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Penny Dreadful 1×07 “Possession” Recap: Vanessa Struggles For Her Soul

Sir Malcolm, Ethan and Sembene do everything possible in an effort to save Vanessa.

Vanessa’s possession continues to be absolutely terrifying. After her little levitation spell at the end of last week’s episode, she passed out, leaving Malcolm and Sembene to change her out of her wet clothes. Demon!Vanessa takes a perverse sort of joy in this as she asks in a child-like voice, “and you dressed me, like when I was a girl?”

Like at the seance, being possessed seems to have given Vanessa some mild form of telepathy. She instantly attacks Malcolm’s weak spots, exposing his mistreatment of his wife, his numerous affairs, and the raping and pillaging that Malcolm took part in during his “exploration” days. At this point, the demon loses control and starts throwing things around the room with crazy strong mind powers. I had my fingers crossed something sharp and pointy would find its way through Malcolm’s body, but alas, Sembene realizes something’s amiss and rushes in to knock Vanessa out.

Later, Malcolm calls for Victor to do an examination on Vanessa, who seems to have regained control of her body. This is quickly proved false when Demon!Vanessa starts pawing at Victor, calling him out on his insecurities and lack of intimate experience. In an extra creepy turn of events, Vanessa repeats something Victor once said word for word – something she had never heard him say – before hinting at knowledge of Caliban’s existence. Victor rushes out of the room, unsettled.

Victor reports to Malcolm that he believes Vanessa to be “manifesting a deep psychosexual responsiveness” out of feelings of guilt and shame. Victor’s musings are interrupted when huge ass spiders start crawling out from under Vanessa’s tarot cards and swarming towards Victor and Malcolm. THIS IS THE WORST SCENE IN EXISTENCE.

Upstairs, Vanessa starts to scream bloody murder. Malcolm and Victor presumably rush off to help her, and we are unfairly deprived of a spider-squishing scene. (I’m seriously so disgusted/stuck on the spider thing. Were they hallucinations? Were they real? If they were real and Malcolm and Victor didn’t spend few minutes stomping on them all, did they just crawl off to random corners of the mansion? Is the house now infested with hundreds of spiders? Because EW.)

Ethan arrives, and Malcolm brings him upstairs to see to a still-screaming Vanessa. Like with her first encounter with Victor, Vanessa is kind to Ethan at first, before turning on him and gleefully revealing his affair with Dorian to the entire room. When Malcolm intercepts she launches herself on him and attacks. Victor sedates her as she screams “Leave her to me, you men, you men, you men!” thus beginning a heartbreakingly long montage of keeping Vanessa in a constant state of sedation.

Malcolm finally updates the crew on what the Egyptologist told him: the goddess Amunet is trying to take hold of Vanessa, and if she succeeds, she will unleash darkness and horrors upon the world. Before Vanessa was sedated, she’d been begging Ethan to let her die.

The process of keeping Vanessa quiet, sedated, and unable to hurt herself or others continues for a week or so. Everyone deals with it badly, but none quite like Victor, who turns to his morphine addiction as a reprieve. In a rare moment of lucidity, Vanessa reaches out to Ethan sitting beside her bed and thanks him for being so good to her. “I don’t remember what happens really, but some things I do. You’ve been kind. I might have fallen in love with you.” Penny Dreadful: the show where everyone is in love with, banging, or has uncomfortably close familial relations with one another, and all ships are canon.

Vanessa asks Ethan to kill her if it comes down to it. Ethan starts ranting about hell – “I know that place pretty well. You might say it’s where I was flung when your fucking cunt of a god cast me out” – which is when Vanessa realizes she’s not actually speaking to Ethan. She manages to resist the demon, but only just.

Meanwhile downstairs, Malcolm again invites Ethan to go on his trip to Africa (how the hell he’s able to plan an exploration when Mina’s still missing and Vanessa is curled up in the arms of the devil upstairs I have no idea) and Ethan angrily declines. Malcolm tells Ethan he’s going to Africa to bring his son’s body back home – at least, that’s what he’s telling himself – and later, to Victor, confesses that the mountain he promised to name after his son, he’d named for himself instead. Whaaaat a dick.

When Vanessa begins clawing at the walls and scratching bloody marks into herself, the group is forced to restrain her.

Ethan speaks privately with Victor, saying that he thinks Malcolm is hiding something. Ethan launches into a speech about the children of native tribes in America becoming displaced and not fitting in in either world, paralleling Vanessa (and possibly Ethan’s own) struggles with remaining human while possessed by a monster. We get a brief moment of levity in this dark episode as a drugged-up Victor, frightened by Caliban lurking outside the house staring at him, asks Ethan to teach him how to shoot.

The possession continues, with Vanessa getting increasingly violent and despairing. Malcolm approaches Vanessa at night and asks her to reach out to Mina, since they are both in that space in between life and death – and Vanessa realizes that this was all a part of Malcolm’s plan. He let her possession and her pain continue when he possibly could have stopped it, because he wanted to use her to find Mina.

