Hey, Penny Dreadful, it’s me, Scott. I know you may not recognise me, but I infrequently write about you on the internet. Now I may not be the most vocal, the most glowing or even the most punctual espouser-of-opinions when it comes to you, but that doesn’t mean I don’t care. When I find the time to watch your episodes I can see this realm of seething possibility draped in the dank hellscape of Victorian depravity that is industrial London. I like the idea of everything you bring to television, and whilst I may not have been especially bowled over with how the past four episodes have went I’ve still enjoyed it, for the most part. Lately, however, with this fifth episode Sisters I’m calling shenanigans. I’m calling shenanigans and declaring an intervention to help you with your burgeoning problem.
Look, I’m not going to ramble and I’m not going to select sound-bites that make it sound like I know what you’re going through, because I don’t. I can’t even imagine how tempting it’s been to cave in to your situation, what with plenty of other shows having already done so or even been so brazen as to wear their condition on their chest, but Penny Dreadful, remember: you are not one of them. You are not a period costume drama.
Yes you are set in a distinctive period of time, yes you have splendidly put-together costumes and yes there is a fair bit of drama, what with those vampires, literary figures, reanimated corpses and Egyptian doom prophesies. This however does not excuse your sudden transformation into ‘Downton Abbey with a bit more rutting’. You’re better than that. But still, ‘Downton Abbey with a bit more rutting’ would be an improvement on the sheer coma-inducing nature of this episode. If not for Eva Green’s performance, I’d have stuck a fork in you and called you done. I don’t want to be this blunt, Penny Dreadful, believe me, I don’t, but you have to work with me here.
Yes Eva Green did showcase a fairly robust retinue of acting skills, and yes you did remind us of yourself with her time in the nut-house and… ahem, that scene, but everything else blurs together in a slurry of mediocrity. Tired mediocrity at that. I know you think this back story is important, but if anything trying to expose the mystery behind the most mysterious element of your show is akin to pulling that loose thread on a jumper: if the rest of the jumper isn’t well put together you’ll undo everything and end up with a naked torso. Possibly in public. At your mum’s funeral or something, knowing you.
It’s an understood trope that the more calamity is hinted at, the stronger it is. The fact you went to pains to show us the earlier lives of Malcolm Murray, his family and Vanessa Ives does away with their intrigue, I now feel as if I’ve been stuck in a car journey to Aberdeen with them and all they’ve done the whole trip is talk about themselves. Not only do I know too much, I’m finding it hard to care about them and kind of want to batter them unconscious with a festive leg of ham.
I guess my overall point is you promised all of us a ‘psycho-sexual thriller’ and there have been moments when that moniker has rung true, but you don’t commit enough to it. If you want to show us something new in this world of constantly-surprising TV, of shock deaths of beloved characters, of sudden left-hand-turns, of disgustingly sharp dialogue, then you have to go all in. You can’t awkwardly shuffle between what you want and what’s safe. That’s no way to live, Penny Dreadful. You have the cast, you have the talent, you have the budget, now go out into this world and show it that you’re not afraid to revel in the debauched filth that your namesake stood for. Show it and show us, just please, never get this dull again.