Archive for the ‘victorian’ Category

“Under the oil lamp that hung outside the Hare and Billet public house opposite the willowed pond at the bottom right of the heath, a spindly figure came hurrying into view.  She was cloaked in black, pulling the swirling material close to her body and moved with determined strides, hurried along by the threat of what stirred above.  Illuminated by the orange glow of the pub windows, she stopped suddenly, distracted by a noise at the pond.  Beyond the curtain of dark willow branches that dipped down into the water something was moving.”

…..

Racing up the old Dover road from the coast two large black carriages pulled by four muscular black horses attempted to outrun the storm that had kept pace with them since their arrival in the country.  Finally Blackheath opened up to them, the storm a dramatic black sea above it. The carriages veered and swayed as their wheels hit verge and pothole, turning the corners too fast and at alarming speeds.  They threatened to topple as they approached the Princess of Wales public house that marked entry into the village.”

Set in 1850s Blackheath- an area of south-east London- Alan Williams’s novel begins as forty year-old Maggie Cloak makes her way home through a crazy storm, while her younger sister, Judy, sits at her desk penning the first lines of the gothic horror she is attempting.

It is a few years since the Fox Sisters of Hydesville, NY made headlines with their spirit tappings, and across the sea, the Spiritualist Movement has caught fire.

As their chocolate store is barely selling enough sugar mice or marzipan ladybirds to keep them fed, Judy declares they must finally close shop and, “We must open the Blackheath Seance Parlour!”

And so begins one of the most fun, engaging romps I’ve read in years.  Filled with beautifully realized characters, a poignant portrait of a troubled sister relationship, a surprising friendship between Maggie and a minister, a serial killer stalking women across the desolate landscape, psychics, angry royalty, and a very naughty gothic number by Judy… this one had me utterly engrossed.

It may be important to note, that others have pointed out some anachronisms.  Indeed, it is unlikely that Judy’s bawdy, explicit novel with 18th century sensibilities would be so easily published in the repressed, hushed nineteenth.  However, the inaccuracies blended so easily into the story, that they never took me out of it.

Blackheath Seance Parlour

written by Alan Williams

2013

Favorite book read in ages.

Mary Shelley

 

Originally published in my former blog: Gypsyscarlett Weblog on February 9, 2009

In the summer of 1816, a cold spell swept across Europe and North America.   The unusual chill caused snowfall in July and unparalleled thunderstorms.   Pamphlets were passed around predicting the end of the world.

During June of that year,  five of the most famous persons in the world gathered together in a summerhouse in Villa Diodati, on the southern shore of Lake Geneva in Switzerland.  “Mad, bad, and dangerous to know”- Lord Byron, Dr. John Polidori, ethereal Percy Shelley, Claire Clairmont (eighteen years-old and pregnant with Byron’s child), and her stepsister, Mary Godwin (mistress to the married Shelley).

Mary Godwin (later Shelley) was born on August 30, 1797 to the radical political philosopher William Godwin, and  founding feminist Mary Wollstonecraft (authoress of “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman”).   Mr. Godwin never got over the death of  his wife who died due to complications during childbirth.  He taught young Mary to spell her name by tracing the letters on her mother’s tombstone.

Although both Godwin and Wollstonecraft had been disciples of the free love movement, he was outraged when his own daughter began a love affair with the married poet and refused to speak with her. Mary had spent her childhood haunted by the idea that she’d murdered her mother and  was determined to prove her consequent life worthy.   It had not been easy growing up the child of famed revolutionaries.   Now,  practically disowned by the father she adored, and in the company of  the poetic geniuses, Byron and Percy, Mary felt an even greater need to prove herself.

On June 16, 1816, as candles flickered and lightning illuminated the room, Byron read from Fantasmagoriana,  a volume of German shudder stories translated into French.  Upon finishing, he challenged everyone in the room to write a ghost story.  This was just the incitement Mary needed. She later explained, “I busied myself to think of a story,- a story to rival those which had excited us to this task.  One which would speak to the mysterious fears of our nature, and awaken thrilling horror.”

However, she was unable to think of an idea until June 22nd.   On that evening, the conversation turned to, “the nature of the principle of life, and whether there was any probability of its ever being discovered and communicated.”  They discussed the experiments of Erasmus Darwin who had, “preserved a piece of vermicelli in a glass case, till by some extraordinary means it began to move with voluntary motion.”

