When I saw the trailer for Showtime’s upcoming horror drama Penny Dreadful, I got really excited. Right off the bat, the show impressed me with the casting of Eva Green and Josh Hartnett in two of the primary roles. The third, Timothy Dalton, I didn’t quite make out until a friend pointed it out to me, but I was only more impressed for Timothy Dalton is one of my favourite James Bond actors, and that’s something he shares in common with Eva Green since she was in Casino Royale and was utterly fantastic. And Josh Hartnett has turned in a few good roles over the years, so the show seemed to have its central casting down very well, not to mention the mixing of different urban fantasy tales.
When I saw the first episode “Night Work“, and then the second episode “Séance” and then yesterday’s third episode “Resurrection“, I got more excited by the minute. The show mixes in so many different urban fantasy tales and it gives them a whole new spin. We have Bram Stoker’s vampires, we have a representation of the early days of science fiction with Frankenstein and his monster, we have Dorian Gray, and more, so much more. There’s a comment floating about that if this show is meant to redress the wrongs of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, then it is the perfect such redressal. I couldn’t agree more. In fact, in every element, Penny Dreadful is far superior to that silly, cliche, boring movie.
Note: Some general spoilers of the first three episodes are mentioned here.
If there’s one thing that can be said for Penny Dreadful, it is that the show plays up the supernatural horror aspects really, really well. It starts off innocently enough, you are led to think, but the entire haunting intro sequence really gets you into the mood and when you see an army of spiders crawl out from behind a Christian cross, and when you see a mother and her daughter abducted by supernatural forces only for their extremely dismembered bodies found later, you know that this show is certainly not playing for keeps. All of this continues on as we see more and more of our protagonists Ethan Chandler, Vanessa Ives and Sir Malcolm Murray. In the very first episode, the trio encounter a nest of vampires and brutally wipe it out in some well-choreographed action sequences. In the second episode we see what happens when Vanessa is possessed by an evil spirit that seeks to torment Sir Murray further, and in the third episode we see what happens with the undead monster that Victor Frankenstein created in the post-climax of the first episode.
All througout, Penny Dreadful is a show that builds itself on good story, good characters, good character chemistry, and good action. There are times when the show feels less than it should, such as in the third episode where we get to see a very long and extended scene between Victor Frankenstein and his creation, seeing the origins of the monster that he created and his treatment of it, but such moments are few and far in between.
This is a show where the character relationships are always paramount and the story always reminds us of that. We have Vanessa Ives who acts as an ally and assistant to Sir Malcolm Murray, an explorer of great renown who built his reputation in Africa. Vanessa is often seen also as a confidante and a surrogate daughter, although the mysterious and supernatural disappearance of his real daughter Mina Murray is something that casts a pall over their relationship and also gives rise to some really excellent character moments. We have Ethan Chandler who gets mixed in with Sir Murray’s hunt for the vampiric creature who abducted Mina and who later goes on to have a relationship with a certain young Irish woman named Brona Croft and this is one of the more interesting relationships of the show given their histories and their present, given how they are tied up in things greater than they realise. We have Victor Frankenstein who has created a “perfect” human being, snatching life away from death, a being which calls itself Proteus. Their relationship, that of a creator and the created, of two… friends is also something that I’ve enjoyed seeing play out, although it has also been a bit cliched in its execution.
In each of the three episodes, what really defines this show is in how all these different characters are brought together. We have Ethan Chandler, a man running from his past. We have Vanessa Ives, a god-fearing woman who is nevertheless host to some witch-like powers. We have the cold-hearted former explorer Malcolm Murray who cares only about bringing his daughter back. We have Victor Frankenstein, a surgeon and dabbler in mad science who is aiming to bring back the dead so that he can one day… do something that he’s wanted to ever since he was a child (the “what” is revealed in episode 3 and it is quite a tragic story). We have Dorian Gray, a socialite and deviant who is one of the more mysterious characters on the show so far. And we have Brona Croft, about whom we know very little.
But each of these characters, and the actors performing these roles, have some really great chemistry that is always evident on the screen. They work well together when the situation calls for it, and we see how their differences and their similarities manifest themselves on each occasion when something major happens.
That a serialised format could benefit all these characters so well, I had no idea. This could very well be a supernatural horror team-up show, for all that these characters are and all that they are undoubtedly meant to be. When you mix so many concepts together, you can expect there to be a certain amount of dead weight, and some of that dead weight happens here in the form of the story of Victor Frankenstein and his quest to create life after snatching the embers from the “beyond” that is death. In the first episode, we see an extremely impassioned speech by him that excites and enervates. In the second episode, we see Proteus learning to be human and the joy that Victor takes in his creation. And in the third episode, we see how everything comes crashing down for him. I’m enjoying this particular subplot, yes, but I can’t wait for it to get really exciting, because much of episode three was basically a narration of the mistakes that he has made to get as far as he does. It is like an info-dump that you cannot avoid.
Fortunately, all the actors in this show are pretty damn good. Josh Hartnett as Ethan Chandler. Eva Green as Vanessa Ives. Timothy Dalton as Sir Malcolm Murray. Billie Piper as Brona Croft. Harry Treadway as Victor Frankenstein. Each actor brings something refreshingly new to the show and to the genre alike. Eva Green and Timothy Dalton, as some of the finest actors in the industry, both to a right on amazing job with their characters. They get you to really believe in their performances and in their characters. Eva Green is especially stunning in episode two when she undergoes a pseudo-possession during a séance. Josh Hartnett’s character is charming and brash all the way, and his “American-ness” is what makes his scene really delightful and fun. And as for Harry Treadway’s performances, well, Victor Frankenstein’s dedication and his intensity of beliefs and emotions really add to who he is and who is meant to be.
There are lots and lots of mysteries that are woven together in these three introductory episodes of this brand-new show, and each one serves to heighten my curiosity and create more expectations, which the show hasn’t disappointed in, so far at least. So far, I am certainly enjoying the show, and I really can’t wait to see how things play out in the next few weeks.