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Walking Around in Someone Else’s Skin: The Classic Film, To Kill A Mockingbird

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Usually considered to have originated with Horace Walpole’s novel The Castle of Otranto (1764), which was subtitled “A Gothic Story,” Gothic fiction is literature that attempts to combine elements of romance, mystery, and horror — without becoming either too fantastic or too realistic. Initially featuring decaying castles, curses, ghosts or other supernatural creatures and events, madness, murder, and “oft-fainting heroines,” Gothic fiction was hugely popular entertainment.

About a generation after Walpole, Ann Radcliffe introduced the brooding Gothic villain in her novel A Sicilian Romance: a tempestuous, moody, sometimes secretive, and extremely passionate male who usually encounters a heroine that completely upsets his life. Later this type of “villain” would be called the Romantic era’s “Byronic hero.” Radcliffe also introduced more independent heroines to Gothic fiction with her bestselling The Mysteries of Udolpho. Though Radcliffe’s heroines are still pretty helpless and faint far more than anyone I’ve ever encountered, they inspired “gothic feminism” which critics claim the author herself expressed as “female power through pretended and staged weakness.” Further, Radcliffe changed the infant genre of Gothic fiction by introducing the “explained supernatural,” where all the apparently supernatural events, from ghosts and moving furniture to strange knocks and cries in the dark, turn out, eventually, to have perfectly reasonable, natural explanations.

Gothic fiction and its various, evolving components spread into the literature of the Romantic era, appearing in the poetry of Keats, Shelley, Coleridge, Byron, and Poe. In the Victorian era, Gothic elements were more prominent in fiction, and are found in the work Charles Dickens (A Christmas Carol), Bram Stoker (Dracula), Robert Louis Stevenson (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde), Oscar Wilde (The Picture of Dorian Gray), Mary Shelley (Frankenstein), Emily Brontë (Wuthering Heights), and Charlotte Brontë (Jane Eyre).

Many of these Victorian authors added strong moral elements to their Gothic fiction, producing novels that questioned everything from man’s relationship with newly developing technologies and medical advances to man’s responsibility for feeding and educating the poor. Gothic literature became more than entertainment to pass the long hours of a dark and rainy night: it explored the meaning of life, morality, social responsibility, and man’s relationship to the Divine.

As Gothic fiction spread to authors in America, especially in the South, it became a sub-genre called Southern Gothic. Authors like Faulkner, Caldwell, McCullers, O’Connor, Capote, and Percy examined family relationships, sexuality, poverty, race, and the Southern myths of an idyllic antebellum past. Southern Gothic is filled with

deeply flawed, disturbing, or eccentric characters… ambivalent gender roles, decayed or derelict settings, grotesque situations, and other sinister events relating to or stemming from poverty, alienation, crime, or violence.

With its particular focus on the South’s history of slavery, Southern Gothic became a vehicle for fierce social critique.

Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird is a classic of both American fiction and Southern Gothic. A coming-of-age story set in the fictional “tired old town” of Maycomb, Alabama from 1933-1936, during the Great Depression, the novel examines everything from family relationships and mental health to societal responsibilities, poverty, violence, and crime. The 1962 film version, adapted from the novel by Horton Foote, eliminated some of the novel’s childhood adventures to concentrate on the aspects of its storyline that make To Kill a Mockingbird so important to American literature and film: the ugly and intractable racism between whites and blacks, a bigotry and intolerance that still exists over most of the country.

Mary Badham as Scout (forefront) with author Harper Lee, To Kill A Mockingbird ©

The film’s (unseen) narrator looks back on her six-year-old self and on the events that changed her from an innocent to a more mature child. In 1933, Scout (Mary Badham) and her brother Jem (Phillip Alford) live in Maycomb, Alabama with their widowed father Atticus (Gregory Peck).

Mary Badham as Scout, Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, and Phillip Alford as Jem, To Kill A Mockingbird ©

Together with a visiting neighbor, Dill (John Megna, modeled after Harper Lee’s lifelong friend Truman Capote, who spent summers next door to the Lees with his aunts), Scout and Jem roam around the neighborhood and create their own adventures.

John Megna as Dill, To Kill A Mockingbird ©

One of their most exciting “games” is scaring each other with stories about the never-seen Boo Radley (Robert Duvall, in his film debut),

Robert Duvall as Boo Radley, To Kill A Mockingbird ©

who lives just a few doors down and who is rumored to be a crazed, scissors-wielding psychopath, once locked up in the courthouse basement jail.

Paul Fix as Judge Taylor, To Kill A Mockingbird ©

Late one night, Judge Taylor (Paul Fix) comes over to request that Atticus serve as the appointed defense counsel for Tom Robinson (Brock Peters),

Gregory Peck as Atticus, and Brock Peters as Tom Robinson, To Kill A Mockingbird ©

a black man who has been accused of brutally beating and raping a white woman, Mayella Ewell (Collin Wilcox).

