Penny Dreadful : A Blade of Grass

Oh, this episode brought the feels. I definitely needed some tissues during, and afterward, since having dealt with my own mental health issues, this episode held a certain amount of personal relevance to me.

This episode aired at the same time as the Preacher pilot, so I watched this one and DVRed the other, and I’m glad I did. On the surface, this particular episode doesn’t appear to have much plot, but it makes up for it with depth of feeling, and some interesting revelations, as Vanessa goes deep inside herself to find the memories she lost during her years at the Banning Clinic, an asylum for the wealthy, that her parents sent her to, after she blamed herself for Mina’s disappearance.

Eva Green is always at her best when she’s being tortured,  but Rory Kinner tore it up as Pre-John, before he became Frankenstein’s creature. He had me in tears so often during this episode, which is one of the most beautifully written, and we’re only four episodes into the season. I have a new appreciation for this actor and this character (who I hated when he was first introduced).

You have two of the most tragic figures in the show, connecting and commiserating deeply with each other, and it’s heartening to know that this isn’t the only time. They will meet again in the future, and even though they won’t recognize each other, their connection will still be there. They are simply sympathetic souls, who resonate with each other.

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Also contrast John’s manner of dealing with his undead state with Lily’s reaction to the same. They are both dealing with something wholly inexplicable, but for some reason John is the more sympathetic character. To be fair, John led a much more ordinary life than Lily did before she died, and this particular episode has done a lot to make me love this character. He was a good man before he died. Or at least he tried to be.

Lily lived a life of deprivation, and disease, being used by the privileged, being close enough to them to see the things she could never have, and this informs her bitterness. She can’t or won’t let go of that. John led, if not a privileged life, at least an ordinary one, with a wife and child, and a job he cared about. Instead of appreciating her new found circumstances, Lily has decided to seek revenge on her past life. John was in that state at first, but has somehow managed to grow and  move past that stage.

I suppose at some point in the series, I may feel for Lily what I now feel for John.  I can’t stand her now, and I wonder if part of the reason is because she still hasn’t moved past that initial stage (that even John went through), of needing to get revenge on all the people she thinks wronged her. All in all, I wish she were happier. She is not at peace, and she deserves to be, but doesn’t realize it, and I wonder if this is also the reason I don’t like her very much. There’s so much good she could do for the world, and abused girls like her young protege, but her bitterness only prompts her to want to burn everything down.

During Vanessa’s stay at the Banning Clinic, John is the only one to show her any kindness, even when it’s against regulations for him to do so, or to even tell her his name. He grows close to her, feeding her when she refuses, comforting her after her treatments, which she thinks are tortures, and pleading with her to get better.

At one point John tells her that even if she can’t get better, she should fake it anyway, to keep from further torturous treatments. Vanessa has a good argument for why she shouldn’t but I’m in agreement with John. She should fake it til she makes it. In all fairness she does try, but claims she couldn’t counterfeit normality well enough, after Banning makes the decision to perform brain surgery on her.

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During this ordeal, Dr. Seward has been trying mightily to awaken Vanessa, who has gone into some kind of fugue state, and Seward can’t rouse her, not even by burning her with a cigarette, which is definitely not something in the psychiatry manuals. I left this episode with the strong impression that psychiatrists, and psychologists, were mostly just experimenting on their patients, back then.

When John describes what Banning’s patients are like, after they’ve had bits and pieces of their brains cut out, you realize  those doctors had no fucking clue what they were doing. All of it was trial and error, and as bad as such places are now they’re still  a damn sight better  than  they were then, because you only had two alternatives, then. You had a choice between places like Bedlam, experimenting on the poor, and the more upscale “clinics”, where you were also experimented on, but they were slightly cleaner, with better food.

Since Seward can’t rouse her from her state, she says that Vanessa has no choice but to finish what she started. She has to keep moving forward, (a mantra of special relevance to me because its my personal one.) I liken mental trauma to walking through fire. Sometimes you have no choice but to walk through the fire, to deal with your issues, to confront them and get past them, because turning back, (retreating to one’s mental state before the trauma),  isn’t an option, and that’s Seward’s advice to Vanessa.

Keep moving forward!

At first Vanessa refuses to eat and John has to force feed her. Something he does as compassionately as he can, and when she asks him whether its night or day, he always asks which she would prefer, and then accedes to her decision, whichever one it is. The most touching moments are when John gives her a blanket after one of her sessions with Dr. Banning, when he knows he’s not supposed to, and when he visits her on Christmas day, to put a bit of makeup on her, brush her hair, and read to her one of his favorite books, just to remind her what its like to feel human and civilized again.

