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Penny Dreadful Reviews: "No Beast So Fierce"

          The last act of “No Beast So Fierce” is amazing! It’s some of the most tension-filled, yet action-packed, satisfying sequences this show has given us. The episode leading up to it is okay -some good, some bad, mostly dropping breadcrumbs that’ll have to be followed up on soon with only three episodes left.
          The fact that nothing in Caliban’s life will ever not be a tragedy was restated for a start when Caliban desiring to be closer with his child gives him water and even talks to him in the voice the son would recognize. Of course, it’s a little inconsistent that Caliban sounds exactly like his former self while Lily (thankfully) has nothing of Brona’s bad Irish accent to her. His son thinks he is an angel while Caliban assures him his pain is only fleeting. And then the kid opens his eyes and is utterly horrified, driving Caliban away with his screams. Again, it seems a bit of an overreaction considering apart from a pale complexion and some stitches at the ends of his face, Caliban doesn’t look that unusual (if I were Rory Kinnear, I’d be a bit offended), but it fits in with the misery of Caliban’s character. This plot point is redundant (I mean he went through a variation of this arc now twice) and I’m glad it wasn’t given much screen-time. I would like for his story to finish in a different direction than what we’ve been getting the past two seasons of everyone fears/hates him for being an abomination.
          After a brief appearance from Jeckyll, Frankenstein makes his futile attempt to break into Dorians’ house and kidnap Lily for his experiment. And it goes about as well as you’d expect. As it turns out, Lily’s been educating prostitutes (after putting an ad in the paper it would seem) as to how to best kill men -yeah they’re pretty extreme -making a point of course to recommend attacking the genitals. There’s also some tension brewing between Dorian and Justine, who seems to want to steal Lily from him. She subtly threatens him and reminds him of his misdeeds towards women. He does confront Lily after a ballroom dance in one of their few genuinely nice scenes. She reveals she sympathizes with Justine, seeing in her the woman Brona was, and Dorian is noticeably a little jealous (he pulls the card that they’re both immortal while the other women, including Justine, are not) before being interrupted by a predictably captured Frankenstein. Exactly how did he think this was going to go? It’s funny, by the next scene they’ve apparently gotten ALL of Frankenstein’s plan out of him, including the serum to cure Lily which of course she scoffs at. He tries in vain to convince her to come with him but all he gets is a knife further wrenched against his throat from Justine. She really wants to kill him while Dorian really wants to spare him out of sympathy. Lily though a little caught in the middle at first, ultimately orders they release him due to her admittedly being sentimental about him, and also citing the fact that he still might be useful (she hasn’t made much use of him yet). This of course furthers the rift between Dorian and Justine, a minor conflict these sequences seem to exist for. With Frankenstein’s failure here, it does feel like nothing was accomplished in the storyline. Except for one moment where upon escorting Frankenstein out, Dorian considers himself in his debt. I’m fairly sure this means he’s going to betray Lily to Frankenstein, possibly interested in his description of the serum. At least that’ll give Dorian some purpose.
          In England, the most interesting stuff was concerning Vanessa. And right off the top we see her visiting with Lyle who’s just about to leave on an expedition to Cairo. Saddened by this, Vanessa asks for someone to call on while he’s away and he gives her some information. Based on the way the scene plays out and especially that hug they share, I’m pretty sure this is the last we’ll of Ferdinand Lyle. And with his departure is the last joyous whimsical element of the show -not to say that’s been particularly strong, but it made Lyle stand out and Simon Russell Beale had a great run. The person Vanessa is told to call on is Catriona Hartdegen played by Perdita Weeks, who in addition to being a self-proclaimed student of death (as if this series could get grimmer), is also a brilliant fencer. She reveals her knowledge of Dracula’s history: that he was likely the first vampire, his origins trace back to Antiquity, that he was responsible for a war between the Ottomans and the Holy Roman Empire. Curiously, none of it seems to reference Vlad the Impaler. But she does add that Dracula changes his identity from century to century which may explain his new appearance. Otherwise he’s just a vampire time lord. Catriona agrees to help Vanessa repel him. Introducing a new character this late is a bit of a gamble, especially if they mean to develop her in an interesting way. But for now she seems intuitive enough and has a decent rapport with Vanessa. There’s a brief scene that follows where she and Seward are at Murray Manor and she confides how much she misses her friends Sir Malcolm and Chandler (not really giving a damn for Frankenstein it appears). Seward reveals here for no good reason that she killed her abusive husband in New York and stood trial. This makes no sense except to lazily set up some character point in a future episode. 