Collin Wilcox as Mayella Ewell (foreground), and Paul Fix as Judge Taylor (background), To Kill A Mockingbird ©

Atticus agrees, but despite his attempts to shield his children from the consequences of his decision to represent a black man in a racially charged crime, Scout and Jem soon become involved in the racial “war” brewing around them.

Collin Wilcox as Mayella, and James Anderson as Bob Ewell (both, foreground), To Kill A Mockingbird ©

In particular, the father of the ostensible rape victim, Bob Ewell (James Anderson) tries several times to intimidate Atticus into quitting the case. When that doesn’t work, Ewell threatens violence against Atticus and his children.

Phillip Alford as Jem, and Mary Badham as Scout, To Kill A Mockingbird ©

Though the children continue to find “gifts” in the hollow of a nearby tree, these gifts and their former adventures pale in significance to the events surrounding the crime concerning Tom Robinson and Mayella Ewell.

Gregory Peck as Atticus, To Kill A Mockingbird ©

By the time the trial starts, most of the town is divided and angry. Though Atticus warns his children to stay away from the courthouse completely, Jem refuses to be barred from the biggest event in the county, and Scout refuses to be left behind at home if Jem and Dill are going to the courthouse.

Phillip Alford as Jem, Mary Badham as Scout, and John Megna as Dill (L-R, foreground), with William Walker as Reverend Sykes (background, wearing suit and tie) To Kill A Mockingbird ©

Without Atticus’ knowledge or permission, Scout, Jem, and Dill sit in the gallery, in the “Negro section” of the court, and watch the entire trial.

William Windom as District Attorney (L), James Anderson as Bob Ewell (center), and Paul Fix as Judge Taylor (background R), To Kill A Mockingbird ©

Judge Taylor presides as the District Attorney (William Windom, in his film debut) badgers witnesses and makes his opinions about Tom Robinson’s guilt clear. Despite the fact that viewers can have no doubt whatsoever about the jury’s eventual verdict, the courtroom scenes are intensely riveting, especially when Atticus cross-examines Mayella herself.

Gregory Peck as Atticus, To Kill A Mockingbird ©

Though the verdict is not in question, Mayella’s father, angry at the Atticus’ not-so-subtle accusations of incest and child abuse, provokes Atticus repeatedly in an attempt to draw him into a physical confrontation. Then, he decides to provoke Atticus by going after his children.

Nominated for 8 Academy Awards, To Kill a Mockingbird won three Oscars:
Best Actor for Gregory Peck, Best Adapted Screenplay for Horton Foote, and Best Art Direction (set design, Black-and-White).

The film also won Golden Globes for Best Actor in a Drama (Gregory Peck), Best Original Score (Elmer Bernstein), and Best Film for Promoting International Understanding (to director Robert Mulligan).

When released, To Kill a Mockingbird was an overwhelming critical and popular success, earning more than 10 times its budget in 1962. To Kill a Mockingbird has gone on to become a classic, with the film listed 25th on the American Film Institute’s 100 Greatest American Movies of All Time (2007 list) [#34 on the 1998 list], and taking the top spot in AFI’s Top 10 Courtroom Dramas. Gregory Peck’s character Atticus Finch reigns as AFI’s 100 Greatest Heroes.

Everyone should see this film, though children under 12 may need to be cautioned about the subject matter and the language as this film deals openly with rape, clearly suggests incest, and uses language appropriate to the time and place of its story.

Be sure to watch the black-and-white version of To Kill a Mockingbird, not the colorized one: those who colorized it obviously completely missed the symbolism behind the story’s being filmed in black-and-white instead of in color. Available for rent ($2.99-3.99 SD/HD) from Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, GooglePlay, and Vudu.

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Behind the Masks: Penny Dreadful s3 e2, Review & Recap “Predators Far and Near”

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Most Dreadful

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“Predators Far and Near,” the second episode of Showtime’s third season of its horror classic Penny Dreadful, created and written by John Logan, once again showed us that every character wears  a mask in order to get what he most desires. From Sir Malcolm’s Apache guide Kaetenay to Ethan Chandler, from Dorian Gray to Lily and Victor Frankenstein, from Vanessa to Dr. Steward and Dr. Sweet, everyone wears a mask to hide his evil and his secrets. And, as expected, it’s when the characters take off those masks that we viewers get the frights and the shudders.

Dorian & Lily

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In season 1, the storyline of Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney) was virtually completely separate from those of the other characters. Though Dorian and Vanessa (Eva Green) had some interactions, one of them sexual, Dorian existed at the fringes of the major story: that of Vanessa, Sir Malcolm, and Ethan Chandler hunting the Creatures that had kidnapped Sir Malcolm’s daughter Mina. Dorian’s story, disconnected as it was — and unfamiliar to viewers who had not read Oscar Wilde’s novel The Picture of Dorian Gray — was confusing, to say the least.

This confusion was eliminated in season 2 when Dorian began a relationship with the transgendered Angelique (Jonny Beauchamp), then revealed his innate cruelty when he virtually abandoned his live-in love Angelique for Lily (Billie Piper). Dorian’s previous connection with Lily was when he hired the consumptive prostitute Brona — Lily’s identity before Victor Frankenstein killed her and re-animated her as a Bride for his Creature. When Lily revealed that she remembered her previous life, that she was filled with rage against men, and that she was attracted to Dorian because of his dark side, Dorian’s story became more integral to the other events in the show.