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Eventually he reaches the revelation that his attachment to her is too great and he  intends to quit his job. After her surgery, she will become nothing more than one of Dr. Banning’s “broken things”, and he couldn’t  bear to see her in that state, as that is his primary job – taking care of Banning’s broken people. His last day will be the day of her surgery and that his face will be the last one she sees, because there should be someone present who loves her. (Side note: My mother just underwent her first surgery several days ago and that was my thought just before the doctors took her away. So you can imagine this declaration had quite an effect on me.) Even Dr. Seward relaxes her guard to  Vanessa., telling her she will not leave her, that she will stay  until the end.

They are not the only two pledging their devotion to Vanessa. Contrast John’s and Seward’s love, and acts of compassion, to that of Satan’s and Dracula’s, who both visit Vanessa through the body of the orderly. They both declare their love for her and that she is to be theirs, and then  proceed to cajole, seduce, and threaten her into deciding between the two of them, but she refuses. In this world’s mythology, it turns out that Lucifer and Dracula are brothers. Dracula presides over the physical realm of Earth and wants Vanessa’s flesh and blood, while Satan presides over the spiritual realm and desires Vanessa’s soul. (I think this is an interesting mythological turn.)

The sheer irony of all this is that, while Vanessa turns to God as her salvation, (and I suppose one would, if one is convinced Satan exists), she has only to look at the examples of the people who love her. She believes herself to be evil because of the sins she feels she’s committed, she has a handful of spiritual superpowers, and two of the world’s worst creatures are in love with her. What she fails to notice is that there are good people who love her too, but she doesn’t seem to allow their love to inform her character. Seward, Murray, Ethan, Lyle and John are devoted to her, and stand by her, when they really don’t have to, but Vanessa’s guilt about her past sins won’t allow her to just accept that love and compassion. Her sins are a sign to her that she doesn’t deserve love.

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In a way, Seward’s assessment of Vanessa is correct. It ultimately doesn’t matter if Satan or Dracula is real, if Vanessa believes that’s true, she needs to find better ways of coping with her reality other than guilt and withdrawal. At the foundation of her “madness” is the belief that she is cursed because of what she thinks she did  to Mina. It’s the first incident she mentions to Seward when they began their sessions, and its where Vanessa thinks all her troubles began. No, her behavior towards Mina didn’t cause Satan’s and Dracula’s interest in her, but she can’t deal with any of her other traumas  until she’s handled the  first sin she thinks she committed, and refused to let go of, her betrayal of her best friend, Mina.

Only after she’s dealt with that can she move forward to her other problems. That guilt is a noose hanging round her neck. Dark forces can always tug on that rope to gain control over her, as we saw last season with the witches, and not dealing with it makes her fight for self-control that much harder.

Which is why she declares, after Seward has managed to awaken her, that not only does she know the name of the second demon pursing her, that none of this is over.

Next week, we’ll find out what the other characters are doing, and Vanessa’s journey continues. I’m missing Lyle, so its time to have him turn up and shine a little light after such intense episodes.

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9 thoughts on “Penny Dreadful : A Blade of Grass

  1. myfaketvboyfriend

    I thought this episode was an Emmy award winning one. John and Vanessa broke my heart to pieces. Patti Lupone was great-I burned you with a cigarette. LOL! So Dracula and Lucifer hmmm Who would have guessed that Lucifer would be afraid of Dracula! I have to admit I was worried that Vanessa was the one that killed him (I assume he was killed before becoming the experiment and didn’t die of natural causes). I need to know how she got out of there without the surgery-or did she have the surgery? Hard to believe that could be true though. Loved the episode but I am missing the other characters. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think Satan may be embarrassed that he played his hand last season with Vanessa, and he lost. His witches didn’t come through for him and now its Dracula’s turn, and he is physically present in a way that Satan isn’t. Dracula kind of has an advantage over him.

      I wondered too if Vanessa was responsible for John’s death.

      Like

      1. myfaketvboyfriend

        ” wondered too if Vanessa was responsible for John’s death. ”
        I hope not but it seems to be heading that way. Do we know that she DIDNT get the surgery?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. It doesn’t seem as if she got it. She’s not one of Banning’s broken people, so maybe she escaped or something. We’ll find out next week, I hope.

        Like

  2. Mary Burrell

    @Ikeke35: So you are a television watcher like me I watched this twice I was moved by Eva Green’s performance as Vanessa she is fighting for her life the evil vampire and Satan her. I also love the creature portrayed by Rory Kinnere. I loved when he portrayed the attendant who was taking care of Vanessa the care and tenderness he gave when he brushed her hair and put makeup on her face to let her know she was still human. And I love Patti Lupone as the cut witch and now she is the psychiatrist.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think Patti Lupone is one of my favorite actresses on this show. Eva Green isn’t bad but Patti is awesome, and they just work so well together.

      Okay you guys got me worried about John and his connection to Vanessa. I hope she wasn’t involved in his death. That would be heartbreaking.

      Liked by 1 person

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