Penny Dreadful: Episodes 1-6 Overview
By Thomas Firth.
At first glance, Penny Dreadful seems a typically cliched attempt at historical fantasy, something like a Sherlock Holmes or an Edward Hyde. Given a chance, Penny Dreadful is far more than that. Funnily enough, the show is an amalgamation of a number of fictional stories from Britain’s Victorian age. Elements can be taken from Frankenstein, Dracula and Dorian Grey – all horrors from the same era. And unlike a number of shows, they work wonders together.
Alone, John Logan has created a picturesque display of a realistic drama set in Victorian times, and has also succeeded to blend the fantasy horror, without ruining the flow of the show. In addition, the actors and actresses involved in the show provide memorable performances, Eva Green being the one who stands out the most. Not only that, however, but thanks to an excellent line-up of directors, the setting has been easily brought to life and it’s almost as if a theatre has been laid before us. One strong aspect of the show, perhaps, is its use of storylines, which by episode six have been broken into four. This allows a far more diverse execution, and the show just improves because of it.
Vanessa and Sir Malcolm
The story of Vanessa Ives and Sir Malcolm Murray is the strongest of the lot with episode five taking a side track just to reveal to the viewers the whole story. Some might call it a risk, but I call it a bold move. There was far more depth in storytelling. Ultimately, we have known from the start that Vanessa is an unpredictable member of the cast, who appears to be hiding something. We learn that that something is actually a demon lurking within her. Vanessa is portrayed masterfully by Eva Green, most notably in Seance and Closer Than Sisters. Equally, the character has been given a rich background, and the viewers are to able to understand what she feels. She has felt alone ever since her ‘sister’, Mina, practically separated from her after Vanessa’s terrible betrayal. They still do appear close however, with Mina appealing desperately for Vanessa to save her from the creatures that have taken her captive.
Sir Malcolm’s character is entirely different. Viewers can easily relate to his persona, but whilst he is predictable (he’s a loving father looking for his daughter) – there’s also a hidden secret buried within him. The writing has made him a strong character, however, at times, he appears to lose his sensibility, and breaking down his wall has created quite a diverse portrait of the character as a whole. Timothy Dalton was particularly impressive in Seance as his character realises the mistakes he’s made during his life.
The sequences involving the vampire attacks can be a put-off, but they are few in number and ultimately work well with the plot. It does add an exciting side to the story, but as in the case of episode six, the fight scene was dragged on far too long, although there was a poignant moment between Sir Malcolm and his daughter.
Frankenstein and his ‘Children’
As the darker side to Penny Dreadful, this storyline has brought quite an interesting element to the show and is actually one of the best adaptations of the Frankenstein story ever made. The reality of the pity we feel pulls through quite clearly in Victor’s first child, and the third episode devotes half its time to telling his pitiful story. The science behind Frankenstein’s creations is a little sketchy, but of course, this is a fantasy.
The exchange between Frankenstein and Van Helsing was a good combination in my opinion, and it allowed Franknestein’s reputation to elevate, but was cut short inevitably by Franknestein’s first creation. There could have been a deeper story to their relationship, but, as usual, the monster gets in the way. I just hope this doesn’t affect the pacing of the show in its final two episodes.
Ethan and Brona
The story around these two characters is a little unclear compared to the other characters. Ethan is revealed to be an American who has traveled to Britain in search of work (he becomes a marksman for a show). Somehow, his introduction to the dark world of hunting vampires, seems a little unlikely – anyone unacquainted with their endeavours would take longer to prepare themselves, but perhaps this is because of his history during the Civil War, which Franknestein was so eager to point out. The scene involving the rat slaughter I found quite disturbing, but it was also a very symbolic gesture to the Vampire among Humans.
The character of Brona Croft is the least explained. Her consumption illness is a factor which can put the barrier against knowing who she is. Perhaps because she is a prostitute, John Logan is simply trying to underline her insignificance. Despite that, there is some evidence of a romantic relationship brewing between her and Ethan.
Dorian Gray and Others
There’s something quite mysterious about Dorian Gray, because, despite knowing about his character already (The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde), there’s still a lot we don’t know about him. It’s interesting actually, that Dorian appears to be the one that linked all the main characters together. He has encountered Vanessa on a number of occasions, Sir Malcolm twice, Ethan once (and in a particularly romantic way) and even Brona Croft. He’s quite a charismatic individual, and his consistent journey through a secret passageway in his house to stare at something with just a candelabra in his hand, is quite a chilling moment. Perhaps it is a picture of himself? This would be an appropriate homage to the novel itself.
Two of the stand-out characters who deserve a bit more screen time is perhaps Sembene and Ferdinand Lyle. Semebene did provide a significant contribution in What Death Can Join Together, and its evident that he is very loyal to Sir Malcolm, even in saving his life. In order for him to have more depth to his character, it would be best to include him more often in the story. As for Ferdinand, he had an early arrival in the series as the Egyptologist. The scene at his house in the second episode was a very memorable moment and one, which was expanded thanks to an eerie line from him later on. It’s satisfying to see Vanessa Ives observed from different people in different ways – it allows the show to rub out the bad edges.
Penny Dreadful is surprisingly well-rounded with a number of storylines, which interweave at appropriate times. The show has taken the route of telling the story in an obscure way, instead of the same-old boring “cause to effect”. Thus, the show has seemed mature because of it. Let’s just hope that the final two episodes will provide what’s needed to set a strong conclusion and ensure that there’s something left open for the second season.
- Night Work: 8/10
- Seance: 8/10
- Resurrection: 7.5/10
- Demimonde: 8.5/10
- Closer Than Sisters: 8/10
- What Death Can Join Together: 7.5/10