After its well received first episode, Penny Dreadful introduces a few new characters before going straight for the jugular with its titular scene.
Let’s bitch it out…
Early reviews for Showtime’s monster mash series highlighted the second episode as a bit of a barn burner, so I spent the week anticipating something fairly epic. Admittedly the first half of the episode didn’t really deliver – between deciphering Billie Piper’s accent and suffering through Reeve Carney’s disappointingly bland interpretation of Dorian Gray, I wasn’t sure what the fuss was about.
And then Sir Malcolm (Timothy Dalton) and Vanessa Ives (Eva Green) attend Ferdinand Lyle’s (Simon Russell Beale) séance and the episode goes into overdrive. From the time that Dorian captures Vanessa’s attention as the camera gorgeously pans around the room to the moment he watches her frantically copulating with a random stranger in a drenched alleyway, Penny Dreadful is completely, fully engrossing. The camerawork is carefully composed to make us feel both seated at the table for the reading, but also removed (the eerie shots in the curved mirror make the figures seem grotesque and detached). Madame Kali (Helen McCrory) cuts an imposing figure, but obviously this is Green’s show and she completely nails her extended possession. It is a performance that comes very close to camp – the tics, the threats, even the smashing of the mirrored table could all be over-the-top and silly, but Green manages to find the sweet spot that keeps us enthralled in the performance, not smirking at it.
It’s interesting that a scene such as this shows up in the series’ second episode (we’re now 1/4 through the series’ eight episode run). We still know virtually nothing about Vanessa aside from her penance to religion (evidenced by her praying in the first episode) and the fact that she’s clearly being tormented (hence the spiders). Here she’s overtaken by the spirit of someone(s) close to Malcolm (it is unclear if there are more than one personalities, including Malcolm’s son Peter and possibly a daughter or wife?). In addition to being a virtuoso performance by Green, the scene is integral for our understanding of Sir Malcolm, who otherwise has very little to do in this episode. We now know more about his familial relationship that we would have learned hearing him discuss his daughter in close quarters because the spirit is obviously raising delicate, private matters (in a very public forum no less!)
The other scene in ‘Séance’ that caught my attention was the development of the relationship between Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) and his newly named creation, Proteus (Alex Price). Their night time walk around London is filmed like a travelogue, filled with close-ups of everyday objects being discovered for the first time. The relationship remains a complicated one, with Frankenstein acting as father and lover simultaneously and it’s easy to forget what they are to each other until Proteus realizes that not all is right with him once they reach the docks. I would have liked for this relationship to evolve, but alas, it’s cut short in the coda as the original monster (Rory Kinnear) arrives to split his replacement in half. It makes for a memorable and upsetting finale going into the next episode, but I can’t help but feel sad that we won’t get to see more of what would have happened between Frankenstein and his gentler creation.
- Ethan Chandler (Josh Harnett) wakes up with marks on his hands after the attack on a prostitute that opens the episode. Considering the famous monsters we’ve met on the series thus far, is it possible that Ethan is a werewolf? Sir Malcolm does mention a “beast” when he meets with the police and while a regular murderer like Jack the Ripper fits that description, I can’t help but wonder if we’re meant to take Malcolm’s turn of phrase literally.
- Ethan introduces us to our new female character, Brona Croft (Piper) whom he forges a bond with over liquid breakfasts and witty small talk. I guess Ethan must like her considering he decides to take up lodgings in the same dirty looking establishment.
- I didn’t enjoy the photography / sex scene between Brona and Dorian – it reeks of desperation on the part of series creator/writer John Logan. As if we couldn’t guess from the initial cough, Brona has consumption…which naturally comes out in her sex scene when she spits up blood all over Dorian (he’s immortal so he doesn’t care). This just felt like a very clumsy way to introduce T&A and a shocking, repulsive moment into the scene, which might have worked if we hadn’t just met these two, but instead it simply feels desperate to edgy. Clearly Logan wants us to associate these characters with sex and death; the only way it could have been more obvious is if he had used a flashing neon sign above their heads.
- Finally, in the mythology of the series (according to Lyle), the hieroglyphs that they discovered on the body of last week’s vampire suggests a cataclysmic event that will annihilate human life. Is there any other kind?
- Brona (describing her living quarters above the bar to Ethan): “It’s palatial.”
- Dorian (as he screws Brona): “I’ve never fucked a dying creature before. I wonder, do you have feel things more deeply?”
- Lyle (to Malcolm, after Vanessa is possessed during his party): “I’m not going to ask her back. Although she did put my damn carny to shame.”
What did you think of Penny Dreadful‘s second episode? Did the séance live up to your expectations? Is Ethan a werewolf? Are you impressed with either Brona or Dorian? Hoping to see more of Proteus? Eager to find out more about the new Monster? Sound off below.
Penny Dreadful airs Sundays at 10pm EST on Showtime