Penny Dreadful- Episode 2

Seance.

Ethan wakes up (under a pier in the dirt), heads to the nearest bar and gets right to the sauce, he’s well in his cups when Billie Piper- I mean Brona enters. She’s Irish and recently came to London after her position in a factory was eliminated by machines, while she finds London to have the same issues, she says: “There’s always a way to make a living when you’ve got a bit of flesh isn’t there?” Ethan: “I can’t say.” Brona: “I bet you can.” (recurring theme over here, but many occupations involve “selling your body” or “degrading yourself” and sex work is just work) “I’m off to look for work that a machine can’t do. Yet. Anyway.”

Victor Frankenstein, who has taught his creature to eat helps him choose a name. Proteus. Then he goes off to see Sir Malcolm and Vanessa and the mummy. Universal monsters everywhere.

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Brona’s job search leads her to the decadent residence of Dorian Gray -a character created by Oscar Wilde who owns a painting that gets uglier everytime he sins who sold his soul for eternal youth. He asks Brona to undress and she coughs up blood. She expects to be sent out, but Gray approaches her. He undresses as well and they have sex standing up while someone photographs, “I never fucked I dying creature before. Do you feel things more deeply, do you feel pain?” Startled, she asks him, “Do you?” and she tears into her back with fingernails.

Brona suffering from consumption references early vampire mythos.

In Dr. Frank’s basement, Proteus cries for the whale in a book. Frankenstein hypothesizes that Proteus had been a whaler and sets to find out who he is. 

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Gray attends a party that the Egyptologist Niles is hosting where Vanessa is a guest as well. He profiles Vanessa concluding that she thought it would be a wasted frivolous evening, and that she is not a frivolous person. He grabs her hand and acknowledges that she is the only ungloved woman and that she wants to touch while her head wants to appraise. For some reason this is romantic? They almost kiss. It seems out of character for the reserved and BUSY Vanessa (and Dorian is supposed to be gay). They are moved to another room and Madame Kali enters, Vanessa say skeptically “I believe we’re about to convene with a spirit” -really? that blase about it? You have telekinetic powers and hunt vampires. Madame Kali starts the ritual and Vanessa reaches for Gray’s hand. She channels a young child and at times seems mocking, telling of how he went on an adventure with father (Sir Malcolm is impacted by the rant, apparently this was his son) and got dysentery. Sir Malcolm starts crying. Then Vanessa lets her hair down. Cracks the table and says cunt a lot. Basically. Sir Malcolm’s son caught him having sex with Mina in the hallway and Vanessa says “When did you know you wanted to fuck her?” And then bends herself like the Last Exorcism 2.

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Then she has sex with a man in the street. While Malcolm sits at the cracked table, shaken.

The next morning Brona and Ethan are inside the same bar again. She tells him that now she’s a model. “For the calendars and such?” he asks. She replies, “If you keep your calendar in a whorehouse.” He offers to buy her a proper breakfast, when she declines he asks for dinner. She questions his motives “You like things back alley?” and he replies, “I like things to be what they are.” Normally, I’d be annoyed at the stereotype that a sex worker (particularly one as frank as Brona) must see herself as less than, but since the day before she’d been referred to as “a creature” by someone who had the power to dictate whether or not she would have money for food -I’ll allow it. Ethan’s no peach either, he’s an alcoholic and a fugitive. He’s a fuck up with questionable employment.

Niles is mad his party was ruined. His wife was mortified. 

But none the less he translates the hieroglyphs for Sir Malcolm. He references the hidden goddess with a monster within her. And then decides “You must forget you ever saw it.” Perpetual life by feeding on the souls of others. Amunet and Amun-Ra conjoined means the annihilation of man and coming of the Beast. 

Victor takes Proteus outside. He gets overwhelmed at first, but as they journey the fear turns to amazement. They see Brona and Ethan on the street and Proteus is taken with Brona, he offers her a chestnut and they introduce rather awkwardly. Later Victor explains “friends” and Proteus decides he will have many friends WHEN SOMETHING CLIMBS OUT OF HIS BODY HOLY WHAT?! With a “Your first born has returned, father.”

Well that’s baffling.

My favorite parts of this episode had nothing to do with the supernatural happenings. Weird. I like Brona and I like her portrayal. I like her with Ethan. I like them as equals. 

There is a lot going on.

If Sir Malcolm molested his daughter Mina, if it wasn’t the ramblings of a demon… it would be insanely irresponsible to make him a sympathetic character. That’s fucking gross. No wonder she ran off with Dracula. I don’t care how much I love 007 and Timothy Dalton, axe him. Sir Malcolm Murray is not the good guy.

