The situation between Ethan and his father is a lot more complicated than we might've imagined.
Penny Dreadful Season 3 Episode 5 was a great showcase for Josh Hartnett and his character. I almost would have preferred an even sharper/narrower focus on Ethan and Hecate's journey, rather than intercutting their trek with Jekyll/Frankenstein scenes.
Where Penny Dreadful Season 3 Episode 4 dealt entirely with Vanessa's history, "This World Is Our Hell" was sort of an equivalent installment for Ethan.
I'm loving the chemistry between Hecate and Ethan so much more than I expected to. I'm a big fan of the Ethan/Vanessa relationship (so much chemistry and great, gradual build-up between those two), so loving the Hecate/Ethan team-up as much as I do is pretty weird.
Hecate: I can call forth the creatures of the night. An army just beneath the surface of the sand. Shall I summon them to strike down our enemies? Shall we unleash demons, thee and me?
The reveal of Ethan's dark past was split into two parts: first, as Ethan confessed the circumstances of his first encounter with Kaetenay's people and his betrayal of his father, and later, in the closing moments of the episode, as Jared Talbot confronted his son over what Ethan's Apache brethren had done to their family.
In short: Ethan's father signed him up for military service. Ethan took to butchering Apache a little too easily, eventually snapping and killing a commanding officer. As Kaetenay had already mentioned to Sir Malcolm, Ethan then showed up at his doorstep begging to be killed.
My earlier guess was that, at that point, Kaetenay used some sort of Apache mysticism to transform Ethan into a werewolf, as punishment for his crimes against the Apache people. That's not the case. In fact, the origin of Ethan's wolf status (whether he was born with it or cursed with it) remains to be seen.
Instead, Kaetenay's punishment was even more insidious. He forced Ethan to turn on his former comrades instead, slaughtering the American army at the side of Kaetenay's people.
Eventually, Ethan turned his sights back on his family, once he realized the Apache were running out of supplies. He brought the Apache right to his father's doorstep and they proceeded to loot the Talbot Ranch, stealing horses and provisions.
Interestingly, this is where Ethan left off in telling the tale to Hecate. He didn't mention anything about the fact that his Apache brethren slaughtered the other (presumably innocent) members of the Talbot family, leaving only Jared (I think?) alive.
Why would Ethan withhold that information from Hecate, who was super into the recounting of all his misdeeds? Did he not know the extent of what had happened when he brought the Apache home?
That was one aspect of this installment that was unclear to me. When Ethan's father brought him into their chapel in the closing scene, once Ethan, Hecate, and Sir Malcolm had been found in the desert and brought back by Talbot's men, he described the entire memory of the massacre of his family in excruciating detail.
Ethan was near tears while hearing this, but didn't look particularly surprised. There are still a few gaps in Ethan's story, like what Ethan did after he and the Apache raided the Talbot homestead, what exactly he knew went down between the raiding Apache and the Talbots, at what point he turned on Kaetenay and decided he wanted the man dead, and at what point he wound up in England.
Kaetenay: To save my son, I would slaughter an entire army. And I would gladly give up my own life.
Sir Malcolm: Would he do the same for you?
Kaetenay: Ethan will kill me the first chance he gets.
The implication was that the horrific murder of Ethan's family pushed Ethan over the edge, estranging him from Kaetenay.
At that point, I'd guess he took off, leaving the American midwest behind, vowing to kill the old man who'd been his pseudo-father if he ever saw him again, and heading off on the road in England, where we (and Vanessa) first met him on Penny Dreadful Season 1 Episode 1.
But again: the origin of the werewolf affliction is a big unknown. Now that we've uncovered so much of Ethan's history, that info has to be coming down the pipeline soon, right?
Beyond the discovery of Ethan's backstory, there was significant development in his relationship with Hecate – and with Hecate's characterization and history as well.
Hecate had all of the best lines of this installment, hands down. Ranging from the poetic and beautiful to the flat-out hilarious and bitchy, like this gem:
I adore all the honest creatures of this world. It's humans I hate.Hecate
Hecate (and her wonderful portrayer Sarah Greene) was quite obviously the breakout star of Penny Dreadful Season 2.
Despite spending the entire season contending with Evelyn Poole and her coven as the "Big Bad," we learned precious little about witches and how they "work" – how they become witches, what they're capable of, why they look so creepy in their Nightcomer form, etc.
Hecate explained to Ethan that her mother had offered her up to Lucifer when she was only five, allowing him to "claim" Hecate by raking his claws over her body. I'm guessing that ritual explains the look of the witches in their Nightcomer form.
Evelyn's rebellious daughter has proven to be more complex than she first appeared.
Of course we knew that she broke from her mother, allowing Ethan to escape during the Penny Dreadful Season 2 Finale in order to kill Evelyn – the revelation that Evelyn had allowed her innocent young daughter to be taken by the devil, something Hecate (to this day) considers a betrayal of trust, puts Hecate's treachery in a more interesting, explicable light.
I didn't choose the master I serve. My mother enlisted me. She watched as Lucifer raked his claws across my body. You think you know pain? I was five years old. Something, isn't it? To be betrayed by the person who's supposed to protect you.Hecate
Of course, this story also served to further draw the bond and parallel between Ethan and Hecate. Both were betrayed by their parents, at young ages – Evelyn giving Hecate over to Lucifer and Jared Talbot giving Ethan over to the American army.
