The first episode of Penny Dreadful took some baby steps into assembling a team in Malcom and Vanessa’s search for Mina. Sharpshooter Ethan (and casual killer of Native Americans) and Victor (who disapproves of Ethan’s casual killing of Native Americans) were sucked into the fold with little information, their skills being honed by Malcolm with ease with little information shared. “Resurrection” is the weakest episode of Penny Dreadful yet, but it marks a large step forward for the team at the center as everyone gets on the same page. And Penny Dreadful also begins to dissolve the original conceit of searching for Malcolm’s lost daughter as her abduction seems only a means for Dracula to get his hands on Vanessa and apparently hurry the world to its end.
Strangely, and I say “strangely” because the rapid progression of Victor’s story has been a high point in the past two episodes, the low point of the episode is Victor’s time with his returned creation. The first fifteen minutes of “Resurrection” are devoted to them, from the death of Victor’s childhood pet to his mother’s sudden fall to consumption which ignite his obsession with life and death. It takes most of the episode for Caliban to bore Victor with the story of his horrifying and painful birth and his encounters with the harsh world and then to get to the point and tell Victor what he wants: a companion. The mad dash to provide context for the creature’s hatred of Victor is necessary, since I’d rather know the depths of the creature’s hateful feelings than spend the whole season guessing about their origins, but it unfolded in so clunky and unappealing a manner that I found myself wanting to speed through Victor’s scenes in a way I didn’t in the last two episodes.
But Harry Treadaway’s performance is fun to watch as Victor is forced to shed his earlier bravado and confidence in the face of Caliban’s resentment and violence, spattered with Proteus’ blood (similar to the way he was when his mother coughed blood onto him) which only gets even more horrifying when Caliban spreads it completely on his face. Victor’s a much smaller man when with Caliban (even during Caliban’s “birth” Victor is speechless and terrified) which is especially evident when he reunites with Malcolm, Vanessa and Ethan and is back to his brazen self. Though it was fun to see the show finally go full-fledged horror with Caliban’s birth (between the blood-filled tub, the candlelight and the raging storm), the conflict between the two gets old even before the episode’s completion so I’m not that interested in what comes next.
The search for Mina was much stronger this episode, kicking off with Vanessa’s vision of her which instigates the group’s trip to a zoo to search for her. Eva Green could really carry this show on her own out of her sheer ability to imbue Vanessa with equal parts vulnerability and strength, and she is (like usual) a joy, shedding tears after her vision of Mina, later turning her steely stare onto a contrary Ethan and then laughing with him over his love affair with Brona. Even hers and Malcolm’s relationship gets some layers in “Resurrection” as she realizes that he’s keeping things from her (namely how she’s what the dark forces they’re facing are really after) and using her as bait in his search for his daughter. But her apparent easy acceptance of this is what’s most interesting since she obviously has a relationship with Mina that is strong enough to warrant Mina reaching out to her in horror and for Vanessa not to be too bothered by Malcolm using her.
Though it takes the whole episode, it’s almost thrilling to see the whole team together and consciously choosing to be a team. The pilot had this same feeling, as Malcolm and Vanessa brought Victor and Ethan into the fold, but it was the beginning and none of them really knew what they were getting into. Ethan backed away, and Victor was more into Proteus. Now all four of them are aware, with their capture of a young vampire named Fenton, and are all comfortable disagreeing with one another on how to deal with him. But it’s still Malcolm and Vanessa at the center here, and Vanessa is still the one that makes the show worth watching. Victor, too usually. And even Malcolm is intriguing. But Ethan is easily the weak spot of the group. Maybe there was supposed to be something compelling in how he dealt with that pack of wolves at the zoo, but…there wasn’t.
His and Brona’s love story is equally bland. One episode does not a believable love story make. Brona’s function these past two episodes has been as a plot device, first to introduce us to Dorian Gray and his kinks then to encourage Ethan to realign with Malcolm and Vanessa so he can get money and pay for consumption meds. Billie Piper’s supposedly a regular so this is apparently bound to change, but it’s disappointing to see that this is all we’re getting of her. But hey, she’s still doing better than Sembene, who may or may not be part of this team that’s been assembled but you wouldn’t know it because he’s basically token.
Whatever’s coming next for Penny Dreadful hopefully it maintains its forward momentum. There’s something compelling in these people who are pursuing a relatively selfish goal being sucked into a larger fight for the world’s survival. Malcolm says he gathered them all there because they aren’t kind, but they’re not all cruel enough to let Mina rot or to let the world go down the drain either.
- Who exactly is Caliban threatening to destroy? Who does Victor love? He doesn’t have any friends. Are Malcolm, Vanessa and Ethan supposed to fall under this umbrella at some point, pulling this stories together?
- And we got our first Harker mention! He and Mina were engaged before she got caught up with Dracula (who has yet to be mentioned by name), but where is Harker now? And I’m still waiting for word on a Lucy or a Van Helsing.
- Really glad Brona didn’t cough blood onto Ethan’s face because that would have been awkward.
Leave your thoughts in the comments.