I want to like this show… and I do… but there’s so much happening and getting the ball rolling on all at once is… a little much. I think that’s why I liked Ethan and Brona’s less intense plotline. Her tie in with Dorian was wonderful, while Vanessa’s was a little much. And why a mummy? There are Catholic elements: demonic possession and a deal with the devil. There are vampires. Reanimated corpses. Jack the Ripper. If you think that there’s any reason to have a Egyptian mythos thrown in along with that other than “to hit a Universal Monsters trifecta” I would love to hear it. Why not a fucking swamp monster at that point?

Not that there’s not time for that.

Red Sonja #9

This was an interesting issue. Sonja is collecting the third artisan for the dying pharoah’s last party. This time, the person that she is seeking is a high priced prostitute. Sonja’s been all work and no play and the beautiful specimens in the brothel are a sight for the travel worn, cold and horny Sonja. But the madam tosses out Sonja’s muddy, saddle-rashed arse. Sonja has recently been robbed and can’t afford to pay.

Sonja scales the wall and breaks into Aneva’s room. She momentarily reflects that Aneva is the “Princess of Passion” that she sells her body. “I suppose it’s not much different than what I do, what any soldier does.” And the truth of that really struck me. The complaints about sex work are usually: “but that’s selling your body” (as if at any job you are not selling a piece of yourself), “You’re opening yourself up to violence/injury or disease”. The comparison is also made often between sex work and modelling or athletics, but in the case of expected violence: soldier would be a closer match. 

Obviously, I have thought about this before, but for those who haven’t it is intriguing.

Aneva is hesitant to leave, she’s trying to unionize the escorts so that they can protect themselves from exploitation, theft and assault. 

Sonja tells Aneva about the pharaoh and his slaves. She needs Aneva’s help to see that the slaves are freed. Aneva agrees and they set out. 

Sonja’s been feeling the negative effects of herown life style and agrees to let Aneva give her a makeover. Sonja is distraught, she could have been this beautiful if her tribe wasn’t killed, if she wasn’t enslaved, if she wasn’t driven to the life she leads. The pair get caught up and when the greedy and vengeful Ferox arrives. Ferox is the man who claims to protect the prostitutes but abuses them himself and takes a cut of their income. He sees Sonja dolled up and assumes she is another “plaything.”

“My name, you lackwit doughy-faced ape. Is Red Sonja.”

A melee ensues and Sonja strikes down Ferox’s men, but it is Aneva who takes out Ferox himself. 

Turns out Aneva was named Toa, she grew up on a farm and her brothers taught her how to fight. She was born poor, a skinny kid who worked herself to the bone. Sex work was a way out, but she always dreamed of a life like Sonja’s, of prestige, of rescuing damsels.

So the two had more in common than they thought.

Issue #9 touched on a few interesting sociological concepts. Legitimizing sex work, appearance/beauty norms and sexism, the myth of free will.

If sex workers were able to unionize it would be viewed differently. If sex work was viewed as work instead of criminal behavior, victims of abuse, robbery or harrassment would be able to report without fear of repercussion from law enforcement or reporting from health care workers. Sex work is just that: work. Many people in entry level jobs find their employment exclusionary, exploitative and leaving them with low chance for social mobility.  So how different is it

And in regards to my statement “the myth of free will” how much of a choice do people have in their own destiny? Now this isn’t dire, and this isn’t 100% BUT, as referenced by Sonja and Toa. Aneva is at risk of abuse and exploitation in the brothel, correctly; she places the fault on the abuser and not the victims and seeks to improve working conditions. Her alternative, the way she was raised, saw her already as hungry, struggling and at risk for victimhood by theft. Sonja never got to be feminine, nurturing or excessive because of the tragedies that befell her family. In flashback in earlier issues, we saw that she was not born to be lethal, in fact she wouldn’t kill a rabbit for supper. She would have been soft, but her life circumstances wouldn’t allow it. Both women became who they are because it necessary for their own survival. So there’s a little musing on agency vs destiny. Free will is a myth because everything we go through influences the way our brains make decisions, we don’t have as many options as some would want us to believe. That’s why after Sonja’s family was killed she didn’t decide “Oh hey, I’m going to be a high priced escort”

And on to sexism and conventionally beauty norms, this is actually coming full circle: this discussion came up recently in regards to Lara Croft’s “breast reduction” -what girl’s with big boobs can’t have adventures and PhDs? or in the case of the Big Bang Theory’s bubbly dreamer airhead and pretty girl Penny versus the genius and frumpy Farrah Fowler, or actual Farrah Fowler actress Mayim Bailik versus pretty redhead science mascot Kari Byron (both here). Or: in the actual world, Iowa Supreme Court ruled it was legal for a dentist to fire his assistant because she was too beautiful. So from both men or women, as a society conventionally attractive women are view as being less smart, less capable and beauty becomes a liability in professional careers. Sonja can still sling a sword even after her Cinderella makeover (if Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother were a sex worker).

Think about it.