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


Courtesy of Neal Street Productions
Ah, the comforting feeling of unspecified horror. How I've missed this show. And this episode gives no indication that John Logan has lost the line he was working on last season, as from moment one, the show is again thick with atmosphere. The show already operates at Mariana's Trench atmospheres and being the premiere perhaps they lightened it somewhat. They were operating merely at sea level here. But the woe is still wonderful, the dread delightful, and the misery majestic.

This show doesn't really think more of itself than any other; listen to the dialogue and most of the time it's pretty pulpy. It is, after all, a Penny Dreadful. But it does everything so earnestly, and the acting is at a caliber above most everyone else, and it can't help but be a superior product. Add to that the visual direction and design, and the only other show in it's league is Hannibal. And that is not a bad bit of company

Hit the jump for the brief review, which contains spoilers that if you tell the public they are real, they are.

As much as ensemble as the show is, it really belongs to Vanessa, and Eva Green. Everything revolves around her. She is the action statement, the conflict and the prize. And this episode is a great exemplar for how to make a character the central focus of an episode without having them be much present. Vanessa had about as much screen time as Sir Malcolm did, but every non-Frankenstein moment here was about her. She is intrinsic to the structure of the series, as much a set piece as the furniture, and as influential as the weather (which, let us take a moment to bask in that opening scene, with Vanessa wandering through the virgin snow). She is the reason for the show's being, but that does no necessitate her direct influence. Her ill motivates all others to work for her, allowing her to be silent and smoldering with fear.

More and more the show is finding greater life in Frankenstein's monster, formerly Caliban and now John Carrol (I'm going to have to look up the significance of that name). If Chandler and Malcolm are supporting characters for Vanessa, then Frankenstein is a support for his character. He is interesting, no doubt, but less so and less complex than his creation. Rory Kinnear brings deep pathos to the creation, and he is far and away the most sympathetic character on the show. He wants to live as man does, but understands he cannot. Last season, he was perfectly suited to working beneath the stage at the theatre, and a waxworks is equally perfect. The blind daughter is a wonderful update to the kindly blind man form the novel, and will no doubt cause the monster some anguish between her and his newly reanimated beloved (a tell tale sign of his "youth," he believes that love can be created, not discovered). And the sinister intent of the waxworks owner, to use his newly hired grotesque to further his own selfish needs will undoubtedly bring unwanted attention on the creature's existence, and likely on Frankenstein's methods.

Malcolm, my favourite character, didn't have much to do this episode, but it might be considered that loosing Mina has softened him somewhat. Before being marvelous rebuffed, he was very Victorian about the whole thing, wanting to take up again as husband and pretend that all was fine with life. When he returns to London, he embraces a defensive mode if it means securing Vanessa. Last season, this was a man more than willing to sacrifice her if it meant getting Mina back, but now that Vanessa is all he's got, he views her with single intent. As Chandler and Vanessa's life becomes more embroiled and intertwined, it'll be interesting to see how Sir Malcolm reacts to that. Especially when the truth of Ethan's demons is made public.

The episode introduced us to two new threats that seek to unravel this motley crew. The first is a coven of witches led by Ms. Poole, who are utterly in the Devil's thrall and seek to (I'm assuming) bring Vanessa into their fold, to make her their Queen and the Devil's bride. Poole is clearly head honcho, and their intent with Vanessa seems less murdery than the vampires every did. But how willing will Poole be to abdicate her position in the hierarchy of branded, curly haired, blood aficionados once Vanessa is brought into the fold. And what is the intent of the coven in the wider scheme of things. Obtaining Vanessa for their master is one thing, but what do they do with themselves besides. Just sit around and be witchy, or do they have grander plans? Elsewhere, Inspector Rusk investigates Chandler's wolf murder, and gives the events of last season and this a wider, more civilian perspective. The events of last year were largely self contained to within this group of six characters, but with some collateral bloodshed. I said last year that Scotland Yard would need to become involved at some point. How far his investigation goes, and how he manages to connect to to Sir Malcolm's league is an exciting new development.

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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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