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Anyone who’s seen 300: Rise of an Empire should already know: Eva Green is the ultimate no-fucks-given actress. In that unnecessary but surprisingly good sequel to Zack Snyder’s dude-heavy Roman epic 300, Green dominates, turning Rise of an Empire into the female-empowerment film nobody expected. It’ll no doubt be remembered mostly for one sequence, through, and if you’ve seen it, you know what I’m talking about. It’s a sex scene aimed at kinky nymphomaniacs who love a good thrashing and physical violence in the sack—Green’s warrior Artemisia and co-star Sullivan Stapleton’s Themistocles get freaky, but it’s some next-level sexual intercourse. They punch each other and pull one another’s hair. There’s some erotic choking. And through it all, Green is in control, at one point swinging a sword while topless. Later into the film, while they’re battling, Artemisia tells Themistocles, “You fight much harder than you fuck.”
With that, it’s impossible not to love Eva Green, in and outside of 300: Rise of an Empire. She’s a rare breed of Hollywood actress, one who’s elegant and instantly credible but who’s not too prim or image-driven to scoff at filming rough-and-tumble sex scenes involving swords and asphyxiation. She’s the main reason why, initially, I was so amped for Showtime’s Penny Dreadful, the Gothic horror series that, at first, I felt lukewarm about. The pilot showed potential but lacked the sort of macabre energy one would expect from an Avengers-styled story featuring classic horror fixtures like Dr. Frankenstein and Dorian Gray teaming up to battle supernatural forces. Green, though, was reliably excellent, establishing her character, the enigmatic Vanessa Ives, as a confident but subtly demented scene-stealer. You could tell Green was ready to let loose, particularly during Vanessa’s final moment in the pilot, where she, dressed in all black, kneels before a black cross that’s turned upside down and is surrounded by quickly crawling little spiders.
In the second Penny Dreadful hour, ”Séance,” Green doesn’t just let loose, she brings the goddamn house down. Or, rather, castle. The episode’s centerpiece is the eponymous conjuring of spirits, taking place during a lavish party. Vanessa is one of the séance’s eight participants, along with her boss/mentor, Sir Malcolm (Timothy Dalton). Malcolm’s arc on the show revolves around his desperate attempts to find his daughter, Mila, who was abducted from their home years back by an vampire-like Egyptian demon (or whatever the hell those bald, red-eyed things were in the pilot).
The seance rapidly goes south, especially for Malcolm. An ancient demon, whose identity is left unrevealed, leaps into Vanessa’s body and turns her into a contortionist, and that’s when Green really goes for broke. For nearly 10 unbroken minutes, “Séance” becomes a one-woman show. An unhinged Green flails her arms around like a mad woman, rolls her eyes backwards with a seemingly inhuman malevolence, and speaks in an exaggerated, squeal-ish voice that’s not unlike Stewie Griffin’s when he clowned Brian about that “novel [he’s] been working on.”
The recklessness that defined 300: Rise of an Empire’s ravenous sex intermission found its way into Penny Dreadful, too. Staring at Malcolm, Vanessa begins spewing venom in his direction, taunting him, via the demon inside her’s words, about his lost daughter and past sexual improprieties. Describing a beast we’ll hopefully see at some point this season, Vanessa yells, “His lips are red like blood from her cunt when you fucked her! His teeth are sharp like yours when you bit her cunt!”
Then, for her final what-the-fuck bit of insanity, Green slowly arches back downward, her lithe body forming a kind of human horseshoe. And in that moment, Penny Dreadful’s standing as must-see television is cemented. If series creator John Logan has Eva Green, the show’s clear MVP, going to such madcap lengths in episode two, just imagine what’s in store for the weeks to come. It’s not like she’ll balk at anything Logan asks of her.
Matt Barone is a Complex senior staff writer who, admittedly, watches cable TV airings of Tim Burton's awful Dark Shadows just to enjoy Eva Green's bonkers performance. He tweets here.