TV Review: ‘Penny Dreadful’ Does A Great Job Of Going Deeper Into The Characters

Review By Joe Thompson

After introducing Caliban last week, Sr. Frankenstein’s first (and abandoned) foray into creation, the character. Is becoming a large part of the doctor’s world. While he hasn’t shared his work with the others, Caliban is not letting up on the pressure to have a bride. Of course, smart money would be on Brona, since her character is dying and a fairly decent part of the show’s world. Did he spy a glimpse of her while scampering about backstage, working lights and effects at the play nearly half the cast attended?

Speaking of the play, I love the way this show is teasing us about Ethan’s identity, which is probably a werewolf. First we watched him intimidate a small pack of wolves in the zoo with Cesar Millan type skills. Was it werewolf powers? The Force? Now he takes Brona to a play about a werewolf, only to leave with Dorian for a night of debauchery that included a stop at a betting parlor where “gentlemen” place bets on how many rats a dog can kill. The bloodsport and the thrills it gives the crowd is too much for Ethan, suggesting he’s trying to fight whatever is inside of him.

Brona’s realization of her situation further cements her status as the most sympathetic character on Penny Dreadful. When her worlds collide at intermission, with Dorian, Vanessa, and Ethan trading inside jokes, she abruptly bolts. I didn’t realize how much I cared about her character until this moment, when she slaps Ethan to drive him away, telling him he loves a corpse and from now on will be treated as another customer. When she falls over on the street later in a coughing fit, all I wished is that Ethan went after her. Man, have I been indoctrinated by romantic comedies or what?

Dorian is still a question mark for me. His character isn’t given all that much to do. After surveying the Caligula like scene in the beginning of the episode with bored eyes, he flits from place to place. He runs into Vanessa, who’s sitting ominously outside a Catholic Church, and takes her to see a rare orchid. He has true moments of honesty in the episode’s final scenes, bringing Ethan back to his home in what ends up being a seduction. Dorian recognizes something in Ethan, that he’s hiding something and playing the part of the rude and rough American. When Ethan asks Dorian what part he is playing, Dorian replies “Human.” Both men are haunted by something, and it’s eating them up inside. That they end up in each other’s arms is a surprise, if only because the show has done a good job at hiding this inclination of Ethan’s. But was it the absinthe or something more? I look forward to seeing where this leads, because where it stands right now is as a bit of a false character note.

Penny Dreadful continues its trend of introducing more characters from the classic horror genre, this time dipping further into Dracula. Sir Malcolm puts Frankenstein in touch with a Dr. Van Helsing, hematologist to study the creature’s blood. The show continues its trend of inspired casting, bringing David Warner on board as Van Helsing, who broodingly suggests a very intimate knowledge of vampires. This addition relieves Sir Malcolm as then show’s Van Helsing surrogate and doubles the bad ass quotient.

Vanessa’s still pissed about being used as bait at the zoo, and fires off numerous barbs at Sir Malcolm. As he preps a trip to Africa, she smarts off constantly. When she returns from her night of theater to find Fenton dead and his Master had been sulking around her quarters, she tears into Malcolm again over their betrayals of Mina. Sir Malcolm comes (almost) clean about the vampire’s desire for Vanessa, not being explicit, but now Vanessa knows she is the target.

“Demimonde” does a great job going deeper into the characters of Penny Dreadful. We get a glimpse at how resolved the group is to their goal, but also how fragile they really are. Sir Malcolm is still carrying all the cards, doling out information on a “I need you to know now” basis, even manipulating them from time to time. At this point, I’m also curious if Dorian’s involvement is just another part of his narcissism, a real desire to assist, or if he’s trying to cause problems.

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