When Lucifer fell,
he did not fall alone
(The Cut-Wife to Vanessa, S2, Penny Dreadful)
One of the most successful horror series ever broadcast, Showtime’s Penny Dreadful gets its name from the Victorian penny dreadfuls. According to Judith Flanders of the British Library, these cheap, sensational, highly popular news-booklets, originally called Penny Bloods, initally concentrated on adventurous stories about pirates and highwaymen, but gradually shifted their focus onto crime and its detection. The penny dreadfuls replaced 18th century gothic horror, as they began to concentrate on supernatural and horror tales, including Varney the Vampire (cover of a vampire penny dreadful below), which influenced Bram Stoker, author of Dracula.
Showtime’s Penny Dreadful takes the Victorian penny dreadfuls, as well as the Victorian literature inspired by them, and gives us the “origin stories” of their characters. Thus, Dracula‘s Mina Murray is given an entire family, while Frankenstein‘s titular character gets to create more than one Creature.
Original characters, such as Vanessa Ives, played by the brilliant Eva Green (above, standing), and Brona Croft (Billie Piper, above seated) further flesh out the series’ exploration of evil, and of human choice to consciously do either good or evil.
The series begins with Vanessa Ives (Eva Green, above L) hiring a professional gun, Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) for some dangerous “night work.” Along with the father of her childhood friend, Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton), Vanessa is searching for her missing friend, Mina, who has been taken by some sort of Creature (also called Vampire, below).
Dr. Frakenstein (Harry Treadaway) enters the story when he is hired by Sir Malcolm to do an autopsy on one of the dead Creatures.
Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney) is also introduced in the first season, though his story isn’t as integrated into the main stories. Also, there are at least two “Creatures” initially: the Vampire Creature hunted by Sir Malcolm, as well as those created by Frankenstein, the most striking of which is played by Rory Kinnear (below).
In addition to helping Sir Malcolm search for his missing daughter Mina, Vanessa has her own dark secrets, as does everyone else in the show, including Ethan, Sir Malcolm, Frankenstein, and Dorian. Of course, readers of the books will know some of Frankenstein’s and Dorian’s secrets. And viewers may guess Ethan’s secret.
In any event, the show’s initial season, despite its few weaknesses, was a stunning exploration of good and evil, in which everyone has a very dark secret. My blogs do contain Spoilers, since I wrote them after watching the episodes.
The official season 1 trailer is below.
The premiere of season 3 is Sunday 1 May at 10 p.m. ET.
In its second season, Penny Dreadful creator-writer John Logan introduces Witches who pursue Vanessa Ives (Eva Green) for their “Master,” Lucifer. The focus of the show changes from the characters’ hunting external evil, represented by the Vampire Creatures of the first season, to protecting Vanessa from her own internal evil, which the witches wanted to “give” their Master.
The head witch, Evelyn Poole (Helen McCrory, above R) had been hunting Vanessa since season one, when she appeared at the séance as Madame Kali (below).
The storylines of Frankenstein and Dorian Gray become more complex even as they are more integrally tied to the story of Vanessa and Ethan. We also learn more about Vanessa’s past when the Cut-Wife (Patti LuPone) story appears in flashback.
My blogs do contain Spoilers, since I wrote them after watching the episodes: you have been warned.
Viewers don’t know quite what to expect from season three, although it looks like the members of the extended “family” have been scattered around the globe. Also, from the official trailer, we see that Patti Lupone, who played the Cut-Wife in season 2, is returning as Vanessa’s doctor.
You can watch both seasons of Penny Dreadful with a free trial of Showtime. The premiere of season three is already available for viewing on Showtime, but if you can wait, then the official premiere is Sunday. Afterward, you’ll be ready to join the rest of us #Dreadfuls on Twitter and buzz about the show.
Season 3 Premiere
Sunday 1 May
10 p.m. ET
After you’ve watched the first two seasons, or if you’ve already seen them, you might enjoy Wired’s gifs to catch you up on what’s happened.
If you want to read the books that Penny Dreadful‘s literary characters are based on, Showtime is offering them for sale on its site, but you can get them free as ebooks: Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein. And I’ve thrown in Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde simply because no exploration of the Victorian period and its literature would be complete without it — nor would any exploration of good and evil. Besides, I simply can’t believe the character of Jekyll and Hyde won’t show up, eventually, in Penny Dreadful, though I admit I’ve been saying that since its first season.
Penny Dreadful is rated MA for Adult Content, Brief Nudity, and Violence