Now, with this episode, Dorian and Lily have moved to center stage, where they jointly commit atrocities. Last night, dressed in evening finery, the two of them went into a cellar, where the Bouncer informed them there would be some “butchery.” Dorian replied, with a smile, “I believe that’s what I paid for.” In the cellar, Dorian and Lily sat in a circle of  well-dressed, upper-class men, for a “show” which appeared to be a sort of “snuff film” in the flesh. A masked man brought in a naked, bound prostitute, who may have been slightly drugged. As the masked man picked up a whip to torture the girl, Dorian and Lily sprang into action, killing not only the masked man, but every one of the gentleman at the show. Dorian used a pistol and Lilly used a knife. It was gruesome but thrilling in a scary way. Then Lily walked up to the nude girl and said, “Now you are mine.”

Yowza!

What did these two have in mind?

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They took the girl — Justine — home to Dorian’s house, where Lily is living, and the young girl awoke in a magnificent bed, wearing a silk gown. When she went downstairs, she was a bit confused, wary, and overwhelmed by the beauty of her surroundings as well as by the cultured beauty and manners of Dorian and Lilly. It was Lily who told Justine (Jessica Barden) that they are going to seek revenge-retribution for all the men “with two bob” who made the girl “kneel” to them for sexual service.

Ah, Lily’s complaint from last season, in her tirade to Frankenstein’s Creature.

Lily has a lot of anger issues, there’s no doubt about that. Instead of talk-therapy, however, she plans to use violence to make herself — and the girl-prostitue Justine — feel better. That’s right up Dorian’s alley. I mean, this is a man who killed his transgender lover Angelique after she discovered his hidden portrait, which revealed that he is an aged, ugly “monster” inside, i.e., morally, and in the portrait, while he remains young and beautiful on the outside.

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Dorian rarely takes off his mask, but with Lily, he doesn’t have to: she seems to see beneath it. That makes him more comfortable with her than with any other woman he’s been with. And it makes him a perfect foil for the rage-filled, murderous Brona-turned-Lily.

I’m not sure why they need the girl to go on a killing spree, if that’s what they intend to do, but Lily told the girl that they will have a “monumental revenge” before kissing her like a lover.

Sir Malcolm, Kaetenay,
Ethan Chandler, and Inspector Rusk

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Continuing the plot line introduced in the premiere of season 3, Sir Malcolm (Timothy Dalton) has joined with an Apache named Kaetenay (Wes Studi), who claims that both he and Malcolm are surrogate fathers to Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett). As said fathers, they are morally obligated to rescue him from Inspector Rusk the Intrepid, who extradited Ethan to America,

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as well as to rescue Ethan from the brigands who, on Ethan’s father’s orders, kidnapped him in order to return him to his family home: The Talbot Range.

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Last week, viewers were left with the impression that Kaetenay had Ethan’s best interests at heart. In episode two, however, after Kaetenay has a vision — he actually summoned the vision — we learned that a fierce antipathy exists between Ethan and Kaetenay, at least on Ethan’s part. Kaetenay reached out to Ethan in the vision, found him in the New Mexico Territory desert, and Ethan attacked him.

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We know Ethan doesn’t like his biological father, whom we have never seen, but who is always sending Pinkertons after Ethan, but it was a surprise to learn that, even in the vision, Ethan reacted violently to Kaetenay’s presence and attacked him. Kaetenay never revealed this to Sir Malcolm. Instead, he continued wearing his “Wise Old Man” mask, and told Malcolm simply that Ethan was aware that they were coming.

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Considering the fact that, in the vision, Ethan fought with Kaetenay and threatened to kill him, we were left wondering what secrets Kaetanay is keeping from Sir Malcolm. And why Kaetenay needs Sir Malcolm’s help “rescuing” Ethan. After all, Kaetenay seems an adequate warrior, as demonstrated when he helped Sir Malcolm defeat the bandits who attacked him. Kaetenay has the further ability to not only see Ethan far away in New Mexico, but to communicate with Ethan.

Ethan did not welcome Kaetenay in his vision.

He threatened to kill Kaetenay if he shows up in person.

Kaetenay did not reveal that to Sir Malcolm.

More masks.

More secrets.

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Meanwhile, in the American Southwest, Ethan is simply biding his time, waiting for the moon to turn full, when he now realizes he will turn into a Wolf-Man, so that he can indiscriminately kill anyone around him. Since he’s made it clear since his capture that he knew it was only a matter of a few days or weeks until the full moon caused his transformation, Ethan hasn’t seemed unduly distressed by his captivity. Last night, the full moon came out, Ethan changed into the Wolf, and killed virtually everyone in the place where his captors were buying supplies.

Virtually everyone.

In a surprise move, the Witch Hecate helped Ethan.

