Penny Dreadful: 1.02 Séance
This week brings us the second episode of new horror series, Penny Dreadful. In Séance we follow Sir Malcom Murray (Timothy Dalton) and Vanessa Ives (Eva Green) in their continuing quest to find Mina, Murray’s daughter. Whilst they are no closer in retrieving her, further truths are uncovered behind the anatomical mystery that is lingering in their basement. Blood samples are taken and Hieroglyphics are deciphered, with help from Ferdinand Lyle (Simon Russell Beale) and Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway), who is himself preoccupied with introducing his latest creation to the outside world. Meanwhile, Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) forms a delightful friendship with a sickly woman named Brona Croft (Billie Piper) and Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney) walks on to the scene, as the show’s androgynous lacklustre piece of eye-candy.
It’s a bit of a strange episode this week, showcasing an unfortunate level of inconsistency. Throughout, the pacing feels off and disparate, and the delightfully macabre tone established last week is somewhat thwarted by the introduction of Dorian Gray. This apparently magnetic lothario warrants scenes of a sexual nature that, rather than filled with dark, gothic eroticism, come across bland, empty and as a blatant attempt by the shows cast and crew to shock the audience. Similarly, Chandler is yet to add anything of benefit to the show. Although his brewing friendship with Croft – a spritely and charismatic character – could indeed add a much needed level of depth to his characterisation.
Thank goodness then, there are a few moments this week that completely save the day. The titular séance from which this episode is based is a stand-out moment showcasing how dark, stylish and well-acted this show can be. Taking place at Lyle’s party, renowned medium Madame Kali instigates a séance, which fast spirals into an immersive and emotive set piece. The camera elegantly circulates the table, whilst Green throws everything in to her performance, as a possessed Ives channels Mina, in addition to an un-friendly Egyptian Goddess. One, who we later find out, plans to bring about the end of the world using Ives as an unwilling conduit. Tears, foul language and frenetic movements succeed in creating a completely bonkers yet compelling moment of horror, and it doesn’t stop there.
Frankenstein continues to stand out as a poetic and whimsical character. Fueled by a love for literature and an all-enveloping lust for scientific discovery, he is without question, the show’s most compelling protagonist yet. His relationship with Proteus, his latest creation, is incredibly emotive and a joy to watch on-screen. As Proteus experiences the outside world for the first time, we are treated to a montage of discovery and endearing innocence, executed to near-perfection by the lovely Alex Price.
An emotional attachment to both Frankenstein and his monster comes at ease, so for the show to quite literally rip it all away from us at the very end, is an unexpected and harsh revelation. What we assume to be Frankenstein’s first creation, played by Rory Kinnear and known as The Creature, bursts through the chest of Proteus in a gruesome, bloody fashion. Séance finishes on this dark and intriguing note, proving that despite pacing issues and dull characterisation, there are strong moments that will keep us coming back for more.