Penny Dreadful Season 1 Wrap-Up: The Characters
Overall, I found Season One of Penny Dreadful to be uneven and fairly predictable. The best reason to keep watching is the spectacular cast who are giving it their all to bring classic characters to life. Even if you aren’t a fan of vampire mythos, have never read Dracula or Frankenstein, and have no idea who Dorian Gray is—there’s still much to be enjoyed about Penny Dreadful. After all, Timothy Dalton is golden in anything he does. Eva Green was so good, she made me forget all about that horrible Dark Shadows movie—and I thank her for that. Let’s look at Penny Dreadful’s cast of characters (spoilers after the jump)
Vanessa Ives is the leading lady, played by Eva Green. Vanessa is plagued by guilt, desperate to undo the wrong she’s done to her oldest friend. She’s also possessed—like Regan McNeil possessed. Eva Green plays Vanessa to the hilt, whether she’s a comely but spooky socialite reading tarot or a demon-infused maniac having sex with the air. Vanessa is brave, strong, honest, and determined. She also shares a name with one of Dracula’s wives. o.O Her hair is spectacular. She’s also probably the daughter of…
Ser Malcolm Murray is a noted explorer and wealthy badass who is wonderfully played by Timothy Dalton—now in his 6th decade of playing suave hunks. (I know, right?) Ser Malcolm was dismissive to the point of cruelty with his wife and children, screwed any pretty thing he could find, and blames others for his misdeeds whenever possible. We want to like him when we learn that he would “murder the world” to get his missing daughter back. But he’s such a scoundrel (a word I normally reserve for Harrison Ford) that it’s hard not to want to see him fail.
Ethan Chandler is an American cowboy who is great with a gun. He presents himself as a tough, but he loves the ladies—one in particular. Chandler is a smooth talker and a hard drinker. We learn before long that he’s fleeing from some dastardly deed his pushy rich father has “taken care of.” Penny Dreadful spends most of the season beating us over the head with the fact that he’s also a werewolf. We don’t learn until the season finale that he’s actually a Wolf-man. Big difference. Ethan is overtly religious, moral as he understands morality, and pretty honest for another burgeoning scoundrel.
Victor Frankenstein rounds out the main cast. Played by Harry Treadaway, Frankenstein is a prim and scrawny doctor who thinks everyone is dumb trivial except him. He’s also a self-important jerk who can’t see past his own needs or ideas. Victor is impulsive, judgmental, and tends toward the path of least emotional resistance. We later learn he’s not opposed to breaking his doctor vows if it he can figure out how to rationalize it. I’m thinking he should die in Season Two.
Secondary characters on Penny Dreadful are a little more fun. Brona Croft is played by the lovely Billie Piper, only slightly less lovely since she’s dying of consumption. Brona has a great accent, loves a stiff drink (or whatever) in the morning, and is totally open-minded when it comes to the sexual mores of the day. Brona has sex on camera with Dorian Gray, and is the girlfriend of Ethan Chandler…for a while. Methinks she’ll have a new beau in Season Two.
Dorian Gray didn’t do much this season except live to excess. He’s young, rich, handsome, and has a mysterious portrait hidden away. Even viewers weren’t allowed to see The Picture of Dorian Gray—truth be told though, many of us didn’t want to. Dorian Gray slept with two major and one minor character in Season One. After getting dumped in the finale, we suspect that Gray may not be around next season. If he is, let’s hope they give actor Reeve Carney something more interesting to do.
Danny Sapani must be a really good sport. He gets into Sembene makeup that’s clearly intense–for every episode. But everyone around him seems to think he should be seen not heard. We know that Sembene saved Ser Malcolm’s life once, and that he’s smarter than many of the people around him. Sembene is a good fighter, delivers messages in a timely way, and deserves a lot more screen time (with dialogue, plz) next season.
Caliban is the informal name of Frankenstein’s first creature. He’s had a rough life, a rough death, and then another difficult life. You know what though? Fuck that guy. Caliban is deep, thoughtful, and well-read—but he applies none of that insight into realizing that other people have lives and feelings that don’t revolve around him. I will NEVER forgive Caliban for…well, you know what. Rory Kinnear does a swell job of making me hate Caliban’s guts.
Mina Murray is not seen much, but she’s discussed often as the impetus for most of the action in the Murray household. Like Dorian Gray, we know much more about her from literature than we do from Penny Dreadful. Things didn’t go so well for her in the finale. Time will tell what’s next for her, if anything.
Third-tier characters are by no means throwaways on Penny Dreadful. Proteus stole my heart in the second episode, only to be…I can’t even talk about it. Alex Price was phenomenal as Victor’s second “creature” if you can call that sweet, lovely man a “creature.” Pure of intention and motive, curious and welcoming, Proteus was a sheer joy on screen. I’m dying to see more Alex Price, so I’ll be on the lookout for whatever he’s working on next.
If you need another reason to hate Caliban, you can look to his treatment of Abrahim Van Helsing. His death suggests that Penny Dreadful takes place after the events of Dracula—except that Mina Murray-Harker and Lucy are on a totally different timetable. A surprise appearance by the great David Warner was a fun diversion and a chance for Victor to be a curious student instead of a pompous jag for a little while.
In another universe, Ferdinand Lyle would be called something like “Basil Exposition” because that’s his main function on Penny Dreadful. Simon Russels Beale is delightful as Lyle. Foppish and sporting hair so absurd it would make Russel Brand laugh, Lyle provided valuable plot information and some great comic relief as the Egyptologist and séance host.
The creature only known as “Vampire” is an odd one. While it’s clear that Dracula mythos is happening all around him, Vampire doesn’t display any real emotion. He doesn’t speak, and aside from those teeth—is pretty much featureless. Who is he? What’s his deal? Why won’t he leave Vanessa alone? Why doesn’t he fucking say something?
Helen McCrory was another fun casting surprise. When she appeared as “Madame Kali” I was bummed that she seemed like a frivolous, one-off character. When she returned in the finale to explain that she’s really Evelyn Paul, I was thrilled. I can’t wait to see what they do with her next season.
In addition to a stellar cast, Penny Dreadful had an evocative soundtrack that I’ll almost certainly download soon. The Penny Dreadful tarot deck is also a fun show accoutrement that’s as moody as the character’s we’ve no doubt gotten attached to by now. The camera work was continuously interesting, though not entirely unique. I could see them trying to emulate moves from American Horror Story and Sopranos on several occasions. The costumes stood out as being truly spectacular. Vanessa’s puffy sleeves aside, the dresses were consistently outstanding. I’m not well-studied enough to know how true to period they were, but I loved looking at them. I have plenty of nit picky complaints about Penny Dreadful, which are outlined in my episode reviews. All things considered, I’m looking forward to Season Two, and hope there are plot elements that can’t be guessed from the premiere episode.
See you’s next season!