Penny Dreadful – Season 1 Recap & Season 2 Primer

Penny Dreadful IntroNamed after the type of British fiction popular in the 19th century, Penny Dreadful has quickly become Showtime’s latest hit. Much like its namesake, this show is full of vivid and shocking moments that both repulse and attract viewers. So whether you’re a critic, drama lover or just a hardcore fan of this lurid genre, there is something in this show for everyone.

It’s no wonder this show was renewed halfway through is eight episode season run. Though with the close of this season one behind us, it seems as though the show shall move from the demonic to the monstrous. So let’s quickly recap each character’s journey this season and see where we’re off to next.

His New Daughter – Sir Malcolm’s Tale:

The grand explorer known as Sir Malcolm has entertained many with his tales of discovery and adversity; but behind these his calm and charming exterior beats the heart of a man filled with regrets. For years Sir Malcolm cheated on his wife with Vanessa’s mother. For all we know, Sir Malcolm might actually be Vanessa’s biological father – doubtful, but you never know.

Sir Malcolm Murray

Though despite his affairs with Mrs Ives – and possibly other women – it is actually Malcolm’s children that elicit the most remorse from him. We learn of his ever-faithful, yet physically unremarkable son Peter who wanted more than anything for his father to name a mountain after him. Sadly, while on an expedition with his father Peter died and Sir Malcolm selfishly left his body behind only to name the mountain range after himself rather than his poor son.

Sir Malcolm’s regrets continue when he sees what has become of his daughter Mina. Even though it was Vanessa’s actions and jealousy that set Mina on this path, Malcolm also realizes that it was most likely his actions with Vanessa’s mother that set Vanessa along on her path. In the flashbacks we see how Sir Malcolm treat Vanessa like a daughter and wishes his own daughter could be more like her; but now he only sees Vanessa as the woman he would gladly kill if it meant getting his daughter back.

At least that was how Sir Malcolm viewed Vanessa for most of the season. After Sir Malcolm’s last conversation with his associate and confidant Sembene, we notice a change in Sir Malcolm’s feelings. The man who used to feel that his mere presence would save his daughter has now come to realize that there is a chance that his daughter is beyond saving. He begins to echo Vanessa’s proclamation in an earlier episode where she promised Mina that she ‘loved her enough to kill her’ if the situation called for it.

Episode 103

In the end, the story comes full circle as Sir Malcolm is actually the one who has the nerve to kill Mina. The man who once wished for a chance to kill Vanessa if it meant saving his daughter, has saved Vanessa by killing his daughter – or what was left of her. Sir Malcolm has finally accepted the situation at hand and accepts Vanessa as his daughter – the way he had when she was a young girl. Season 1 was all about Sir Malcolm’s trek into hell to save his daughter; so you can be sure in Season 2 we’ll find Sir Malcolm protecting Vanessa with just as much determination.

Torn Between Good & Evil – Vannessa’s Fate

From the moment we first met Vanessa, we knew she was hiding some deep darkness inside her; but we never realized how dark. A séance with the dead is nothing when you’re the embodiment of an ancient Egyptian primordial deity known as Amunet. Whether Amunet is the demon possessing Vanessa or Vanessa herself isn’t really made clear; but either way Vanessa is “the female hidden one” that the vampires and devil have been searching for.

After witnessing Sir Malcolm and her mother have an affair at a young age, Vanessa’s innocence was shattered and a darkness began growing in her. Originally it was just simple kleptomania; but then it grew into jealousy, lust and countless other sins that led to her greatest transgression, sleeping with her friend Mina’s fiancé. Again, it’s hard to tell if Amunet is the darkness or if the darkness if besieging Vanessa because she is the embodiment of Amunet; but either way we know the darkness completely took over soon after Vanessa’s affair.

Vanessa

After some time in a Victorian Mental Ward, which ‘corrects’ psychological problems with ice-cold water and crude brain surgery with a drill, Vanessa learns of Mina’s enthrallment to a demon (vampire) when Mina says her brother Peter might still be alive if Vanessa had chased after him that day she kissed him in the maze – a fact she could have only known by otherworldly means. It is this revelation that spurs Vanessa on in an attempt to make up for her past sins; but can she out run them?