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Hecate (Sarah Greene) was shown eavesdropping on Rusk the Intrepid as he told US Marshals that he was the one who was going to recapture Ethan Chandler, whom he calls by his biological name, Lawrence Ethan Talbot. (The name is an homage to the 1941 Wolfman film which starred Lon Chaney Jr. as Lawrence Talbot [below], as is the makeup designed for Ethan’s character in Penny Dreadful.)

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Though Ethan doesn’t appear to be able to control himself when he is on a rampage as the Wolf, he did not attack Hecate, who appeared in her Witch/NightComer guise as she helped him kill the people in the trading post. When the two of them came together at the end of the scene, Ethan-as-the-Wolf stopped before her. And she gazed up at him, mask-free, scarred and naked, and said she’d missed him.

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Very romantic.

But has she missed him because she’s drawn to Ethan’s dark side or because she wants to use him to get to Vanessa? After all, Ethan is the Lupus Dei — the Hound (or the Wolf) of God — who protects Vanessa. And Hecate is the daughter of the murdered NightComer Evelyn Poole, who was attempting to ensnare Vanessa for the Master, Lucifer.

Hecate and Ethan may seem to have faced each other without their masks, but Hecate seems to have more than a couple masks.

Watch out, Ethan

I’m guessing, considering Ethan’s curse, it should also be, Watch out, Hecate.

Frankenstien, Jekyll,
and company

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Poor Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadawway, above R).

For a man who brings dead people back to life, he sure has crumbled emotionally after losing his lover Brona-turned-Lilly to Dorian Gray. Victor can’t eat, can’t sleep, can’t get off the morphine. And now he’s working with Dr. Jekyll (Shazad Latif, above L) on a way to “tame” Lilly.

As if…

Snort.

In a super-cool plot complication, the casting directors of Penny Dreadful used a British-Indian actor, so he gets to rant and rage about whites viewing him only by his skin color — “once a Wog, always a Wog” — and about his being an unaccepted “half-breed,” as well as permitting his character to make other political comments about British Imperialism while appearing only to be railing about racism and his selfish, white, rich, British father (who abandoned his “exotic whore” Indian mother).

Jekyll revealed last night that he works at Bedlam, not being welcome at any other British medical institution. At Bedlam, home to the most violent, crazed, and forgotten mental patients, who are treated like prison inmates, he gets to perform experiments on them. I’ve read Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde many times, and I was still creeped out by the fact that, in Penny Dreadful, Dr. Jekyll is experimenting on mental patients rather than only on himself.

Excellent writing, Mr. Logan.

Excellent socio-political commentary woven into Jekyll’s character.

Jekyll wants to put the mask of cultivated, tamed, controlled, civilized society on the most rabid and violently dangerous patients-criminals.

Victor, who helps him inject a violent, crazed criminal, and who witnesses the transformation from violent to civilized, wants to do that to Lilly.

Oh, if only he’d read the book…

Danger, Victor Frankenstein, Danger.

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To make matters worse, the love-sick Victor is stalking Lilly, sitting on a bench outside Dorian Gray’s house and watching her in her bedroom. She sees him and comes down to confront him.

Lilly warns Victor to go away, telling him that he will not like what she is becoming. We know Victor’s not going to listen to that: he wants to have Lilly-with-her-mask back in his arms and his bed again.

Despite the fact that Lilly took off her mask and told him that she is not the woman he thinks, that she is dangerous, that he would not like her, and that she is not in any way interested in him, Victor still did not get the message.

She’s taken off her mask several times.

But Victor is too blighted with unrequited love to see anything other than his unrealistic, romantic vision of her.

Much heartache and damage ahead for this fellow.

Vanessa Ives,
Dr Seward, and Dr. Sweet

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Poor, unlucky-in-love Vanessa (Eva Green, above, bottom).

The girl simply cannot win.

Despite the fact that she thinks she is filled with evil, she really tries to be a good person. Most of the time, anyway.

Like when she’s not seducing her best friend’s fiancé on the eve of the wedding.

And when she’s not setting Sir Geoffrey’s hounds on him to kill him as revenge for his burning the Cut-Wife at the stake.

This season, Vanessa has entered therapy: it’s a “new science,” and I’m not sure what name it’s called. In any event, Dr. Seward, who has already admitted to being related to the Joan Clayton (Cut-Wife) family, pushes Vanessa to discuss things “beyond murder.”

Like sin.

She’s recording all Vanessa’s sessions. Ostensibly, so she’ll save herself time taking notes. But really so that, behind her back and without her knowledge, her secretary Renfield can listen to the sessions and report back to his new Master, Dracula.

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Dr. Seward (Patti LuPone) did something beyond-strange in last night’s episode: at the end of the session, after Vanessa had her “homework” — to do something that gives her pleasure — and had left the office, Dr. Seward began to weep.

What on earth?

But perhaps that is, indeed, a mask Dr. Seward is wearing.

Perhaps she is more than “related” to Joan Clayton, the Cut-Wife who was burned at the stake for being a Witch.

