Up until now, I’ve simply enjoyed the ride that Penny Dreadful is taking me on. The scenery is spectacular, the dialogue wonderfully accurate for Victorian London (I’m assuming based on the myriad of historical romances I’ve read.), and the fashion is appropriately dreary. I’ve been happily lost and tried to avoid speculation so as not to get caught up in the guessing game.
But no more! After this particular episode, I have to share a few things.
1) I’m not feeling the weird flirtation/eyeball-humping between Vanessa Ives (Eva Green) and Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney) at all. Green has a sultry beauty to her, and Carney comes off as the pesky neighbor with a crush on her. The whole mystique of Dorian Gray was this gorgeous rake living a life of sin. Penny Dreadful gives us that, and Carney is a good-looking kid, but that’s the problem – he’s a kid. He’s only about three year’s younger than Green, but she comes off as having decades more experience than him. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work when Carney’s playing one of the most famous playboys around.
2) We get a few more scenes that speculate that Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) is not quite human, but we still have no clue what that means! Is he a werewolf? Vampire? Jack the Ripper? If he’s the latter, perhaps that explains his obsession with Brona (Billie Piper) and his lack of fear of catching TB! But, this first season (I’m being hopeful about a second; haven’t heard anything yet!) is only 8 episodes. That means we are halfway through it, and I’m still just as lost. If this was a 22 episode season, I’d be all for this air of sustained mystery, but at the halfway point… it’s getting to me.
Note: There are potential spoilers throughout this review, so you may want to stop here and return after watching the show.
I do want to give Showtime credit for the orgy scene at the beginning of this episode. Everything was done matter-of-factly, as opposed to an over-the-top scene with equally over-the-top music. I mean, wouldn’t it make sense that Gray swings both ways? After all, he’s all about the sins of the flesh. As the camera pans around, we capture a glimpse of Gray that makes it seem as if he has tired of the debauchery. And we cut to post-orgy. Gray goes into a hidden room to stare at… what? The infamous portrait of himself?
After the intro, we jump to Vanessa Ives, staring morosely at a beautiful church. A precocious young girl sits down next to her. They talk about church, candy, Heaven, and “the other place.” Then the little girl’s nanny – termed a “beast” by the little girl – calls the girl over: “Lucy?” Lucy? Mina? Coincidence? I think not. (Lucy Westenra was a character in Bram Stoker’s horror novel Dracula and supposedly MIna’s best friend.)
And then we have the awkward eyeball-humping scene with Vanessa and Dorian.
“What is up with them?” I asked my husband.
“Who?” My husband decided to play dumb.
“Them!” I said gesticulating furiously in the direction of our TV. “What is up with this? It’s like he has some weird incestuous thing going on for his older sister!”
My husband just shook his head and chuckled indulgently at me. I’m pretty sure I flicked my TV off. (Yes, I get that into my shows and movies. I can’t help it!)
But the scene in question was odd in my opinion. Green is a beautiful woman, and I just don’t think Carney is any match for her. Nevertheless, the characters stroll through a beautiful botanic garden, enjoying a flirtatious moment or two and smelling flowers. And then they part ways.
Then we get to meet… Van Helsing! Professor Abraham Van Helsing (David Warner) is a hematologist hired by Sir Malcolm Murray. He doesn’t do much other than explain to Victor Frankenstein the issue with the blood they have taken from the creature, Fenton, in the previous episode. Van Helsing adds a drop of a solution he created and named after his late wife. After adding the “Hannah’s Wink” solution, Van Helsing shows Frankenstein that the blood has a unique property which prevents coagulation. Van Helsing proposes that this trait would assist in hematophagy – blood eating. Eww… gross!
Frankenstein notices Caliban, his original creature, lurking outside, so he excuses himself. Caliban continues to pressure Frankenstein to make a bride. It’s a short scene, but Caliban is always very intense and drives his point home.
We cut to Ethan and Brona in bed together – cuddling, smiling, crying. He offers to take her out on the town later in the evening.
