series he’s not a main character, which was brutally shown when Caliban finds the two walking in an alley and swiftly kills Van Helsing by breaking his neck. Earlier we got a minor seemingly inconsequential scene showing some woman sympathizing with Caliban and then he discovering she’s married to another (though her brother was called Lucifer, I don’t know if that necessarily means she’s a demon, but perhaps Caliban would have been better without her anyway). All it seemed to do was further his impatience for a mate and now he vows he will kill everyone close to Frankenstein unless he speeds up his work. Though the episode didn’t end on that scene and it’s not the most affecting of deaths seeing as we only knew Van Helsing for two episodes (if anything it’s just a shame Warner won’t be coming back), it does serve as a good indication that between the threat of vampires and Caliban, no one is necessarily safe.
          We’re only a couple episodes away from the season finale and the show is building towards it at a steady pace. After the escape to the realm of flashback in “Closer Than Sisters” we pick up with the rest of the gang well and see each of them has their own major concerns and fears that are growing. Will Sir Malcolm save his daughter or will Vanessa have to kill her? Who was it who contacted Vanessa, was it Dracula? What the hell does Dorian’s Portrait look like, what will Frankenstein do to quickly satisfy Caliban, how’s Brona going to survive, and will Chandler and Dorian ever talk about their night together? And where did Sembene learn those mad skills?

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