Perhaps, at the last moment, as the flames engulfed her, the Cut-Wife learned that she did value life more than she’d realized.

Perhaps she finally made a bargain with the Devil.

To deliver Vanessa.

I can’t think of any other reason for a therapist to weep.

Something is going on behind that mask of hers.

I’m almost afeard to know exactly what it is.

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To find some pleasure, Vanessa (Eva Green) returned to the Natural History Museum, where she once again encountered the rather self-centered milquetoast Dr. Alexander Sweet (Christian Camargo). Once again, he forgot her name.

How many times, I wondered, is this man going to forget the name of a woman who is startlingly unusual looking, given the standards of the time period, and who is clever, articulate, and intelligent?

Vanessa invited him out for a “show” about Captain Nemo, whom Sweet had revealed as one of his childhood heroes. He seemed to enjoy himself. When she asked him to join her for coffee afterward, he declined. Then he kissed her hand, vowing that he would never forget her name again.

Talk about mixed messages.

And Vanessa keeps coming back.

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I’ve known from his character’s introduction last week that Dr. Sweet had some secret. Creator-writer John Logan is far too talented and careful to introduce a character that is a throw-away. So, it was just a matter of time until we discovered Sweet’s secret.

Until he took off his mask.

In one of most astounding reveals ever, Sweet took off his mask at the conclusion of last night’s episode.

To the viewers, not to Vanessa.

When Renfield returned to Dracula’s lair with information about Vanessa, Dracula — also known as The Master by the Lost Boys, who are following Vanessa all around the city — rewarded Renfield with some of the Master’s blood. As Renfield greedily lapped up blood from Dracula’s proffered wrist, the camera pulled up and back, revealing Dracula, who let his head fall back.

Holy Wooden Stake, Batman!

Dracula is none other than Dr. Alexander Sweet.

Talk about dropping a mask.

This milquetoast who can’t remember Vanessa’s name is the Master of Darkness on earth: Dracula?

That means he can, in fact, remember her name, because he’s been hunting her.

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So, how did she just happen to end up at his museum?

Dr. Seward told Vanessa, at the end of their first session, to do something she’d never done before, and she went into the museum, where she met Dr. Sweet. Then, at the end of the next session, Seward told Vanessa to do something that would make her happy: she returned to the museum, reconnected with Dr. Sweet, asked him out for the evening, and asked him for coffee, though he declined the latter.

All this leads to many questions. Is Dr. Seward somehow connected to Dr. Sweet? He appears to be well-established at the musem, but viewers now know he is Dracula. If Dr. Seward is the Cut-Wife, Joan Clayton, did the Cut-Wife promise this Master the soul of Vanessa Ives in return for her own life? Wouldn’t the Cut-Wife have made a bargain with the Lucifer, who is the other Master in the show, reigning over Hell while his cast-out brother, Dracula, reigns on earth?

Much dropping of masks in “Predators Far and Near.”

Much shivery and shuddery happenings, my Lovelies.

Be afeard.

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So Many Monsters: The PENNY DREADFUL Finale

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Warning: Spoilers Galore

Cast of PENNY DREADFUL (L to R): Danny Sapani as Sembene, Reeve Carney as Dorian Gray, Billie Piper as Brona Croft, Josh Hartnett as Ethan Chandler, Timothy Dalton as Sir Malcolm Murray, Eva Green as Vanessa Ives, Rory Kinnear (in doorway) as Frankenstein's Monster/Creature, Harry Treadawell as Victor Frankenstein

Cast of PENNY DREADFUL (L to R): Danny Sapani as Sembene, Reeve Carney as Dorian Gray, Billie Piper as Brona Croft, Josh Hartnett as Ethan Chandler, Timothy Dalton as Sir Malcolm Murray, Eva Green as Vanessa Ives, Rory Kinnear (in doorway) as Frankenstein’s Monster/Creature, Harry Treadawell as Victor Frankenstein

The finale of season one of Showtime’s new Gothic horror thriller Penny Dreadful was both exciting and, I’m sorry to say, a bit disappointing. I was looking forward to the finale so much that I watched the Penny Dreadful Marathon the day before. And I’d already watched virtually every episode at least two or three times. I loved the dialogue, the characters, the ever-improving writing, the entire concept of the show itself. Despite the fantastic episodes “Séance” (2), “Closer than Sisters” (5), and “Possession” (7) — where the literary storylines and imaginary characters seemed, at last, to be meshing — the flaws that have plagued the show from its inception were still sadly present in the finale.

From the beginning of the show, I’ve admired the costumes, the atmospheric settings, the makeup, and the hairstyles. All of that placed Penny Dreadful‘s world firmly in the Demi-monde — the world between light and dark, between the living and the dead — of Victorian England. All of those wonderful things are present in the finale as it revisits some of its earlier sets: the theatre, most particularly, where Sir Malcolm and his crew once again encounter the vampires they’re hunting.

