Vanessa Ives needs help and on last week’s episode of “Penny Dreadful,” the battle began in earnest with the devious Madame Kali. What does Vanessa draw on the floor of her chambers? How does this protect her? On this episode, my little pennies, we meet an ally, but is she strong enough to help our dear Miss Ives? Follow me to the door of the Cut Wife to learn the answer.
Haven’t we all questioned ourselves about the drawings Vanessa did whenever she felt threatened. Why was it so important that the picture be drawn with her blood? When Ethan asks Vanessa to explain the drawing on her bedroom floor, Vanessa trusts him enough to reveal her tale. It evolves an event that happened several years ago. It involves her meeting a witch.
The word ‘witch’ brings fear into the hearts of men, but why? What was it about a witch that frightened people? The myths say that they are instruments of the devil, but I think there was more jealousy than devil in those myths. Witches were most likely what we’d call today a shaman or a medicine woman. In days of old, they were often called upon to be midwives and healers, but that gave them power. Women like the Cut Wife were often accused of witchcraft because they used their knowledge of the medicinal properties of plants to heal.
The early church and the medical community of the middle ages wanted healings placed in the hands of the church and upper class men. By labeling a midwife as a witch, the church kept women in a submissive role, and thus, unable to practice medicine. The church did not want women to have economic independence by making money for their healing practices. The Malleus Maleficarum, a document written in1486 by German Catholic Clergy Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger, states that no one does more harm to the Catholic faith than midwives. Midwifery was a threat to the authority of their God.
Vanessa was already on Madame Kali’s hit list before they even formally met. Kali, to stay forever young had sold her soul to the devil and the only one keeping her from acquiring Vanessa for him was her sister, Joan the Cut Wife. Cut wife is another name for the act of performing an abortion. The men would send their women to the cut wife to rid themselves of an unwanted pregnancy, but the men would then scorn the woman who did their dirty work. It was into this environment that Vanessa found herself when she sought help from Joan.
The white witch or daywalker (Patti LuPone) sensed the power in Vanessa as she stood in the rain in front of her cottage. In fact, Joan feared the power that lay within the strange girl that stood before her home. It is under the tutelage of her wise mentor that Vanessa learns how to read cards and cast spells. Joan and Vanessa are Daywalkers; good witches, but Kali and her coven have turned to the dark side and are considered necromancers or Nightcomers.
Joan is able to keep Kali from stepping foot on her land by using blood symbols on the stones. This is where Vanessa first sees the power of the Scorpion as a totem animal. Scorpions are seen in some cultures as a symbol to ward off evil and, in others as a sign for healing. Joan may have kept her evil sister from stepping a foot on her property, but Kali has the ear of Sir Geoffrey Hawke (Ronan Vibert) and, he’s been coveting Joan’s land.
I enjoy learning the back story of the “Penny Dreadful” characters, but especially what makes Madame Kali tick. Helen McCrory is such a fine actress and, she has this aura of royalty about her that makes her character so believable as the powerful and bitchy nemesis to Eva Green’s good witch.
“Penny Dreadful” doesn’t pull punches when it comes to sensuality. This show reeks of erotica, but it’s wrapped so tastefully within the beautiful landscapes, clothing and language. Kali uses her persona as a wicked dominatrix to insure that Geoffrey obeys her suggestion to destroy Joan, but when this fails, she causes the mysterious death of cattle to force his hand. During the era of witch hunts, anything unexplainable to an ignorant populace was considered the works of the devil or of a witch.
My one complaint is that the writers should have let the storyline of Joan and Vanessa last a few more episodes. I wanted to learn more about the life of the cut wife, her meeting with Cromwell and, how she managed to live so long. Joan mentions a book, “The Poetry of Death.” It is a book of spells that should never be read if you want to remain on the good side of God.
Joan tells Vanessa, “When Lucifer fell, he did not fall alone. They will hunt you until the end of days.” Joan was right. Sir Geoffrey, under the power of Madam Kali, has Joan burned alive as a witch, then marks Vanessa with a branding iron shaped like a cross.
Madame Kali and her Nightcomers are on a quest to deliver Vanessa to the Fallen One. The only thing Vanessa has to protect her is her mystical sign drawn in blood and her loyal friends. The war is on.