Of course, they are now getting to their...season finale? ...So I am a little behind. As I mentioned elsewhere, I've had some technical, among other, issues. Still, if you haven't heard about the show, or are undecided on watching it, enjoy.
In case you've never come across the term before, Penny Dreadfuls were beloved pastime of Victorian London society. A penny each issue, they were a cheap and popular periodical of the day. They covered various lurid tales. Monsters preying on the citizenry. Murderers brutally killing God fearing families. Dark tales of the criminal life in London, from the thieves to the opium dens. The more dark and terrible the story, the better, as that brings people back looking for more. I looked a little at this in reviewing the origins of Dracula, and the penny dreadful tale of Varney the Vampire.
|Penny Dreadful examples - the super natural Spring Heeled Jack and|
murderous Sweeney Todd
As a source, they are quite rich. They have given us, or made us of such notables as Varney the Vampire, Spring Heeled Jack, and Sweeney Todd. The output of the penny dreadfuls were wide reaching. A developed fictional world taking advantage of these ideas is bound to be horribly fantastic.
Also, Victorian horror as a whole is a heady source. The works of Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley, H.G. Wells, Robert Louis Stephenson, J. Sheridan Le Fanu, Oscar Wilde, and others...What a menagerie! Maybe we'll get a bit from Charles Dickens and Arthur Conan Doyle as well?
But will it be fully taken advantage of?
The series has been created by John Logan. That may be a good or bad thing depending on your mood. He's written Star Trek: Nemesis, The Time Machine (2002), and Skyfall. He's also written Gladiators, Sweeney Todd, and Rango. It all depends on your love and hate for these individual movies. I can't say I hate any of them. But I do note that he's written a take on Sweeney Todd, a story that came from the Penny Dreadfuls that inspire this show. It shows a previous interest in the topic.
From the look of the show, this seems to be a labor of love. He even preemptively constructed a show bible for the story and character. There is some passion here.
But to be honest, when I did first see his name tied to this project, I was paused. But, maybe we shouldn't be too quick to judge.
Let's see what Penny Dreadful does to entice us to buy into this first chapter of their lurid tale.
How about the title sequence?
The show opens in darkness.
The city of London seems quite quiet and still; most of it's hardworking citizens sleep. After a hard days work, every decent citizens needs a good nights rest.
In one tenement, a mom sleeps, curled up with her young daughter. Mom stirs, lighting a lamp and looking around. Her daughter still sleeps soundly.
She gets up and heads into another room, and uses the toilet facilities. So mundane for any of us.
She takes a seat, but becomes unsettled.
Something is not right. Is something watching her? Is something there?
Suddenly the window behind her explodes, and she is yanked out the window. Barely time for even a breath, and she's gone.
In her warm bed, the daughter now awakens, wondering where her mommy is. She heads out into the dark room next door, and begins nervously and quietly searching.
When she reaches the toilet, she isn't ready for what awaits her. We leave the scene with her screaming for her life, which she is about to loose.
|"You mean I'm not a series regular?!"|
As openings go it feels like the front page of many a penny dreadul. The tragic and gruesome mystery of a mother and daughter whose lives are cut brutally short.
But what just happened? It seems like something decidedly unnatural has attacked them. But what will it be? Vampire? Demon? Ghouls? Kool Aid Man?
If we hope to learn we will need some special assistance.
Let's move to Vanessa Ives. When we see her, she is on her knees, praying in Latin. She's fervently chanting. Alone on the wall before her is a small crucifix.
|Translated: "Six seasons and a movie. Six seasons and a|
A spider seems to crawl out from behind the crucifix, and Vanessa tries not to take notice. A another spider starts to crawl over her shoulder, and she tries to focus all the more.
It is a curious sight. But is it real?
You see, Vanessa is...gifted. She senses things, and not in the normal 5 senses way. I find it hard at this point to go much further than that, as it is still unexplained. It seems that she has visions, can use tarot cards, and sense "things". There also seems to be more tricks up her sleeves, but we'll get to them as the story progresses.
So are the spiders a sign of a vision incoming? Are they a warning? Or, are they some other symbol? I can't help but remember a line from Dracula (1931).
