[Review] - Penny Dreadful, Season 1 Episode 2, "Séance"

Courtesy of Neal Street Productions
It speaks to the quality of John Logan's Penny Dreadful that, two episodes in, the plot remains firmly on the perimeter. The focus is squarely on the characters, on peeling them back and exposing them (in some instances, literally). There is much in these character's pasts that needs to be dredged to the surface and exposed to the light, and the show is taking it's time in peeling back the layers of time. It is deliberate, tense and a wonderful reminder of how good a series can be when characters are put first.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that once had a molehill named after them.


As if the characters we met last week weren't interesting enough, this week introduced three new fiends to the mix. First up was Billie Piper's Irish prostitute, the delightful Brona Croft who is a wonderful change from the ordinary stock prossie character, in that she doesn't spend her time bemoaning her lot in life. In fact, she has fully embraced it. A chatty, eloquent immigrant, she's taken life's bumps and spun them as best she can. It is a refreshingly solid and self assured character, in an otherwise uncertain circle of peers. She strikes up a friendship of lost souls with Chandler, the two finding a connection in their lives on the raggedy edge of acceptability.

Chandler is still gripping with what he was exposed to last week, and the notion of some trouble with the law back on the other side of the pond was floated here. As it stands, he stands no where in particular. He has refused Sir Malcolm's invitation to join the hunt, has left his wild west show, and is unable or unwilling to return home. Croft offers distraction, which is what he craves the most, and genuine companionship. Despite her profession, he isn't looking for the empty physicality that he sought last week in the anonymous and repressed Victorian upper class. Both are awash in the Great Black Pit, and gravity has brought them together to ride out the maelstrom.

Also introduced this week was Wilde's hedonistic Dorian Gray, played by Reeve Carney. Gray appears obsessed with the extremities of life. While not revealed in the episode, we can surmise that his immortality has allowed him the chance to reach deep into the depths of sensation, to find some measure of his cast off humanity. I labeled him an "indignitist" as he lapped the chocked up blood from Croft's lips. He transcends Wilde's own homosexual overtones and any Dionysian attitudes that might have been prescribed to him in the century since publication. He is a moth in the dark, throwing himself at the lamp, desperate for warmth. So, it speaks volumes when, in the rapture of Ive's possession, he recoils. I expect the discovery of something that elicited a reaction from him, after what I can only assume is a considerable time as the stationary boulder in the river of life, will drive him to obsession. It certainly didn't stop him from following Ives and engaging in a little tepid voyeurism.

Ives and Sir Malcolm, if they were drawn in black lines last week, began to be coloured in. And sweet baby zombie jeebus did Eva Green give a hell of a performance during the séance. It straddled the line between ridiculous and horrifying, which I'm assuming is what they were going for. I was chuckling as I was flinching, as something in the dark (which the Egyptologist identified as either Amun-Ra, or the Devil) channeled the misery of Sir Malcolm's past and offended the sensibilities of some descent Victorian folk in the process. It was hard to follow the spirited ranting of the dead, as I again was intended. Malcolm took a child, a son I'd assume, with him to Africa where they met a fevered and bloody end. Not uncommon for the time and the place, many father-son teams came back with little more than a grave marker chalked on a map. But thus far Sir Malcolm's quest has been a search for his daughter, who almost certainly wouldn't have accompanied him on the trip. Quiet unheard of, rather preposterous. This is a past I cannot wait to discover more about.

The line between where the demon ended and Ives began was sufficiently blurred, given her post-possession carnal feeding. When the show was described as "psycho-sexual," I expected that to me lots of boobs and violence, in the Game of Thrones vein. But the way they've used sex so far, no as titillation but as a physical act of emotion, is far more effective and far more mature. Dorian seeks sex for the possibility of feeling something, Chandler sought sex to loose himself for some time. Ives here practically rapes a bystander to burn out the hate the demon filled her with. It was distant, empty and mean. On some shows, characters are shown to engage in metaphorical actions to show their true feelings: cooking, or running, or demolishing. On this show, the character fuck with their emotions, and all the shows desires the audience to take from it is intent, not arousal.

The final character introduced was Proteus, a name taken from Greek mythology, where he was the sea-God of mutability, and here claimed from Shakespeare's Two Gentlemen of Verona. Frankenstein's creation (far, far from a monster here) is a timid child of a man, and the way the show presents his and Victor's relationship reminded me of dealing with an Autistic child, or helping to rehabilitate someone after a catastrophic head injury. Memories, buried deep by brain death, spring to the surface during periods of empty thought. Frankenstein's observations are less about the success or failure of his bringing Proteus to life, and more about the effects of the method. How much of the former man remains, and how much of the new man, created by man, overtakes him? It's the old nature vs nurture debate. Whomever Proteus used to be keeps reapplying itself. Yet, the good-naturedness that Victor has instilled holds fast. His encounter with Croft was what reminded me of someone suffering social disorders. The intent was there, the execution faulty.

And then he was bifurcated by the sins of the father. The sudden, gory, destructive appearance of a former invention of Frankenstein's (remember, in the original novel, the Swiss Doctor hides in Scotland to escape Adam) might offer a window into the barest thread of plot we've gotten to this point: the dismemberment killings. Sir Malcolm inserted himself into the investigation this episode, as Scotland Yard remains at a loss. Malcolm's interest drops off slightly when he discovers it is not the work of Dracula, and thus unrelated to his search for his daughter. But he remains interested enough to engage the Yard's cooperation in the future, and warn them that they search for a monster. The inspector's description of what was taken: limbs, organs, and reproductive paraphernalia makes me assume that this is the work of the elder Frankenstein creation, who is gathering pieces for an intended bride. Frankenstein, I expect, will be under considerable duress in the coming weeks. As will the rest, in one way or another.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.

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