During Vanessa’s encounters with the ‘devil in disguise’, she is told that being good or evil is always a choice. Considering the extent and severity of her demonic episodes, this statement seems easier said than done; but as Season 1 closes we finally see Vanessa choosing to explore the side of ‘Good’. Until now, she – and Sir Malcolm – have let the darkness in as a means to hopefully reach Mina; but sadly this was exactly what Mina and the demons wanted. Vanessa was walking in darkness for no reason.

Now that Mina is dead; and Vanessa and Malcolm have settled down with a kinder father-daughter relationship, we see Vanessa finally setting foot into the church she had been longing to visit for so long. She is finally choosing – or maybe free to explore – the option of exorcism and have the demons within her removed once and for all; but will she be satisfied with being ‘normal’?

The Creator’s Mercy – Victor Frankenstein’s Choice:

When we first met Victor Frankenstein, he seemed to be a simple undertaker with a curiosity for the undead. It seemed like he would slowly become the Frankenstein we know from the novels; but as luck would have it he had already neared completion of an experiment. Though it was strange that the lights went out and the monster disappeared and started walking in a matter of second, this monster named Proteus quickly grew on us and seemed nothing like the Frankenstein’s Monster of story books. The reason for that was because Proteus was actually Frankenstein’s second creation; and it wouldn’t be long until Victor’s first creation made quite the bloody entrance.

Frankenstein and Caliban

The ‘creature’ – soon to be named Caliban – was nothing like Victor’s second creation; but then again, Victor’s response was completely different as well. We find Caliban as a being who’s first human interaction was rejection; and it sent him on a spiral. Thankfully he eventually met a kind hearted fellow who adopted him, gave him work and a name. It was at the Grand Guignole Theater that Caliban came to reside and began to yearn for a mate. Scorned and alone, Caliban threatened Frankenstein until he promised to make him a mate. He even killed Professor Van Hellsing – my favorite character – long before his prime.

It was this murder that galvanized Frankenstein to stand up and fight back. Tired with being a ‘physically-unremarkable’ boy like Sir Malcolm’s late son Peter, Victor learns how to fire a gun from Ethan Chandler; and is all too happy to show off these new skills when Caliban returns to his Master. Having been rejected once again, Caliban begins to feel that his monstrous outwardly appearance is due to the monster within him; and wishes for death. Instead of shooting his creation – even with Caliban’s blessing – Victor decides to leave the creature be and soon discovers a way to make things right.

When we first learned of Brona’s Tuberculosis, we figured she’d be dead soon. Though after seeing the entire cast gathered together at the Grand Guignole Theater during a performance of ‘The Transformed Beast’; it seemed as though Brona would become the bride of Frankenstein. Since her death was inevitable, this seemed like the answer to Caliban’s request that didn’t involve a murder – although Victor certainly sped up the process in Brona’s case. Although with Victor reviving Brona for Caliban, it’s possible that Caliban is about to come face to face with an actual vengeful werewolf – rather than the fake one he’s seen in ‘The Transformed Beast’ play.

The American Werewolf – Ethan Chandler’s Fury:

At first, American gunslinger Ethan Chandler seemed like the odd man out when he got thrown into a world of demons and monster. Who would have guessed he would turn out to be the most monstrous of them all? Well actually, I was expecting that revelation for quite some time – and you probably were too if you saw the signs.

Ethan Chandler

Whether the strange looks he was getting at that supposed ‘Jack The Ripper’ crime scene, his affinity for vicious fights, the silver necklace Brona offered him or his strange reaction when watching that dog rip apart those mice in that underground fight, there were tons of signs. His absinth-fueled one-nighter with Dorian Gray might have thrown us off the scent for a bit; but in the end they were basically hitting us over the head with it (ie: The Transformed Beast play about a werewolf).

We’ve only seen this transformation once; but it’d be interesting to go back and keep an eye out for any more full moons to see if that coincides with him missing. Since Chandler was telling Vanessa that he knows what its like to having something inside you that wants to ‘claw its way out’; perhaps his transformation requires more than just a simple full moon and is always present in the back of his mind. It could be linked to aggression; and now with Brona gone he just lost a major calming factor in his life.

