Penny Dreadful “Seance” Review

Alright, I’ll admit it…I’m already addicted to Penny Dreadful. Yes, I love Victorian period pieces, and as I mentioned last week in my review of “Night Work,” I am very, very fond of monsters. One of the reasons I chose the title of my blog is because I am so very many things, all cobbled together like Frankenstein’s monster. It is no coincidence that the OED lists the etymology of the word “monster” as “monere,” which means “to warn.” Monsters are here to show us things; they are here because we need them, even when we must construct elaborate hoaxes. Our monsters reflect something: they warn us of our shortcomings and remind us of our fears while allowing us to escape from the confines of what we know.

In Penny Dreadful's case, they're terrifying

In Penny Dreadful’s case, they’re terrifying

And speaking of what we know…One of the reasons that the Victorian period is so fascinating is that it was full of developments, particularly scientific and technological. Daguerreotypes were introduced in 1839, and by 1889, we had handheld cameras. Postage stamps were introduced, and the postage industry was standardized in a way that it had not been. Steam power made international trade and travel more possible than ever before. Anesthetics began to be used in medicine. New understandings of how diseases spread led to developments in surgical techniques, disease treatment, and sanitation. These developments created a world in which belief, suspicion, and science co-existed.

And the uneasiness of this co-existence led to some of the great stories we have now. In fact, one of the markers of Gothic fiction is ambivalence concerning technological and scientific advances. Frankenstein is concerned with creating life. In a notable scene from Stoker’s Dracula, Lucy has to receive a blood transfusion, and she gets blood from three different men. Conversations between the characters about these transfusions suggest discomfort with the idea of mixing blood (it is suggested that she is thrice married as she is blood-bonded to three men). Again, our monsters reflect something.

And monsters on Penny Dreadful abound, but they’re not always where we think they’re going to be.  (Warning: Spoilers below the cut.)

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“Seance” doesn’t give us anymore vampires, but it does give us a few all-new monsters. We start the episode with the slaying of another woman, this time in a park. We get more whispers about whether Jack the Ripper is back, but know all too well that this is Something Else. Whatever it might be, it isn’t human–at least not entirely.

We then see Ethan wake up by the docks, hands cut to shreds, and he seems to have no memory of getting there. I don’t know what to make of that—and the show hasn’t explained it yet. He goes into a nearby lodging house/pub, buys a bottle of whiskey, and promptly begins to drink away whatever smidgens of memory he has left. There he meets Brona Croft (Billie Piper), a consumptive Irish prostitute (Can we get a Victorian prostitute who isn’t Rippere-ed or consumptive? Rare literary commodities, those).

We then see Brona with Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney), who is just as beautiful and bizarre as I imagined him. Dorian has hired Brona as a model and is having her photographed. Things get weird when she begins coughing blood. Dorian seems transfixed by the blood, and the two share one of the must unnerving sex scenes I’ve seen in a while (Brona: coughs blood into Dorian’s face/ Dorian: I’ve never fucked a dying creature before).

And then we come to the seance. The Egyptologist insists that Malcolm and Vanessa attend a party before he will translate the photos of the dead vampire’s exoskeleton; while there, Vanessa meets Dorian. He has a marked effect on her, though I can’t really tell what the effect is. A mutual fascination, it seems. In a ten minute scene, Vanessa is possessed by something—we’re not entirely sure what. Ten minutes is a very large portion of a show that runs just under an hour, but every second of the scene is riveting–and the slow pacing is one of the things that really works for this show, I think.

The group is drawn around a table as Madam Kali, celebrated medium, begins a seance. But whatever the seance is intended to do, its main accomplishment is to awaken whatever’s in Vanessa. The first voice we hear seems to be Malcolm’s young son, who had dysentery (and died of it) when his Malcolm left him behind on an expedition; the second is clearly a demonic figure, something very old and very nasty, and it accuses Malcolm of incestuous thoughts about Mina and of sex with someone, though it’s vaguely worded, and so that could be either Mina or Vanessa. There’s a whole lot of creepy in this scene, and Eva Green is really proving herself to be the powerhouse of this show.

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The Egytologist translates the images, and they’re an apocalyptic foretelling. If Amunet, an Egyptian deity (and what might very well be possessing Vanessa), partners with Amun-Ra, her counterpart, they will release something horrible. The Hidden Ones, our Egyptologist tells us. He also tells us that Amun-Ra is said to have gained eternal life by feeding on the souls of others. It seems we’ll have a definite Egyptian bent to this season, which could get really interesting.

And then we see Victor Frankenstein and Proteus, the reanimated man (Alex Price). We expect this to be our monster. But Proteus is meek, and he’s curious. Those first gentle, confusing moments that transfixed us in the first episode foretell pretty clearly how he’ll relate to Frankenstein and the world at large. He’s also obviously a full corpse, not someone pieced together from several bodies, and so he doesn’t fit the mold of Frankenstein’s monster. As he begins to wander about London with Victor, he begins to remember that he was alive. He remembers boats best–and begins to call out the types loudly as he stands at the docks. I wanted to cheer for him. Price’s performance is phenomenal–and it gets even more so when he remembers “wife.” And then he doesn’t know what he is. But Victor and Proteus go home together, and the moment is bittersweet.

And then we come to the end. A fast, gruesome, heartrending minute of TV. Proteus is split in half by Something. And then this Something (Rory Kinnear) calls Frankenstein “father.”

Finis.

Ahhhhhhhhh! Monsters, monsters, everywhere. And I can’t wait until next week.

Goodbye, Proteus, we barely knew you.

Goodbye, Proteus, we barely knew you.

