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Penny Dreadful Reviews: "Ebb Tide"


          It’s quite appropriate this episode is called “Ebb Tide” as it recedes from the intense action of the previous couple episodes, and isn’t thoroughly interesting in any of its stories. In fact a lot of the plot direction feels like it’s just trying to get characters to certain places for the final two episodes.
          Vanessa’s been transported after the last episode, awakening in a manger strangely enough. Before she does, Renfield once again creeps on her, licking and nearly biting her before Dracula stops him. He puts on his Sweet façade again once she awakes. She happily returns to Murray Manor where she meets Caliban. They share a visit during which Caliban confides in her his desire to see his family, but inability to owing to his monstrousness. Vanessa sympathizes, and tells him he should attempt to reconnect. She also, now recognizing him, asks if he remembers working in the asylum, which of course Caliban does not. But she tells him he showed her incredible kindness there and that he deserves to be loved. Revealing her own recent happiness she posits they should “join the dance together”, and if things don’t work out they can’t possibly be any lonelier than they presently are. Once again, these two have a wonderful relationship and the scene of their reunion, with Vanessa now in full knowledge of her history with Caliban might just be the highlight of the episode. It’s performed well and as with many scenes between these two, acts as a moment of levity and true friendliness, before everything inevitably goes south.
          It hasn’t yet for Caliban which is nice, but I’m sure it will. Nothing can ever go right for him, not in the end. But for now he confronts his former wife Marjorie, who at first is really perturbed, but after a moment, runs to him. He tells her his story, what he’s been through, even confessing to having done horrible things. But Marjorie’s able to forgive him and decides to welcome him back to the family. She introduces him to Jack, who doesn’t scream this time, but is a little disturbed at first. Through gentility though, Caliban manages to reach out to him by addressing the model ship, and they begin once again to bond. Again this is all well and sweet, actress Pandora Colin is good as Marjorie, but you can’t help but suspect it’s all going to be short-lived. For the moment, this brief happiness is a good reprieve for Caliban from constant tragedy. 
          We see where Chandler is and what his plan is after everything that happened at Talbot Ranch. He actually seems to be on very good terms with Kaetenay, suggesting everything with Talbot’s men, possibly even his relationship with Hecate, may have all been a planned ruse to dispatch with Hecate, Rusk, and his father all at once. It makes sense considering Kaetenay reached out to Chandler’s mind before any of that happened, it’s possible they’d been in communication since. But it’s not actually confirmed, which means if there are parts of the audience that don’t rationalize what I just have, they’d be more than a little lost as to their relationship. Kaetenay urges Chandler to stay in America, that he’s needed there, but Chandler insists on returning to London and Vanessa. Kaetenay christens him the Apache they need, which Chandler partly rejects but does admit he views Kaetenay as his true father, further indicated by a scene later when they have a conversation about Chandler eventually being the one to gather up Kaetenay’s bones when he dies. Kaetenay has another vision though of Vanessa in danger, and Chandler reuniting with her too late, as vampires who behave more like zombies, appear to be trying to storm Murray Manor. This vision appears to be the reason Kaetenay is next seen accompanying Chandler and Sir Malcolm on the boat to London. There he attempts to reach out to Vanessa going on information provided by Chandler and Sir Malcolm (“her life’s been challenging” -that’s putting it lightly). He does manage to contact her though. She’s taken aback, but he reassures her he’s coming with her friends, as he notices her studying death in preparation for an encounter with Dracula. He warns her not to let the night creatures surround her. Kaetenay also seems to have extraordinary insight, or can possibly sense what she cannot, warning her not to be fooled by false lovers. He is repelled however when her eyes turn red, and returning to the ship fearfully tells the others she is “halfway his already”. 
          There’s a later scene that decides Chandler’s fatherly relationship with Kaetenay isn’t enough and focuses on him and Sir Malcolm, addressing the final shot of the last episode, and why Sir Malcolm killed his father. Sir Malcolm asserts he had to be the one to kill Jared Talbot and that Chandler’s mercy not to commit patricide means he still has a soul left. There’s a nice callback to when they first met and the events of “Night Work” and Sir Malcolm asks if he’d have chosen differently now. But of course Chandler says he’s found grace only with him and Vanessa. Both these sequences with Chandler and Kaetenay are okay, and some follow-up on the events of “No Beast So Fierce” is necessary, but they only advance the characters geographically. Even Kaetenay’s vision with Vanessa, as great as it is to see Wes Studi acting opposite Eva Green, doesn’t give these characters much more than they had after his initial vision. And it doesn’t affect Vanessa at all.