Chandler’s status as a werewolf actually explains a lot of things we’ve seen him do this season. Not only does this explain why he left the US; but also why he was so unafraid of catching Brona’s Tuberculosis. Even his lightning fast reflexes could be a result of his wolf form. We definitely a flashback episode to find out exactly HOW Chandler became a werewolf and what it entails – as well as why he knows so much about Last Rites and the Ritual of Exorcism. Between his mysterious past and beastly future – especially once he finds out about Brona’s true fate – next Season will most certainly bring Ethan Chandler back to center stage.

No Future, Only a Past – Dorian Gray’s Reflections:

We’ve seen a lot of Dorian Gray this season – in more ways than one -; but we have yet to actually learn anything about him and his mysterious past. Based on Oscar Wilde’s A Picture of Dorian Gray, Gray certainly lives up to his hedonistic lifestyle of his literary counterpart. Whether with Brona, Vanessa, random blond girls or even Ethan, Dorian doesn’t care what he does or whom he does it with. His main goal in life seems to seduce everyone and everything around him no matter the consequences – Demonic Possession or Consumption (Tuberculosis).

Episode 104

If you were to place Dorian within the context of Wilde’s novel, he would already be quite a ways through the novel since he’s already gone down the road of dubious exploits. Now I’m sure they won’t follow the book exactly, but regardless we still need a flashback to explain Dorian’s peculiar situation. If you don’t know the story – or haven’t figured it out yet – that thing Dorian keeps locked up and looks at is a portrait of himself; but it’s no ordinary portrait. Any aging or injury that Dorian might sustain is transferred to the portrait so that it ages instead of him, and Dorian himself becomes the picture frozen in time.

As I mentioned earlier, Dorian doesn’t concern himself with the repercussions of his actions. So when Vanessa tells him that their intimacy unleashes a darker side of herself, Dorian treats it as trivial, as if Vanessa is just another beautiful but deadly flower in the greenhouse. Vanessa on the other hand knows the severity of the situation so turns him down. For the first time in Dorian’s life, he has been turned down.

Dorian’s part in the story has been minimal at best; but hopefully next season we will learn more about this ‘man with no future’. Vanessa’s rejection of him will most likely hit him hard and make him lose confidence in himself. This would make him follow a similar path to Caliban, who’s first experience of rejection sent him down a pitiful path as well. Next season should give us the much needed back-story as well as the conclusion to Dorian’s tale. And perhaps, much like Caliban, Dorian too will have a moment of self-realization in the end and seek to make things right.

Recurring Themes:

  • The Monster Within:

Before Ethan met Brona and Vanessa met Dorian, you could tell there was a clear chemistry between Ethan and Vanessa. Even later in the season this underlying chemistry with each other persisted – though less apparent. Now as the finale comes to a close we find that these two have much in common. Despite their calm and charming exteriors, there is a monster within that they both fear to let out.

Ethan Chandler Werewolf

Though this idea of a ‘monster within actually goes beyond these two. In the finale we see how Caliban expresses his realization that his monstrous outwardly appearance only reflects the monster within him. When Victor spares Caliban it isn’t out of pitty; but rather because he identifies with Caliban’s plight. A few episodes ago we heard how Victor fears his ability to create and thinks that he is the monster for meddling in things man shouldn’t mettle in.

Dorian Gray also takes part in this recurring theme, albeit much less personally. Dorian enjoys his hedonistic lifestyle and doesn’t give it a second though; but there is a picture of him that represents his soul that is slowly decaying away while his body stays pristine. In this case, the monster within him has been removed; but is still very much connected to his body and soul. Unlike the others, Dorian has yet to lament his situation; but that might be coming to an end soon as he has just experienced his first rejection, which will become a crack in the window to his perfect world.

  •   Father Figure (Part 1 – Loss)

One experience that almost every character has experienced this season is the loss of a father/ father–figure. The obvious one to note is the father-daughter relationship between Vanessa and Sir Malcolm. In the flashbacks we see how Sir Malcolm treats Vanessa like a daughter; and Vanessa in return sees Sir Malcolm almost like a father. Even before she witnessed Sir Malcolm having sex with her mother, you could tell that she still saw Sir Malcolm as the more present father figure.

