Penny Dreadful (Showtime) Episode 2 “Séance” Review

Penny Dreadful had a good pilot. It had an outstanding second episode.

Where the first episode simply played with horror tropes, “Séance” went for the unexpected, the personal and delved into the darkest corners of the human psyche. A series that straddles the world between light and darkness has to be unafraid to do the same for its characters. Penny Dreadful proved itself fearless with the introduction of two new characters in the undying Dorian Gray and the consumption-plagued Brona Croft, as well as expanding on the tortured Vanessa and brilliant Victor.

Brona and Dorian came together early in the hour for a bloody, morbid sex-fueled photo session in which Dorian wondered if a dying thing felt more than those who were not awaiting their impending death. Brona suffers from the writers’ choice to force Billie Piper to use an Scottish brogue. (Did they miss “Tooth and Claw”?) Piper’s charm manages to shine through her waffling accent for the most part, leading to an interesting friendship with Ethan, who takes a room at the hotel where she does her hooker with a heart of gold routine. Brona’s presence is a reminder of the fragility of life in an already perilous world. She fascinates Dorian whose long life has left him curious about the dying, and she enchants Ethan who needs a reminder that there is beauty and goodness in the world after his dalliance with the dark side.

Dorian is Brona’s opposite. He is eternal, a figure who can walk into a room and get inside the head of a character as elusive as Vanessa. He connects with her instantly at Sir Ferdinand Lyle’s party. He sees she is uncomfortable with the falsity of it all, and relates to her. He doe not feel discomfort, but he does feel boredom, which abates once Lyle decides to break out a favorite party trick of the 19th century England crowd: a spiritualist.

I will try not to profess my profound adoration of Eva Green in every review, but the scene wherein she became possessed by Mina or the goddess of darkness or whatever that thing was meant to be was horrifying and I could not look away despite a deep fear of possession scenes in fiction because Green commanded my attention. Vanessa is a fascinating character. She is clearly plagued by demons, but we do not know why yet. Her protectiveness of herself is wrenching at times, but we saw in the most visceral manner possible why she keeps herself wound so tight. Whatever piece of the demimonde is threatening to pull her under has also left her vulnerable and alone. The scene went on for several minutes, with each passing moment ratcheting up the intensity. By the time the glass table shattered and Green literally let her hair down, Penny Dreadful had ascended to a new plane of storytelling.

And yet somehow, the episode only got better from there. Once again, Treadaway’s Victor was a standout as he took a fatherly pride in watching his creation flourish. Using Shakespeare to guide him, Victor allowed his creation to name himself Proteus. A fitting name for a man who, as far as we could tell, was a man of the sea in his former life. Proteus’ gentleness and quick ability to learn made him instantly lovable. As I watched him grow, I kept preparing myself for the worst, assuming his descent into deadliness would play out over the course of the season, but Penny Dreadful had other plans. We were only just beginning to probe the existential questions (“What am I, Victor?”) and the general human longing for friendship when Proteus was ripped to pieces before Victor’s eyes.

The monster who tore a family apart and savaged a woman in the opening moments of “Séance,” appears to have been revealed. He is Victor’s “first born” and he has returned to his creator. What a completely mind-blowing twist in an episode that did not even need a twist. Not that I do not appreciate a cool twist– in fact, I enjoyed it quite a bit. Now, is it time for episode three?

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