Then it’s on to Ethan, Malcolm, and Victor with poor Fenton. They sedate Fenton, and then try to transfuse some of his blood. Victor expects to use Ethan’s, but Ethan refuses to offer his blood and says it’s not a good idea. Why?! Malcolm offers his, the process begins, and the men wait for results.
While they wait, Ethan makes it clear that he does not approve of their treatment of Fenton. Victor and Ethan make some verbal jabs at each other. Murray cuts off the childish banter, and asks them about the Nile River, and he asks Ethan to accompany him to Africa. I guess they are going on a trip in a future episode.
The crew returns to Fenton, who pretends to be cured of all that ails him… Until he snaps back to his blood-eating desires. Knowing the experiments will need to continue, the group agrees to feed Fenton. Malcolm’s manservant, Sembene, provides Fenton with some fresh-caught and prepared cat. (I cringed at the snapping noise.)
This all leads to a night at the theatre for some of the characters. Here we get to see what it is that The Creature, Caliban, really does. And boy does he work! Lighting, pulleys, ropes, fake blood. Wild stuff! But perhaps the most wild thing about this scene is seeing him… happy! He smiles with his mentor and friend, Vincent Brand, and it left me feeling as if the other shoe was about to drop – which I suppose is a good thing when it comes to this type of show.
The play, The Transformed Beast, is about a werewolf. Everyone – Ethan, Brona, Vanessa, and Dorian – seems to enjoy it.
During the play, we cut back a few times to Fenton, Malcolm, and Victor. In one scene, Fenton begins to gnaw his way out of his restraints. And in another, Malcolm and Victor walk in on one of the vampire-like beasts in Vanessa’s room, doing who knows what. Fenton charges at the men while warning his “master” that Vanessa is not there. The beast retreats out the window, and Malcolm slings Fenton onto a shard of glass killing him.
Is this beast the elusive Dracula? Will we, at some point, see what the vampires can do in regards to shape-shifting? Can they even shape-shift? And why is the beast after Vanessa? Does it have something to do with Mina? Malcolm speculates that it may be because Vanessa betrayed Mina. Is he right? Is the beast Mina?
Back at the theatre during intermission, Ethan and Brona run into Vanessa and then Dorian, and this brings us to perhaps the saddest scene in this show to date. Sickly Brona feels out of place, out of her depth, and just not good enough. She runs away, and when our gunslinger follows her, she tells him, in no uncertain terms, that if he wants anything further from her, he’ll pay for it first.
As she runs off into the night, she is overtaken by a coughing fit. Coughing up blood, she collapses on the pavement, and as she lay there coughing and crying, people literally step right over her. Even The Creature received help. I admit, a tear rolled down my cheek.
Dorian comes out to check on Ethan, and as a means to turn Ethan’s frown upside down, he offers to take Ethan somewhere. And though, Brona’s situation saddened me deeply, it was these last few scenes with Dorin and Ethan that threw me for a loop…
Here I was expecting to see some strangely incestuous-like coupling between Vanessa and Dorian… but instead we get Dorian and Ethan. Huh?
I suppose when Dorian took Ethan to a strange sort of fight club between a small angry dog and a whole bunch of rats, it just stirred something deep within the two men, and I’m cool with that, but… Here I was waiting to see the infamous “Picture of Dorian Gray” and/or to learn what was up with Ethan in the first place, but instead we got a strange seduction scene involving absinthe. Brona is missing out!
During this drawn out scene with Dorian and Ethan, Dorian notes that Ethan plays his part well – as a rugged Westerner. When Ethan asks what Dorian’s part is, his response… “human.” Enlightening!
Dorian puts some jams on, and then we are thrown into a heavy mix of cut scenes. I assume these are of things Ethan is remembering – sex, murder, Brona, drinking, blood, guts, the vicious murder of a mother and child… and then… Is that a vampire bite on his hand?
And then it’s back to Dorian and Ethan hugging it out. Apparently Dorian has some serious game!
Oh the confusion…when will it end?