Beyond all his grandest achievements, mankind truly holds its concept of duty aloft, and from his narrow perspective almost deems to have such self-ascended notions challenge the very heavens themselves. While dull creatures wallow in the grubby and mired petulance of their selfish preservation of their own genes, man, that most haughty of all beasts, stands firm to champion the unchampionable, to defend the undefendable and to invent more nouns that it can use to identify an underdog so that it can hurry to it’s defence. It’s also with such powerful obligation that I bring you a double edition of telly reviews, namely Penny Dreadful episodes 3 and 4, Resurrection and Demimonde. Reader beware, you’re in for a sca… wait, no that’s copyrighted to R.L. Stein, whoops, let’s try that again. Ahem. Reader beware, we’re going to talk about spoilers.
Resurrection picks up (flashback notwithstanding) right where we left off last time, which was covered in poor ol’ Mister Proteus’ guts as Rory Kinnear’s original-but-still-not-really-Frankenstein’s-Monster went all thespian on us. Kinnear’s creature is a threateningly terrifying presence, kind of a given if you’ve just punched a man into two pieces despite looking like a really big fan of The Cure, and does a pretty thumbs-up performance. It’s a no-brainer that this episode’s bulk is handed whole-heartedly to the adventures of Frankenstein’s Monster: Theatre Monkey. Oh yes, there’s a reason the creature is quite the little actor. After a stark contrast to the creation of Proteus, wherein Kinnear’s creature is brought into a world screaming, in pain and almost-instantly abandoned by Frankenstein, the creature brings itself up the hard way through Vic’s books and sets about after him. This leads to him ultimately becoming the new stage hand at The Grand Guignol on the insistence of Alun Armstrong’s charitable, impossible-not-to-like luvie, Vincent Brand. It’s here that Kinnear’s creature is branded Caliban, a fitting pseudonym if you’re down with your Shakespeare.
Ultimately though, as great as the whole almost-hostage-situation is between Vic and Caliban and as oo-where-are-they-going-to-go-next as it sounds, the whole Frankenstein dynamic falls on it’s used haunches when Caliban asks for a bride. I don’t know if people are looking forward to the next Victorian literary checkpoint, but every time one crops up I can’t help but feel a groan rumble out from my gut, roll its eyes and make some dismissive comment on the pandering nature of such a tactic before sliding across the room and out the window. My groans are creatures unto themselves. I have a medical condition.
Aside from that, the episode really rams home it’s theme and title of Resurrection: a flashback of a young Victor Frankenstein coming to terms with death and the reinvention of the self, the story of Caliban, the many lives of the actors at The Grand Guignol, even the team from episode one reform.
Yup, Malcolm Murray and The Mystery Crew come together (mainly due to Josh Hartnett’s infatuation with Billie Piper forcing him to earn some dollar) for another ker-azy mystery. This time the gang take a midnight walk through the zoo after a sort-of psychic clue from Murray’s daughter to Vanessa Ives. On their midnight constitutional they are faced down by a pack of wolves which are only dispersed by Hartnett sticking his mitt into one of the wolves’ mouth. Everyone everywhere looks puzzled. They also find a maybe-vampire snacking on dismembered monkeys and kabosh him on the noggin. As you do. It is London zoo.
At times, Resurrection is very heavy-handed with its themes of… well… resurrection, with a musing near the end of the episode basically looking directly to the camera and spelling it out in children’s spaghetti shapes for you that, yes, this episode has been all about things changing and/or coming back. Just in case the past hour had just slipped by you.
The one thing I’m most intrigued by from this episode is the idea of Amun-Ra. I had pegged no-longer-Spiderman-but-currently-Dorian-Gray as Amun-Ra, lord of the undying, but following the reveals in this episode it could be Caliban OR EVEN that most tricky of spooks, Dracula. Not to sound like a Japanese game show but place your bets now. Don’t worry, the next episode does bugger all to build on this.
Speaking of the next episode… Let’s talk about the next episode! Demimonde decided to fling its focus back onto that power couple of Vanessa Ives and Dorian “not-Spiderman” Gray and opens with a decidedly-bored looking Gray surveying some kind of a-typically foppish orgy of sorts. Not even a man mistaking his nipple for a coconut macaroon raises a smile. Did they even have coconut macaroons in Victorian England? Regardless, the man is hard to please. Unless you’re a spooky picture hidden behind a secret wall and hallway of mirror, that is.