The cast, too, has been strong. Led by the powerful performances of Timothy Dalton as Sir Malcolm Murray and Eva Green as Vanessa Ives — father and childhood friend of the lost or kidnapped Mina Murray (from Bram Stoker’s Dracula) — the remaining ensemble cast includes Josh Hartnett as American gun-for-hire Ethan Chandler with Billie Piper as his consumptive lover Brona Croft, Harry Treadaway as Victor Frankenstein and Rory Kinnear as The Monster/The Creature (from Mary Wollstonecroft Shelley’s Frankenstein), Reeve Carney as Dorian Gray (from Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray), and Danny Sapani as Sir Malcolm’s servant Sembene. Guest appearances included David Warner as Dr. Van Helsing from Stoker’s Dracula.

Cast of PENNY DREADFUL (L to R) Josh Hartnett as Ethan Chandler, Billie Piper as Brona Croft, Harry Treadawell as Victor Frankenstein, Eva Green as Vanessa Ives, Reeve Carney as Dorian Gray, Timothy Dalton as Sir Malcolm Murray, and Danny Sapani as Sembene.

Cast of PENNY DREADFUL (L to R) Josh Hartnett as Ethan Chandler, Billie Piper as Brona Croft, Harry Treadawell as Victor Frankenstein, Eva Green as Vanessa Ives, Reeve Carney as Dorian Gray, Timothy Dalton as Sir Malcolm Murray, and Danny Sapani as Sembene.

Early in the season, the disparate stories were too disconnected. Some characters disappeared for episodes at a time. Others seemed to have no point even being in the series. In the finale, more of the stories came together. The writing was a bit stronger, and the performances more impressive.

The only literary character who simply never fit in well is Dorian Gray. His portrait was never shown the entire season — not even in the finale — and unless one is familiar with Wilde’s book, the portrait that Dorian sometimes looks at in private, and which heals his wounds from rough sexual encounters while he gazes upon it, could very well be a portrait of Jesus Christ or the Virgin Mary. In reality, it is of Dorian himself, and should reflect all his moral ugliness and physical injuries, while he himself remains outwardly beautiful.

Reeve Carney as Dorian Gray

Reeve Carney as Dorian Gray

Unless the viewer is familiar with the book, however, Dorian Gray’s story in Penny Dreadful makes no sense whatsoever. His portrait should have been shown in the finale so that viewers not familiar with the book would know what he’s always looking at. I still don’t know why Dorian Gray was in the show, even after the finale.

The only character with less screen-time and less of a story than Dorian Gray is Sir Malcolm’s African servant Sembene. Even when Ethan Chandler asked, in “Possession” (episode 7) what Sembene’s story was, he replied, “I have no story.” Sadly, that is true.

Danny Sapani as Sembene

Danny Sapani as Sembene

I had hoped there would be a revelation concerning Sembene’s and Sir Malcolm’s connection. Alas, there was not. Sembene did get to help out killing more female vampires (who, for some unexplained reason, all look exactly alike) when he accompanied Sir Malcolm on a final hunting expedition for his daughter Mina. That might be Sembene’s entire story: killing female vampires, and answering the door when someone comes to Sir Malcolm’s big mansion.

For a long time — in fact, for the first 7 out of 8 episodes — Dr. Frankenstein could have been Dr. Fill-In-The-Blank, or Dr. I-Can-Check-Your-Pulse-And-Make-Up-Theories-About-Women’s-PsychoSexual-Disturbances-Too, or Dr. Anybody-Who-Happened-To-Have-Made-A-Sentient-Creature. He was rarely with his Creation, brilliantly played by Rory Kinnear — who lurked throughout the entire season rather than viciously menacing (except for murdering Van Helsing) while waiting for Frankenstein to make a Creature Bride.

Harry Treadaway as Victor Frankenstein

Harry Treadaway as Victor Frankenstein

It wasn’t till the finale that Frankenstein actually demonstrated some of the arrogant evil and selfish cruelty his character exhibits in the novel. So Frankenstein’s character was weak during most of the season, but finally reached its potential in the finale when he smothered Brona Croft, already dying of consumption, instead of mercifully letting her die of an overdose from his own stash of morphine (to which he is addicted).

Rory Kinnear as Frankenstein's Monster, also called The Creature

Rory Kinnear as Frankenstein’s Monster, also called The Creature

Throughout the season, Frankenstein’s Creation and the male vampires who are mistaken for “The Master” are referred to as “Creatures.” In the finale, Rory Kinnear’s stunning performance demonstrates that The Creature, though he claims to be filled with malignancy and rage, which, he reasons aloud, explains his exterior ugliness, is actually more decent, faithful, empathetic, and affectionate than any of the other characters.

The humans in Penny Dreadful are the “creatures” in this drama: cruel, heartless, unfaithful, disloyal, unempathetic, violent, unkind. In short, they are the “monsters,” and Sir Malcolm, despite his elegant looks, dress, and language, is one of the most vicious of them all.

Timothy Dalton as Sir Malcolm Murray, searching for his lost daughter, Mina, taken by (unnamed) Dracula, called the Creature.