Dracula is ushering Renfield up the stairs of his castle, and stops to look at a spider in it's web. He jovially says, "The spider spinning his web for the unwary fly."Is Vanessa the spider, or the fly, in our penny dreadful?
Vanessa Ives is played by Eva Green. And as I've said in other posts, she always makes a story better. Here she's playing a somber figure, burdened with a deep guilt about the past. Much of her time is spent focused on her goals and the mysteries she is trying to unravel, a wrong she wants to right.
|SATURDAY: Yogi Bear on Ice!|
It's just the latest show to make it's way across the Atlantic, seeking curiosity seekers. In the show there are plenty of popular tropes and imagery at play. People dressed as Native Americans, cannons, and a few horse tricks.
|Ethan Chandler. Played by Josh Hartnett.|
|Remember when dressing a white|
guy up as a Native American and
shooting at them was a thing? And
it was okay?
As he spins around shooting various targets around a field he's in, the audience is watching intently, each hit amping them up. Though for Vanessa, there is only one thing of interest at this show. Ethan.
|"...I wonder if he'll do nude scenes?"|
After they finish up, Ethan quickly tries to play the cowboy, and brush her off. He's about to leave town. He doesn't know when he'll be back. His life is so crazy. She was so special. ...I think she gets the gist of it.
Heading off to a tavern, Ethan settles in with some booze, and some quiet. He'll only be allowed to enjoy one.
Vanessa comes up to him and engages him.
"I have a need for some night work."Her tact with him is to challenge him. She calls out his tall tales. She offers him some vague work that will require a gun. She gives him little information. She won't even give him her name.
It all acts to intrigue him, he has to follow.
She also shows off her abilities to him (though I don't know if this is her "gift", or she's just a keen reader of people. -- I do lean towards it being her being a keen observer.). She reads him.
Expensive watch, but threadbare jacket. Sentimental about the money you used to have. Your eye is steady, but your left hand tremors. That's the drink, so you keep it below the table hoping I won't notice. You have a contusion healing on your other hand. The result of a recent brawl with a jealous husband no doubt. Your boots are good quality leather, but have been resoled for than once. I see a man who has been accustomed to wealth, but has given himself to excess and the unbridled pleasures of youth. A man much more complicated than he likes to appear.She seems to know him, but he's still in the dark about what he's facing, or the work he's being offered.
So he asks for a smile, to take the job. It seems like the only power he can grab from her. So she gives it, seeing as she's getting everything that she wanted. She gives him a card with an address he should be at that night.
She really knew how to play him, and draw him into...what?
I'd introduce more of Ethan Chandler now, but we really don't know anymore. He has some complications in his relationship with his father; though what that means is unclear. He is drawn to women and booze. And he's conflicted. His past troubles him, but does he have any more or less ability to make things right as Vanessa? We'll have to see.
That night, Ethan heads out into the London night, people are still moving, particularly in this area of London.
And may I just say, the sets in this show are just lovely. It helps to draw you in as a viewer. The care and detail that the production team put in is appreciated. The scene is nicely dark, with scattered lanterns. Also smoke. The scene is full of extras. Sailors. Sellers. People from various parts of the world. It helps create a feel of the dirty smelly crowded city London was at the time.
The area of town that Ethan is sent to brings him into a establishment of disrepute. An opium den. Heavens!
|1874 - Fictional London|
But that is what you needed in stories. Sherlock Holmes, penny dreadfuls, newspaper men, need their dirty vile corners of the city to reveal and heap scorn on. Sometimes they just made them up. Hey, makes for good imagery and story fodder for the readers, right?
Not to say these dens did not exist at all. It's just London was not a hot bed of it, except in horror and mystery tales. Now back to our horror mystery tale.
Vanessa and Ethan meet up, and enter the opium den.
|"Am I coming off as creepy and mysterious? Good."|
He is in conversation with a woman as they approach. He steps away from her, and sizes up Ethan. He's brusk and eager to get to work.
We are looking for someone. More than that you don't need to know. Do not be amazed by anything see. And don't hesitate.He also makes clear that someone dear to him was taken. He then marches off to the back of the rooms they are in. There he takes stairs down beneath the streets of London.
Sir Malcolm Murray is played by Timothy Dalton. He brings a fierceness to the role. Also, a ruthlessness.