Past midnight, she found herself unable to sleep- imagining a corpse reanimated.  “My imagination, unbidden, possessed and guided me, gifting the successive images that arose in my mind with a vividness far beyond the usual bounds of reverie.”   Her eyes closed, she saw, “a pale student of unhallowed arts….kneeling beside the thing he had put together.  I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion.”

After opening her eyes, she was still not able to dismiss the “hideous phantom”.  She later recalled thinking, “O! if I could only contrive one which would frighten my reader as I myself had been frightened that night.”  A few moments later she realized,  “I have found it!”

The next morning, she announced having thought of a story.  And along with the dream, she brought with her  a lifetime spent devouring the works of Goethe, Dante, Schiller, Shakespeare, Milton, and Matthew “Monk” Lewis.

In writing, Frankenstein ; or, The Modern  Prometheus, she would further utilize the theory of vitalism which held that a life force separated living things from  non-living things.  Some believed in a connection between vitalism (or elan vital) and electricity.  In 1803,  Giovanni Aldini had claimed to make dead bodies sit up and raise their arms by applying electricity.

Mary began, “It was on a dreary night of November that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils.” ( This opening spoken by Dr. Victor Frankenstein would later become the opening of chapter 4 in the 1818 edition and chapter 5 in the revised 1831 version).

Dr. Frankenstein discovers the secrets of creating life.  After gathering human parts from charnel houses, he infuses the spark of life into the being.  However, Frankenstein is immediately horrified at the ugliness of his own creation.    He casts the Monster out into the unfeeling world.  This Monster- sensitive and tender- seeks understanding from Man but is constantly spurned until he chooses suicide. ”I shall die.   I shall no longer feel the agonies which now consume me, or be the prey of feelings unsatisfied, yet unquenched.”

As Mary began penning what at first was only intended to be a short story, she could have no idea that she was creating one of the most enduring characters ever invented.   The  unnamed Monster, rejected by his own father, (as Mary had been rejected by hers) would outlive all of the five men and women gathered together in that villa on the shores of lake Geneva.

*quote by Lady Caroline Lamb- lover to Lord Byron

“And then?”
“They burnt her alive.” The fourth episode of the sophmore season begins as Vanessa finishes the tale she began in last week’s, The Nightcomers. However, now Dr.Frankenstein, Sembene, Ferdinand Lyle, and Sir Malcolm have joined the previous solo-audience of Ethan.
“We have to find out what these things are,” Ethan not-so-sagely concludes.
“Yes. They’re witches. Understood,” Dr. Frankenstein interrupts. Since Penny Dreadful may be accused of taking itself a bit too seriously from time to time, this moment of very subtle, natural humor was much appreciated.

pennydreadful_204_1313_r

“Witchcraft has a long history in many cultures, Doctor,” the dandyish Ferdinand Lyle puts in, making one wonder if he is trying to throw them a hint, as he can’t be pleased being under the control of Miss Poole.

As the group gathers around the table to continue trying to put together the pieces of artifacts they have gathered, Ferdinand tells them, “It is not so much a language as a collection of known languages. Old languages forming new patterns.”
“Found us to be evil angels so He cast us out,” Ethan deciphers with his knowledge of Latin.
“It is not just a story,” Ferdinand nods. “It is an autobiography. The memoirs of the devil.”

After the group disperses, Vanessa returns to the foyer to find Sembene sitting on the stairs. “Watching those things that hunt at night. Lions.”

She turns from him and wanders away.

Night. Bartholomew Rusk begins to investigate the murder of the couple whose baby was kidnapped by Hecate.
“We’ve been going about this all wrong,” he realizes. “We’re pursuing patterns of logic when the answer lies elsewhere.” In magic.

Meanwhile, Oscar Putney continues plans for his freak show. Down in his cellar, John Clare and Lavinia get to know each other while studying the masks.
“Father’s murderers. All those figures screaming in his new crime scenes. Ah, Mr. Clare, it hurts me to create them. Like I’m bringing them to life and then torturing them. Like some sort of terrible African Voodoo doll.” Of which the now-changing Clare reveals he no longer believe life is all about suffering.
Indeed, she agrees, “there is hope for you, anyway.”

Outside, the newsman waves his papers. “All murders on the underground. Read about it!” Ethan grabs a copy while being watched by the three witches. And then a certain Hecate makes her move:

chandler-and-hecate

Elsewhere in London-

“Honestly, Doctor, this is the last thing I expected.” Vanessa laughs as she assists good ol’ Frankenstein as he clothes shops for his “cousin”, Lily.

