Penny Dreadful: 201 “Fresh Hell” Review
Reviewed by John Hussey.
Penny Dreadful is a fresh show exploring the gothic nature of cult classics and giving them a modern spin. Having recently watched the first season of the show I must say I’m impressed. The acting, directing and visuals are all stunning and come together to deliver a fantastic piece of art.
Season One left things on a open ending, having resolved the arc of finding Mina Harker with her being ultimately killed by Sir Malcolm Murray after he finally realised she was beyond saving from the vampire menace. It was then revealed, though predicted, that Brona Croft would become Caliban’s wife. The most interesting point we got left on was the discovery that Ethan Chandler was in fact a werewolf. We were also left wondering whether or not Vanessa Ives truly wanted to be free from Lucifer due to the feeling of being unique through her satanic possession. I will now review the opening of the second season and put across whether I feel it was a successful re-opening for the show.
It was interesting to establish from the get-go that Evelyn Poole was in fact a powerful witch serving Lucifer. I had some suspicions about her character last season due to the séance scene and her particular fondness with Sir Malcolm, which I felt showed she was trying to gain his trust for her own personal means. That is something that would appear to be on the agenda for later episodes as Evelyn spoke about using Sir Malcolm through gaining his trust. This would prove an easy way to get closer to Vanessa who is once again the centre of attacks due to Lucifer wishing to claim her as his bride in order to bring about the apocalypse.
The incorporation of witches brought about a fresh feel to the show, moving away from the more traditional approach of vampires. Their appearance showcased a fierce strength whilst also portraying a sexual appeal through their naked array. The show is certainly notorious for its nudity and it doesn’t stop with the monsters. I suppose it also showcased the natural nature of witches in which they are one with the Earth through their magic. Despite them being naked during their transformed state they remain formidable creatures. Even when they are in their human forms they continue to be vicious, especially Evelyn through the imagery of her taking a bath in the blood of her victim and then casually killing one of her own without remorse.
Both Vanessa and Ethan showcased a sense of vulnerability through their inner demons. They both share a common ground of having to control a hidden monster within them that can potentially cause harm to those they love the most. This made last season’s penultimate episode ‘Possession’ appear even more powerful when it came to the chemistry between Vanessa and Ethan as we now know he knew almost exactly what she was going through and because of this was the best member of the group to aid her through her difficult transition. At the minute Ethan remains evasive towards his inner-demons, to which he himself doesn’t fully understand due to blacking out during each transformation, only to wake up to a massacre. This I think will add in a nice little arc that will test his and the other’s loyalty due to him essentially being one of the monsters that the team is trying to combat in this dark war. What limits will be put into place when Ethan’s secret is discovered and he too becomes a threat? I can’t wait to see how that dilemma is faced.
I do find that Vanessa’s character is broken. She has endured a great deal of suffering and this continues to be a factor within her life. Her actions are always consequence to her as she tries to redeem her guilty past. What was great about this particular episode was Vanessa showcasing genuine fear, something we haven’t seen within her present self. Despite her possessions and constant battles against Lucifer from within she never really showed fear and always continued to fight. The witch’s arrival, however, brought about a terror within her heart that clouded her emotions and judgements throughout the rest of the episode. She believed her friends couldn’t protect her and even went about committing some sort of blood ceremony whilst she prayed in a final attempt to keep evil at bay. It’ll be interesting to see where this season will take her character.
Sir Malcolm continued to grieve over the loss of his daughter. His character has always been intriguing to watch because of his multiple layers. It’s nice to see him finally peeled away to see the fragile man inside that craves some affection. The way he tried desperately to return to his wife during the graveyard scene was very tragic to watch. He has lost both of his children because of his own actions and the guilt of this has eaten away at him, causing his frantic journey within the first season in order to undo his wrongs. Now he learns that even his wife is lost to him after she brutally declared that she didn’t want anything to do with him and that the only thing that kept them together, their children, was now gone because of him. Sir Malcolm was left alone briefly until he returned home to see his new family awaiting him. His determination to protect Vanessa was a beautiful moment which demonstrated the complicated relationship the two of them have for one another. They have now moulded into a unit, becoming like father and daughter to which even he recognises. This reflects back to his statement upon killing Mina, stating that Vanessa was his daughter and now he wasn’t willing to lose her after losing everything else.
Caliban’s story continued to shine through him aiding his master, Victor Frankenstein, in preparing his bride and gaining a new job. I’ve found his jobs have reflected his character perfectly, with the theatre in season one showing his love for literature and his passion for words. His new job at the waxworks reflects upon his appearance, with the wax dolls being a parallel of himself. He is essentially a sculpture, a creation brought together from different materials to imitate life. I believe this will become a theme within this current season and he will be tested by the parallels between him and the dolls. The creation of his bride was iconic. It was everything you’d expect out of a Frankenstein adaptation, right down to the industrial machinery and lightening storm.
Brona’s new form will take on some interesting shapes through her connection to Caliban, which I don’t think will entirely go well, her connection to Victor, shown briefly with his admiration with her corpse (and disturbingly touching it up in the process), and finally Ethan’s response. It is inevitable that Ethan will find out and when he does sparks will ignite and loyalty will be tested all around. There’s also the important consideration of how Brona will react. Will she remember her previous life and how will she cope with her new existence?
‘Fresh Hell’ served as a great opener to the new season and put into place plenty of new character and story arcs for the audience to engage with. Not a lot happened per-se but that didn’t mean the episode wasn’t brilliant. What made the episode good was the amount of new information given to us in order to drive the new season along. It essentially served as the bump-start and now things will begin to kick off piece by piece. I believe, as you may have seen from my speculations throughout the review, that this second season of Penny Dreadful will be another challenging and gripping narrative that will continue to push its gothic and erotic boundaries to the very limit.