Starting off our weekly recap of Penny Dreadful, it’s Night Work.
Showtime’s Penny Dreadful is a dark, pulpy drama that incorporates famed literary characters and supernatural creatures in 1880s London. The concept of a monster and/or literary character mashup is hardly original; Universal eventually featured multiple monsters from their stable in single features. More recently, Van Helsing and the film adaptation of Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen tried similar mashups – neither proved particularly successful. With Penny Dreadful, will John Logan be able to produce something more thoughtful and entertaining than other recent cinematic outings?
Van Helsing and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen tried similar mashups to Penny Dreadful, neither successful
Night Work begins with the unseen murder of a woman and her young daughter. Next, we see a woman in a black lace dress praying fervently in latin. As she prays, spiders emerge in force and she appears to slip into a trance as an ominous voice says, “soon, child, soon. I’m hungry.” We next see this woman, later identified as Vanessa Ives (Eva Green), at a Wild West Show, watching the lead sharpshooter more closely than the show itself. Vanessa follows the sharpshooter, an American named Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett), to a bar after the show to offer him some “night work” that evening. All she requires is that he can shoot and can keep calm in a dangerous situation.
Ethan meets Vanessa and famed explorer Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton) at an opium den and the three descend into a subterranean vampire lair in search of someone dear to Malcolm. Among stacks of rotting corpses, Ethan discovers a Nosferatu-esque vampire, but not who they were looking for. They bring the corpse to a cadaver market and meet a young doctor (Harry Treadaway) conducting research on corpses. Though the reveal is delayed until the final line of the episode, this is obviously a young Victor Frankenstein. He performs a cursory autopsy on Nosferatu, remarking on the corpse’s exoskeleton and the hieroglyphics tattooed beneath.
Vanessa invites to Ethan to continue working with them, which he declines. Malcolm and Vanessa visit an eccentric and flamboyant professor of Egyptology, Ferdinand Lyle (Simon Russell Beale), for translation of the hieroglyphics. His cursory translation is a blood curse and he divulges that the hieroglyphics originate from the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Not one to miss the opportunity of displaying his famous new acquaintance, Lyle delays further translation until after he gets to know them socially, specifically until after they attend the upcoming fête he and his wife are hosting.
If Penny Dreadful can find a better rhythm and maintain the tone, it might be one of the few successful horror TV series
Malcolm invites Victor to work with them to explore the supernatural and rescue his daughter from the vampires; Victor is hesitant. That night, Malcolm is visited by his daughter, Mina, but now she is a vampire. Vanessa asks Malcolm if he was sure it was Mina before she alludes to a past transgression that made her responsible for Mina’s vampirism. Frankenstein returns home and we’re introduced to his monster (Alex Price). Still lifeless, the monster rests in copper tub filled with ice and connected to an electric current. Lightning causes a power surge that knocks out the electricity in Frankenstein’s lab. He lights a lantern only to find the tub empty. He finds his creation cowering in a corner and the creature timidly approaches him.
Penny Dreadful is off to an intriguing start with Night Work. The pacing is rather uneven, with a brisk first half and the second half slowing dramatically. This disjointed structure provides little narrative pay-off for the second half of the episode, which leaves it feeling incomplete. But overall, Penny Dreadful shows potential. The cast are well suited for their roles and play it just campy enough for the pulpy, heightened reality of the titular genre. If Penny Dreadful can find a better rhythm and maintain the tone, it might be one of the few successful horror television series.
– We know Vanessa is a spiritualist/fortune teller but the prayer scenes (the voices, the spiders, the upside-down crucifix) indicate there might be more to her than that. Are her prayers meant for protection or control?
– Ferdinand Lyle stole the episode. He brought the much needed comic relief to an otherwise incredibly dark episode. The fact that he’s essentially Harold Zidler from Moulin Rouge doesn’t hurt, either.
All images: Showtime