Hecate (she claimes named by her classics-loving parents, and holding a degree in botany) flirts with Ethan and thinks she has him enthralled until he accuses her of being sent to spy on him by his father.

Gray takes Angelique out for a night at the Gossima Parlour.
“Electrical lights,” she laughs. “What it does to a girl’s complexion.”
“Shall we keep score?” Gray asks as they settle to play a game of table-tennis.
“Why else live?” The other arches a brow.

S02E04_Evil_Spirits_In_Heavenly_Places_1

“He could smell me,” Hecate later explains to her mother on why she could not hook Ethan.

“Then we shall fight him tooth for claw. I’ll prepare the enchantment for tonight.”

Back at the loft:
penny dreadful evil spirits frankenstein and lily

“So women wear corsets so they don’t over-exert themselves.” -Lily to Frankenstein.
“Yes.”
“What would happen if they did?”
“They would take over the world.”

As the two flirt over the issue of gender equality,back at the mansion Lyle and Malcolm continue to try to further deciper the relics.

“You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?” The former teases. “Now that you’ve given up the Nile, you need a new quest.”

And he further tries to lightheardly warn Malcolm away from Miss Poole. “You might proceed with precaution, eh?…Those little dalliances can get so Byzantine.”

“If we can accept the Devil walks amongst us today,” Sir Malcolm later surmises to his group, “we must conclude this is part of an ongoing story.” Foretelling a future, mostly Vanessa’s…

and then the house is invaded by the three witches…

And thus ended this lively episode. In contrast to last week’s darkly atmospheric Nightwalkers, tonight was a fun-romp through London.  From Vanessa’s lighthearted shopping spree with the Doctor to Gray’s date with Angelique, to Ethan figuring out Hecate, yet not figuring out Hecate, there was a large feeling of lighthearted play.
Kudos to the heads of casting. Along with the main cast, all the actors in the supporting roles are performing briliantly.

favorite lines: “Whatever we can imagine, far worse is true.”- Doctor Frankenstein

“No sensible shoes now, Mr. Chandler.”- Hecate

fun little tidbit: Vanessa always eats dessert for breakfast. A gal after my own heart!

Questions:

-Sembene! Sembene! Sembene!

– might Hecate really fall for Ethan?

– and is she tired of being under her mother’s total control?

– why did she claim that she was named after a sea goddess, and not a moon goddess as Vanessa later corrects to Ethan? Surely she had to figure that Ethan might also have known that fact, and have read Macbeth… It seems a rather stupid, unnecessary lie.  Was it only thrown in as plot convenience so our people could quickly come up to speed?

– when will Vanessa meet Cousin Lily?

– Does Angelique have ulterior motives when it comes to Gray? Probably. But I think it would be a nice change if she didn’t…

til next week…

*spoilers may follow*

After last week’s events, Vanessa is not faring well and she goes to Sir Malcolm for support. He, in return, suggests she go with him to a place which always gives him some peace. While doing charity work isn’t probably really helpful in keeping one’s mind off the fact that supernatural monsters are after them, it is an effective way for the writers to show Vanessa coming face to face with our dear self-involved Caliban.

She offers our Caliban (now going by the name, John Clare) soup, and they are soon conversing on the the nature of paganism vs christianity. After she asks him about exaltation, he quotes from Augories of Innocence.

“No offense to Blake,” she smiles, “but I see no wildflowers here.”

“Then you are not looking closely enough.”

A nun calls her back to work, and she leaves, pondering his words.

Sir Malcom takes Miss Poole (who now looks delightfully amusing with her tight up-do and high-collared dress) for a round of target shooting.

Penny-2_2-Poole-Malcolm

Brona awakens in the loft. Her memory gone, she is told by Victor that her name is Lily, and they are cousins who grew up together.

“Who was that strange man?” she asks of John Clare.

“He was your intended.”

penny-dreadful-saison-2-dr-frankenstein-caliban

While “the bride” didn’t scream Elsa Manchester-style at John, it is easy to assume that things will not go well if she and Victor act out their obvious attraction for each other.

Ethan and Ferdinand Lyle visit the British Museum where it is revealed that the former knows Latin.

“The hounds will protect,” he reads from a family heraldic symbol.

“The wolves will protect,” Ferdinand corrects.

penny dreadful ethan and lyle

Dorian Grey makes his season two debut as he enounters the beguiling “Angelique”.

