by Zehra Kazmi
As I watched the season finale of Penny Dreadful, a sense of foreboding came to me on seeing the ‘special’ opening credits. Only when the final credits had rolled and my laptop screen turned blank, and when I found myself hoping against what I knew to be true and Googling if this was in fact, the last episode of the series, did it start to sink in. The new cover photo on the official facebook page of the show proclaimed, ‘It was foretold.’ and that just made me angry. It took a day for me to come to terms with it. It has ended. They won’t air new episodes of my favourite show anymore.
As someone who followed the plot closely, I was sure the show wouldn’t go on endlessly and would wrap up in few seasons but to end it, without warning, in just its third season felt like creator John Logan (writer of Skyfall, Hugo and The Aviator among other films) had strangled a prodigy right in the middle of her swan song. The multiple new characters that were introduced this season made us believe that there was room for this story to continue, but it was all an unnecessary facade.
Yet, if you still haven’t seen Penny Dreadful, you need to watch it NOW. Because it’s simply one of the best TV shows you will ever see.
I start this article with my bewilderment and anger at the way the final season ended and yet, despite that, I would still enthusiastically recommend this show whose depth and creative brilliance is incomparable in the present TV landscape. Penny Dreadful didn’t achieve the kind of wild fame that Game Of Thrones has, it probably didn’t get the gestation period to build that kind of popularity. Yet, it is no less than it. Probably even better.
Penny Dreadful is stunningly crafted, paying homage to steampunk culture and Victorian England’s literary greats- from Mary Shelley, Oscar Wilde and Bram Stoker. The depth however, does not end at getting their references right. The series grapples with some of the greatest questions plaguing Victorian England (and still continue to, as we move well into the 21st century) without ever making them dense or irrelevant to the larger plot of the show. The roots of colonialism, faith and doubt, scientific progress and its limits, gender, family and fidelity are some of the ideas dwelt upon in the narrative. The politics of Penny Dreadful is layered and never lost on the viewer. The show is, at its core, is strongly theist and yet manages to remain an obsessively engaging binge-watch, even if you aren’t one.
The horror series unites explorer Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton of James Bond fame), American gunslinger Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett, or the gorgeous dude in Pearl Harbour), scientist Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway from Control) and medium Vanessa Ives (the sublime Eva Green), who combat supernatural threats in Victorian London together. They are supported by a very strong set of actors that include Reeve Carney as Dorian Gray, Billie Piper as Lily and Rory Kinnear (Tanner in Skyfall) as John Clare/The Creature.
One of the reasons that the show succeeds in forming such a strong emotional connect with the viewer are the power packed performances of the actors, and each deserve to be mentioned here. Billie Piper as Lily is a revelation as the series progresses and you can empathize with the loneliness that makes The Creature the terrifying monster he is. Reeve Carney’s Dorian Gray, the ageless libertine, devoid of all emotions except his vanity will haunt you for a long, long time. Harry Treadaway conveys vulnerability and profoundness to Frankenstein so skilfully, that I think Mary Shelley would have been proud. The legendary Timothy Dalton plays Sir Malcom with the assuredness that only a thespian could bring to his portrayal, but it is in his moments of weakness, when Dalton’s steely Sir Malcolm loses some of that control to let his age and helplessness show, is when he shines.
My true favourite, if I had to pick one, would be Josh Hartnett’s stellar job as Ethan Chandler. The Southern charmer, with his slow, easy drawl and humour hiding a darkness and pain that few know of is a WIN of a character. Hartnett is flawless as Ethan and displays a range of emotions from raging anger to boyish vulnerability, to make the character truly unforgettable (and totally crushable).
Yet, this review would not be complete without talking about the heart of the story, the enigmatic Miss Vanessa Ives, played by the spellbindingly lovely and talented Eva Green. In an interview, Green admitted that the show made her rethink her own opinions on God and spirituality. Once you watch her performance, you realize why. The intensity of Vanessa hits you like a hurricane, she is that powerful. And despite all the scenes of torture, violence and possession, Green plays Vanessa with no affectations and brings a playfulness to her that few could. Vanessa is pure and still possesses an unbridled sexuality, making her character a point of intersection for different kinds of femininity. You root and weep for Vanessa more than you’ve usually done for a TV character. Strong, tragic and beautiful- Green never misses a step.
But beware, Penny Dreadful can be disturbing and the terrifying (sometimes graphic) sequences might make your stomach turn just a bit. It’s raw visuals and emotional intensity make it quite a heavy watch (especially if you get as involved with the characters as I tend to) but thankfully it’s peppered with enough humour and charm to make it a smooth sail.
Combining old school horror with top quality production values, Penny Dreadful is gripping, painstakingly well-crafted and bloody well acted. If you haven’t seen this yet, you’re missing out on life.
FANGIRL AWAY AND NEVER FORGET.