It’s very hard to portray feelings of sincerity and appreciation in this modern era of cold, cynically-loaded written word, especially in the sphere of critical review, where one’s opinion has the frequent propensity to be exaggerated and over-analysed. If we dare mention Derrida in such a conversation, and the potential for any form of written text to ‘explode’ into an infinite series of interpretations, we’d probably get slapped across the back of the head and told to get to the point, already, and stop wasting everyone’s time talking about Algerian philosophers. My apologies. What I meant to say, all the way back at the beginning of this seemingly-never-ending paragraph is that last week’s episode of ‘Penny Dreadful’ was really good. That and I don’t want that opinion taken out of context.
“But hold on!” you bellow authoritatively from the other side of the room, “What about the week before’s episode? And what in the blue bloody blazes are you talking about? I thought you had grown tired of this Victorian parlour-dance of a show, hadn’t you?” And, y’know boisterous and hypothetical reader, you’ve got me once again.
‘Penny Dreadful”s sixth episode was indeed an improvement on the bland-on-bland-sandwich from the week before, but not enough to make me feel compelled to watch it with the fervour I usually find myself in when it comes to the lights, colours and sounds that come out of my television. All I recall is that Van Helsing suddenly snuffed it, Ethan Chandler acquired some bling from the terminally ill Brona Croft, Vanessa predictably dove crotch-first at Dorian Gray which resulted in her going nuts and having a bit of a spin about a foot or two above the ground. Also, now that I think about it, the boys (Malcolm, Ethan and Sembene) went and shot up a plague ship full of spooky vampire women in their search for Mina, a scene which was way less interesting than it sounds. I think it’s a given rule of thumb that if you have a fight between a cowboy and his pals, the psychotic explorer and the black bloke covered in knives, up against a Victorian plague ship full of lady draculas (‘dracula’ is a noun now) and make that SOMEHOW FORGETTABLE you should just… just… just how ‘Penny Dreadful’? How do you do that?
Anyway, enough about that episode! I want to talk to you about the good one! Ahem.
So, episode seven, ‘Possession’ does what I’ve wanted this show to do for a long time. Finally, finally, finally we get to see our core characters interact together against something spooky and other, namely whatever the crap is spooking up Vanessa. I don’t know if the show needed to have quite as much of a slow build as it has had to get to this point but everyone, from Frankenstein to Sembene and even the old priest they rope in, everybody throws their acting hats into the ring for this one and I am indeed impressed.
The whole episode follows our faithful boys trying to keep Vanessa alive while they figure out how to help her in her none-more-The-Exorcist state and whilst the overall plot starts to look all kinds of confused (The Devil? Really? Bloody actually really?) the characters’ weaknesses and strengths all shine through. Eva Green does kinda make off with half the scenery in her mouth with her impression of Gollum, but she sells the crap out of the state she’s in and grounds everyone else’s performance.
We also get a great little realisation about Malcolm Murray, who did once threaten to murder the world to get his daughter back in case you forgot, and now we know what else he’s willing to do. He’s no Heisenberg, but the fact Murray is allowing to let the last current remaining link to his family be tortured and abused by The Devil on the off chance it gives away the details of his daughters location is pretty messed. As in up.
Harry Treadaway’s Frankenstein is also the best he’s been; his slip into narcotic abuse seems so casual you wonder how long he has indeed been at the ol’ heroin. Treadaway has been doing a better job of showing the frailty of Frankenstein since his original Rory-Kinnear-shaped experiment turned up, and here, faced with the unknown with an arm full of controlled substance, he bares it all and finally it all clicks.
And Hartnett? What of our token American? Well he holds down the role of ‘heart of the episode’, being the one man not too proud, craven or selfish to buckle about the situation. I guess I always suspected Ethan Chandler would be the softie of the group, and when flanked by sociopath and drug-addled scientist, you really need that. Plus the scene where he teaches Frankenstein to shoot is sorta adorable.
Whilst I’m blathering about characters I may as well mention that Sembene gets a moment with Chandler, with the latter trying to figure out the former’s deal. Sembene, in his atypical no-guff fashion shrugs off Chandler’s attempts at figuring out his history with Murray and in doing so rides that rocket to my heart. You show ’em how to be mysterious, Sembene, you quizzically-sculpted enigma, you.
After the end of the episode’s well-paced act-a-thon, Chandler runs off into the morning light leaving our remaining cast bewildered at Vanessa’s sudden exorcism-by-non-believing-American. Whilst all shaken, they now know where Mina is being held, and all signs point to THE ONE THEATRE IN ALL OF LONDON: The Grand Guignol. I’m pensive about this upcoming season finale as the show has been far too inconsistent to expect something other than a meh-fest, a state of affairs I hope is not the case given how well the show works when the gang all get together for a period of time longer than a few minutes. Can this episode’s same sparking chemistry slug through the final chapter of ‘Penny Dreadful’? Will I be forced to write the final review in rhyme just to keep myself amused? Who in the right hell knows.
Penny Dreadful is on Sky Atlantic, Tuesdays at 9pm