[Review] - Penny Dreadful, Season 1 Episode 7, "Possession"

Courtesy of Neal Street Productions
Unexpectedly, Penny Dreadful, in it's penultimate episode of the season, delivered a bottle episode. For those not familiar, a bottle episode is usually a cost saving measure, where the entirety of the action takes place on a single established set, and features only the main cast. This saves money on additional sets, and on guest stars. I doubt that Possession was a bottle episode for budgetary reasons, but it fits the description. The episode never ventured outside of Sir Malcolm's house, using only sets we've seen before (his study, Ives' room, the basement), and with the exception of a priest, only the central core cast appear (Croft and Gray sat this one out, and Caliban only put in a cameo).

No, this was a bottle episode for a purer reason then accountancy. It was an excuse to have these characters coiled up around each other for an extended period of time, so that they might fall into conversation and peel back the considerable layers between them. Ives was put on full display two episodes ago, so she serves as the catalyst for Sir Malcolm, Frankenstein, Chandler and even finally Sembene to explore each other (not in a sexy way though).

Hit the jump, which contains spoilers that worry for your virtue.

Before I get to this episode, I wanted to comment on an issue I've seen others mention elsewhere on the net. The notion that the series has been moving too slow. Certainly, in an eight episode season you expect the storytelling to be tight and brisk. And yet, much of this first season could be considered inflation. Lots of snogging Dorian Gray, lots of backstory exposition. And normally, I'd be in agreement. Normally, this decompression would set my storytelling dander on fire. But it, and I'm not, for two reasons: first, and I can't know if this point is true until after the finale, but I feel that Logan is crafting less a season by season story here, and more a long form tale of woe.

If next week attempts to conclude everything: the search for Mina, Caliban's need for a wife, Chandler's "condition," Gray's interests, etc then I will be just as upset as anyone would watching perfectly good pacing gone to waste. But I don't think that will happen. I would brace myself for a finale that concludes very little. Like so many of the novels that were born from that time, Penny Dreadful, I expect, will be deeply serialised, as this first season has been, over the course of it's entire run. And that the many plots introduced this year will take several years to play themselves out.

Second, and more importantly, this isn't a plot-focused series. It is a character study. The show has been, from it's second moment (the first was a moment of horror to set the mood) a character piece. Thus, the primary focus and motivation has been on the characters. Why else would every other episode abandon the hunt for Mina story in favour of showing us the decrepit pasts these characters have lived? Why else would there be half a hundred words for every gun shot fired? And it has been exemplary at establishing and developing these characters. Because Logan has been so deliberate with what he has and hasn't said about each one, there is still substantial room for surprise. Like Chandler's unexpected lapse into exorcism that closed this episode. Have our expectations about him being some kind of monster been wrong? Or were we just wrong about what sort of monster he is? Same too with Frankenstein's heroin addiction, which hasn't been alluded too before, isn't made a big deal of here, but none the less makes absolute sense with everything else we know about him. each maintains plenty of room to grow.

So, this episode then. It was a corker. Ives, coming off the back of her encounter with Gray last week, is in full possession mode, and it seems like the beast inside is properly Satan. This turn towards the extremity of religious realism, I have to admit took me by surprise. What with all the ancient Egyptian stuff, and the plethora of monsters running about, to bring in so conventional an aspect as Christian dogma and mythology seemed odd. Not to say it hasn't worked. Eva Green turned in easily her best performance while under the Devil's thrall, including a decent enough audition should Andy Serkis ever have to vacate the role of Gollum. Because the Devil is less than forthcoming in the details of his interests, what I'm most interested in is discovering if he is after Ives exclusively, of if there is a power play happening between him and the mysterious Count, that Ives happens to be stuck in the middle of. Her importance as a conduit, or willing host, seems to have peaked both their interests, and to the victor goes the spoils, I suppose.

Speaking of Victor, this time together with the rest of them brought him a measure of piece and a family he seems so desperate to build (we've not yet heard word one of the literary Frankenstein family from this version of him). And all the while, as his affections for Sir Malcolm and Mr. Chandler grow, the spectre haunts him still, that they will all be horribly killed should he love them too much. He is flirting with the line of responsibility right now. He understands the penance he must pay for his past sins, but his desire to learn how to protect himself shows that he's equally considering not letting the past direct his future any longer. Time, i suppose, will tell which side of the line he settles on, and how badly that goes for him (because let's be honest here, it can only go bad for Dr. Frankenstein).

Sir Malcolm even had a moment of clarity here, as he admitted that his actions in Africa were entirely driven by the stalwart Victorian pride and ego that the great adventurers were known for. A few episodes ago, we saw his African tales told was wild adventures, Haggard-style exploits of bravery and greatness. Here, we see the truer, humbled version. His son died while he was out of camp. His body was buried hastily. His son's last wish was forsaken for his own glory. Sir Malcolm is easily the most human and the most monstrous character of the lot, and he's realizing that more and more. He sees saving Mina as his salvation from a lifetime of inadequacy, even up to and including the actions he's taken in order to save her.

Next week brings it all to conclusion, and I'm interested to see how much Logan attempts to bite off in the final hour. I hope, for the sake of the characters, the narrative, and the longevity of the series, it is only just what the hour can handle and nothing more.

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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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