Penny Dreadful Season 1, Episode 2 Review: “Séance”
Episode Two of Showtime’s new series, Penny Dreadful, managed to give viewers a sharp kick in the gut this week. In “Séance,” we translated more hieroglyphs, met fascinating new characters, and heard some dirty words. Ugly secrets saw the light of day, Victor’s creation got a name, and characters were getting jiggy with it all over town. Last week left me ambivalent, but I’m firmly committed to Penny Dreadful now that it’s clear that this show is much more than vampire wank. Episode 1 & 2 spoilers after the jump.
“Séance” begins with an unfortunate lass out in the cold. She’s debating whether or not to eat her apple, which is wrapped in newspaper reminding us that The Ripper is still on the loose. A flash of violence comes through the fog, and she is terrified. We aren’t surprised when she dies with a terrible scream. But seeing her arm completely removed is a bit of a shock. My first thought? Werewolves. But I might be getting ahead of myself.
I do enjoy the imagery in the opening credits of Penny Dreadful, though it seems like a mix of Dexter and American Horror Story. Ethan the American wakes up on the docks surrounded by rats. How drunk do you have to be to sleep where there are rats afoot? He winds up in the Mariner’s Inn. After proving he has money, he’s invited to drink his fill. An Irish lady appears in the form of Brona Croft (Billie Piper, which makes us Doctor Who fans squee with fannish glee). They enjoy a breakfast of whiskey and conversation. Soon enough, we see that she’s got the consumption. Brona is funny and tough, and reveals that she’s looking for work—something where she won’t be easily replaced by a machine. Ethan decides to stay and get a room.
Victor Frankenstein thinks it’s time to give his creation a name. Using the works of “Shakespeare” (I’m an Oxfordian, BTW), they decide on the name Proteus the adaptable, changeable old man of the sea. Victor has to leave his friend alone, which scares the hell out of both of them. But Proteus is already verbal, thinking, wildly human. Alex Price is wonderful as Proteus, bringing me to tears just by standing in the sun. I adore him. Victor has been invited by Ser Malcolm to reexamine the hieroglyph-covered body, now stripped of skin by carrion beetles. Watch for Malcolm to instruct Vanessa to unbutton the top of her dress. o.O We learn that Victor is a man of poetry as he and Vanessa recite from Wordsworth’s poem about what man has made of man. Vanessa concludes that the young doctor has a secret. Ser Malcolm doesn’t care as long as he comes back to consult on the body. Malcolm gives him a fat stack of cash to insure that he does.
Brona arrives at a fancy home to see about a job. There we meet a dapper young man surrounded by paintings. It can only be Dorian Gray…and it is! He looks very young, though the actor, Reeve Carney, is 31. It isn’t long before we see that Brona’s job will involve sexy times. When she accidentally coughs up blood, she assumes she’s lost the gig. She hasn’t. Dorian seems more into her than ever, and they record something as close to porn as the day’s technology allowed. When she coughs blood in his face, he’s even more aroused. Watch for the revealing line, I’ve never fucked a dying creature before…do you feel things more deeply, I wonder. Then, passionate giggity to the sound of music played on a wax cylinder. I can’t tell if Billie Piper is using a body double. Any guesses?
Later, Ser Malcolm pops by the local cop-shop to inquire about the recent murders of the mother and child. Sembene is with him, though we still know nothing about him yet. Malcolm wonders if the murders are connected to Mina’s disappearance. They don’t seem to be. They were not drained of blood. Malcolm and this detective, Galsworthy, will surely speak again.
Ethan receives a cable from his father, telling him to knock off the bullshit and come home. Whatever he’s done, his father has made the necessary payoffs to make sure it goes away. Hmmm…mysterious. Back at Chez Frankenstein, Proteus remembers much about his past life. Looking through books, Proteus recognizes a whale, a boat, hunting, and every word exudes sadness, tragedy.