And Hecate kills a mother and father and brings their baby home to Miss Poole who ends the episode in a seriously creepy doll-infested room.

episode highlights:

-Vanessa’s thoughtful conversation with John

-Miss Poole playing mind games with Sir Malcolm

– that room!

questions:

– Is Ethan connected somehow to the family whose heraldic symbol was found?

– will Angelique play any real part in the story or was this just another quick sex scene thrown in for Grey’s character?

Rare snark moment:

– The reveal that Sir Malcolm likes going to cholera-infested towns because they help give him peace of mind.  If others’ sufferings don’t make you feel serene…

hopes: that Reeve Carney is soon given more to do. Sex is a great and lovely thing, but the actor is too talented, and the character too rich, to be reduced to nothing but a boy toy.

– criticism:  the transformation of Brona into Lily.  Rather than appearing like one returned from the dead, she appears like she just got back from a boring day of shopping at the Victorian version of the Gap.

Overall: While not a particularly exciting episode, it is a solid one which flows seemlessly with some very good moments throughout.

grand guignol

Sitting at a parlor table, Vanessa tells Sir Malcolm that the images she has recently seen took place in the theater in which she watched a play.  “I believe Mina is trying to get out.”

To this, Sir Malcolm responds he hopes this time they might be lucky.

“And if we are not?”

Sir Malcolm promises to try to save Mina- if not, he will end her suffering.

Understandably, Vanessa doesn’t seem convinced that he will be able to kill his own daughter.

“And will that bring you peace?”

“Don’t be foolish.  It doesn’t suit you.”   He rises, and before leaving the room, informs her to call in the others.

So thus begins the season finale of Penny Dreadful

It is only fitting the last episode should culminate at the Grand Guignol- that famous theater of bloody delights.  Right, the Victorians were sooo prudish.  Can we finally dispose of that myth once and for all?

#

Mr. Gray comes by to see Miss Ives.  As he notices her tarot cards, he asks if she might tell his future.

“I’m not sure if you have one.”

“Everyone has a future.”

“No not everyone.” She studies him carefully.  “Some only have a past.”

#

Chandler holds Brona’s hand as he prays for her.  When he leaves her home, he is followed by two men.  One of whom is told to be patient, to enjoy the hunt…

#

Sir Malcolm comes across Madam Kali while shopping.  She who seems very interested in how Vanessa is doing… Now, of course, this might be natural curiosity.  After all, it’s not every day you see a woman become possessed and spew out obscenities at a dinner party…yet I’d wager a bet there is more to just that behind her questioning.  And when Sir Malcolm says he hopes to see her again, she replies that she is sure that they will.

Innocent flirting, or is there something cryptic behind those words?

#

Meanwhile, Caliban is watching his favorite actress practice a scene with her boyfriend.  When he has trouble with the props, Simon threatens not work there anymore as long as the monster is employed.  While his anger at being left hanging from the rafters is understandable, his insults border on the abusive, and when Maude returns to apologize for the oaf’s behavior- and kisses Caliban’s forehead- I was definitely wondering if that accident might plant a murderous seed inside of him.

caliban and maude

However, the moment he walked into Maude’s dressing room, I correctly began to fear for her life.

“You shouldn’t be in here.”

“Simon does.”

Oh, so that gives you the right?  Uh huh…

It’s pretty obvious what is about to ensue.  And yup, within the next few moments, Caliban’s near sexual assualt becomes almost a murder when he nearly chokes her to death.   Thankfully, he possesses at least a tiny morsel of morality- and stomps away.

#

Vanessa meets Dorian Gray at their botanical garden where she confesses there is a connection between them but it is too dangerous.  “That very intimacy released something unhealthy in me.  Something I can not allow.”  Gray, thinking she is merely afraid of her sexual desires tries to ease her fears, but she tells him goodbye.  As she walks away, he wipes a tear, which he looks at in wonder.

Vanessa and Gray

#

Caliban seeks refuge with Dr. Frankenstein who understandably refuses to forgive him for the murder of Van Helsing.  In a rare moment of self-reflection, Caliban notes his monstrosity has shifted from without to within.  “This shattered image only reflects the abomination that is my heart…I would rather be the corpse I was, than the man I am.”  He shuts his eyes, telling his father to pull the trigger which he cannot.

chandler and his hunters

Will the doctor come to rue this decision?