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31 thoughts on “Penny Dreadful “Seance” Review

  1. I was intrigued by episode one, creeped out by episode two and now hesitant to watch three. But I do agree, the ending to episode 2 was pretty cool.

    And I hadn’t caught that part about Ethan. I think he was either seriously hammered and got into a bar fight and doesn’t remember; or he is SOMETHING ELSE! I am curious if he is the something else.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve loved both of the episodes, but I have a strong stomach and a love of monsters and gore. I think both episodes have had really strong endings, though very different ones—episode 1 ended with that very moving scene of Proteus come to life, and episode 2 with that out-of-nowhere death. It’s something I value in the show. 🙂

      And I’m not sure what that thing with Ethan was about, honestly. I’m curious about whether it will happen again and if we’ll get any explanation for it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I watched the first episode and thought of you while I was watching it. I figured this would be right up your (our) alley. (I miss our Hannibal Lecter marathons!) I haven’t seen the new episode (so skipped over the last half of your blog) but definitely want to catch up.

    I actually found out about this show by accident. I was looking through my movies and found The Faculty and wondered where on Earth Josh Hartnett had gotten off to. Some internet digging showed that he had taken a break but was just beginning this series.

    I guess I’ll have to get Showtime now so I can watch this. Miss you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Miss you, too–and those Lecter marathons. I wrote about Lecter for a blogathon a few weeks ago, and I thought about you. Only you would understand that that’s a compliment. lol

      Funny, Netflix was suggesting last week that I watch The Faculty. I haven’t watched that movie in ages.

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  3. I believe the wounds on Ethan’s hands are caused by his own fingernails clawing into his palm. This can happen if one curls their hand into a fist with too much force. I’m guessing Ethan has a nightmare and does it to himself; he does wake up and uncurls his fist to show the wounds.

    Also, the show blurs the meaning of “What are monsters?” a lot. Most of the human characters are shown to be monsters through their acts. Victor Frankenstein is a monster because we learn that Proteus isn’t the first time he’s been screwing around with corpses and the dead. Then there’s the implied incest between Sir Malcolm and his own daughter.

    Good review. I failed to highlight the performances of Eva and Alex in my review, but you worded it better than I would have. I do believe Alex Price will return as Proteus, in one shape or another.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, I hadn’t thought about those just being marks from a nightmare, but that could be true. I guess I was just really focused on how he got there and how confused he looked. Could be a blackout drunk sort of thing, though.

      One of the things I really love about the show so far is that quality you mention, the blurring of the definition of monsters. It works with the source texts that they’re using, and it makes for a very interesting show.

      And thanks—I do hope you’re right about Price. 🙂

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  4. I was really looking forward to this show before it aired, because I love gothic horror (and Eva Green)… and there were numerous scenes in the first two episodes that really hit a sick sweet-spot and will stick with me for a long time to come (the Dorian/Brona hook-up being a particular stand-out)… but there’s just too much dross and daftness drowning out all the good stuff for me. I actually bailed on this episode shortly after the séance, and missed the Proteus twist… and I’m rather glad about that, because seeing him bonding with his creator was one of the few things I really liked about this show.

    But I did enjoy this write-up! Your enthusiasm almost makes me want to keep watching… *almost*… 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the write up, but I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy the show as much. 😉

      I find it to be such fun, but I can certainly see where you’re coming from. I think I just drown out the bad because the good added to all the book-nerd elements of the show appeal to me so much.

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  5. I think you make a good point about the pacing. The scenes of furious action are really punctuated when set between more languid periods. The seance scene was thrilling and I hadn’t heard that many “cunts” since the last time I stubbed my toe. And poor Proteus. I thought it was a clever device to have whatever killed him to appear to be bursting forth from inside Proteus. That was one angry baby. Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

      Husband and I disagree about the seance scene, as he felt it was too long without purpose. I like the way it paced the show. I was just as uncomfortable, by the time those 10 minutes were up, as I imagine the dinner party would’ve been—or near it, anyway. We don’t expect scenes to take up that much time, particularly something like a possession. It was a bit of a shock.

      And yes, poor Proteus. I liked the way he died as much as I could, given how much I was looking forward to seeing his character develop. lol

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  6. The second episode was dragging for me, except Vicktor and Proteus. I had related and become invested with these characters the most. Then shocker when they do a scene a la Alien. I gotta see what’s next.

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    • That was my husband’s reaction, almost verbatim, to episode 2. lol

      I liked the pacing, but I can see why someone would dislike it. The seance scene takes up 10 minutes, which is roughly 1/5 of the show, and that’s a lot of time.

      I agree re: Frankenstein and Proteus…and his super-gruesome death.

      I’m eagerly awaiting what they’ll do this week.

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  7. This is certainly been covered above, but the end of the episode with Proteus being dispatched by Frankenstein’s first creature was shockingly unexpected.

    During the episode, as the Doctor escorted the childlike Proteus around, I was thinking “man, this Frankenstein is certainly a more responsible creator than he was in the book.”

    Imagine my surprise.

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    • I was shocked, but I had a feeling that Proteus wasn’t going to be our creature. He was too well put together, too well spoken. What I didn’t anticipate was such an early death for him.

      So far, I’ve enjoyed the surprises that the show has thrown at its audience.

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  10. Oh, my! I am so excited to have found your site. I adore Penny Dreadful, and can’t believe that there is only one more episode. Very interesting post. Looking forward to more. Take care

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    • In that case, I’m glad you found us, too! I contribute here at my brother’s site, Sourcerer, and I blog on parttimemonster.wordpress.com as well. I’ve been reviewing Penny Dreadful and now True Blood here. Hope you’ll pop back in for thoughts on the finale next week!

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