Timothy Dalton as Sir Malcolm Murray, searching for his lost daughter, Mina, taken by (unnamed) Dracula, called the Creature.

In the finale, one of Sir Malcolm’s nastiest secrets is revealed, in a show where everyone has secrets. He bluntly tells Vanessa, who has been helping him search for his daughter Mina, that, given the choice, he will (a) choose Mina over Vanessa, (b) that he would kill Vanessa if it would save Mina, and (c) that, in fact, he’s hoping he will get the chance to kill Vanessa.

Yes, there be many monsters here, indeed.

Imagine, then, Vanessa’s — and probably every viewer’s — surprise when, at the crucial moment, having found Mina, who is attempting to harm Vanessa in order to subdue her and take her to The Master, Sir Malcolm shoots his own daughter Mina dead. I was so happily surprised that I cheered. Perhaps Sir Malcolm himself was astonished by his “choice” of Vanessa over Mina in the finale.

Throughout the season, various characters have stated that “each has his secrets,” “each has sinned,” and, despite regrets, none can “unmake the past.” After a while, it got tiresome hearing so many people saying the same thing so many times. Then Frankenstein said something amazing: that each person was morally bound forever to those he had hurt. Very intriguing philosophical commentary. One that fit the show and the finale well.

Though Penny Dreadful is set in the Victorian era and was influenced by the literature of the period, the characters constantly quote Romantic poetry. In the Romantic period, which took place earlier in England than in America, artists of all genres and media believed that man could commune directly with the Divinity — however it was perceived — through nature.

Thus, Wordsworth, Keats, and Shelley were extremely popular poets, and their work has often been recited in Penny Dreadful. Keats, who was dying of consumption, had some of the darkest yet most erotic poems, while Wordsworth had some of the most optimistic ones, despite their expressing regret for lost childhood or unrealized dreams. The Romantic poetry quoted and beloved by these monstrous, constrained, secretive, deceptive, yet ultimately fascinating characters — who constantly question each other about their faith in God as well as the meaning of life — was a wonderful irony couched in beautiful and famous poetry.

In the finale, Frankenstein’s Creation recited some lines himself — not from a Romantic poet — but from Milton’s Paradise Lost. It was very effective.

I’m not going to pretend that there were no weaknesses in the finale. There were, and, unfortunately, they were major ones.

Josh Hartnett as Ethan Chandler and Eva Green as Vanessa Ives at the London Zoo at night, just before the encounter with the wolves

Josh Hartnett as Ethan Chandler and Eva Green as Vanessa Ives at the London Zoo at night, just before the encounter with the wolves

In one of the earlier episodes, the group is drawn to the London Zoo in the middle of the night, where they expect to find Mina and the (vampire) Creatures. Instead, they find a pack of wolves. Ethan orders everyone to stay still. Then he lowers his body and holds out his hand. One of the male wolves, snarling, approaches and tentatively takes Ethan’s hand gently into its mouth, acknowledging Ethan as the Alpha male.

The Alpha male wolf.

From that episode on, bloggers and reviewers of the show began predicting that Ethan’s secret was that he was the Wolf-Man, though there is no literary piece of the period dealing with such a creature. There is a Penny Dreadful which features  a Wolf-Man — Wagner the Werewolf — but no literature. Guy Endore’s 1933 novel The Werewolf of Paris was the first literary exploration of the Wolf-Man. I assumed that the bloggers, critics, and reviewers who were proclaiming that Ethan was the Wolf-Man had to be mistaken since creator & writer John Logan has repeatedly stated that Penny Dreadful mixed Victorian literary characters, re-imagined, with his fictional characters.

I was convinced that Logan would introduce one of the most famous novels of the period which explores the nature of good and evil, Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Mysterious Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The Wolf-Man simply does not fit into the entire scheme of Penny Dreadful, where the characters choose to do good or evil. The Wolf-Man is cursed or bitten or somehow turned into a violent and dangerous creature against his will. He doesn’t consciously decide to go around tearing people apart and eating some of their internal organs.

In Stevenson’s novel, however, Dr. Jekyll makes a conscious choice to explore the evil aspects of his personality by concocting a formula which will allow his personality to separate into two parts: one entirely good, the other completely evil. Mr. Hyde is the evil, immoral part of Dr. Jekyll.

The importance of Jekyll and Hyde versus the Wolf-Man to Penny Dreadful and Ethan Chandler’s secret is choice. Choosing to do evil, choosing to harm others for selfish reasons, intentionally hurting others to achieve personal satisfaction or pleasure at the others’ expense — these are all themes of Penny Dreadful, and all of the characters make these choices repeatedly (though Dorian’s evil or cruel choices are not shown: I know this from the novel itself). Even Ethan’s consumptive lover, Brona Croft, tells him how she went out and intentionally had sexual relations with a stranger for money after her fiancé in Ireland physically hurt her.

Just as the characters in Penny Dreadful consciously choose to do evil and to hurt others to satisfy their own selfish desires or to exact revenge, Dr. Jekyll chooses to allow his evil side to come out. As Edward Hyde, he seriously hurts children, dismembers women, and murders famous politicians. Hyde enjoys it.

