Deliciously Dark & Dreadful
The premiere of the third season of Showtime’s Penny Dreadful clearly demonstrates why this show is so powerful. Strong writing by its creator, John Logan, is woven with daring performances by all the actors involved. Bold, engaging, and excitingly dreadful, this horror classic, set in the Victorian era, gets better every year, even as its content and its exploration of good and evil get darker.
Eva Green’s Vanessa Ives (above, center) is the lynchpin of the show, and the character is a striking one. Hunted by dark forces who want her for “The Master,” who varies from Dracula to Lucifer, Vanessa must constantly face her own inner demons in order to survive. In “The Day Tennyson Died,” Vanessa is alone in Sir Malcolm’s mansion, having been “abandoned” by the surrogate family who gathered to protect her in the first two seasons.
Fortunately, Egyptologist Ferdinand Lyle (Simon Russell Beale) comes to her rescue with his guarded affection and droll sense of humor. As the married, closet-homosexual, Beale is charming and delightful. Initially drawn into Vanessa’s circle when she got possessed by dark forces at a séance at his home, Lyle became one of the pawns that the witches attempted to use to get Vanessa. After Sir Malcolm’s group needed Lyle’s help gaining access to an ancient puzzle, they used him to help decipher said linguistic puzzle.
Lyle’s growing affection for Vanessa — coupled with his attraction for Wild West sharpshooter Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) — was even more obvious last night. It was Lyle who came to rescue Vanessa and convinced her to seek medical, by which he meant psychiatric, help.
When Vanessa went to Lyle’s former psychiatrist — although that title was not used — Vanessa was astonished to meet someone who looked like, and reminded her of, the Cut-Wife. Indeed, since both were played by the award-winning Patti LuPone, I wondered how the show was going to handle her in a different role. I thought they might do it as the American Horror Story anthology series does: by just having the same actor as an entirely different character. In an exciting twist, creator-writer Logan chose to have Vanessa tell Dr. Seward that she reminded her of “someone [she] knew once,” saying, “Her name was Joan Clayton.”
Dr. Seward said that Clayton was her family name, and admitted that her family came from the same area mentioned as the home of the former Cut-Wife. After Vanessa left, making an appointment for the following day, Dr. Seward gave her such a long, penetrating stare that I wondered if Dr. Seward shares more than a familial resemblance with the Cut-Wife & Witch-Mentor Joan Clayton. I wondered if she was actually Joan Clayton, who was burned at the stake, or if she was, instead, a reincarnation or a shape-shifted version of Joan’s Night-Comer Witch sister, Evelyn Poole, who spent all of season two hunting Vanessa down for the Master, Lucifer.
It will be fascinating to see if Evelyn Poole (Helen McCrory) also returns to the series: she was a stunningly good at being evil in season 2.
I’d welcome her back as a returning nemesis to Vanessa.
At the end of their initial appointment, Dr. Seward told Vanessa to break the cycle of self-destruction and self-pity by doing something she’d never done before. Vanessa went to a Natural History Museum where, in front of the scorpion display, she met the charming, educated Dr. Sweet (Christian Camargo).
It was significant that his talk, though about the animals and insects in the museum, was so self-absorbed that he was unable to recall Vanessa’s name. Though charming and entertaining, he will not be a good romantic interest for Vanessa. Instead, if she sees him again, he will become one of the “dark men” to whom Vanessa is attracted and who remain permanently emotionally inaccessible to her.
It’ll give her quite a lot to discuss with Dr. Seward.
Last season, Ethan (Josh Hartnett) learned that he turns into a wolf during his blackouts: he already knew that he woke up from them surrounded by dead people. Despite his attraction to and affection for Vanessa, Ethan declined her invitation to run away with her and start life anew. After he saved Vanessa by killing the Night-Comer Witch Evelyn Poole, Ethan turned himself in for the murders at the Mariner Inn, thinking, I suppose, that he would be hanged, thereby protecting Vanessa from his dark side while atoning for all the murders he had unconsciously committed.
Unfortunately, Inspector Rusk extradited Ethan to the United States for trial. That’s where the two were seen last night: on a train in the New Mexico Territory. When the Inspector and his subordinate got up to get some tea, a large group of men killed virtually everyone else on the train and kidnapped Ethan to return him to his wealthy father.
That is, they killed virtually everyone except the Inspector, his subordinate, and Hecate (Sarah Green), daughter of the Night-Comer Evelyn Poole and Witch herself. Hecate has long been interested in Ethan, if only because, as the Lupus Dei — the Hound (or Wolf) of God — he is Vanessa’s ordained Protector. The henchmen were going to kill Hecate along with the other passengers, but she pleaded for her life as a “helpless woman.”
Boy, did those guys make a mistake.
Now they not only have a WereWolf in their custody, but they have a Witch and the intrepid Inspector Rusk on their trail.
Sir Malcolm Murray
Sir Malcolm (Timothy Dalton) returned to form last night as the fierce, violent, selfish explorer who neglected his family in his pursuit of egotistical glory and continental exploration. After burying his faithful companion Sembene, who was unintentionally killed by Ethan-as-Wolf, Malcolm is about to be robbed and murdered by cutthroats when an unknown man steps in and helps Malcolm fight the bandits.
When questioned on why he helped Malcolm, Kaetenay (Wes Studi, above R) tells Malcolm that he still has a purpose in life, and that Kaetenay needs Malcolms help in rescuing the “one who is like a son” to both men: Ethan Chandler. Malcolm agrees to go with Kaetenay to America to aid Ethan.
