This is not merely a review. These whole rants reflect my thought of a whole season of the TV series. In this post, I talk about SHOWTIME’s Penny Dreadful on its first season and it might contain spoilers. Read at your own risk.
Penny Dreadful, according to Oxford dictionaries, is a cheap, sensational comic or storybook. However, according to John Logan (former Sam Mendes’ Skyfall collaborator), it’s a gothic horror set in ghastly Victorian London that embraces conflicts and characters from famous Victorian literature. During the first season, this series brings back the long-forgotten Dr. Frankenstein from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Dorian Gray from Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, and other characters based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula—but there’s still more. While Victorian classic horror flicks have been forgotten since Béla Lugosi’s Dracula or Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein, Penny Dreadful brings the classic to a smaller screen, but with more formidable twists.
In searching of a lost daughter, Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton) the explorer assembles a team of extraordinary people. After finding the team nucleus, Miss Vanessa Ives (Eva Green)—a clairvoyant who lives with demons inside, Sir Malcolm consecutively reaches American sharpshooter, Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett), haunted Dr. Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway), along with native African, Sembene (Danny Sapani). Their goal is to find Malcolm’s daughter, Mina Murray, who, he believes, is abducted by supernatural beings.
During their quest, this party encounters other significant individuals with their own veils of mystery. Vanessa meets Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney), who unleashes the demons within her; Ethan meets Brona Croft (Billie Piper), whose past is grey and seemingly leads to something great in the future (hope she has no relation with Lara Croft); and Victor meets his mentor, Dr. van Helsing as well as his own monsters. Those individuals are entangled altogether and lead to nowhere but the literacy imbroglio that conjures them.
HOW THE SHOW GOES
Penny Dreadful wraps its first season intensely and beautifully—establishing the series as a poetical combination of different supernatural elements from world’s most enhancing literature taking place in Victorian London. In the end of the first season, I would say that Penny Dreadful might be the Avengers of Victorian literature and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen of gothic and terror, with 007 taste (there’s one former James Bond and a former Bond girl within the cast).
As for an assemble series, the combination of interplay between the series’ original characters and literary characters goes very smoothly in creating suspense and thriller for the whole season. With Green’s Vanessa Ives, an original character, as the core of the story, along with Dalton’s Malcolm, the ensemble never loses its charm. The literary characters, like Victor Frankenstein and Dorian Gray, are not just garnishing gimmicks; they act as the locomotive of the series, along with their enigmatic background story. All characters have dark, grim, and grievous backstory; assembling them into one party make a grand sinister orchestra, for me.
Written only by single writer, John Logan, Penny Dreadful’s plot is well-staged and coherent. The whole season is structured upon several storylines that layers each other; with stylistic storytelling, each layer of the stories needs some time to get fueled. In the beginning, we find out that Sir Malcolm’s vampire hunting is attracting, until we meet Frankenstein with his creature (that leads to other creature); once we find out about Dorian Gray, the focus of curiosity shifts—not long until we find out that Sir Malcolm is the father of Mina Murray from Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Approaching the end of the season, Vanessa’s possessions centers the story; not long before the glance of American Werewolf in London and The Bride of Frankenstein steal the season. Every layer works well in building the turmoil in Victorian literature as well as in expanding the world of Penny Dreadful.
Therefore, 8 episodes in a season of Penny Dreadful is considered short—for a series with multiple deep stories to follow. Just like the opening theme song, the whole season feels so inept—as we got a solid startups but left with no conclusive end. The series opens the gate for the next season to explore more on Victorian London gothic scenes. As the season ends, I end up wondering what will happen to the current characters, and/or which other literary characters are going to appear in the series.
Penny Dreadful – Season 1 (2014)