I am left to wonder what the proprietors of the opium den know of the things beneath the city? They quietly allow this group in and into the back of their operations. Do they suspect what is there? Have they been in fear of it? ...Shall we see what "it" is?
Our trio stride down a curiously hidden hallway. Not complaining. It is a beautifully shot scene.
Ethan is still mostly amused, or playing at it. He has no idea what he's been lured into.
|"...Wait. Is this a rap battle?"|
At the end of the hallway stand three men.
|The guy with the creepy eyes.|
|The guy that looks like Dwight Frye...Dracula (1931)?|
Meanwhile the other two guards start flanking the trio. And then the fighting starts. Creepy eyes leaps at Sir Malcolm, and gets decked. As Ethan readies to shoot the other two, he's jumped by a forth; he is long haired blonde. He struggles with this guy, as he's on his back, making it hard to shoot him. But he eventually gets a bullet in the guys arm. He then shoots one of the other men.
While the men play, Vanessa senses something. She seems to hear a woman screaming in the distance. She ignores the fighting and walks through to the door the men were guarding.
Creepy eyes disappears, and Sir Malcolm goes to help Ethan, grabbing up a hook.
He leaps at the blonde and swings the hook through the side of his head, and pulls.
|"If I was still a Bond, I'd have something pithy to say now."|
Luckily, Ethan is really good at what he does. Ethan turns and places a bullet through his head.
These guys seem pretty hardy. They seem to need a bullet in the head to stay down. What could that mean?
Vanessa makes her way through corridors and finally finds herself in a large room. The room is fully of bodies torn apart. There are piles all over the room with various bloody parts.
It's a foul sight. I can only imagine what it would smell like...Second thought, I won't imagine that.
No one seems to be there. Then Vanessa finds a woman laying on the ground. When she turns her over she finds that she is deathly pale. She also has two puncture marks in her neck. ...And there's a dead baby.
Still, with the dead girl, it seems that we know what we are dealing with, right?
Creepy eyes returns now, and chides Vanessa. He then offers to show her his master. He slowly approaches her, and then Ethan shoots him in the head.
Malcolm runs in, looking at what is to be found. He quickly runs to the dead girl, and says that it isn't "her".
Then their problems worsen. Ethan notices some movement in one pile. Then fangs and red eyes emerge.
As it stands in the pile of body parts, it towers over Ethan.
So Ethan does what he does best. Shooting it repeatedly, the creature seems unfazed.
It grabs him and throws him across the room.
The creature rises from the pile and walks menacingly towards Malcolm. He looks ready to draw a blade from his cane, and try and fight, but Vanessa steps in the way.
She stares into the eyes of the creature, and it looms over her.
|"Oh yeah! What ya gonna do when the Ives come crashing down on you, Baldy?"|
Is it her resistance to him? Is she actively doing something to it?
|"I will eat you. I will devour you. I will...Are you Eva Green?"|
That seems to do the job, as the creature crumples to the ground.
Vanessa and Malcolm realizes that this isn't the creature they sought. There must be at least two of them in the city. Still, a win is a win.
The dead girl starts to move now. She isn't okay though. Her eyes have gone blood red, she has fangs, and does not look remotely friendly. Malcolm jumps at her and drives his blade through her heart now. Blood spurts, and she is no more.
They decide to take the creature's body, though I don't think Malcolm will be able to mount this one on the wall. Instead they are taking the body to some doctors who don't ask questions, and don't talk to the police.
They head to where doctors do illicit research with bodies of dubious origins. Where else would you go when you've just killed and snatched a body?
|Victor Frankenstein. Played by Harry Treadaway.|
Looking at it, he seems that it's teeth are unnaturally uniform. Also, it seems to have an exoskeleton over it's body, making it highly resilient to firearms and other attacks.
All of this could likely be a vampire. In fact everything we've seen in the show suggests it. But...
Once you peel away the exoskeleton...hieroglyphics. Freaking hieroglyphics! What? Has that work?
What does this mean?! Though I note that Vanessa gives Malcolm a serious look. What do they know?
The doctor nicely sums the situation up.
