Penny Dreadful S03 E04: A Blade of Grass


On last week’s episode of “Penny Dreadful” Kaetenay and Sir Malcolm race against time to reach Ethan before he gives into his darkness and, Victor has a way to help Dr. Jekyll with his mind altering serum. While Lily plans to take over the world, Caliban finds his family. Can Dr. Seward help Vanessa by using hypnotism? What will our little scorpion remember?


This episode was so important to understanding the trauma that Vanessa endured while under the care of Dr. Banning. Our medical and mental institutions were, before patient advocates and lawsuits, a place where patients had no rights and where medical accidents lead to death… or worse. People could be committed on the slightest whim, but especially women who spoke their mind. Vanessa was a free spirited woman who, during a moment of poor judgement, slept with her best friend’s fiancé.


The guilt led her to believe that she’d attracted the attentions of a demon. And it was no ordinary demon but Lucifer himself who desired her. Vanessa was locked up in a padded room with the barest of necessities: a cot, chair and chamber pot. Her parents never visited. She’d become an embarrassment to them and the fact that they did not visit, left her vulnerable to the brutal practices in curing mental illness. Vanessa was made to feel less than a blade of grass and abandoned by her GOD.

Dr. Seward, played fabulously by Patti LuPone, is unable to pull Vanessa from the fugue state that our little scorpion finds herself in due to the hypnotism. Vanessa is trapped between two worlds, but luckily Dr. Seward is able to enter Vanessa’s memories. It is important for Vanessa to remember what happened at the clinic. Dracula’s imp had given that clue to Vanessa and because he did, he was killed. “Who do you see?” Dr. Seward asks Vanessa and we watch in awe as the story plays out.

John Clare

I was surprised to learn that Caliban/John Clare didn’t really know much about poetry while he was human. His conversations with Vanessa had always been breathtakingly beautiful and I’d assumed that he was an educated man before becoming the Creature. John Clare was a simple man. He worked as an orderly in a mental clinic that used barbaric methods to cure. He only stayed at that job because he had a family to care for.


The measure of a man is revealed in how he treats the most vulnerable among us and of all the characters on this series, I’ve always favored Caliban. The actor who plays the gentle creature, Rory Kinnear, has done a beautiful job of making his creature worthy of love. Yes, the creature is quick to kill when angry, but they say you are in death as you were in life. John Clare was a good man who loved his wife and son and, who took pity on a young woman.

John Clare never speaks harshly to Vanessa even though she wants nothing to do with him. It is John who coaxes her to eat and to get better. When Vanessa sinks deeper into her depression, it is John Clare who warns her that the treatments will get worse. Because Vanessa began to trust her orderly, the demon took advantage of the situation.


Does Lucifer lust for Vanessa because she sinned, or is it her power that he desires? Vanessa is not a weak woman and her faith in GOD will not be destroyed. She compares herself to Joan of Arc, another strong warrior that frightened the weak rulers and priests that she fought a war for. Lucifer always appears to Vanessa as John Clare because she trusts the orderly, but there is one more demon that is designing to control our little scorpion. Lucifer and Dracula fight over Vanessa. Will she surrender to one of them?


I would definitely say that “Penny Dreadful” presents its women characters in a positive light. The women, Vanessa, Lily, Dr. Seward, Hecate, Joan are all strong-minded women who know that they are more than a cog in the social machine. Lily wants to take over the world with her army of prostitutes, while Dr. Seward is curing minds better than her male counterparts.


John Clare was a poor man and an uneducated man, but he loved his wife and considered her his equal. But when he brings in the brush and makeup from home, we realize that he is also in love with Vanessa. It would have been easy for him to take advantage of Vanessa. Who would hear her screams? Yes, he could have taken advantage of Vanessa, but instead, he reads her poetry and promises to be there for her when she has her surgery. He wanted the last face she saw as the drill bore a hole into her skull to be the face of someone who loved her.

Dr. Banning could not break Vanessa’s will and, because he couldn’t, he subjected her to torture disguised as treatment. When that also failed, Vanessa was scheduled for surgery. Banning would finally tame the wild Vanessa by removing parts of her brain. It’s called a lobotomy and thankfully it is no longer practiced.

Episode 303

This episode showed the foolishness of both demons and men when it comes to understanding a woman. Lucifer and Dracula both thought Vanessa weak. They were mistaken. Vanessa casts them away when she begins reciting the verbis diablo. Vanessa has won this war. Dr. Banning thought he’d silence the scorpion, but he also failed. Now that she knows what happened in the white room, Vanessa will be able to fight Dracula. Next week, my little pennies, we will check in on the Wolf of God.

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