It’s a small group, consisting of only these two men, going up against the kidnappers hired by Ethan’s father, the witch Hecate, and the ever intrepid Inspector Rusk. But then, Malcolm has hunted and destroyed Vampire-Creatures while attempting to save his daughter Mina. Since he seems back to himself, he’ll give those who want to harm Ethan a good fight, at the very least.
aka John Clare
One of the most fascinating characters on Penny Dreadful is Frankenstein’s first Creature (Rory Kinnear), who was going by the name John Clare in season two. Clare was shown on an ice-bound ship, where the starving crew was discussing the humanity of cannibalism in order to survive. Clare prevented them from killing a young boy who only had a few days to live, though we did not know if the boy was dying of starvation, the cold, or of something else. As Clare sat beside the unconscious boy to comfort him, Clare began humming, then singing, the lullaby “All Through the Night.” To his horror, he had a flashback to his life before he was “revived” or “resurrected” by Dr. Frankenstein.
After seeing his own wife, dying son, and himself — in a mirror — as he was singing the same lullaby, Clare broke the ship-boy’s neck and abandoned the others to their cannibalistic fate. Clare was last seen trekking away from the frozen ship. Apparently, he is heading “home,” though it is unclear if he is going to the home he previously shared with his wife and child, or if he is going back to find his “Creator,” Victor Frankenstein, and his intended Creature-Bride Lilly.
Poor Victor (Harry Treadaway, above R). Not only is he a morally bankrupt addict who committed murder to get his Creature a bride, he fell in love with the intended Bride himself. When we last saw Frankentein, he was aiming a gun at the unfaithful and murderous Lily (Billie Piper, below R), formerly the consumptive Brona Croft, who was in the company of Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney, below, center).
Though neither Dorian nor Lilly was in the season 3 premiere, we know those two are up to no good. After her rage-filled, male-bashing tirade delivered to the Creature, Lilly returned to Dorian, who has become more fascinated by her as a resurrected Creature of Frankenstein’s than Dorian was by her as the consumptive prostitute Brona Croft.
And Victor is still madly in love with her.
To get Lilly back, or to destroy her — he can’t decide which — Victor has called on his old friend and fellow physician, Dr. Jekyll (Shazad Latif).
I’ve been saying, since the inception of Penny Dreadful, that the show simply wouldn’t be complete in its exploration of good and evil without one of the classics of Victorian literature — Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde — so I was thrilled to finally have Jekyll arrive. No exploration of the Victorian period, its literature, and its philosophical obsessions would be complete without Jekyll & Hyde.
And Jekyll is a perfect addition to Penny Dreadful‘s cast of characters at this juncture.
While Frankenstein was explaining that he found success by “creating life” with his Creatures, though now he feels morally obliged to kill them, Dr. Jekyll was persuading Victor that he really wanted Lilly back. If only she were tamed, domesticated, back to her formerly “blank” self (which viewers know may have been an act of self-preservation on Lilly’s part, since her anti-male, women’s “rights” tirade revealed that she vividly recalled abuse at the hands of men — former husband and customers — and that she was not going to take any more of it).
Viewers who’ve read the Robert Louis Stevenson novel featuring Dr. Jekyll and his “experimental” counterpart, Mr. Hyde, know that Mr. Hyde is more evil, vicious, and cruel than any Creature yet created by Frankenstein. It’ll be fascinating to see what Jekyll intends to do with Lilly, and to see what evil acts he commits in his attempt to separate good from evil in himself, to tame the rage-full Lilly, and to promote his own “medical research.”
(And a big Shout-Out to writer John Logan for “listening” to me: I know you didn’t read my blogs nor put Dr. Jekyll into Penny Dreadful at my advice, but it feels wonderful to be validated on Jekyll & Hyde’s importance to the horror literature of this period. Thanks ever so much, John.)
Last year, the Cut-Wife, who became Vanessa’s mentor, told her, “When Lucifer fell, he did not fall alone.” While deciphering the Verbis Diablo puzzle left by a dead monk, the group of “explorers” who were protecting Vanessa from the Night-Comers (Witches), discovered that, apparently, when God cast Lucifer out of Heaven, He also cast out Lucifer’s “brother.” Lucifer was sent to reign in Hell, while his brother was sent to reign over the earth, in the form of a blood-drinker. A Vampire.
In Season 1, the Vampire-Creature looked like this:
Malcolm, Ethan, Sembene, and Vanessa killed a few of those Creatures, along with many of their turned victims, as they attempted to save Sir Malcolm’s daughter, Mina Murray Harker, from the “Master.” Last night, at the end of the premiere, Dr. Seward’s secretary stole money from the desk drawer, went to find a prostitute, and was attacked. When he awoke, he was in an abandoned warehouse, surrounded by Lost Boys, with a few Lost Girls thrown in.
I thought the secretary was doomed to become another Lost Boy.
Then, a noise caused all the Lost Boys — along with all the rats in the place — to fall to the ground and cower before scampering away. As the secretary looked up, a dark, whispery, slithery Voice filled the warehouse, asking his name. Stricken with terror, and literally shaking with fear as he gazed upward, the secretary revealed his name.
As soon as I heard it and realized its import, the Voice asked for information on Vanessa Ives. After Renfield, according to the Master’s directions, bared his throat to offer his blood, the screen went black, and the Master revealed its identity.
Gave me the shivers, my Dreadfuls.
I am now officially, and delightedly, afeard.
p.s. If you haven’t taken a really good look at the promotional poster for Penny Dreadful season 3 (at start of post), look again. When you see it for what it is, you’ll know. And be amazed.
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, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein, and Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.