TV Review: Penny Dreadful Season 1 Episode 5

@blackadder345 gives us another review of the weird Penny Dreadful...
 
Some of literature’s most terrifying characters, including Dr. Frankenstein, Dorian Gray, and iconic figures from the novel Dracula are lurking in the darkest corners of Victorian London. PENNY DREADFUL is a frightening psychological thriller that weaves together these classic horror origin stories into a new adult drama.
After the bizarre goings on of the previous episode we begin this episode with Vanessa writing an imaginary letter to Mina. We then go straight into flashback land. With Vanessa narrating, we get to see how Mina and Vanessa got to the positions they are in today.
The reason this episode actually works better than the previous two is simple. It has a cohesive storyline. It follows through with cause and effect instead of just darting around all over the place like the last two did. We get to see Vanessa and Mina grow up and learn how their intertwined families became so volatile to one another.
A slight problem for the first twenty minutes of the episode is the return of the narration by older Vanessa. Instead of showing us how Vanessa feels towards Mina and her family we get her telling us. It feels forced and does not make the episode flow well at all. Of course, the flashback needed a framing story and some narration but only really at the beginning and the end. Twenty minutes into the episode we shouldn’t still need narration, we should be able to figure things out ourselves from how the characters act, the way they speak to one another and how they look at each another etc.
The acting is generally good with the child actors at the beginning being particularly good. Timothy Dalton also seems more alive in this episode than ever before and you can see him as the Flash Gordon type of adventurer. He strides through everything and gives an air of likeable confidence. Eva Green, however, is the star, really owning the episode. She shows all the different sides of Vanessa, her vulnerability, her strength and determination and how experience has hardened her.  In the scene in which she and Peter Murray (Graham Butler), Sir Malcolm’s son, and her once intended fiancé speak for the last time, we see not only real affection but also sorrow in both their faces. Experience has changed them and made them different people.
Some of the problems that were in the previous episodes are still in this one, however. When young Vanessa sees her mother (Anna Chancellor) and Sir Malcolm having sex, instead of running away or crying out, she sits and watches. The overhead narration says that she enjoyed watching it. This is weird in so many ways. Not only is she writing this in a letter to her friend (even if it is an imaginary one) the whole thing seems extremely dodgy. The next scene sees her praying before a cross. Is the writer attempting to suggest Catholics are repressed? If so, he’s doing it in a weird manner.  
The next weird sex scene (yeah, there is more than one) is between Vanessa and Mina’s first fiancé. We aren’t really told whether she does this because she’s jealous of Mina or because she already is possessed by one of Dracula’s evil demons. It also only seems to happen to create tension between the two and comes completely out of nowhere with no foreshadowing.
The final weird sex scene is Vanessa having sex with an invisible demon. Yeah. The only plot point this serves is that the apparent shock of seeing her daughter writhing around nude on her bed causes Vanessa’s mother to fall down dead. It could have been Dracula that killed her but based on the episode she just seems to die of shock.
Penny Dreadful managed to create a decent, cohesive episode but still managed to make it weird and goofy. Hopefully, the series can at least continue being cohesive but trying to tone down the weird.

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Will Barber-Taylor

Images: Sky Atlantic

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