Despite the sketchy way Hecate became a servant of Lucifer, she's clearly all in now. She steadfastly insisted that Ethan should join her on the dark side and Ethan apparently gave in, cementing that decision by having sex with Hecate in a cave and vowing that he was done feeling guilt and shame for his past transgressions and bloodlust.
Following close behind the wayward wolf and his witch temptress were Ethan's two extra dads, Sir Malcolm and Kaetenay.
Thanks to Hecate's witchy mojo, Kaetenay was near death, suffering from a snake bite and abandoned by Ethan and Jared Talbot's forces in the desert, left to die a slow, painful death against the protestations of Malcolm.
Malcolm's most interesting moment this season also arrived in this installment, as he faced off with Jared Talbot when he was brought under his roof.
Jared intended to keep Sir Malcolm there, to assist in convincing Ethan to remain at Talbot Ranch and live out the rest of his days there. He did this by threatening Malcolm, but he also drew some uncomfortably clear parallels between the two of them.
Jared Talbot: There are mountains named after me.
Sir Malcolm: And at what cost? Your home is empty. Your son hates you. Your vainglorious pursuits have led to nothing but bloodshed and heartache. But you're right, the whisky is very fine.
Pot, meet kettle.
Seriously, despite how uncomfortable Sir Malcolm was with it, Jared was right: the two men are extremely similar. Both have empty homes, destroyed families, broken relationships – all because of their out-of-control ambition. Malcolm's in Africa, Jared's in the American midwest. The parallels are undeniable.
Ethan's section of the narrative ended with Ethan and his father finally facing off. After the recitation of their family's gruesome deaths and Jared demanding at gunpoint that Ethan repent in order to save his soul, Ethan looked about ready to send his father straight to hell right then and there. We'll likely pick up there next time.
Ethan's other pursuer was the relentless Inspector Rusk. Oh, and the sheriff. The sheriff was there too, although he's not so much a character in and of himself as he is a warm body that allows Rusk to deliver speeches without having to just talk to himself.
Rusk seemed to have already come to terms with the fact that Ethan was an otherworldly beast, and Hecate's Lucifer snakes just solidified that.
Rusk's story to the sheriff about how he'd lost his arm (pursuing an assassin while in combat, getting his arm blown off, singlehandedly pursuing said assassin, dragging the assassin to justice, and only then seeking medical attention) was Rusk in a nutshell.
That story was totally over the top and absurd but definitely contextualized why Rusk was so intent on bringing Ethan to justice. The man just really, really loves his justice.
Of course, post-snake debacle, justice has pretty much gone out the window. Now, Rusk is out for blood.
Ethan Talbot is a scourge upon the earth. Whatever code I have followed, I hereby disavow. If given the chance, I will shoot him in the back and butcher all his kind.Inspector Rusk
I still don't much care about Rusk, but I have to admit that this line was pretty badass. Not that I think this will end any other way than Ethan, in wolf-mode, literally tearing Rusk in half.
Finally, over in London, Jekyll and Frankenstein continued their experiments on the regicidal Scotsman housed in Bedlam.
Like I said up at the top, I didn't much care for the Jekyll/Frankenstein interludes. Too far removed from the Ethan desert chase, and they prevented the installment from flowing as well as it might have, had we been given an uninterrupted stretch of the American midwest storyline.
Plus, as much as I enjoy Penny Dreadful's unique take on Dr. Jekyll, I'm feeling as though Jekyll and Frankenstein have had the exact same conversation twelve times already.
In essence: Jekyll is full of rage and self-hatred. Frankenstein is ignoring all of these massive red flags because of his single minded focus on reverting Lily to her docile-lamb state, given that that version of Lily has become emblematic of his only moments of happiness.
Between Victor's idea of overpowering Lily and bringing her to Bedlam to conduct his experiment and his continued goading of already-unstable Jekyll, the odds are not high that he'll survive this season.
Jekyll, perhaps in his Hyde form, will kill Victor for being such an unrelenting braggart if Lily doesn't finish him off for trying to kidnap her first.
- Hecate can summon devil snakes from the sand but she couldn't brew up some water so that they didn't die of dehydration? The extent of these witch powers are real unclear. I'm not sure why anyone would be a servant of Lucifer if the powers he grants are so pick-and-choosy like that.
- Kaetenay explained to Malcolm that when he'd once attempted to go into the desert to die, he wasn't allowed to – instead, he had a vision of the Earth overcome by darkness, with his "son" Ethan a dark force at the center of it. He's been left to die in the desert yet again – what are the chances he actually dies? I'm guessing he'll show up at the Talbot Range soon enough for an Ethan's Dads Face-Off Extravaganza.
- We had an entire installment dedicated to Vanessa just last week and yet I still couldn't stand going an entire new installment without her. Such is the power of Eva Green.
- Lily's and Dorian's absence on the other hand? Meh. Their story had potential at first and I was excited to see where it would go but we're more than halfway through the season – they've appeared so sporadically and their storyline is merely treading water at this point.
What did you think of "This World Is Our Hell"? Leave me a comment below with your thoughts and watch Penny Dreadful online here at TV Fanatic anytime!
Caralynn Lippo is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.