Tag Archives: Sigmund Freud

Psychoanalysis As Archaeology in Penny Dreadful

14 May

Dedicated to O…

Freud famously described psychoanalysis as archaeology, the unearthing of meaning layered deep beneath an “expanse of ruins.

In television and movies it’s closer to a detective story.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/28/arts/television/28stan.html

Penny Dreadful Dr Seward & Vanessa Ives

In their first meeting, Vanessa Ives {Eva Green} and Dr.Seward {Patti LuPone} explore the intimate relationship between {potential} patient and psychologist.

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This brilliant scene from Penny Dreadful illustrates how a alienist/psychologist/therapist/psychiatrist excavates the truth through words, gestures/body language, actions, etc. Although it is the first time that Vanessa Ives and Dr.Seward meet, the alienist sets her boundaries. Since it is a preliminary consultation, she has to assess if Vanessa will be her patient {“if I take your case”}. 

Vanessa’s gestures are psychoanalyzed {why are you scratching your hand? Why were you doing that?}. Vanessa replies shyly that she had an itch. Dr.Seward says “no, you didn’t” with conviction. To Dr.Seward, the scratching of the hand is not as it appears; it connotes nervousness/anxiety. Every gesture speaks volumes to the alienist/psychologist/psychiatrist

Vanessa sees Dr.Seward’s observations as a challenge. She says, “this is a challenge. You’ll see if I am worthy of study.” Her astute observations about Dr.Seward’s criteria are accurate. Through prelimiary psychoanalysis, the therapist is trying to assess if Vanessa is worthy of her time, energy and talents. Is she worth having as a patient?

Dr.Seward warns Vanessa, “I am not your friend or your priest or your husband. I am your doctor. You come to me to get better because you are ill- no other reason. Do you understand that?” She sets her professional boundaries clearly. The purpose of therapy is to heal Vanessa of her illness.

Dr.Seward’s compassion shines through despite her tough demeanor. She asks Vanessa, do you understand that you are ill- not bad, not unworthy- just ill? Depression often tricks a person into thinking that they are unworthy. It tells many lies. The therapist must convince the patient of their depressed state instead of internalizing a depressed identity.

She resassures Vanessa that there are “no emotions unwelcome in this room.” Vanessa is encouraged to release her emotions because it is cathartic to do so. Dr.Seward is also communicating to Vanessa that she will not be judged. She is free to speak and express herself as necessary. She also warns her, “if this process doesn’t appeal to you, the door is there.” It almost sounds like she is testing Vanessa or interrogating her at times.

The turning point is when Vanessa takes control of the narrative. She says with a smile, “you don’t want me to leave…because I scratch my hand. You find that telling…those phobias that interest you.” She assures the doctor that she might interest her as a patient. Vanessa notes that Dr.Seward doesn’t need the ten shillings but she does need interesting people to collect. Dr.Seward disagree with her by saying that she takes patients on to cure them. Vanessa asks, what the difference is between collecting and curing?

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This scene is when Dr.Seward really showcases her talents as the skilled alienist. She ends her analsysis with the metaphor of the ouroboros. {The snake eating its tail is a symbol of infinity}. In essence, Dr.Seward is telling Vanessa that she is trapped in an endless cycle of unhappiness as she constantly tortures herself.

12 Monkeys End At The Beginning

The ouroboros from the 12 Monkeys television series from Syfy

Dr. Seward (to Vanessa Ives):

“I already know what’s wrong with you.

You’re unhappy. You’re isolated.

You think you’re the cause of this unhappiness and are unworthy of affection so you’ve few friends.

Recently you lost something you think very important- your lover, your faith, your family, or all three.

You blame yourself for this, so it makes you neurotic and you don’t sleep and don’t eat anything healthy anyway.

You used to take care of your appearance, but you’ve lost interest in that, so you avoid mirrors.

Sunlight bothers you, so you avoid that too, about which you’re guilty because you think it’s unhealthy and even immoral not to like the sun.

You’re not a woman of convention or you wouldn’t be here, but you like to pretend you are so people don’t notice you.

But you sometimes like that as well, and can dress to draw the eye. But then you think the men who look at you are fools, or worse, to be taken in by such an obvious outward show.

So, instead you’re drawn to dark, complicated, impossible men, assuring your own unhappiness and isolation because, after all, you’re happiest alone.

But not even then because you can’t stop thinking about what you’ve lost, again, for which you blame yourself.

So the cycle goes on, the snake eating its own tail.”

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I highly recommend watching Penny Dreadful.

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These scenes convey the brilliant acting of Eva Green, Patti LuPone and the work of the creative teams behind Penny Dreadful. It also highlights the emancipating insight that one can gain from psychotherapy. I have been in psychotherapy and it is one of the best decisions I have made. The internal work is so challenging and often painful but it is worth it in terms of healing, personal development, self-discovery, growth, etc. I highly recommend it.

The key is being ready to open yourself up to examine your memory palace/the locked rooms in your mind and finding the right alienist/psychologist/therapist for you.

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P.s. I plan to do posts about the television shows Penny Dreadful; 12 Monkeys; the alienist; etc.

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Further Research…

Penny DreadfulPenny Dreadful’s Internet Movie Database Page

Eva Green..Eva Green’s Internet Movie Database Page

Patti LuPonePatti LuPone’s Internet Movie Database Page

12 Monkeys12 Monkey’s Internet Movie Database Page

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Peace & Psychoanalytic Love,

V.