Penny Dreadful is horror series, freshly finished its first season, from Showtime, taking classic horror stories and characters from old favourites such as Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Picture of Dorian Gray and placing fascinating new twists layered over plot-points to create a unique and engaging story. In it, African explorer Sir Malcom Murray hunts relentlessly for his kidnapped daughter, Mina Murray (or Harker, seeing as she was recently married) with the aid of Vanessa Ives and Sembene, later enlisting the help of Ethan Chandler and Dr. Victor Frankenstein. But they find a lot more than just vampires in their search. Something old and evil haunts Vanessa, posing links to both the vampires, and Christian and Egyptian mythology both, even as some unknown horror stalks the streets of London, leaving carnage in its wake.
The premise instantly intrigues me, and does not disappoint. Penny Dreadful is fantastically dark, expertly weaving psychological and classical horror together to leave me absorbed and definitely creeped out.
While the plot is fun enough, it is the compelling characters that drive the story for me personally, and both the re-written and original characters drag you screaming eagerly into their world.
I particularly love Vanessa Ives (Eva Green), the darkly mysterious woman with a past tying her to Mina Harker, and something evil stalking her even as it seems to lie within her. The wit and drama she delivers are flawless, and her harsher scenes in ‘Seance’ and ‘Possession’ left me genuinely disturbed, difficult even for me to watch, and I revel in good horror!
Sir Malcom (Timothy Dalton) intrigued, but frustrated me. He has his secretiveness, and his ulterior motives, such that when they come to the light, leave you feeling less than warm and fuzzy toward him. But his tenacity is admirable and he admittedly has his redeeming moments.
Ethan (Josh Hartnett), our American sharpshooter with serious Daddy-issues, is a strange one. His own emotional moments had me tearing up myself on occasion, while certain points of his intensity had me very suspicious – that is, until it finally clicked. If you watch very closely, you’ll figure out fairly quickly what’s going on with Ethan and his secrets, and if not, it’s a wonderfully grim revelation that has me very excited for his story-lines in the future.
Brona Croft (Billie Piper), savvy but sickly Irish prostitute, was another that had me in tears. Though she is slowly and painfully dying of consumption as she struggles to make enough money just to eat, she falls for Ethan, and him for her, it would seem. I felt as helpless as he did, knowing there was no help for her – but her story is far from over.
Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway). Well, I bet you know where this is going! Some time after his disastrous first creation was brought to life, we see him feverishly trying to again pierce the veils between life and death (a very big theme of Penny Dreadful as a whole), and his past coming back to haunt him. I love Victor’s characterisation; he is naive, but dark, young, but with horrors in his eyes. He is an easily lovable character, even as he is a total walking disaster.
Speaking of walking disasters… Dorian Gray’s (Reeve Carney) story is well known to us all, and he certainly lives up to it in this incarnation of his character. He is free, pleasure-seeking, has an obsession with portraits, and seduces or sleeps with anything with hip-gyrating capabilities, but I cannot dislike him. It’s his vices that seem to make him, and I actually find myself cheering him on a bit, just to see how far he can go before things inevitably come crashing down around him. And it seems Vanessa may be a large part of that crashing. Sadly, his portrait has not yet been seen from the front, so we can only guess at how much he has eroded his soul, but his actions within the series and his overall character suggests that it’s probably a hell of a lot.
One of the show’s greatest virtues, outside of these characters, is its sincerity. It takes no joy in outsmarting viewers, or even taking itself too seriously. It is what it is, and doesn’t dance around that.
I’ll admit that the first two episodes may leave you a little confused as to what the heck is going on, which is often a pet peeve of mine. I don’t always enjoy shows that make me work for it. But stick with it – things do come together, and it is very much worth it when they do. And yes, some of it’s pulpy shock-factor can be a little over the top.
Despite this, its silliness adds to its charm for me, and makes the weird ride that much more fun!
Here’s to the next season being as successfully creepy, fun, dark and sexy as the first! And to finding out what’s up with that mysterious Sembene (Danny Sapani)??
4.5/5 Stars! Only 8 episodes long this season, but so very worth the watch!