Before we can muse further upon this, Chandler arrives to say he needs his help and brings him to the dying Brona. As she admits her fears, the Doctor tries to reassure her that she’s only going to walk through a different door.  That there is a place between heaven and earth, a place of salvation but if she wants to go there, there is a price.  And as she stares at him in confusion, he lifts a pillow and smothers her breath.

“I’m sorry,” he says when Chandler returns to the room.  “It is over.”  And as Chandler breaks into sobs, he promises to take care of the body.

#

Poor Chandler doesn’t have much time to mourn before his hunters meet up with him at a tavern, announcing that his father misses him.

#

While Chandler escapes from their clutches, he has no time to rest as he meets with Sir Malcolm, Sambene, and Vanessa.  Together, the group head to the theater.

Inside they are attacked by more of those blonde vampiresses who vanish when a male vamp is killed by Sir Malcolm.

“Vanessa.”

They turn as Mina comes out from hiding.

“Mina.”

The best friends embrace, but the joyous moment is short-lived.  Mina’s eyes darken and she twists Vanessa around.  “You’ve brought her to me.  Good job, father.”

When Chandler makes a move, she warns him not to try anything.  “You don’t have a role in this play.”

Sir Malcolm begs his daughter to remember who she is, but she insists this is who she was meant to be.  “You will understand when you join the Master.  When you all join him.  And now that he has his bride, they will sire generations.”

In a moment which shocks Vanessa, Sir Malcolm chooses her, after all.  Shooting Mina dead, he announces he already has a daughter.

Mina shot

Meanwhile, father Frankenstein brings Brona’s corpse to Caliban…

While Chandler unleashes his hidden self…

And Vanessa enters a church, seeking an exorcism.

final thoughts:

Much played out as I expected, which is fine. Just entertain me. I don’t need twists for the sake of twists. Surprises are fun, but let them be organic, not put into a script just to say, “gotya.”

And entertain, Penny Dreadful did.

Was this season all it could be? No, as mentioned, at times it did feel a bit too restrained, a bit too afraid to put that heart on the sleeve. But the acting, scripts, direction, and art direction was all top-notch and the show definitely captured the feeling of a Victorian Gothic.

– am disappointed to see Mina killed off so quickly. Definitely wanted to see more of her storyline. Seems a waste to end it so abruptly. But I suppose there’s always a chance she could be brought back, and the Master is still out there…

This week’s ep begins shortly after the final events of “What Death Can Join Together”. And just as that episode ended with Miss Ives levitating toward the ceiling- this is indeed a Vanessa-cenric episode.

She lies resting upon Sir Malcom’s sofa. “To be beautiful is to be almost dead.” She muses of how women are portrayed- pale and ethereal in the throes of death. “Men circulate such pictures and pleasure themselves.”

Sir Malcolm, understandably uncomfortable with such subject matter, interupts to ask if she remembers anything. She doesn’t, but is more concerned about who dressed her. It was he, Sir Malcolm admits. “Just like when I was a little girl.” She beams and for one moment a childlike joy sweeps over her face; but just as quickly it is painted over by a new darkness. “But you didn’t dress me as a little girl. So silly of me. You weren’t there to dress me. You were away on some trek.”

vanessa and sir malcolm

“Mina?” He leans forward.

She sits up. “Somewhat.” And as she sips the tea at her side, she berates him on  how he treated her mother. “You could have at least attended her funeral for decency’s sake.” And then as he listens in horror, she spits out how he was too busy going from village to village taking women and convincing himself that they wanted him. If this is true, and there’s no reason to believe it is not as all her demonic outbursts have hit bulls-eye, then this reveals a much, much uglier truth about the African explorer.

As “Mina” continues to hurl revelations toward him, the room becomes an inferno of flying papers, utenils, dishes, furniture… which is only stopped when Sembene rushes in and slaps her unconscious.

Locked in her room she is visited by Dr. Frankenstein who wishes to examine her. “May I listen to your heart?”

“Such as it is.”

“Your hands are trembling. Are you afraid?”

“Yes, but not of you.”

“Do you know a greater demon?” She teases. “Tell me about him. Or should I tell you?”

vanessa and frankenstein

Another man perturbed that she can see through him like glass, the Doctor rushes downstairs where he informs Sir Malcolm that he believes her troubles stem from sexual guilt. Before he can discuss possible treatments, he jumps back as bugs crawl all over the tarot deck she had left on the table. They stream across the shiny surface onto the floor- hundreds, countless numbers of them. . Chandler, who’d been invited over, arrives just then, and as Miss Ives lets out a blood curdling scream, the men rush upstairs to find her sitting on the floor, rocking back and forth, her wet hair lying lank against her gray cheeks.

