Penny Dreadful – “Possession” Review. Mother of Evil.
Season 1, Episode 7
Air Date: Sunday, June 22, 2014, 10PM E/P on Showtime
“I want you to be the Mother of Evil; I want you to rule the darkness with me at my side...” – Demon posing as Ethan
Viewer discretion is more than advised, it’s warranted. “Possession” lives up to its name giving us some of the darkest 59 minutes of television I’ve seen in a long while. It is not for the squeamish. “Possession” makes no apologies about the violence and vile behavior exhibited by the tortured Vanessa Ives (Eva Green) as she desperately battles against the dark forces trying to claim her for their own.
“Possession” takes us on an arduous journey endured by Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton), Sembene (Danny Sapani), Victor (Harry Treadaway), and Ethan (Josh Hartnett) as they do everything they can to help save Vanessa from both herself and the demons inside her. In the opening scene, Vanessa lies casually on the couch talking to Sir Malcolm but the calm before the storm is always the most frightening. I’m not religious, but after watching “Possession” in its entirety, I wanted to drink a gallon of holy water, wrap myself in the Papal robes, and call an exterminator. Yes, an exterminator...you'll understand soon. I also needed a fluffy pillow, a big glass of vodka, and a hug.
The intensity of Vanessa’s violent outbursts, coupled with each of the four men looking after her in their own way, had me glued to the screen. I found myself, on several occasions, with my hands cupping my face while I was biting my lip. The acting, special effects, cinematography, every single aspect of “Possession” is top notch. There are so many frightening things that happen throughout “Possession;" it’s all so realistic, it makes you feel as though you are witnessing an event of epic paranormal proportions. In the opening scene, after Sir Malcolm realizes Vanessa isn’t herself, books and papers begin flying around. Dalton actually looks afraid yet determined to stand his ground as he knows Sir Malcolm would; even as a book hits Dalton’s chin, he remains rooted to the spot; acting at its finest. The cold and callous look in Green’s eyes as her character succumbs to the possession at various moments sends chills down my spine.
When you make a show like Penny Dreadful, you need actors who can turn on a dime, both physically and emotionally. During one of the scenes when Ethan watches over Vanessa, Ethan goes from a caring, concerned friend to a calculated and manipulative demon in one smooth transition. It’s not really Ethan, of course; it’s the demon posing as Ethan in an effort to make Vanessa vulnerable. What he wants from Vanessa is beyond terrifying. One thing that strikes me as odd is how Vanessa is unable to ascertain the difference. She mentioned in “What Death Can Join Together,” while she dined with Dorian (Reeve Carney), that there are some who are in tune with the hidden “tremors” vibrating among them, to which only a select few are privy. She is one of those chosen few. So why doesn’t she sense that the man sitting on her bed isn’t truly Ethan? Hartnett and Green give such powerful performances in this scene – it’s magnificent to watch the subtly of their body language as they quietly say their lines, and the absolute conviction in the delivery.
Throughout “Possession,” Vanessa, in her altered state, says things I’m sure Sir Malcolm, Victor, and Ethan do not want anyone else to hear. They spend weeks on end at Sir Malcolm’s home trying to aid and comfort Vanessa during her demonic possession, and while most men would go stir crazy, these men band together. That’s not to say there isn’t some fun to be had. Victor gets shooting lessons and not just the kind of shooting that goes into his veins. Victor needs to be careful with his addiction. He’s too brilliant to let his talent go to pot. I wonder if what Vanessa says to him is true. His reaction doesn’t give way to whether it is true or false, but it does show us he is quite unnerved by her observations.
In several of her verbal purges, Vanessa divulges a great many things. One tidbit she reveals clues us in to what happened with Dorian and Ethan. She also lets the cat out of the bag about Brona’s (Billie Piper) connection with Dorian. Is it just me or is Dorian at the epicenter? He certainly brings out the best or worst in people. With Brona, he gives her something she probably hasn’t had in a while – passion without fear. With her contagious illness, having a romantic encounter is a death sentence for her lovers. With Ethan, it could be the absinthe they drank, but it certainly didn’t help matters when Dorian’s in the room. He’s quite alluring.
The one person not directly in Dorian’s path is Sir Malcolm, but that doesn’t discourage the dark forces possessing Vanessa from revealing his dark secrets. Sir Malcolm does surprise me in “Possession.” He reveals things about his past, about his son’s death in Africa, that almost make you empathize with him. Of course, his true motives are revealed during one of his turns to watch over Vanessa. We know Sir Malcolm desperately wants to get his daughter Mina (Olivia Llewellyn) back, but at what price? I can only imagine what would have happened had Ethan not intervened.
“Possession” is revealing, powerful, dark, terrifying, and surprisingly tender at certain moments. There is one moment, near the end of the episode, after the priest has been thrust from the room and it’s only Ethan and a very possessed Vanessa at a stand-off; the tension is quite palpable. With the gun aimed at Vanessa’s chest, Ethan has a choice to make. With the St. Jude necklace Brona gave him in his hand, what he does is…well…I think you’ll have to watch that moment for yourself. I let go of the breath I didn’t know I was holding and smiled. Now, I’m even more curious about how Ethan knows all that Latin.
Let me know what you thought of “Possession.” Leave me a comment below or tweet me @judybopp. Looking forward to hearing from you!
Tune in to Penny Dreadful, Sundays at 10PM E/P, only on Showtime