When I first heard that Showtime were set to air a horror series based on the famous literary characters of Frankenstein, Dorian Gray and the like, I was beyond excited. I read every article about the series that I could get my hands on in an attempt to understand where the producers would take the intriguing idea. What I finally saw was a pleasant surprise and a complete departure from the bloody and far-flung plots I was expecting.
Though Penny Dreadful hasn’t proved to be a particularly plot-driven series, it’s clear that this was entirely on purpose so as to allow the audience to get to know the compelling and sordid characters. In fact, Penny Dreadful gains plenty from its grounded script and careful characterisation of Vanessa Ive’s haunted soul to Doctor Victor Frankenstein’s horrific creation in the form of Caliban. While some viewers have complained about the lack of a fast-moving and gory storyline, they have also completely missed the point. Writer and executive producer John Logan (writer of “Skyfall”) made it clear from the outset that the show aimed to be a more realistic gothic horror. In many ways, this is where the show’s brilliance rests.
Penny Dreadful has primarily revolved around Sir Malcom Murray (Timothy Dalton) and his tireless search for his daughter Mina, who had been kidnapped by the master of vampires. The series also introduced us to the supernaturally connected Vanessa Ives (Eva Green), a young and arrogant Dr. Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) and an outsider American named Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett).
The final episode of season one was a satisfying climax to an intelligently written season, culminating in four key moments. Following on from the previous episode, Sir Malcolm and Vanessa finally know the whereabouts of Mina, and set about gathering their team of misfits to get her back. Accompanied by Ethan, Victor and Sembene, they arrive at the Grand Guignol Theatre and become entangled in a fight resulting in the boys having to defend themselves against a group of terrifying lady vampires, while Sir Malcolm confronts the most frightening of them all. Eventually, Mina reveals herself and is quick to show her true dark side when she snatches Vanessa who is indented to be her master’s bride. In a surprising twist, Sir Malcolm shoots Mina dead in order to save Vanessa, but not before declaring that he “already has a daughter”. It was a sweet moment but almost unbelievable considering the lengths Malcolm went through all season just to find Mina.
Now that the Mina storyline has come to an end, we’re not sure where they will be taking Sir Malcom’s story next season. However, we hope that he won’t be taking too much of a back seat. Timothy Dalton is simply arresting as the stern and secretive character, and we couldn’t imagine the series without more details of his vicious past and growing father-daughter relationship with Vanessa.
Throughout the season, we’ve watched as Ethan became increasingly entangled with a vivacious but sickly prostitute called Brona (Billie Piper). This episode saw her battle with consumption worsening, prompting Ethan to seek Victor’s help. The timing couldn’t have been worse. After being taunted all season by his brutal creation – the poetic yet brutal Caliban – Victor somehow came to take pity on him in a turning point that saw the two finally connect.
Since Brona fit the criteria for a companion for Caliban, Victor played a tricky game by sending Ethan out of the room where Brona lay dying, before smothering her to death. While this is all well and good for Caliban, we’re predicting a complicated second season for Victor (especially once Ethan finds out Brona has been cut up like a Christmas ham and stitched together again as a zombie companion).
Speaking of Mr. Chandler, the final episode proved to be a big reveal for the otherwise mysterious character. While we knew he had serious daddy issues and even more serious objections to returning to the States, little else was known about Ethan (though some more switched-on viewers had their suspicions). These were confirmed after Ethan suddenly turned into a werewolf and viciously ripped to pieces the two Americans who had so far unsuccessfully tried to bring him back to the United States. Though the scene was over in a flash, it gave me enough to start imagining all the interesting places the writers will take this character in the future.
The season finally closed at a poignant moment, after Vanessa is seen walking into a church and sitting down with the priest to discuss the possibility of an exorcism. The priest was quick to turn it around, asking Vanessa if she truly wants to be normal. We cut to black on our heroine’s pondering expression, which left us feeling both reflective and excited for what the future holds for Ms Ives (we’re personally hoping for more possession scenes). While many people may only know Eva Green as the most memorable Bond girl of the last decade, seeing her captivating and career-lifting performance as Vanessa Ives is all the proof you need that Green is a real star with unlimited potential. Throughout the season she’s demonstrated a true fearlessness, and has tackled some of the most challenging scenes with grace and guts.
Fans can now look forward to a second season of 10 episodes, and we’re excited to see where executive producers John Logan and Sam Mendes take the series next. If you’ve yet to see this dramatic gothic horror, then be sure to catch up before season two airs in 2015.