Penny Dreadful brings back its regular cast members as it heads into the end of its first season. So why doesn’t it feel like things are ramping up?
Let’s bitch it out…Penny Dreadful is beautiful.
Penny Dreadful is well-written.
What Penny Dreadful is not is well-paced.
Look, I’m all for slow moving dramas that delve into characters and unfurl over the course of a season, but given that this series is only eight episodes along, I never expected it to dally the way it has. We’re only two episodes away from the finale and yet ‘What Death Can Join Together’ feels like a languid cat stretching its legs. I would have expected a bit of urgency at this point, but aside from the videogame stylings of the Cairo boat massacre this episode is a bit of a bore.
While eloquent, the Creature (Rory Kinnear) has failed to advance since his appearance at the end of the second episode. He wants a mate, he approaches Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) and he threatens/kills someone close to him – in this case Van Helsing (David Warner). Rinse, lather, repeat. At this point we’re still waiting for something new from the Creature and his creator, but it’s looking increasingly likely that we’ll have to wait until the finale for some real forward momentum.
Ditto Brona (Billie Piper) who spends the episode in bed, coughing up blood and praising Ethan (Josh Harnett) for being a good guy. Their relationship mirrors the one between Frankenstein and the Creature: it’s unhealthy and mildly parasitic, and it similarly hasn’t evolved since the characters were introduced. At this point we’re still having the same conversation about where the prostitute and the maybe wolfman are headed that we had when the show began. That’s not so much interesting as it is stagnant.
Ditto Dorian (Reeve Carney). As AV Club suggests “Gray’s purpose in the story so far appears to be to have sex with all the other regular characters”. I’ll add delivering purple prose and waxing philosophical to that characterization, but that about sums him up. At the end of the day it seems like writer/creator John Logan is content to tease out the portrait reveal as long as possible as though that’s what’s sustaining our interest. At least the mind-tripping sex scene between Dorian and Vanessa (Eva Green) appears to have reactivated her inner demon, which promises some kind of action in the future.
This leaves us with the action sequence on the boat. I’d like to praise the sequence as high octane, but it also feels woefully repetitive in its hacking and shooting. If I’m being honest, it even looks a bit cheap – it’s Uwe Boll’s House of the Dead by way of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Not helping matters is the wacky decision to have all of the vampire brides outfitted with identical white/blonde wigs and blood red contact lenses, which makes it seem as though Ethan and Sir Malcolm (Timothy Dalton) are being attacked by drugged-up pop-starlets.
All of this equates to an episode that feels alternately boring and silly, which is not what I’d hoped I’d be saying going into the last few episodes. Let’s hope that a renewed focus on Vanessa (the show’s best character) in the next episode will help ground the narrative and, you know, propel it forward instead of just hitting the reset button for another week.
What’s your take: am I being too harsh or is the pacing and repetition frustrating you, too? Do you care about seeing Dorian’s portrait? Are you bored by Brona, the Creature and Dorian? Sound off below.
Penny Dreadful airs Sundays at 10pm EST on Showtime