(EDITOR’S NOTE: *For those that haven’t seen the following episodes, SPOILERS may be present from here on out.*)
I got the chance to check out the first 2 episodes of the new series Penny Dreadful. It airs on Showtime in the US and TMN (The Movie Network) here in Canada starting Sunday May 11th at 10pm (EST) and 9pm (PST).
Dr. Frankenstein, Dorian Gray, and Dracula come to life in Showtime’s new original series PENNY DREADFUL, a frightening eight-episode psychological thriller created, written, and executive produced by three-time Academy® Award nominee John Logan (Hugo, The Aviator, Gladiator), and executive produced by Academy Award winner Sam Mendes (American Beauty) and Pippa Harris (Revolutionary Road).
The series stars Josh Hartnett (Black Hawk Down) as Ethan Chandle, a charming, brash man of action; Eva Green (Casino Royale) as Vanessa Ives, a force to be reckoned with; Timothy Dalton (License to Kill) as Sir Malcolm, a hardened explorer on a personal quest; Reeve Carney (Snow Falling on Cedars) as the confident and mesmerizing Dorian Gray; Rory Kinnear (Skyfall) as Frankenstein’s monster, “The Creature”; Harry Treadaway (The Lone Ranger) as Dr. Victor Frankenstein; Billie Piper (DOCTOR WHO) as Brona Croft, an immigrant seeking to escape her dark past; and Danny Sapani (The Bill) as Sembene, a longtime ally of Sir Malcolm.
Episode: Night Work (S1E01)
The episode opens with a pretty disturbing mother/daughter abduction as we roll into the opening credits. We are now introduced to a “Cowboy” played by Josh Hartnet performing a Wild West Show like the ones famous at the turn of the century. He impresses all the ladies and gentlemen, especially two ladies in particular. The first, he gives an excellent demonstration of his riding ability back by the wagon. The second is a mysterious woman who wants to hire him because of his skill with a gun. He accepts and meets her at a location later that proves to be an opium den. As they walk through, showing us many who are “chasing the dragon”, we come upon the man they are meeting, Sir Malcolm Murray. As they begin to go deeper into the den and beneath, they have finally come to do what they must. As things proceed and begin to turn all manner of strange, the fight begins. Our heroes have a go and defeat the first level but then they move on to the charnel pit and things go from strange to out right weird. After killing a man/creature, they look for Sir Malcolm’s daughter to no avail and leave. As they do, the best scene I have witnessed in a long time happens as Hartnell’s Ethan Chandle can’t take any more and wants answers. The moment plays so perfect with the audience’s perspective, you can’t help but laugh at his reaction and of course agree with him. From here things slow down a bit as more pieces on the board are moved into place for the overall story and we meet additional strange characters.
Episode: Séance (S1E02)
The pieces that were moving the end of the first episode are continuing to reveal themselves here. As our young doctor continues with his grand experiment. It’s interesting how different this is from what we have come to believe and understand of these characters. As all these pieces begin to interact with each other, most do not realize they will be working together shortly. This of course leads to the gathering that Sir Malcolm was invited to in the last episode. As he and Ives begin their path down this dark endeavor, they are brought to a party where a seance is about to take place. While we may not be accustomed to such things, during the era this story take place this type of novelty performances was quite common amongst the British upper class. The party goers are invited to partake and do they. As the party tricks begin to switch from illusion to real, things get ugly for Ives and Sir Malcolm. As we are given glimpses of the dark forces moving against them, Sir Malcolm is reminded of the goal of his mission – saving his daughter. As he confronts this, he is overwhelmed by the things being said. The seance ends, the party and everyone disperses. Ives meets a new friend and Sir Malcolm gets a severe warning about the path he travels. When we return to our young doctor, he is about to receive a visitor.
Overall, I was quite impressed by what Penny Dreadful has to offer. I was especially impressed with the opening half of the pilot. It built great suspense and tension until the climax of the episode. As I mentioned above, Hartnett really gives what is needed at that point. Eva Green and Timothy Dalton really shine as Ives and Sir Malcolm. Green plays Ives with a great air of darkness and insight that serves the character well. While Dalton’s Sir Malcolm is what we have come to expect of British gentry, he also presents the character’s experience hunting in Africa as man of culture but also of violence and pain. The violence comes easy to him as does the pain over his loss of his daughter.
I’m sure you figured out by now that I recommend Penny Dreadful and think it makes a very nice addition to the television lineup. Like Game of Thrones or True Detective, there is a real sense of world building and production value going into the series. Many networks would have cheaped out on the effects and production value for this period piece. Not here.
However I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the elephant in the room – The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. There are some strong similarities between the properties but I have a feeling that may only be a surface feeling that will go away as we continue down this dark rabbit hole they are constructing.
I am looking forward to seeing what the rest of the season and beyond brings from one of the best new shows on TV right now.
If you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!