          Vanessa’s most extensive scene is when she on Sewards’ advice, goes to the museum to find Dr. Sweet. When she does, she tells him her story and describes how Dracula is stalking her. Dracula listens with care as he describes the biological need for blood of vampire bats. It’s also worth noting he was earlier pretty upset at finding out from Renfield that Vanessa’s learned his name, but still rewarded him for the information by giving him priority feeding rights on a recently deceased corpse. In the cheerily named House of the Night Creatures, he offers to stand by her side which forces Vanessa to recall Chandler. “Every time I’ve given my heart, it’s led to catastrophe” she says, unaware this is another catastrophe. But it’s clear Vanessa needs someone and that’s what makes this scene so sad. It’s awful to see her so emotional and so invested now in the man who she doesn’t realize is her enemy. It makes their sex scene (which of course there’s a sex scene, on the museum floor no less) that much more uncomfortable.
          And speaking of discomfort, an ocean away on Talbot Ranch, six people sit to a very awkward dinner. The opening of the episode was the expected cop out to the cliffhanger of “This World is Our Hell”, where Talbot is interrupted in nearly killing his son by a servant with news. Rusk and Ostow have arrived to place the whole household under arrest. But considering Talbot’s a jackass and has the advantage in numbers, he basically kidnaps them. Which leads to the aforementioned dinner of Talbot, Chandler, Hecate, Rusk, Ostow, and Sir Malcolm which is brimming with great character interactions. Firstly, Rusk’s “ravenous” line is hilarious in how it’s just taunting Chandler. Any moment now he really wants to out Ethan to his father. Talbot goads Chandler to say grace despite Sir Malcolm offering instead, but Talbot forces the issue by revealing Chandler slaughtered his own siblings. Chandler then says a Satanic parody of the Lords’ Prayer (“cursed be thy name”, “deliver us unto evil”, etc.). Ostow swears there will be a reckoning for his men whom Talbot’s had killed on the train, thinking he’d be okay to continue a meal after saying that. The poor marshal is instead shot dead by Talbot. Throughout all this, even though moments are funny, you can feel the tension being built and that the tables will turn (quite literally) in a matter of time. It’s suspense built quite well. Eventually Talbot has them all at gunpoint, but Rusk taunts him now with how little he knows of Chandler’s true abilities. Chandler offers a demonstration, and that’s when he, Hecate, Rusk, and Sir Malcolm in one fell swoop seamlessly turn on and kill their captors -well except for Sir Malcolm who can’t quite bring himself to murder. Talbot and his surviving goons flee; Rusk now faced with Hecate at Chandler’s side in her naked witch form asks “what are you?” He doesn’t find out though because he gets shot -but not before taking Hecate with him. Sir Malcolm’s captor is also finished off by the shooter who killed Rusk, and it’s revealed to be Kaetenay! After being left for dead last episode, it is so awesome to see him make such a badass comeback! There’s no explanation for how he survived given the venom of the bite he got, but maybe we’ll get that once the heat is down (“I knew you were too mean to die!” is not a valid excuse). So both Rusk and Hecate are dead, but Chandler still has a score to settle with his father now barricaded in the chapel.
          It appears Chandler has for the moment set aside any sorrow over the loss of Hecate as well as his misgivings towards Kaetenay, and the three arm for battle in the chapel with Chandler telling Sir Malcolm what we’d figured before, that Kaetenay was part of the host that attacked it previously. He takes out the guards by firing through the wall leaving Chandler open to go one-on-one with his father. Once he reaches Talbot he only disarms him though. In almost a tonal repeat of the scene that ended the previous episode, Talbot spites “you want to be the devil then do the devil’s work” but Chandler doesn’t comply. Brian Cox pretty much reprises his vengeful Stryker speech from the end of X2 after that, swearing he’ll find Chandler and make him pay, before he, and the episode itself, is swiftly silenced by Sir Malcolm shooting him. I feel like this ending is intended to mean more, considering it’s Sir Malcolm killing where he couldn’t earlier (though I thought he might have killed people in season one), and his actions are starkly symbolic of he being a better father figure to Chandler than Talbot was. It’s just not really dramatic, it’s more of a sudden resolution.
          However, that sequence was pretty incredible and brought to an end a number of plot points and characters all at once. Hecate’s not going to be missed, but Sarah Greene was good. I loved Douglas Hodge but Rusk was always going to end up dead -his character arc was just too tied to Chandler (though I was a little surprised the Wolf Man himself didn’t kill him). And of course it’s always good to have Brian Cox in your show, even for only a limited time. And it means these final three episodes will set Chandler most likely back on track to England, with Sir Malcolm and Kaetenay in tow, to play what I know is going to be a key role in the conflict between Vanessa and Dracula. The Lily-Dorian-Frankenstein story was a little stalled and the Caliban one possibly made a repetitive misstep, but now the America setting is mostly done with, I hope they can be given the attention to deliver. Perhaps not as satisfyingly as the climax of this episode, but it’s always possible.

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