Ser Malcolm and Vanessa attend the party in the home of Ferdinand Lyle (the Egyptologist). Vanessa quickly gains the interest of Dorian Gray. Vanessa is also the only woman there * gasp * not wearing gloves. Scandal! The two share some flirty conversation before they take their places at the séance table, led by Madame Kali (Helen McCrory, AKA Draco Malfoy’s mom). Kali puts on a bit of a show speaking of lover and master—Amunet: basically the Egyptian Lilith. The real communication comes through Vanessa. First, she becomes Ser Malcolm’s young son Peter, who died of dysentery while exploring with him. Peter asks if father was proud, if he would name a mountain after him. Malcolm is overcome with emotion.
For a moment, we think it’s over. No. More talk of Amunet. The table shatters. Now Vanessa is Mina, and she’s chatty—screaming at Malcolm: You man, you animal, you man, you animal, betrayer, creature! She speaks of filthy sex, Peter dying, rape, incest maybe, all with liberal use of the C word. It’s freaking and frightening. Vanessa, now filled with lust, leaves the party and proceeds to get down and dirty with a stranger in an alley. Dorian Gray, having followed her, watches with interest.
We already know that Vanessa is the name of one of Dracula’s wives. And we know who Mina is in relation to vampires. Historically, there’s debate about who Dracula’s wives were. Some say two were sisters, possibly his daughters. Could Ser Malcolm actually be the creature, and Mina’s kidnapper her savior? Did she long to escape incest with her father? We don’t know anything for sure yet, except that it’s gonna get uglier before it gets better.
Brona describes the pics she posed for with Dorian as “a tad risqué.” Ya think? Ethan is not one for judgment. He keeps it real; and they make a dinner date. Later, Ferdinand Lyle informs Ser Malcolm that Vanessa won’t be invited back. LOL He’s also edgy about the hieroglyphs being translated. One is something he’s never seen before, Amun Ra (a fusing of Amun—the hidden one, and the sun god Ra) and Amunet, the consort of Amun Ra. In this mythology, Amunet and Amun Ra are kept wholly separate. If they come together, as they are depicted in the hieroglyph, the devil will rise and man will be annihilated. So…shit just got real. Lyle urges Malcolm not to tell Vanessa this, believing it is she who is being hunted by The Devil.
Victor is taking Proteus for a walk. He has to wear a hat, but otherwise he’s pretty excited, though a little scared. After being initially overwhelmed, he begins to recognize things, shouting them out. It’s a wonderful scene that depicts his childlike wonderment at simple things like a dog, a horse, a chestnut, or “fairy lights.” The pair are approached by Ethan and Brona, who I suspect wanted advice on treating her consumption. Once again, Alex Price is adorable. How do you do? My name is Mister Proteus. When they reach the docks, Proteus shouts everything he remembers, sloop, topsail, bowline…wife. Wife? Doreen. Has he actually seen his wife? Now he’s confused. His pain crushes us. What am I? Victor can’t begin to explain.
They return home, Proteus excitedly recounting all the things he saw. Ethan and Brona, friends. Victor explains the difference between passing acquaintances and friends. Proteus wants lots of friends, like Victor. Victor is his friend. At this moment, we know that Proteus will never do what we know Frankenstein’s monster does. He doesn’t fear fire. He knows not to throw a little girl in the water. He doesn’t have a square head or bolts in his neck. He’s…dare I say it? Loveable. But then…something. Like a stab from behind. A hand reaches through Proteus, splitting him into pieces. What the ever-loving fuck? Victor is crushed. We’re crushed. Cut to some hideous creature we’ve never seen before. Your first born has returned, Father.
Great, a monster with daddy issues. That’s all we need. And with that, I’m sold on Penny Dreadful. Not sure why I want my heart ripped out of my chest by TV on a regular basis. But if I’m not fully immersed in what I’m watching, I might as well be knitting (no offense to you knitters!). Penny Dreadful is strong stuff, and “Séance” makes it clear that no one is safe, everyone is lying, and sexual mores are…let’s say flexible.
See you’s next week!