In Penny Dreadful‘s first episode, “Night Work,” Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton) told Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) to not be amazed by what he sees. Indeed, there were many monsters and horrors to be beheld by Ethan, and by viewers. But the most amazing things Penny Dreadful has shown so far is a tenderness and attention to the emotional needs of its characters. “Séance” had frights (not as much as the premiere), but it also had a number of truly beautiful moments. Hit the jump for why “I never say no.”
It’s quite amazing as well how much Penny Dreadful has been able to immerse us in its world over the short course of two episodes. The story of Victor and Proteus (Alex Price) felt fully-formed enough that his untimely death to close the episode was a terrible thing to behold, on both a visual and emotional level. The same is true regarding the “mishap” at Ferdinand Lyle’s party, when Vanessa was fully possessed by the spirit of Malcolm’s deceased son (Rory Kinnear — who also was related to the Proteus scene in an extremely unexpected way).
Timothy Dalton has lent a gravitas to Penny Dreadful‘s proceedings that was never more needed than in “Séance.” As Eva Green (rightfully) chewed up all of the scenery, Dalton’s staid portrayal of Malcolm, whose heart was being torn to shreds while confronted by the ghost of his son and emotional weight of his missing daughter, is what kept things grounded in a scene that could have otherwise devolved into camp. There’s balance, and there’s also the unexpected. It wasn’t a surprise that Vanessa stole the séance show from Madame Kali (Helen McCrory), but in that the spirit which possessed her turned on Malcolm.
Similarly, the show did a great job of subverting expectations in the Proteus story. Victor is not just a mad scientist, he’s a true believer and devotee to his undead cause. “Séance” had several beautiful scenes that helped visually tell the story of Proteus’ awakening, using sunlight (which is ever so rare) to bathe him in a glow of growth and understanding. There was also a shadow, too, as he remembered his wife and his life before his rebirth. His question to Victor (in a menacing tone, for the first time) remain unanswered though, unfortunately, as his second life was cut short by Malcolm’s son cutting him in half, emerging through him. (The what?!?!)
Penny Dreadful has shown a predilection for not allowing things to slide into the familiar. Even when it came to Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney) and Brona Croft (Billie Piper) and their photographed lovemaking, the show threw a little gore in with the sexy, with her spitting up tubercular blood on him (which, of course, he loved). The introduction of Dorian also gives another perspective on Vanessa, not only because he can read the conflicts within her well, but because he’s curious enough to follow her out into the rain, pondering her actions and person as viewers do. And for Ethan, Brona may be the trope of a plucky and street-smart prostitute (with impossibly white teeth), but she’s also a way for Ethan to become more accepting to his London life, and not just sleep rough and drinking his days away after what he saw with Vanessa and Malcolm.
Ferdinand Lyle also established the general scene for why these beasts are becoming more common. The hieroglyphics deciphered from the vampire’s body show an incantation that was meant to start the return of the Beast (Satan) and the destruction of this world. Vanessa’s personal struggles were also given some illumination through Lyle’s discovery: despite her prayers, she is being pursued by the devil.
There’s so much more to explore in Penny Dreadful, and despite the fact that some of the names and situations are familiar, we don’t know what the rules are. It could have been predicted that Proteus would come to an end by splitting apart at the seems … just not because a fully-formed resurrected human ripped his way out of him. Like Malcolm, we may have our suspicions, but the truth of the how and why is only just beginning to be revealed.
Episode Rating: A-
Musings and Miscellanea:
– I had to look up the transmission of tuberculosis, because no one seems that concerned about Brona coughing in the hand she was about to shake theirs with. Granted, Ethan was really the only normal human to interact with her. But still.
– Seriously, spitting up that bloody phlegm …
– Looks like every episode might start with a murder. It’s a nice device that we never see what is murdering these women, only that it’s something horrible. Best left to the imagination.
– As skeptical as I was about including all of these literary characters into the show, I was really impressed by how John Logan has handled the Frankenstein story so far. I hope the same will be said about Dorian.
– So very sad to see Proteus gone already. He was so incredibly sweet.
– “I never say no” – Dorian.
– No one gives a cutting glance like Eva Green.
– Several very nice shots in mirrors, or mirrored images. Unfortunate that J. A. Bayona will be gone after this episode.
– “If one is going to consort with the primordial forces of darkness, one must expect some … social awkwardness” – Lyle.
– Lyle pointing out Vanessa’s course language (“cunt cunt cunt!”) and tisking was a nice, self-aware moment.
– I’m not in love with the opening credits, though I do really like this show.