After being spooked by a small child in front of a church, Vanessa purposefully bumps into Dorian and the two go staring at flowers. This is where we get today’s thinly-veiled theme: pretty things have a darkness inside them. This is brought to us by lingering shots of deadly nightshade and the letter ‘F’. As in ‘F***ing hell, did he just kill that cat?’ The answer to which is yes, yes he did. I am referring of course to Malcolm Murray’ second, the ever-quiet Sembene. Murray’s silent manservant is proving to be quite the curiosity these past few episodes. I hope we get to see him being unnecessarily badass more often. Not that I wish he’d kill more cats, you understand.
This episode also sees Victor hanging out with the intriguingly-named haematologist Abraham Van Helsing (Gee, I wonder why he’s so invested in blood disorders…) and using his findings on the captured probably-a-vampire from last time, with mixed results. All the while Vic’s looking over his shoulder and out the window as Caliban looks back and glowers, practically mouthing the words “make me a wife or I’ll kill everyone everywhere” and making angry gestures.
The crux of this episode sees most of our main characters at The Grand Guignol, with Hartnett’s Chandler and Billie Piper’s Brona Croft out on a date together whilst Gray and Ives give each other sex eyes on opposite balconies. Elsewhere in the theatre, Sembene looks shady and off-duty and Caliban flits about making special effects for the show. The show is about a werewolf. Just in case you thought the theme had nipped out for a quick smoke while you weren’t looking.
Now this goes all fine and well until we remember that Gray and Croft did the underpants Charleston a few episodes ago, and when they all inevitably meet up during the interval Brona takes it badly and runs outside to have a bit of a shout at Hartnett for the futility of their relationship. She then runs into the night and coughs herself to half to death. I think. If so then me-reckons Frankenstein just got a candidate for Caliban’s request. Side note: ‘Caliban’s Request’ sounds like a great title for a play and/or psychedelic TV drama.
Anyway, Hartnett is heartbroken that Billie Piper would rather away and die than spend the rest of the evening with him so he saunters off with Dorian Gray, King of The Fops all the way to a rat-dog-fight-pit-thing. I’m sure there’s a correct name for these sort of things, all you need to know is that all these aristocrat type are going ape-shit for a small dog chewing up dozens and dozens of rats. Hartnett can’t take it, hits a load of toffs and promptly ends up back at Dorian’s for post-gambling absinthe, a situation that leads Hartnett to have a mild freak-out and dive on Gray naked bits-first. He may not have been the most stand-out character before, but something is up with Ethan Chandler. My money is on werewolf.
Whilst all this theatre-rat-homosexual-encounter stuff is going on, Murray has a heart-to-heart with Frankenstein about why he’s taken to Chandler so much. Basically, Frankenstein reminds Murray too much of the son he lost in Africa and wants to use Chandler as a gun-hand for his adventures. Vic is just too important apparently. Such surprising sentiment gets broken up by their captive almost-certainly-a-vampire getting loose and trying to spring a trap on Murray with the help of one of those lanky grey fellows from episode one. The trap fails and the prisoner vampire gets a brain-full of broken glass. Yummers.
I mentioned at the beginning of this review about some overblown notion of duty, and that’s unfortunately the main thing keeping me glued to Penny Dreadful these past few episodes. Not to sound like The Pretenders, but don’t get me wrong, Penny Dreadful is quality television through and through, it just doesn’t hook like so many recent series. Whilst this has been broadcast we’ve also had the hysteria-inducing Game of Thrones and the exceptionally well-done Fargo which both left me clawing at my television like a existentially-troubled dog at the moving pictures on the screen, eager for more. So far, Penny Dreadful hasn’t made me so embarrassingly pathetic, and for a show that tries to have its pulpy, gothic noir cake and eat it, you think it’d be easy to do despite how disgusting such a cake sounds. For now, however, I will soldier forth, for you dear attractive readers, and I ask for nothing in return. Except maybe the occasional hysterical show of appreciation for my vital service to society. Now and then.
Penny Dreadful is on Sky Atlantic, Tuesdays at 9pm