By Will Barber – Taylor
No more let life divide/ what death can join together. Adonis: An Elegy on the Death of John Keats. Shelley, 1825
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.
Oh Penny Dreadful. Readers may remember that last time I was actually enjoying Penny Dreadful again. It has a cohesive plot, good character development, excellent acting and aside from the kind of pointless weird sex scenes (the one with the invisible demon still bemuses me) it was pretty enjoyable. All of that has now been shoved out of the window to get back to pointless padding, idiotic storytelling and all round messy writing! It’s almost like we have been here before.
The episode opens with a recap of the last two episodes before going straight into the episode with the Sir Malcolm and Vanessa trying to figure out what happened in Episode Four when the demon was in her room. Suddenly, Dorian Gray turns up and asks if Vanessa wants to go and have an adventure! Oh wonderful. The adventure in question is having her photograph taken. Now you could say that all this is helping to add character development or show how Vanessa and Dorian interact with one another but it isn’t. It is just padding to get the episode to its full sixty minutes. It isn’t even as though the padding is interesting, a lot of it is either them sprouting off pretentious rubbish about “loneliness” and “being unique” or them having weird sex.
Meanwhile, The Monster meets an actress and sort of falls for her but after seeing her with her boyfriend means he makes a strange humming sound similar to a cat having its tail waxed. While this is going on Frankenstein and Van Helsing talk about vampires and while that is happening Sir Malcolm, Chandler and Sembene hunt a plague ship looking for Dracula. Sounds over complicated? Well that is because it is.
John Logan, writer of this series seems to almost think that having a cohesive plot centred on a few characters is a bad thing even though this is how almost all drama operates. In an attempt to make Penny Dreadful as “deep” and “interesting” as possible he’s made it just down right convoluted.
The worse part of the episode is towards the end however. After their discussion about vampires, Frankenstein and Van Helsing are walking along the street when Van Helsing is grabbed by The Monster who promptly snaps his neck – the reason? Because a girl rejected him. This just goes to show how much Logan doesn’t get the source material that he is adapting. In the novel, we are meant to pity The Monster. He only kills when he has truly suffered a lot when he has been part of a family and been driven out of it, when he has had to live in the cold and ice of the mountains. Shelley’s monster would not kill one girl he barely knows because she doesn’t leap into his arms. This is also terrible because it pointlessly kills off Van Helsing for no reason. His death serves no purpose and simply acts as a twist for the audience. Logan is using really cheap tricks to try to keep his audience interested.
Another example of Logan’s messiness lies in the reason why The Monster kills Van Helsing. The actress, whom he likes, comes to him early on in the episode to get a piece of tech fixed. She tells him about her brother who suffered a terrible accident while working in Newcastle which meant that he wouldn’t look directly at anyone. Nice comparison with The Monster’s plight but Logan then ruins it all by saying that her brother’s name is Lucifer. Yes, her brother’s name is Lucifer. Now it is all well and good comparing The Monster to someone who have suffered a terrible accident and so doesn’t want people to look at him but it is another to give that person the name Lucifer.
The sister then says “Oh they didn’t mean it like that. It means bringer of light or something like that”. Which is true, Lucifer does mean morning star. However, the fact that Logan is so lazy with his imagery and that he has to resort to this is pretty astonishing. The implication is, of course, that like Lucifer, The Monster was cast out of Heaven by his creator who rejected him. Could Logan have not come up with something a bit more original than that? Another reason that this doesn’t work is because Logan seems to have not done his research properly if he thinks that anyone in Victorian England would call their son Lucifer.
It is bad enough that he hasn’t got a good enough grasp of the actual moral angel of the era, yeah the Victorians were more kinky and sexual than they pretended to be but not to the degree Logan shows, worse though is that he cannot seem to understand that in an almost completely conservative Christian country no one would name their child after the devil. The only reason he does it is so he can have his dumb comparison between The Prince of Darkness and The Monster which as I have said before is a pretty boring and easy contrast to make.
The acting in the episode is generally good with Billie Piper being particularly good as the dying Brona. The rest of the cast are pretty good too. Warner’s last turn as Van Helsing is excellent and seeing as he is now dead, I’m going to miss him. Reeve Carner is still annoying as Dorian Gray. He seems to be playing it like every Johnny Depp character except without Depp’s charisma. I’m sure he is a nice guy but his portrayal of Dorian is just really annoying and doesn’t work with how the character is written.
The sixth episode of Penny Dreadful continues on the course set by episode three; weaving a lot of storylines together and not really being sure which one to focus on. If the series actually had a focus instead of the vague “we have to rescue Sir Malcolm’s daughter!” then it would probably be a lot better.