#

Vanessa awakens and is told by Chandler that she has been asleep for almost a week. She asks him for a sip of water, and as they are alone, promises that she will not hurt him.

“It gets pretty rough at itmes.” He admits the doctor wanted to restrain her.

“He would.” She sinks onto her pillow while sighing that he can’t understand what it’s like to have that thing inside of you. “…like an animal…scratching to get out.”

Oh, Vanessa…I think he can…

After admitting she might have been able to fall in love with him, she makes him promise to kill her if such a time should come. “I want you to look into my eyes and pull the trigger.”

The lady is just as philosophical about facing her own death as she is in Mina’s.  Just as she loves her old friend enough to kill her, she would want someone to set her free as well.

“So you can go to heaven.”

“If you beleive in it.”

“I do. But I believe in the other place more. Cause I know that place pretty well. You might say it was where I was fllung when your fucking cunt of a God kicked me out.” Now it is Vanessa’s turn to recoil in shock. And may I confess the writers got me here too.

“You don’t recognize your old friend, Vanessa?”

Penny-Dreadful-recap-1x07

She declares the day will never come that she will surrender to him. But ah, he has ways to convince her. After all, there’s a bunch of people downstairs to kill if she continues to rebuke his advances.

“What do you want from me?”

“I want you to be the mother fo all evil. I want you to rule the darkness with me.” Now this line could have been very cheesy, but delivered in quiet tones and a tender manner, Josh Hartnett elevates it to something much higher, and I’m becoming more and more impressed with his acting.

“And we will conquer God and throw him from his bloody throne.” He promises as they kiss.

#

While Frankenstein is haunted by Caliban lurking outside, Chandler and Sir Malcolm argue over how to care for Vanessa. Ultimately a priest is called in, but it is Chandler who ends up saving Vanessa who awakens to reveal she knows exactly where to find Mina.

Bring on the finale!

final thoghts- As stated previously, I haven’t looked forward to what I feel will be an inevitable romantic pairing of Chandler and Vanessa as I’m utterly sick of this idea that main characters *must* end up together for no other reason than they are the leads. But in this ep, Josh and Eva showcased not only great acting together in their scenes, but that vital chemistry.

Even though it was The Devil disguised as Chandler, I’m still pretty certain that the mention of “scratching” and “animals” was another hint about the American gunslinger’s secret.

After Chandler reappears downstairs- is that truly him or still the Devil? It was difficult at times to tell as he conversed with the other players, confronting them on their pasts.  At whatever point he did become our Chandler again, wouldn’t he have realized he lost time?

How did Chandler learn to expunge the Devil from within a person? If he is a werewolf, did he learn the rite in hopes that it might cure him?

While he was always solid, I did feel Hartnett was the weak link in the cast at first.  Am very happy to see him proving me wrong.

Eva Green continues to amaze.

And the biggest question of the night:  Did Vanessa and the Devil have sex?

The most sensual episode yet opens with Dorian Gray lazing on a chaise, watching his naked guests engage in an orgy.

All this is ho-hum, however, for the Mr. Gray. Bored, he leaves the party and wanders down a hall of mirror until he sits down in front of a painting which is shielded from the TV audience’s view.

Meanwhile, we turn to Vanessa Ives who is sitting outside of a cathedral. Her thoughts are interrupted by a little girl who questions why she does not go in. As Miss Ives does not answer this one is left wondering if she simply feels uncomfortable in religious instituions, or if she is not able to enter them.

girl and Vanessa outside church

The two characters, alone in their respective situations, later meet upon each other at a botanical garden. As Gray leads her through a greenhouse, he asks, in a daring way, for her to close her eyes and describe how a certain flower makes her feel. After she seductively inhales its scent, detailing how lovely, and inviting its bouquet is to her, Dorian happily informs her that the flower is the deadly nightshade.

vanessa and dorian flowers

The flirting and double entrendes between Gray and Ives contrast with the much more serious conversation spent between Chandler and Brona. After she reveals to him her abused past, he invites her for a night out.

In the highlight of the episode, the two couples run into each other at a performance of “The Transoformed Beast” at the Grand Guignol. As the back stagehands work the props, and the actors are gaily murdered on stage, we know something is going to happen soon. Soon….

