An edited-for-nudity version of Penny Dreadful‘s season premiere has been up on YouTube for a few weeks now, but the episode officially aired last night and it marked the beginning of PENNY DREADFUL SEASON 2 I’M SO EXCITED AHHH. Penny Dreadful is one of my favorite new shows and I’ve been impatiently waiting for this day ever since I finished the season one finale. “Fresh Hell” doesn’t disappoint at all, reintroducing us to the Victorian-era world and characters we know and love (except for you, Caliban, still no love for you) and revealing some of the Big Bads of the season. Let’s jump into the recap!
The episode opens on Vanessa walking leisurely through a snowy park alone, when she starts hearing demonic language and having visions. She collapses, and though she doesn’t know who just mentally attacked her, we are shown that it’s Madame Kali/Evelyn Poole. Fans who kept up on all the pre-season two news probably already know that Evelyn is the head of a witch cult trying to get at Vanessa’s soul. Helen McCrory looks so deliciously evil in this role, I love it.
After the gorgeous credits sequence rolls, we cut back to Ethan waking up covered in blood, in the aftermath of his attack on the pub people. Everyone’s dead and it is horrific. Ethan apparently agrees with that sentiment, because he rushes straight to Vanessa to tell her he’s going to leave London.
Vanessa: Do you think the dark forces that converge on our heads can be vanquished so easily? Do you honestly believe you can escape them?
Ethan: And the other ones? The ones inside us?
Vanessa: Inside me, you mean?
Ethan: No, that’s not what I mean.
Ethan begins to tell Vanessa about his fits, how he’ll sometimes blackout and wake up with blood on his hands and no memory (oh, so Ethan doesn’t actually know what he is, interesting), when the carriage they’re in is attacked by demonic creatures that try to take Vanessa. Together they fight the creatures off, but in the end it’s Vanessa that makes them back off by hissing something in their language. The pair of them return to Vanessa’s house, where Sembene and Ethan talk about what happened as Vanessa sits traumatized by the fire.
Ethan switches from “I obviously must leave, for the safety of Vanessa (and others)” to “I obviously must stay, for the safety of Vanessa. And others.” I don’t know what happened, guys (I’m lying, I totally know what happened, it’s that scene in season one where Vanessa confessed her love for Ethan to Satan!Ethan) but I’m so invested in this relationship, be it friendship, familial, or romantic. I just want them to have scenes together all the time.
Vanessa: Do you believe the past can return?
Sembene: More than that. It never leaves us. It is who we are.
Victor Frankenstein, meanwhile, has been setting up his little science contraption to bring Brona back to life. His creepy, virgin little mind apparently can’t handle being around a dead/soon-to-be-alive female body, because he starts groping at Brona’s bits while doing a monologue fit for new parents wondering about their child’s future, which ups the creep factor to infinity. He’s called away by Sembene to tend to Vanessa.
Caliban: You would do better to ask your soul to leave you. We are bound on a wheel of pain, thee and me. I ask you, what is Doctor Frankenstein without his Creature?
Caliban goes job-hunting and finds a prospect in an eccentric old man’s wax museum. Caliban adopts a new name — John Clare, after the poet — and meets the man’s family, his no-nonsense wife and their blind daughter, Lavinia. The owner shows him what he’d be helping with: the establishment’s new “Chambers of Crime,” wax sculptures set up to look like murders straight out of the news, one of which he calls the Mariner’s Inn Massacre. You know, that inn that Ethan totally destroyed?
This segues into the police investigating the murders, with one of the cops somehow figuring out there was a survivor by using his gut or following a hunch or whatever it is people used back then. Run, Ethan, run!
Sir Malcolm returns to London the next night after burying Mina with his wife Gladys. Scenes after the funeral show that Malcolm had tried to reconcile with Gladys but it was too little, too late — she rightfully blamed him for both Peter’s and Mina’s deaths.
Gladys: Everything we had between us is buried here. We have no more children for you to save, or to kill.
Upon his arrival back in London, Malcolm is happily welcomed by Vanessa, who finally opens up about the creatures that attacked her: Nightcomers, witches, and followers of Lucifer. She identifies the language they spoke as Verbus Diablo, a bastardized version of angelical speech. Vanessa doesn’t actually know how to speak it though, and she has no idea what she said in that moment. Everyone bands together around her swearing to protect her, and Ethan decides that simply staying in London isn’t enough, he’s going to be staying in Vanessa’s house as well.
I’m pleased to see Helen McCrory’s singing from the Penny Dreadful trailers made it into an actual scene, as we converge on the Nightcomers’ lair, an appropriately gothic, vampire-esque stone mansion. Evelyn bathes herself in what I assume is virgin blood (as you do) before meeting with the other witches. She kills one of the witches for failing her, then assigns her daughter Hecate the task of “dispatching” of Ethan, while she will attack Vanessa through Sir Malcolm.
Evelyn: From that day, it became a custom in Rome that a slave stand in the chariot behind every general returning in victory holding a skull and whispering into his ear, “Respice post te. Hominem te ese momento. Momento mori. Look behind you. Remember that you are a man. Remember that you will die.”
As the episode winds down to a close, Victor and Caliban are successful at bringing Brona back to life, Ethan and Vanessa trade loaded looks in the hallway before retreating to their rooms, and Vanessa and Evelyn pray to their respective gods as Vanessa paints a scorpion on the floor with her blood and Evelyn paints a bloody inverted cross on her forehead. Parallels! Blood rituals! Terror! Rising music! Scary good acting! All of this, typical Penny Dreadful fare.
Check out the preview for next week’s episode, which includes a Dorian Gray who was missing from this premiere (and who I didn’t even realize was missing until I saw him pop up in this video, whoops):