"Well, it would appear you have an Egyptian man of no particular age, who at some point in his indeterminate lifespan decided to sharpen his teeth, cover himself in hieroglyphics, and grow an exoskeleton. Or you have something else all together."Also, our not so friendly doctor is Dr. Victor Frankenstein. He's a down on his luck scientist, who is peddling his skills at this establishment to found his research, and living. Seems his ideas and research have caused his to be ostracized by all. But it matters not. All that does matter is the work.
"Who the fuck are you people?"After all this Ethan really wants to know what the hell he's been drug into. None of it makes any sense.
|"Who the fuck are we? We're Sundays at 9 cst."|
In another part of the city, as morning arrives, the police have discovered the remains of the ladies from the beginning of the episode. It is a nasty sight. Blood is everywhere. The walls. The ceiling. Outside the window where the mother was grabbed.
The inspector (I am just assuming he's an inspector, and not a sergeant, etc.) is looking things over and having pictures taken of the scene and the bodies (which look to have been torn apart).
It is interesting to have this scene here. These aren't characters I expected to see. The police. It bodes for some intersection as the series goes on. Maybe our team will be able to help, or use the assistance of the inspector.
Later that day, Ethan arrives to meet with Sir Malcolm. He's met at the door by Sembene. He's Sir Malcolm's trusted aide. By the markings on his face, you can guess he's originally someone that Malcolm met in his adventuring. The two share a friendship of sorts.
|Sembene. Played by Danny Sapani.|
Spiritualists of the day were people that believed that the spirit world was real, and they could access it; not that that this belief doesn't persist today. Spiritualist often would act as mediums, who could talk to the dead, or allow spirits to talk through their bodies. This would often happen at seances.
It was a popular belief in the Victorian world, with millions engaging in it. There was a craze for it. And for people like Arthur Conan Doyle it was a cause to champion. Women like Vanessa, or Conan Doyle's wife, were often mediums, though there were some famous male mediums as well.
There were a number of experiencing, including those that Ethan mentions, like bells being ringed (by the spirit world). There are a lot of tricks. Maybe we'll end up seeing some ectoplasm in an episode?
|Ear ectoplasm. I knew Ghostbusters was missing something.|
Tarot is about the use of playing cards, turned tools of the occult. Over time special cards with specific symbols were produced. The cards were shuffled and then lain out in a pattern that helped the user divine the future. They were used for divination starting in 16th century. Many different versions of tarot card have been produced over the centuries. I have no idea what versions Vanessa uses.
She lays things out for him.
Do you believe there is a Demimonde, Mr. Chandler? A half world between what we know and what we fear. A place in the shadows; rarely seen, but deeply felt. Do you believe that?She explains they are dealing with being from the shadows. They also are interested in him staying, and continuing his work with them. But she also warns him away.
A wise man would walk away from this house and make a concerted effort to forget everything that occurred last night. He would not look back.She explains that is the invitation, and his choice. Vanessa also explains that the person that was taken is Sir Malcolm's daughter. A creature like the one they killed is responsible, and they wish to hunt it down.
He seems to turn down the job, saying he doesn't like being a hired gun. Still, is that going to be his final answer? He isn't committed to leaving yet.
Vanessa has him pick a card from the table, before he leaves to think over his future options. He ends up picking a card entitled "The Lovers". She just smiles at him...And I have no idea what that means. I don't think tarot is always meant to be read as literal.
Later in the day, Vanessa and Sir Malcolm go and visit the British National Museum.
|"Oh, Victorian Dilbert. You truly do reflect the drudgery of a Dickensian Workhouse."|
...Woo! Well, I love the British National Museum.
We also see the growing public and media hysteria about the murders from the start of the episode. Is Jack Back? Fear is growing on the streets of London. And the police are clueless.
Are heroes aren't much better off. But that's why they've come to the museum.
The Egyptology Antiquities Department, to be exact. They have come for Ferdinand Lyle.
He's a colorful man who puts on a French accent. He has a very period perm, a coiffed mustache, and a velvet smoking jacket. He shows off very precise manners, and is almost giddy when the famous Sir Malcolm Murray comes to visit him.
Ferdinand Lyle seems very much like a comedy character. The look. The manners. And he does put on quite an act.