And the questions abound. Why does the vampire, Fenton insist on referring to Vanessa, as “mother”?

What did Vanessa mean when she mentioned to Sir Malcom that she had once betrayed Mina?

These questions lingered as our main characters of tonight’s episode watch the play with much merriment.

Penny_Dreadful_-_1x04_-_Demimonde

However, things take a darker turn when Brona is embarrassed to be recognized by Gray. Also, perhaps sensing some quiet attraction between Chandler and Vanessa, she storms off. When a bewildered Chandler chases after her, she laments that she is a lost cause and he’s basically screwing a walking corpse. Pissed off at the rotten hand she’s been dealt, she storms away, as a confused and hurt Chandler watches her go.

Penny-Dreadful-2x04

The camera follows her along the bustling streets as her cough hits. She struggles through the crowds until at last she falls onto the ground.  In a scene more chilling than one filled with any literary monsters because it is too tragically real, she is ignored and left to die alone by the pedestrians who just keep on walking.

A lonely Chandler ends up at Dorian’s house later that night. The guest is offered his first taste of absinthe. After drinking down the green elixir, he is overcome by images of the women who were murdered, and of the woman who looked at him with suspicion as she mentioned, Jack the Ripper. As there have been several hints that our gunslinging American is a werewolf, one might wonder if he actually committed those crimes or fears that he did. My guess is the latter, but all that is put aside for the moment as the episode ends on a kiss.

final thoughts: As much as I really liked Brona (if she’s not dead yet, she certainly will be soon) and wanted to see how her relationship with Chandler might continue, I’m looking forward to her turn as The Bride of Frankenstein, as there is little doubt it will be her corpse that Frankenstein chooses for Caliban’s mate.

The only question on that front is, can Billie Piper scream like Elsa Lancheser?

“Your first born has returned, father.”

And so ended the second episode of Penny Dreadful.

penny dreadful victor and monster

Not suprisingly, we are now shown the flashback of how Doctor Frankenstein created his monster.

Unlike Mary’s Frankenstein whose wish to create life stemmed from scientific ambitions, this version of the doctor is driven by loss.

A young boy, his beloved dog has recently died, and his mother is painfully (and bloodily) wasting away from tuberculosis. The distraught Victor wonders why dying is not beautiful as it is in the world of the Romantic poets.

“Death is not serene,” he later says at his mother’s funeral.

Back to present time, the monster reels off about hs birth and immediate desertion. “Was every newborn abandoned at birth? Is this what life was?” And so goes his memories of learning about people by staring out the little window, and reading  his father’s books.  Wherefore, he scoffs at Victor’s romantic sensibilities. “We live in a time of steam ships. Did you really think I’d see eternity in daffodils?”

Spurred to join the world that he’d only glimpsed at, the monster left his safe haven and traveled.  Whereby, he was met with cruelty and abuse until befriended by an aging actor who secured him a job working behind the stage at the Grand Guignol. The monster, now called Caliban, muses of how night after night the actors died, only to be reborn the next.

Caliban found some level of friendship and acceptance in the world of theater, yet coveted the one thing he knew would always be unattainable.

“I want an immortal mate,” he now tells Victor.

Meanwhile, Sir Malcolm, perturbed from the incidents from Seance, is met by Vanessa who infroms him that they must find Mina after she sees a vision of the girl.

“You must save me.”

Mina and Vanessa

The pair are joined by Chandler who needs a job in order to purchase medicine for Brona’s worsening illness.

Off they go to the zoo where instead of finding Mina, they manage to capture another poor soul who has become a slave to the “master”.

penny dreadful zoo

Sir Malcolm calls upon Victor to see about finding a cure for the young man (to hopefully be used on his daughter one day). The doctor is none too pleased, warning that when you create a life, or a new version of life, you are responsible for it.

final thoughts: Due to the lack of immediacy, it is difficult, by nature, to make flashbacks exciting. Yet, they can be a great technique in revealing character’s histories and motivations. Unfortunately, for most of this episode, it felt like the writers merely wanted to bring the viewers quickly up to speed so they could turn the page onto the next episode. While the acting continues to impress, the writing was akin to, “and this happend. And then this happened.”

While I commend the writers for being confident and taking their time with the storytelling, it is imperative not to forget the importance of emotionally bonding your audience.