Encouraged by Sembene, fed up with doing nothing, and furious that Malcolm has manipulated Vanessa so, Ethan decides to call for a priest to say the last rites over Vanessa before she dies. Victor agrees with Ethan, saying it’s what Vanessa wants. When the priest arrives, Malcolm makes a last ditch effort to convince the priest to do an exorcism on her, but apparently those are forbidden unless sanctioned by the Pope and this priest is a stickler for rules, so there goes that plan.

The “just say the last rites” plan also goes out the window when Vanessa attacks the priest and chomps part of his cheek off. Vanessa starts mind-throwing things around again. Everyone vacates the room except Ethan, armed only with a pistol. Ethan manages to reach her for long enough for her to beg him for death, but Ethan can’t do it – instead, he places Brona’s St. Jude pendant on Vanessa’s forehead and successfully exorcises the demon out. What the – you couldn’t have done that two weeks ago, Ethan?! Where was this Latin-Speaking Exorcism Power of yours when you and Malcolm were fighting over what to do?

Ethan puts a quieted Vanessa to bed and leaves the house. In the morning, Vanessa wakes from a dream about the theater and goes to Malcolm, saying that she knows where Mina is.

Memorable Quotes

Vanessa: To be beautiful is to be almost dead, isn’t it?

Vanessa: I fear I’m not looking my best.
Victor: Nonsense. Your visual responses are perfectly adequate.
Vanessa: High praise. No wonder you’re not married.

Ethan: What’s wrong with her?
Malcolm: She’s been possessed by the devil.
Ethan: …Well, fuck me. [knocks back a shot]

Ethan: Well, you’re a doctor, do something!
Victor: This is a bit beyond my usual practice.

Vanessa: Don’t let me hurt anyone. They won’t stop me, they haven’t the heart for it. But you do. When the moment comes, look into my eyes… and pull the trigger.
Ethan: And send you to heaven?
Vanessa: If you believe in that.
Ethan: Oh, I do. But I believe in the other place more.

Vanessa: Are you afraid?
Demon: Always. But do you know what I fear most of all? A life thwarted. Greatness promised, but never achieved.
Vanessa: If your goal is to have me surrender to you, that day will never come.

Demon: You can’t resist me forever, darlin’.
Vanessa: But I can, now. My soul remains my own.

Ethan: You know what, I have a father, I don’t need another one, and you had a son and you killed him. Am I missing anything?

Ethan: Uh-oh, we’re in trouble with Dad.

Sembene: When I first saw the ocean, I thought it must be a lake. Nothing could be so large, not even the mountains or the moon.

Ethan: I have a theory. I think Sir Malcolm saved your life, and you owe him. That’s why you’re here.
Sembene: Or I saved his, and now he is my responsibility.
Ethan: Guess it comes down to the same thing. We all owe each other in the end.

Ethan: Do you believe in God?
Sembene: I believe in everything.

Victor: This is what happens when you murder your way across a continent!

Comments + Verdict

  • There’s been a lot more swearing than usual in this episode, which is fine, but Victor saying “fuck” is kinda like hearing your kid brother say his very first curse word. That is to say, kinda hilarious but mostly really awkward.
  • The past few episodes have been pushing the “fucked up found family” angle pretty hard: Malcolm as the distant father, Ethan and Victor as the squabbling brothers, Vanessa as the eccentric older sister. I’m usually all for this trope, but in Penny Dreadful it doesn’t quite click. The gun scene is one of the first times it didn’t feel off to me (it being funny helped.)
  • For a second there I didn’t realize that “Ethan” was the devil in disguise, so I had this panicky moment where I thought Ethan was finally revealing what he was to Vanessa and that he was actually Lucifer, not a werewolf like people have been theorizing. I don’t know what I would’ve done if that had been true. Scream a lot, probably.
  • Speaking of Ethan, holy shit did Josh Hartnett show off his acting chops in this ep. Eva Green is so consistently amazing, as was Timothy Dalton in his demon scene a few episodes ago, but I was just completely floored by Hartnett’s interpretation of the demon.
  • Yay minimal Caliban (who is by far my least favorite character and only partly because he killed Proteus, may he rest in pieces) and zero Dorian (who I’m neutral towards but I don’t enjoy his flowery speeches so I don’t mind that he’s not here)
  • We’re now at the season finale and Sembene still hasn’t gotten any character work or backstory. He’s just there. His mini-conversation with Ethan in this episode was the most I’ve heard him say all season and we didn’t even learn anything about him. I love Penny Dreadful, but it needs to do better with regards to Sembene – especially since he’s the only person of color on this show.
  • The question “Do you believe in God/Heaven” has been asked of almost every character throughout this episode, and everyone gives different answers.
  • Dat preview. How is so much stuff going to be packed into one episode? Also, I’m calling it now: Brona’s gonna die and Victor’s gonna make her Caliban’s bride. If there is to be a permanent death in the finale, it’s probably going to be Malcolm’s.

Rating: A+