But Lyle is very interested in what they bring him. Photographs of the hieroglyphics on the dead monster's torso. He is noncommittal about much of what they say, but he does explain that they talk of a blood curse. As he goes through the pictures they brought, he grows silent. Lyle asks if they have more pictures. He asks to see them, but not in the museum. He eagerly invites the both of them to a party at him house the next Friday. He is insistent, promising answers then. It is an odd attitude,suggesting fear and knowledge.
"Conjoined in this fashion it translates roughly to an idea meaning blood cure or blood transformation. Although there is a theory it is something more along the lines of a malediction. A blood curse. Trust me, those Egyptians were a bit mad cap when it came to specifics. It's all very metaphoric."Lyle then asks Malcolm is he knows where the symbols came from. He then tells him that they originated in the Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead.
After they leave he's left with a serious and concerned look on his face. So what is his deal? How much of the forces at work might he know of? Will they be borrowing more from Mummy tales.
Up to the reveal of the hieroglyphics, the story seemed to plainly point to a vampire. But following on hieroglyphics we know have a touch of the old Book of the Dead. It feels like we are talking about a tomb of a different temperature.
What are we dealing with? The show seems eager to keep up pondering.
Out in the city, Ethan, stops at the murder scene from the show's start. He watches as the family is brought out, and listens as locals talk. He hears about the dead family and their suffering. He also hears people's fear about the idea the Jack the Ripper has returned to kill more. Listening seems to steel Ethan to stay in town and get rid of the monster at work in London.
Over with Sir Malcolm, he uses this downtime to continue building the team.
Malcolm sends Sembe to the residence of Dr. Frankenstein. It's not the nicest of spots, a very impoverished part of London. He arrives at his door with a box for the good to doctor. In the box is a proper formal suit, and a request for the doctor to join Malcolm for dinner. And it's at his club on the Pall Mall. Ritzy.
Frankenstein dresses for dinner and arrives at Malcolm's club, The Explorers Club. It's everything we imagine for these Victorian clubs. Vaulted architecture. Older men everywhere smoking, whispering, and dressed to the nines. Also, servants for other parts of the world helping maintain a certain social order.
Entering, Frankenstein looks much like he belongs, despite his work and his hovel. He strides right up to Sir Malcolm, and greets him. He seems to be overall amused to be called here, and to learn that the man he'd met the previous night was actually someone so famed and reputed.
Malcolm is much more interested in engaging Frankenstein, hire him to the cause. I guess this episode should have a subtitle of Membership Drive.
Listening to Malcolm talk about his treks across Africa draws out the depth of Frankenstein's passion. Also, his contempt for most of science. It's all so small, petty, and trivial in his eyes.
"I would never chart a river or scale a peak to take it's measure or plant a flag. There's no point. It's solipsistic self-aggrandizement. So to those scientist who study the planets seeking astronomical enlightenment for it's own sake. The botanist studying the variegation of an Amazonian fern. The zoologist caught up in the endless fascination of an adder's coils. And for what? Knowledge for itself alone? The elation of discovery? Plant your flag on the truth? There is only one worthy goal for scientific exploration. (whisper) Piercing the tissue that separates life from death. (whisper) Everything else, from the deep bottom of the sea from the top of the highest mountain on the farthest planet is insignificant. LIFE and DEATH, Mr.Malcolm. The flicker that separates one from the other. Fast as a bat's wing. More beautiful than any sonnet. That is my river. That is my mountain. There I will plant my flag."Malcolm seems to enjoy the rant. Either it's because he likes the passion and contempt, or because he knows he can make use of it.
He explains to Victor that he has a job for him. He needs a free thinker and anatomist who can deal with the places where science and superstition coexist.
When Frankenstein is aloof about joining up, Malcolm is forced to be a little more open. The end goal for him is to rescue someone important to him. His daughter.
"To save her, I would murder the world."Victor Frankenstein is moved by Malcolm's earnest openness and need...and the money being offered.
ADVENTURING GROUP HAS ADDED A DOCTOR.
ADVENTURING GROUP HAS ADDED A GUN MAN.
Inside, Malcolm starts to undress from his formal wear. He is quite and solemn.
But soon he realizes that he is not alone.
Mina, his daughter, is before, soaking wet from the rain outside. She shivers and seems scared, but asks for help.
Then she leaps towards him, eyes blood red, and snarling.