Vanessa’s father didn’t do much in the flashbacks and it seemed like the mother was the driving force in that household. It’s no surprise that Vanessa would seek a stronger father figure in the character of the world adventurer Sir Malcolm. After those dreadful events that put a wedge between the Ives and Murry family, we see how Vanessa lost the father figure of Sir Malcolm and he wouldn’t hesitate a second to kill her to save his real daughter.

Van Hellsing and Victor Frankenstein

Victor Frankenstein is also tied up in his own father-figure triangle. Each of his creations sees him as their father; and Proteus’s death makes Victor experience a Father’s anguish in loosing a child; but it is Caliban who truly experiences the loss of a father. From the moment Caliban was created, Victor rejected him and cast him out. It’s only fitting that Caliban would get his revenge by killing Van Hellsing, the man who understood Victor and in many ways became like a father to him. Caliban soon developed a new father figure in the kindly old theater man who took him in; but in the end Caliban once again had to leave his father – though this time more amicably.

The most explicit father-figure is also the only one we have yet to see. We’ve kept hearing about Ethan Chandler’s real father back in the United states; but we have yet to see him. This is once again where Ethan stands out. Unlike the other father-son/daughter moments, this is the only time we actually have a biological father. We don’t know what happened between Ethan and his father; but you can be sure its connected to his whole ‘I’m a werewolf’ thing. It’d also be interesting if ‘father’ here means priest as well, which could explain Ethan’s familiarity with religious practices and Latin. Either way, the presence of Chandler’s actual father and their estranged relationship leads us to one final thing of note.

  • Father Figure (Part 2 – Reunion)

The finale basically brought together most of the characters with their respective father figures. Sir Malcolm has accepted Vanessa as his true daughter and even discusses Christmas with her. Victor accepts Caliban back into his household and seeks to make things right. Whether Van Hellsing with return to the realm of the living – by some new/yet to be revealed means – is unknown; but I hope it does happen since his death came just as his character started to get extremely important. It’s not outlandish to think Van Hellsing has some abilities of his own to aid his life of vampire hunting. Either way, you can be sure Van Hellsing’s return into Victor’s life would be amiable if it happened; but not all reunions with the father end so nicely.

Mina and Vanessa

Thus far there has been an interesting correlation between the type of fatherly relationship and the manner in which they are reunited. While Vanessa and Sir Malcolm had an amiable reunion, Sir Malcolm and his ACTUAL biological daughter Mina was not. By time Sir Malcolm was reunited with Mina, she was more demon than person and there was no chance to save her. Add in the reunion of Victor and Caliban – another father-figure relationship – and we once again see how reuniting with a father-figure ends happily.

This all could be coincidence; but there is still one impending reunion we are waiting for; and it doesn’t look like it’ll be a happy one. Even though we heard a lot about Ethan Chandler’s father, it’s not until the finale that he made himself a clear and present force by sending two mercenaries to track down his son and bring him home. There will be a reunion between Ethan and his father in Season 2; but much like the last reunion between an actual father and child; this one will end in blood.

  •  Between Life & Death:

Whether you’re resurrecting the dead, possessed by them, searching for your undead daughter or watching an enchanted portrait of yourself grow old and decay, all the major characters seem to be trapped somewhere between the mortal and immortal world. That is all except for Ethan Chandler.

Although powerful, werewolves are rarely associated with being anything but mortal. Sure they’re hard to kill; but there is still no feeling of ‘the death’ around them. It’s also important to note that Ethan is also the only non-Victorian character in the show. This may only be a coincidence; but it could also reflect the thoughts of the time where London still saw the Americas as an uncultured and animalistic wilderness.

Episode 104 Penny Dreadful should return next year with John Logan once again taking up the helm. If you’re wondering why the story is so rich and deep it’s all because of Logan who is the current man in charge of the James Bond franchise. Just as Skyfall brought Daniel Craig’s James Bond into a new era and tied it into the original series; he is doing the same with the depth and intricate connected storylines of Penny Dreadful. Shooting will resume in Dublin soon for the longer 10 episode arc that will be Season 2.

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