Penny Dreadful, Season Two ~ A Capsule Review by Allen Kopp
My favorite character on Showtime’s Penny Dreadful is Dr. Victor Frankenstein. He’s nothing like Colin Clive or Basil Rathbone. He’s slender, young and handsome with a dimple in his chin. He doesn’t look like a mad scientist or somebody who enjoys reanimating dead tissue. He’s brilliant in his work but uncomfortable, since he is a Victorian gentleman, when it comes to things like picking out a lady’s undergarments. In season one he created a sweet doe-eyed monster out of parts from cadavers, only to have an earlier creation—one who didn’t turn out so well—return, kill the sweet monster and start making demands. This earlier monster, who calls himself John Clare, is lonely—if Dr. Frankenstein will create a mate for him, he promises he will go away and not cause any more trouble. Dr. Frankenstein tells him to be patient and he will go to work on the problem. While John Clare is waiting, he goes out into the cruel real world and finds a job. First he works at a Grand Guignol theatre, where bloodletting is the order of the day. That ends in tragedy, so, in season two, he secures employment at a wax works. The kindly owner of the wax works has a blind daughter to whom John Clare is drawn. She feels perfectly comfortable with him because she cannot see how strange he looks.
In season one of the show, the only American character in the cast, Ethan Chandler (in London with a Wild West show), had a girlfriend from the lower English classes named Broma Croft. He was in love with her but, alas, she had consumption and soon died. Dr. Frankenstein secures her body with the intention of turning her into the mate for his monster. He puts her in a pickling solution and waits for the terrific thunderstorm that will reanimate her. When the storm occurs and he is able to bring her back to life, she is disoriented and remembers nothing of her former life. He names her Lily (the flower of rebirth and resurrection) and tells her she is his cousin and that they grew up together. He has to teach her everything about the world, as she is like a newborn baby. He dyes her hair blond to give her a different identify from the one she had when she was Broma Croft and enlists the aid of Vanessa Ives to buy her some clothes to wear.
Of course, other things are going on simultaneously. Vanessa Ives, who was revealed at the end of season one to be Sir Malcolm Mallory’s out-of-wedlock daughter, is now living in his house with him and his African man-servant Sembene. She is, and always has been, much tormented, subject to visitations by the darkest of forces. (Is she a witch or what?) We have recently learned that Satan desires her above all others. (What he will do with her when he gets her we can only imagine.) Satan has sent his consort (one of them?) to earth in the guise of one Mrs. Poole. She has a collection of naughty “daughters” who are also minions of Satan who will do her (and his) bidding. Their one goal is to get Vanessa Ives for Satan. (Why he can’t get her himself has not been revealed.) Sir Malcolm has begun a flirtation with Mrs. Poole (not as innocent as he thinks), not knowing who, or what, she really is.
Then there’s youthful Dorian Gray. He has a new love interest, named Angelique, who, on first acquaintance, appears to be a woman but—wait a minute—“she” is really a “he.” (Dorian knew right away it was a man; men are what he is most interested in.) When Angelique inquires about Dorian’s age, he tells her he is older than he looks. (We already know how he keeps his youthful appearance.) There’s a scene where Dorian and Angelique are playing a game called gossamer tennis (ping-pong to us), a game newly brought over from India by returning soldiers. Angelique bests Dorian in every game, even though the place where they are playing is lit by electric light, not very flattering to a “girl’s” complexion, as Angelique says.
Penny Dreadful is set in Victorian London, but it’s not the London of Charles Dickens. It’s a mélange of horror movie themes, dark and forbidding, with dark forces everywhere afoot. It’s classy, well-made, intellectually stimulating and a feast for the eyes. How do they do those fabulous sets that are only seen for a second or two? If it’s all computer-generated graphics, it’s still impressive because it looks so real. Seeing it is to step out of the mundane world we live in into another time and place that is fun to visit, even though you probably wouldn’t want to live there if it meant you had to do without the Internet.
Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp