Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Penny Dreadful - Exploring that Dark Depths of the Victorian Age

“The theatre is my drug. And my illness is so far advanced that my physic must be of the highest quality.” – John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, The Libertine

This quote reins true of my appetite for story. I could burn through a thousand stories and be unsatisfied by the meekness of our young writers in today’s world. Not bold enough to express the deepest of tragedies, the victories of life and the struggle of man. 

However Penny Dreadful has delighted me far beyond what I should appreciate. Exceeding my expectations and losing myself in the process. I identify with these characters as torturous and sinful as they are, they are like looking in the mirror and seeing the horror that looks back. The overarching storyline blends well with the individual back stories and themes. Highly interesting characters make you want to know more about their past and who they are. Its like being entranced by a "Penny Dreadful" where one episode is never enough.

Its like the Adams family, with loads more death

The atmosphere and story is brilliantly done. They make you chase after one goal, but you realize throughout the arc that an even higher purpose exists. What started out as a hunt to save Mina from an unknown villainous monster, ends up being really about saving Vanessa and accepting one's afflictions and guilt from the past. Hints are dropped faintly throughout the episodes, giving more back story for the audience without the need to "tell" them whats up. This is a rare instance of how great the writing is. They show you who these characters are rather than force your mind into one box. They are multi-faceted, complex and have their own pasts, but bond together through strife and fight for each other where it counts most. By no means are they perfect, but their cracks of imperfection draw you in and are the most enlightening and wondrous parts of the story itself.


Vanessa Ives is a woman whose facade is proper and poised, but underneath her possession threatens to consume her in the most vile of ways. She is by far the most interesting character in the show, having a weird perversion that is underneath her skin. She is tormented by the monster that lives inside her, a demon perhaps that just won't leave. She is a clairvoyant that uses her abilities to assist Malcolm in finding Mina and deals with the fate of the cards while being fascinated by dark things.

Ethan Chandler is an American who ran away from his home country to hide out in England from persecution. He is a man who seems to force himself not to care, but has a deep desire to belong. He constantly runs from his past, yet talks about it with  sentiment. He is a victim of a curse, a beast of the night, and he can not allow himself to hurt another. Many believe he is a traditional wolfman [different from the werewolf], while others have speculated he could be a fallen angel. 

Victor Frankenstein is a brilliant, young doctor who is fascinated by the flicker between life and death. Raised on the literature of his days, Victor has a difficult time relating to the opposite sex or others in general. He is sharp in tongue and bold in manner, a man that is pure in his intentions of furthering his knowledge for the sake of knowledge itself. Victor is haunted by a mistake that he can never undue. It pursues him, destroys everything he loves and consumes his waking thoughts. 

What makes him the most interesting are his creations. The first one we see is Proteus, a beautiful, gentle soul who we suspect was once a sailor before he died. Then we also meet his darker older brother, Caliban, who had been abandoned at birth by Victor who was afraid of him. Caliban has a lot of spite and anger, feeling the world owes him much for his mistreatment unlike the gentle Proteus who was nurtured from the beginning. The way Victor treats each creation is an interesting source of drama one would expect out of a parent treating each child differently.

Dorian Gray, a man who lives in a world of beauty, and yet so bored of his life, he continues searching for something more thrilling, perverse and beyond his imagination just to keep from loathing his existence. He finds such an interest in Vanessa Ives, perhaps the first and only person who is enigmatic, hard to read and is not an easy passing fancy. A lot of people online have commented that Dorian doesn't have a point to this series. I think he does. He is the monkey wrench in the hunt for Mina.

Sir Malcolm Murray is a strong, hardy man who boasts about his time in Africa and is pretty much a serial adulterer. After losing his family, he becomes so obsessed to fight for the last thing that is still alive, his daughter, Mina, that he would do anything to get to her. Desperate and heartbroken at the guilt of killing Peter and loathing his wife until she dies, he is the shadow of the boisterous man he once was. Even though he presents himself as a strong figure, he is a danger to those closest to him. 

Sembene is a man who seems to know more than what he lets on. He is quiet, but sticks with Malcolm through thick and thin. For reasons we are still unsure, but he mentions that Malcolm is his responsibility. Sembene starts out as a simple servant in a rich Victorian London home, but he has the heart of a warrior and the vigilance of a protector and key observer in the affairs of Sir Malcolm Murray.

Why I love it:

The show has a story so enigmatic, enrapturing and mysterious it keeps you on your toes. Every ending beckons you to continue, you can’t help yourself to see another and another and another until you consume it all in one swallow. The truth is hard, but the slow burn and powerful uprising of religious sorcery and wickedness can make anyone giddy and weak kneed through this excellent storytelling.

This must be one of those bad hair days, chewing gum maybe?
And we can see why. John Logan has been the writer of many excellent films such as Gladiator, Star Trek: Nemesis, The Last Samurai, The Aviator, Hugo and Skyfall. This writer seems to understand the tragedy and victory of characters and has brought a rare treat on TV, greatness. Probably the best show since Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad hit the scene.

The show follows in the vein of the story of Bram Stoker’s Dracula for the first season. We get to meet a mixture of archetypes, the most well known being Dr. Victor Frankenstein and his creation as well as Dorian Gray [and that mysterious portrait we never got to see]. We also get a splash of Egyptian mythology, a hint of werewolves, and a great big helping of demonic possession. It is gothic horror at its best and like the Penny Dreadful of its days, leaves you hanging for more. You want these characters to live to continue watching their torture like some sick twisted person. It is within this sickness that you realize how powerful and beautiful the story has become, like dark poetry for the soul.

If you want to be hanging onto every word, drawn into the depths of darkness, consumed by insanity and brought back to life, watch Penny Dreadful. Its only 8 episodes, but they are all impactful and beautiful in their own way. A work of art and poetry in this modern age where people are trying to be gritty and outrageous, this show draws you in and leaves you wanting more.

1 Point Sin:

Caliban - Sorry moody meatloaf, but you were the .2 off of my enjoyment. The incessant whining and crying about how brutal man was and how life is unfair did become difficult to like you after a while. You did redeem yourself a bit at the end, but killing the most notorious vampire hunter ever was unforgivable. Nope. 

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DnD Rating: 9.8/1O 

1st Season DVD Date: October 14, 2O14 

If you are interested in reading a Penny Dreadful, check these out at the Gutenberg Project! -Varney the Vampire or the Feast of Blood

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