[For Penny Dreadful “A Blade of Grass” or any other recaps on Fetchland, assume the presence of possible spoilers.]
A Blade of Grass. Vanessa convinces Dr. Seward to use hypnosis to take her back in time.
Penny Dreadful brings unique storytelling to TV and surprises the audience every week. So, in that spirit, we’re bringing a new, non-traditional style to our Penny Dreadful recaps and will surprise you with a different way of doing it each week. The fourth week’s episode brought a surprisingly simple ensemble of only five Penny Dreadful characters. Although simple in terms of players, the episode “A Blade of Grass” was particularly deep and beautiful with some remarkable revelations. So, we here at fetchland chose the most superficial, gaudy, and shallow parallel we can think of… in fact, why not sexualize this party to the max while we’re at it? We say why ask why if it works? And it does. Dr. Seward brings Vanessa back in time through hypnosis and we too are taking you back. But in our case, to the time of Carrie Bradshaw, Miranda Hobbes, Charlotte York, and Samantha Jones. It’s Sex and the City, baby.
Vanessa Ives – Charlotte York.
Charlotte, much like Vanessa, seems to be from a different time and place, perhaps even Victorian England. She clings tightly to her beliefs and just when you start to think she’s just typically prissy and uptight Charlotte throws you for a loop and does something unexpected or brilliant. Vanessa holds her faith in God as her top priority just as Charlotte holds her blueblood rulebook sacred. But when the chips are down and they’re tested these characters surprise us. There are two instances of this in the “A Blade of Grass”. First when The Orderly takes away the shivering cold Vanessa’s blanket and she attacks in retaliation. Vanessa comes out of her demure shell here just like when innocent, naive Charlotte fights like hell in her divorce proceedings with Trey. Later in the Penny Dreadful episode Vanessa speaks in her demon tongue with such ferocity she manages to scare away the predatory pair, Lucifer AND Dracula. She’s fierce and shocking, as well as completely obsessed with this idea of herself as a saint; specifically Joan of Arc singing on her funeral pyre. Charlotte has the same sort of obsessions and channels them into maintaining a perfect appearance and composure – always wearing and doing the right thing while following the rules perfectly. But these women aren’t saints no matter how much they yearn to be like them. Both want only to be the most sanctified versions of themselves but ultimately they’re human and stuck in a world that doesn’t understand or accept them as they are. Both Vanessa and Charlotte spend all their time listening to “Why can’t you just be like the rest of us?” and “Nobody else believes in all these ideas that you hold so dear,” so it must be very lonely up in their ivory towers. Indeed, Vanessa Ives may be the loneliest character on television today.
Dr. Seward – Carrie Bradshaw. All Carrie really does on the show is ask penetrating questions and then observe as the answers play out before her. Even in her own story, Carrie works merely a vessel for the narrative rather than an active participant. Yes, she does things but the story is driven forward by Carrie’s stories and friends more than her actions. Like most writers/therapists, the key to her role and impact lies in her observations of others and the way she tells us about them. In this episode Dr. Seward is so detached from herself she even refers to herself as Joan Clayton in order to help Vanessa, asking what Joan would say to help her. Vanessa says Joan would say, “Be true,” and thus, this is what Dr. Seward says. It’s the most humble way of helping possible and shows that Dr. Seward truly does this work for the help it gives. Much like Carrie is all about her friends, Dr. Seward is all about her patients and will do anything to help them.
Dracula – Samantha Jones. Dracula appeals to Vanessa’s lusty appetites and says he doesn’t need her soul. This is just like Samantha with all of her no-strings, unemotional sex. Dracula’s motivation in bedding Vanessa is to turn day into eternal darkness – a world made for vampires. “The very air will become pestilence to mankind and then our brethren, the night creatures will emerge and feed. Such is our power,” that’s SO Samantha! When Dracula first appears in “A Blade of Grass” it’s striking how different his voice sounds, coming out of that same Orderly and Lucifer body. It’s depth and sensuality completely change the body that stands before Vanessa. He suddenly becomes enticing simply through confidence and timbre. Samantha also maintains a legendary confidence and timbre. She’s all about projecting an aura of boldness and animal magnetism. When Dracula first appears Lucifer introduces him to Vanessa as the “Father of Beasts” and speaks of his animalistic urges. There’s no better iconic example of a “Queen of animalistic urges” in TV history than Samantha Jones.
Lucifer – Miranda Hobbes. Lucifer moans like a bitterly scorned lover who seeks Vanessa’s love in reunion of their relationship from before time. The spurned and fallen angel who yearns for Vanessa’s love, desperate and lonely. He lives in the dark netherworld of Hell and believes being with Vanessa will release him back to Heaven. The twin brother of earth-bound Dracula, he scorns and judges the lusty appetites of his sibling just as Miranda judges Samantha, though they are truly two sides of the same bitter crone coin. He’s all about her spirit and soul while Dracula wants Vanessa’s body and blood. Lucifer’s role in “A Blade of Grass” reveals many important elements of the story in the same way Miranda’s character illuminated the plight of the modern woman as a theme in Sex and the City. All Lucifer wants is entry back into those heavenly gates and he believes Vanessa is his ticket to ride. If only she would love him. If only she knew how much he loved her. He whines and moan and complains but doesn’t he know that’s not how you land a lady? No. Not even in Victorian times was neediness and desperation attractive. This is definitely something Miranda would say.
The Orderly – Standford Blatch. Stanford is the iconic “gay friend” and often referred to as “the fifth lady” on Sex and the City. The Orderly (formerly and henceforth, The Creature) in this episode finds himself changed by Vanessa Ives. Just knowing her leads him to quit a job he desperately needs even with no other job lined up. A humble man, he thinks little of himself, just like Stanford. Both of them speak of themselves in dismissive terms and frequently it’s when they’re being most helpful and kind to others. The orderly says, “I’m a stupid man. But I’m here now and I’ll listen,” this is totally something Stanford would say to Carrie, but instead of stupid he would say “ghastly” or some other reference to his looks. These men are both incredibly kind and good to the women in their lives. The Orderly speaks highly of his wife and develops a kind demeanor toward Vanessa once he realizes that “just doing his job” is cruel in her case.
The ladies of Sex and the City taught us many things even if every story seemed merely a superficial dalliance or literal prance through the park. Under the guise of shoe-shopping their struggle was real as they looked for happiness, love, and peace in a world gone mad. This too is the story of Vanessa Ives. Deep down she’s a women who just wants to find happiness, love, and peace in a world gone mad. No, she’s not lucky enough to do it while nibbling cupcakes and dating movie stars… but she comes close. Josh Hartnett certainly fits the bill as a hot ticket, even as a werewolf with demon baggage. The thing that separates Vanessa Ives from the SATC ladies and really from all other TV characters is the scale of her struggle and it took this glorious hour in a white room with the Devil and Dracula to show us precisely how vast her challenges really are. She’s locked in the war to end all wars – a saint with demonic powers, trapped inside a gorgeous woman’s body battling against two powerful demons who will do anything for her. It’s a fantasy much like Carrie Bradshaw’s life, except Carrie’s is less probable. There’s no way a freelance writer of a sex column could afford that apartment in the West Village or a single pair of those shoes she wore in every episode. Lucifer actually trying to get back to Heaven by marrying a saint is substantially more plausible.