          The major focus of this episode was in Lily’s rapidly growing out of hand movement (pun intended). The episode opens on her consoling a grieving mother in a really large cemetery after her daughters’ funeral. She promises the mother that one day women will rise, and proceeds to lay flowers on the grave of Brona Croft. I like that Brona’s becoming a presence post mortem on the show, but it looks like with only two episodes left and Chandler’s preoccupation with Vanessa, we’ll never see him respond to what Frankenstein did to his former loved one -something which seemed an obvious and possibly necessary plot point the show needed to reach since early in the second season. Ignoring that missed opportunity though, this episode may be Billie Piper’s best performance this season, even if her storyline doesn’t entirely work. In fact her role in the episode seems more in service of Dorian’s arc, which I do appreciate he’s got one now. He’s clearly having second thoughts given how much violence Lily’s advocating towards men. She gives a speech to her now about forty or fifty women while walking on an insanely long table relating some anecdote about how pagan women were executed for singing the spirits of their loved ones to the afterlife, and suggests they became immortals. She then rouses them up in a an exclamation worthy of Madam Defarge, to each find a man and bring back his right hand. Most of them do this, and we next see a pile of dismembered hands sitting on the table. Dorian is taunted again by Justine who’s got way too much confidence now. He sets her straight by telling her she doesn’t know sin, and that he still has power over her. But after he sees Lily in another room comforting a couple women who couldn’t go through with the order, he leaves and its fairly obvious based on the last episode where he’s going. This whole sequence is meant to be somewhat disturbing, but Lily’s story crossed that line already back in “Good and Evil Braided Be”.
          At some later point, Lily and Dorian are walking together talking about what they’ve accomplished. Dorian calls her a lion tamer which Lily expectedly takes offence to. He asks why they don’t spend time together exclusively anymore, and when she suggests he’s become jealous, he responds that actually, he’s bored. Which really makes sense considering Dorian is all about pleasure, and while there may be a bit of genuine envy and real feeling for Lily, what drives him is not emotion. It’s a good reminder of his true dark nature that’s been a bit forgotten considering how long it’s been since we’ve seen his portrait. He tells her he’s lived through the ages and has seen these sorts of revolutions before, declaring them as being boring and that hers will be no different. He invokes the episode title and tells her she needs to change …right at the moment a coach pulls up and Frankenstein pops out to chloroform her. This development was more or less forecast when Dorian last spoke to Frankenstein (rendering Frankenstein’s attempted break-in even more pointless on his end, as it only served to motivate Dorian). Dorian gets in with Frankenstein and the unconscious Lily, and the coach driven by Jeckyll takes them back to Bedlam. Once she awakens there, she’s obviously in quite a bad mood. All sympathy she had for Frankenstein is gone now, and she’s even more pissed off at Dorian for his betrayal. Her fetters, she rightfully notes, are more to protect them from her than vice versa, but they force her to listen as Frankenstein tells her she’s going to be made well into a proper woman. This obvious misogynist symbolism that she’s being forced to be tamed to societal standards, kind of acts as a validation of her philosophy which likewise is deeply flawed. I’m not entirely sure what the show’s trying to say about feminism, as all it’s showing are two extremes, and though Piper’s great and even Reeve Carney is okay in this episode, the inconsistent theming hurts this storyline. Also, is anyone else annoyed that with only two episodes till the end, we have yet to see any signs of Mr. Hyde? Frankenstein’s performing this experiment on Lily, but Jeckyll’s the one who needs to undergo it for that persona to emerge, and it feels like a major waste to include Jeckyll in this series if they’re not going to feature Hyde. 
          There’s a brief, kind of funny scene with Seward where she catches Renfield attempting to listen in on Vanessa’s tapes. She tells him Vanessa’s some kind of split personality and then sends him home, only to be baffled by his odd response, which would clearly indicate to me he’s no longer human.
          We come back to Vanessa for the end as she meets with Catriona, the expert she met last episode, to consult and research more the nature of Dracula. Catriona confirms that despite all Vanessa’s research, all she’s come across are superstitious. She gives her another monologue about Dracula, revealing he can be killed in his human form (how the hell does she know all this?) and also that Vanessa will be the one to defeat him. It’s when she mentions that Dracula blends in easily, that he’ll try to seduce her, and most of all, that he dwells in the house of the night creatures, that Vanessa realizes the truth -and I’m very glad it came this soon, they didn’t drag it out. After Catriona leaves, Vanessa gets her gun and prepares to go to the museum and kill him, which begs the question, can anyone just walk into the British Museum at any hour? Is there any security at all? She finds and confronts him; he doesn’t deny anything, but insists he wasn’t lying about the man he was. He attempts to seduce her, calls her the mother of evil, deserving it when she spits on him. She still remembers Mina and is unwilling to forgive him for what he did to her. But when he starts using language about them both being unloved and that she’s always been a dark creature, he appears to be convincing her. And it works. Declaring “the world will live in darkness”, Vanessa lets him bite into her neck. 
          I take issue with this ending for a few reasons, namely that we’ve been here before. Of course it’s possible this is a ruse, Catriona had told her hers is the work of a spy. But even if they go in that direction, more preferable to Vanessa’s conscious, Chandler just did that! It’s a repeat of a development that just happened this very season, and kind of a cheap one at that. It’s an awful excuse to switch a characters’ allegiance just for a shock, but also one to pull a familiar cop out. It’s not impossible this could work in the final two episodes, but it’s bound to be a little clumsy. And of course I just don’t want Vanessa to be evil; she’s fought these demons too much, and I feel it would be a disservice to her character if the show went out like that. I don’t think that’s going to be the case, the writers aren’t going to treat her the way did Mina. But this ending does leave some significant worries for the end of the series.

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