Episode two had more of the heart I felt missing in the premiere.  Let’s hope this was a mere slip.  Bring on episode four!

nitpick: The teasing of the probably inevitalbe romance between Vanessa and Chandler.  *yawn*.  Perhaps this is subjective, for I really like his relationship with Brona.  They come from similar worlds, they understand each other, have a friendly, easy rapport, and respect for each other.  In real life, that’s what tends to make lasting relationships.  However in Hollywood, such realism is too often shoved out the door for forced upon romances of opposites.

Not that people from different backgrounds and/or contrasting personalities, can’t and don’t find true love with each other in real life, but too often in films it is just a lazy trope of sorts.  And really, the main male and main female don’t always have to get together.  Seriously.

After the breathtaking but perhaps too-rushed premiere, the second episode slowed down to a gorgeous andante. Just moving fast enough to keep things interesting, but slow enough to dwell deeper into the lives of the characters who inhabit this world.

Ethan is trying to drink away his memories of “Night Work” when he befriends Brona Croft, who later accepts a modeling job from the Byronic, Dorian Gray.

Ethan: Brona?
Brona: It’s Gaelic.
Ethan: What does it mean?
Brona: Sadness

penny dreadful seance bona and ethan

While this arc is certainly going to be pursued throughout the season, tonight’s episode centered on two other very emotional storylines.

Vanessa and Sir Malcolm attend a party hosted by Egyptologist Ferdinand Lyle in hopes to learn more about the mysterious hieroglyphics they discovered. But Lyle has other things in store for his guests, and what can be more fun at a Victorian party than channeling the dead? Enter Madame Kali. And then…to no surprise it is Vanessa who becomes possessed. By no other than Malcom’s son. In what could have been just an over-the-top, campy scene of a staid 19th century woman writhering and screaming out obscenities, becomes something much more as she (channeling the son, Peter) berates the grief-stricken father for a series of sins he has supposedly committed.

penny dreadful seance scene

An electricity sizzles between Vanessa and Sir Malcolm. Not a sexual one, but of one between two persons who understand each other’s secrets. The African hunter is haunted by his past, while Miss Ives has likely been fighting real demons within her for some time.

The other main storyline takes us to Victor Frankenstein and the being he has brought back to life. No “monster”, this creation is a thinking, sensitive man from the start. “Victor, what am I?” Realizing his newborn needs a name, the doctor takes out a large tome. “My mother taught me many things. Among the most useful is that one must always have Shakespeare at hand.” Thereby the other flips the pages until his finger rests upon Proteus.

A father and son relationship begins to develop as Victor takes Proteus out for the first time to show him the world. A world full of lights and noises and bustling people and carriages rushing by. Of strung animals and sweet apples and fires and dirty children and working women.

It is a much different Frankenstein from the one we know from literature, the one who abandoned his creation because of how he looked.

Which makes the surprising end all the more tragic.

penny dreadful victor and proteus

favorite quote of the ep: “Man does not live only in the empirical. We must seek the ephemeral, or why live?”- Victor Frankenstein

Penny-Dreadful-header2

Netflix has come to Germany, and with it a show I’ve been eager to dive into.

How could i not be excited to watch a show whose name is adopted from the lurid pulp fiction serials so popular amongst the sensation-hungry Victorians?

Gothic Horror, Victoriana, silks and lace….I’m there!

And a grimly lit macabre opening propels us right into this world.

Next day, American gunslinger Ethan Chandler, is offered a job by the mysterious Vanessa Ives.  “Do you believe there is a Demimonde, Mr. Chandler?  A half world between what we know and what we fear?” she asks him.

Episode 101

It turns out that she (a devoutly religious tarot reading woman who might not be fully human) and her partner, Sir Malcom Murray, an African Explorer need help in finding his missing daughter, Mina. Through a funereal opium house they search, coming not upon his daughter, but monsters stemming from the darkest of nightmares.

While it is unclear how long Ives and Murray have been aware of these creatures haunting London, it is evident they definitely know more people are needed in the fight against them. Thus, soon into their fold, the remarkably bold and innovative, Victor Frankenstein, is invited.

The pilot episode is superbly shot, as darly delicous as any Victorian Gothic should be. Boasting divine set designs and costumes, as well as a top-notch cast, it is a welcome beginning.

Yet while all the main ingredients were present, a certain soul or heart was missing. In short, the opener was like a sundae missing the whipped cream and cherry on top. So while I can’t bestow the highest lavish praise upon it, I look forward to what the show can become.

Episode 101