As quick, she is gone, and the room is dark, the lights shattered.
Malcolm Murray is shaken by the event. But he's also bolstered. Mina reached out to him.
This scene also gives us the first clear sense of a conflict that exists between Vanessa and Malcolm. There is some bad blood there. And both seem to harbor a sense of guilt about what has befallen Mina.
Mina. We should address her now. This would be Mina Murray, maybe. You see, in a number of places in the media she's called Mina Harker. So it's a little confusing.
In case you weren't sure, we are talking about the Mina of Dracula. But most of the other characters from the book, or plays, or movies, are no where to be seen (yet). So I don't know what to make of it.
Is she Harker? If so, that would mean she is married to Johnathan Harker, which book wise is something that happens halfway through Dracula. Of course, as the intent of this series, they are no doubt playing with expectations and conventions. But the fact she is described as Mina Harker in so media is just confusing.
Still, the way Malcolm talks about her, as does Vanessa, I feel like she is younger and not yet married. ...And suddenly I wonder if Vanessa is an alternative of sorts to Lucy Westerna.
So what has befallen Mina? Vampire? Thrall? Spirit? Demon? Much to learn. Also, is she controlled, trapped, or conflicted in her form? She came to her father, but menaced to. (Or maybe she is a villain. We just don't know yet.)
"There was another thought, when she was so very close to me. A strange working of memory. I thought of a particular lion hunt many years ago. Moving through the tall grass. Getting a glimpse of the prey, shoulders mostly, the mane. You prepare your rifle. You're very quiet. And then there is a moment. The wind changes. The grass stops swaying. The lion turns, looks at you. The moment you realize you are no longer the hunter, you are the prey."Whatever happened to Mina, Vanessa holds herself totally at fault.
And that leads Vanessa back to prayer, which she engages in all the more fervently. I guess her sense of guilt about Mina is what propels her. It haunts her.
And again, the spiders are back. And they have reinforcements. And they are doing some redecorating.
Are these portents, or warnings? What do they imply? And do they speak of Mina or Vanessa's fate?
Meanwhile, Frankenstein has returned to his hovel. Men sleeps outside it, and he moves by them to his rooms. And then he moves into his other rooms.
I guess we know why he's so desperate for money.Renting up what looks like a whole floor of a building? In London? Near the river? Caw blimey!
Now this is what I call the lair of Dr. Frankenstein. Equipment lies everywhere. It is most all stuff he's built, cobbled together with what materials he can acquire.
The liar of a mad scientist.
And what kind of lair would it be without a bar naked dead body in it?
Moving around, he checks the state of his equipment. The body is on ice. Electricity is being continually applied to the body...
And then the lights conk out.
Lighting a lamp, Frankenstein looks around.
But the body is missing from it's ice bath.
Across the room he finds the body, pressed against a wall, shaking. It turns around wide eyed, and stares at his with traumatized eyes. He is a creature different than some might expect. He's not pale or green or grey. He's not angry. He's not even that big (Minds out of the gutters, folks.).
He staggers towards Frankenstein. Frankenstein just sits there and cries. The creature reaches out and touches him and they smile at each other.
Interesting note to end the pilot episode on. I honestly thought they would wait some time before jumping to creating life. But here it is, all waiting for Dr. Frankenstein to deal with. (Sadly we are a little off from the point where I'll look at Frankenstein in books and movies.) The fact we are bypassing the creation means we get to focus more on the impact and responsibility in creating a life.
The sets and setting are wonderfully completed. The effort shows, and it helps to draw you deeper into the experience.
The episode also very nicely muddies the waters of this world, while also building up a complicated mythology to discover. We start with a creature attacking a family. As we go it all points to a vampire, as we know them often. Then we get some hieroglyphics. Then we get talk of the Book of the Dead. And then we get Mina Murray dropped in our lap, and we are drawn back to the vampires.
What are we dealing with? An amalgam? A variation of other takes? Is Dracula even involved?
I can't wait to find out.
As the season continues, the cast will be growing (and maybe shrinking). New threats loom. Knowledge will be a tool and burden.
Next up, is a dinner party. How fun. "Seance" ...What happens when someone like Vanessa is at a seance?
I guess we'll find out.