Published on May 28th, 2014 | by Dapper Dan


Penny Dreadful – Episode 2 “Séance”

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Welcome back, gentle reader, as we delve once more through the foggy streets of Victorian London and explore the horrors within…

Penny Dreadful’s second episode took the premise set out in the first, and everything was ramped up a notch or three. We open with a terribly atmospheric, if a little clichéd, scene of a lone woman on a dark street. It’s clear that she feels as if she’s being watched. You know this scene will end badly, but when it happens, it’s still enough to make you jump and provides a suitably bright streak of crimson, in case you needed reminding that we’re knee deep in horror territory.

The scene immediately following this suggests that perhaps the gunslinging American, Ethan Chandler, is quite not as normal as he appears. He awakes down by the docks, confused, and with gouges in his hands, possibly from clenching his own fingers? Were I a betting man, I’d be putting my money on him being a werewolf who can’t control the change.

Staggering to a nearby bar, Ethan meets one of the show’s big names; Billie Piper as Consumption-riddled prostitute Brona Croft.

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A world away from her performance as Belle De Jour in Secret Diary Of A Call-Girl, Brona is a little older, a little wiser and a little more cynical. Perhaps setting us up for an interesting love triangle, Ethan and Brona fall into an easy dialogue and appear to feel very comfortable together. It’s quite the contrast to his dealings with Ms Ives in the first episode. As they go their separate ways, there’s a definite feeling that Brona’ll be playing a major role as the series progresses.

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Last week ended with Victor Frankenstein’s little side-project coming to life before his eyes. Throughout this episode, the newly (re)born creature and Victor have an interesting dynamic. It may seem a bit clichéd, but there’s a degree of homo-eroticism here as the affection Victor shows is not wholly parental. There’s no hint that he’s romantically interested in his creation, but there’s a definite feeling of love for him.

While Victor shows Proteus around their home (His name chosen from Shakespeare, greatest of all the bards) the reanimated man’s memory starts to return in fits and starts. He appears to have been a seaman, possibly a whaler and was married. This is great work by Alex Price as the struggling creature. The heartbreak on his face as he asks his creator “What am I?” is a particularly strong moment.

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Brona’s next destination after meeting our mysterious gunslinger, is the home of a rather fey young man, whose home is full of portraits, or possibly more pertinently; pictures. Yes, it’s time for Wilde’s most well-known character to appear; Mr Dorian Gray. Initially asking Brona to pose for his photographer, Dorian directs her to undress and, after she coughs as a symptom of her illness, he proceeds to have sex with her. It’s cleverly done, this ageless, sickness-immune man strangely attracted to her because of her illness. Is it that he’s turned on by the illusion of danger posed by her? Is he just removed form the human condition sufficiently that he craves any contact with it?

I must admit, the moment she coughs a spray of blood over his face would be a hell of a moodkiller for me!

Finally we rejoin Sir Malcolm and Vanessa, accepting the invitation extended last week by the Egyptologist at the British Museum. Dorian’s story intersects here with “young” Mr Gray as a guest at the same party, trying to charm Vanessa off her feet, albeit unsuccessfully.

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The séance referenced in the episode title is intense. Far from the spiritualist Madam Kali running the show, Ms Ives channels several spirits and sheds light on Sir Malcolm and Vanessa’s pasts. Without giving too much away, there’s a dead child, possible abuse of another (I was unclear on this part) and the promise of far worse to come.

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I was fully expecting Vanessa to rubbish Kali’s claims to be able to contact the spirits, and expose her as a charlatan, but not that she’d end up suffering a very extreme possession at the table.It’s a very neat way to turn expectations on their heads. This scene could easily have descended in farce but Timothy Dalton’s performance as the steely Sir Malcolm, thoroughly rattled and upset, is perfect. We see his emotions run through the spectrum as he’s concerned for his associate, his daughter, guilt over memories of his son, anger at what’s happening… It’s solid work here, backing up work by Eva Green and Alex Price, showing there’s substance to this show’s style.

Closing the hour, we return to Victor’s laboratory and… Well, I can’t give EVERYTHING away, surely? Suffice to say, after a cliffhanger like that, you’ll be back for Episode 3. I certainly will.

I give “Séance” 4 and a half crystal balls out of 5 😉

Dapper Dan
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