I’m interested to know if anyone watched last night’s episode of Showtime’s Penny Dreadful, where they introduced a new character, the Cut-Wife, played by Broadway legend Patti Lupone. Lupone is fabulous in the role. However, I have mixed feelings about the way she and the other witches are portrayed in the episode.
Lupone is Evelyn Poole, a solitary practitioner of the Craft. She gets her name “the Cut-Wife” because she performs the town’s abortions as well as gives them access to herbal medicine and spells. In spite of everything she does for the villagers, she is ridiculed and even spat upon. And (spoiler alert) like Frankenstein’s monster, she is eventually hunted down by an angry mob and burned alive.
Lupone portrays the Cut-Wife with great emotional depth. Her character is smart, powerful and self-assured. Her knowledge of herbs, spells and human nature is deep and insightful. She is a witchy Yoda to Vandessa’s Luke Skywalker. Most of this material is pretty good, even though it’s fairly predictable,
I held my breath for a moment when Vanessa drew The Devil out of the Tarot deck. However, The Cut-Wife saved the day when she implied that the card meant more than the obvious. She encouraged Vanessa to think about what else it might imply beside the prince of darkness.
Things were going pretty nicely in the episode when, The Cut-Wife’s old coven-mates show up. Apparently they crossed over to the dark side (Sigh!) after which Lupone’s character left the coven. They branded her back with a Pentacle, which was a strange choice considering the Pentagram (point down) is associated with the devil. Apparently, they didn’t know the difference!
This is when it all fell apart for me. Why does Hollywood keep on insisting on linking Witchcraft with the devil? It drives me crazy since the Wiccans I know don’t even believe the devil exists. They see him as a Christian creation that is used to keep people fearful so they can control them. It would be nice to see a movie or TV show where witches don’t use dark magic or worship the devil. I can dream, can’t I?
Perhaps the most powerful scene for me was when The Cut-Wife met her demise. The local priest in this episode was controlled by the wealthiest man in town. The priest betrayed his faith and supported the mob mentality that persecuted and killed yet another witch. Scenes like this force me to confront the dark side of Christianity that is very painful for me to face. My religion has done unspeakable things to Witches, Wiccans and Pagans in the name of Jesus that are brutal, violent and inexcusable. The hostility continues even today. While I am not that kind of Christian, I know they are out there. If it’s any consolation, they hate me, too, because I don’t follow their version of Christianity.
In conclusion, they actually did a fair job of creating a character that is not your stereotypical movie witch. At the very least, I hope it sparks some discussion and education surrounding the subject matter. Yes, Penny Dreadful is only a fantasy TV series, but even fantasy is influential on the attitudes of the general public.
Let me know what you think!