Dr. Henry Jekyll enjoys it, too, because it allows him to do whatever evil he wishes — as Hyde — while maintaining his good reputation and respected standing in society as Dr. Jekyll. Unfortunately for Jekyll, Hyde also has free will, and he chooses to take over Jekyll’s life to the point where Hyde can gain control of their shared body at will, without any potion, and Jekyll is unable to get it back. Jekyll commits suicide when he realizes that the good part of himself is being subsumed by the evil part of himself.

Therefore, if the bloggers and reviewers who predicted that Ethan’s secret was that he was a Wolf-Man, it took away Ethan’s choice to do evil, which goes against the very premise of the show. It also eliminates the literary basis for his story since no Wolf-Man literature existed till 1933, and the show takes place in 1891. I just couldn’t believe that Ethan’s secret would be that he was a Hollywood-Lon-Chaney-style Wolf-Man.

Imagine my dismay when, in the penultimate scene of the finale, Ethan did transform into a Wolf-Man and murder the Pinkertons his father had sent from America to forcibly bring Ethan home, as well as everyone else in the restaurant-bar-hotel where Ethan was staying.

It wasn’t just a disappointment because Ethan’s being a Wolf-Man didn’t fit with the rest of the show: it was a disappointment because so many people had predicted it weeks beforehand, and they were correct. That’s just bad writing.

One of the vampire Creatures

One of the vampire Creatures

(Note to creator and writer John Logan: my boyfriend was really annoyed that, after viewing the “unimpressive vampire Creatures” all season, he didn’t get a sufficient look at a “really cool Wolf-Man with good makeup and everything,” and he “didn’t get to see Ethan as the Wolf-Man tear all those people apart” after “sitting through countless vampire killings.” In fact, my boyfriend didn’t even realize Ethan was turning into a Wolf-Man. He had to ask me what was happening because he couldn’t tell. And I wasn’t absolutely sure myself until the full moon was displayed above the building where the killings were taking place.)

Another constantly circulating prediction that, unfortunately, turned out to be right was that Brona would die of consumption and become Frankenstein’s Monster’s bride. Actually, the consumption didn’t quite finish her off: Frankenstein himself did, for the express purpose of getting the “subject” to accede to his Creature’s demand for a bride just like himself.

Again, the pundits were correct early on in the season. That makes it bad writing, not good guesswork since there were no clues that Brona would be his bride. After all, the Creature had a crush on a young woman from the theatre, not on Brona.

Billie Piper as Brona Croft

Billie Piper as Brona Croft

The last disappointment in the finale of Penny Dreadful was Vanessa’s going to a priest who actually asked her if she really wanted to get rid of the evil inside her. I almost laughed out loud. Since when has a Catholic priest, fictional or real, ever asked someone if he wanted to keep the devil inside him or have the devil exorcised?

Though Vanessa didn’t answer the priest, it was a disappointing “cliff-hanger.” Throughout the season, she has chosen to remain as she is, with her knowledge of the dark side of human nature, even if it does cause her to have fits, seizures, and to be possessed. Whether she is possessed by the Devil, the Master, or Amunra — who wants her to be the Mother of Evil — is not clear.

Eva Green as Vanessa Ives, "possessed"

Eva Green as Vanessa Ives, “possessed”

With the death of Mina, the relationship between Vanessa and Sir Malcolm changed, as if Vanessa’s decision to hurt Mina when they were younger was the only reason Sir Malcolm and Vanessa chafed at each other. Their animosity seemed to have suddenly and miraculously disappeared. They even hugged as Sir Malcolm wept and Vanessa comforted him (though she actually held him, while, with his arms around her, his hands were in fists). Sir Malcolm even talked about their getting a Christmas tree. Vanessa responded by suggesting they “invite the boys over to decorate it.” If that conversation had made any sense, I might have laughed. As it was, I began to fear for season two of Penny Dreadful.

Mina is dead, so no more searching for her. What is Sir Malcolm’s purpose in life going to be? Brona is going to be Frankenstein’s Creature’s re-animated bride. Ethan has been revealed to be, not Jack the Ripper, not Edward Hyde, but the Wolf-Man who ravaged the mother and child in the beginning of episode 1, and the prostitute at the beginning of episode 2.

One of the Wolf-Man's first victims

One of the Wolf-Man’s first victims

If Vanessa chooses to have the evil inside her exorcised, then she basically has no part in the show. If she chooses to remain as she is, then there will be more episodes where she’s possessed. Those episodes were some of the best of season 1, but three of them were plenty, thank you very much.

Suddenly, the gaslights dim, the candles flicker, the wind howls, the full moon comes out from behind the clouds, the glass table cracks, the windows shatter, Vanessa’s head turns 360°, Sir Malcolm faints, Sembene does not answer the door, and I have a terrible vision of season 2 of Penny Dreadful.

It’s going to be nothing but The Exorcist, The Bride of Frankenstein, and The Wolf-Man.

Unfortunately, I’ve already seen all those films.

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