Penny Dreadful: "Seance"

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<em>Penny Dreadful</em>: "Seance"

The second episode of Penny Dreadful began very much like the first: an innocent (albeit rough around the edges) woman strolls through the dark, foggy night. She hears a sound. She looks up. A creature slowly approaches through the mist. Just as we begin to make out what sort of beast draws near, she screams and we’re left with only a few bits of her dismembered body as the sole proof of the supernatural attack.

We then cut to Ethan Chandler, groggy and half-awake under a pier in the early morning. Having refused to help Vanessa and Sir Malcolm, Chandler’s fortunes seemed to have gone from bad to worse. Discombobulated, he stumbles to the nearest Inn. After ordering a bottle of whiskey, he meets yet another prostitute- Brona Croft (Billie Piper). Croft and Chandler begin a flirtation which serves as the episode’s B Story.

If I’m going to be frank, I’m not that impressed with Ethan Chandler yet. I’ve heard through the grapevine that his character is explored in more depth as the series progresses, but at present, it’s hard to have any sort of connection to him given that so little of his history has been revealed. The advantage of using characters like Dorian Gray and Victor Frankenstein is that though we are only given hints of their motives and pasts, we are familiar enough with their stories to want to invest in them. Vanessa Ives has the benefit of being played by an incredibly charismatic actress while inhabiting a very specific archetype. Chandler has neither of those attributes, and so he seems, comparatively, a little two-dimensional.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Victor Frankenstein. His relationship with his creature, whom he names Proteus, walks a line between fatherly and romantic. Or maybe romantic is the wrong word—but intimate in a kind of Lord Byron-y way. Victor feeds Proteus, bathes Proteus and ultimately gives meaning to Proteus’ life. Their interactions are gentle. Frankenstein is incredibly interesting, and I don’t think we’re used to seeing two men so gentle with each other on TV.

It begs to mention that Dorian Gray is also introduced in this episode. Though Croft and Chandler seem enamored, she’s still a working girl. Shortly after we’re introduced to her, she finds herself in Gray’s well-appointed drawing room. In an impressive sequence, Gray seduces her under the flash bulbs of an early Edison camera. It’s very Kim K/Ray J but, you know, Victorian.

None of this compares, however, to the climax of the episode.

Vanessa Ives and Malcolm Murray attend a party thrown by Ferdinand Lyle (Simon Russell Beale), Egyptologist and resident fop. Their goal is to have Lyle decipher a series of hieroglyphs found on the body of the vampire they killed in the first episode. Lyle, however, is more interested in organizing a parlor seance conducted by one Madame Kali. Vanessa obviously has some sort of supernatural power, and as the seance begins, she quickly becomes a vessel for the spirits Kali conjures.

In one 10-minute monologue, Eva Green channels Sir Malcolm’s son, his daughter and an ancient Egyptian goddess. She pivots so dramatically between regret and sadness to aggressive, vengeful sexuality in a matter of a few beats. If this episode left me with anything, it was the belief that Eva Green is a true star.

Penny Dreadful blatantly draws inspiration from all sorts of sources-not just Shelley and Stoker, but also from The Exorcist and Drag me to Hell and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The show is a pastiche, an homage to different genres of horror. I have a close friend who thinks this somehow devalues the show. I think just the opposite. In a genre like horror, new work is always in conversation with older pieces—so why shouldn’t Penny Dreadful take from these giants? Penny Dreadful is pulpy but played with such dexterity that old stories become new, and you’re left wondering what’s next.

Leland Montgomery is an LA based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste Magazine.