‘Penny Dreadful’ 1.03 Recap: “You Have Not Known Horror Until I Have Shown It to You”

HBO may have let its big prestige show take the weekend off, but Showtime worked through the holiday with a new episode of ‘Penny Dreadful’. Not only did this offer viewers something better than a rerun to watch on Sunday night, the series continues to develop in fascinating ways.

The second episode ended with a shocker as Victor Frankenstein’s creature Proteus was killed by another, more vicious monster claiming to be his “firstborn.” Episode ‘Resurrection’ is primarily focused on continuing that storyline, largely to the exclusion of the show’s other characters or ongoing plot threads.

An opening series of flashbacks show us that young Victor became obsessed with death after the untimely demises of his dog and then later his mother. As a result, he devoted himself to studying anatomy in a quest to cure death. We then jump back to the present day (well, present day for this show, which takes place in the 1890s), where we learn that the older creature has coincidentally also named himself after a Shakespeare character: Calaban. He speaks very eloquently as he angrily relays his own tragic story, which was nowhere near as wondrous or serene as Victor’s creation of his brother.

As he tells it, Calaban was born in blood and agony. An unprepared Victor was horrified at what he had created and abandoned the creature immediately. Left on his own, Calaban witnessed and studied the cruelty of humanity through the window of the laboratory. He taught himself to read from the many poetry books Victor had left behind, and ventured out into the world, where he was mistreated at nearly every turn. Eventually, he found mercy at the hands of a drunken has-been actor, who took him in and gave him a job as a stagehand at the Grand Guignol theater. There, he skulked around behind-the-scenes like the Phantom of the Opera, falling in love from afar with a beautiful actress he knew that he could never have.

With his story told, Calaban reveals why he has hunted down and stalked Frankenstein. He demands that his father make him a companion, an immortal mate to share his existence with.

What Everyone Else Is Up To

Ethan proves himself to not be a terribly bright fellow when he screws Brona even though he knows that she has Consumption (the old name for Tuberculosis). I suppose that the average person’s understanding of infectious diseases wasn’t very extensive in the 1890s. Ethan is obviously developing feelings for the girl. When he learns that she can’t afford medicine, he returns to Malcolm to ask for work so that he can buy some for her. Malcolm has a job lined right up for him.

Vanessa tells Ethan about Mina and the monster that has made her his bride. Although Vanessa never says the name Dracula, that’s clearly who she’s referring to.

Malcolm and Vanessa bring Ethan to the London Zoo late at night on the latest quest to search for Mina. They find themselves surrounded by angry, growling wolves until Ethan, with the steadiest of nerves, actually stares down the alpha male. While this scene isn’t quite the show-stopping set-piece that the previous week’s séance was, it’s incredibly atmospheric and suspenseful.

The group capture a vampire named Fenton. Ethan objects to torturing him. Malcolm brings in Frankenstein, who cooks up a plan to transfuse the creature’s blood and cure his vampirism. If successful, they hope to cure Mina in much the same way.

As the episode ends, Malcolm makes the group form a pact and swear an oath of fealty to their cause. An imprisoned Fenton hears the voice of his master calling to him, which is decidedly reminiscent of the Renfield character from ‘Dracula’.

If I have any complaint with the episode, it’s that the Frankenstein storyline takes up most of the hour’s screen time. It’s a strange artistic choice to derail the other characters’ stories this early in the show’s run. What we see of them mostly comes in brief bits and pieces.

With that said, I liked everything about Frankenstein and Calaban. I find it interesting the way that the show’s writers manage to interweave very famous literary characters into a greater connected narrative, yet still retain individual stories (Frankenstein’s creature wanting a mate, Dracula abducting Mina Murray, etc.) that fall neatly in line with our familiarity with them.

2 comments

  1. Ryan

    I continue to enjoy this show, but found last week’s ep to be superior (Thanks to Eva Green’s performance, and surprisingly heartfelt portrayal of Monster #2).

    The Frankenstein and his original monster stuff was interesting, but I wish it took up less screen time. I dug the phantom of the opera similarities as well (I wonder if he ever harmed that actress).
    Are we sure that Fenton is actually a full vampire? If so, he seems pretty weak.

    The who consumption thing has been bothering me for a while with how it’s portrayed in movies and shows (Moulin Rouge, this show, and others) to the point where I finally went and looked up how contagious it actually is. Answer? Not too bad, but still pretty risky:

    “Tuberculosis spreads by droplet infection. This type of transmission means that when a TB patient exhales, coughs, or sneezes, tiny droplets of fluid containing tubercle bacilli are released into the air. This mist, or aerosol as it is often called, can be taken into the nasal passages and lungs of a susceptible person nearby. Tuberculosis is not, however, highly contagious compared to some other infectious diseases. Only about one in three close contacts of a TB patient, and fewer than 15% of more remote contacts, are likely to become infected. Unlike many other infections, TB is not passed on by contact with a patient’s clothing, bed linens, or dishes and cooking utensils.”

    • Josh Zyber
      Author

      I assumed that Fenton is a vampire, mainly because they talk about “curing” him with a blood transfusion, but that isn’t exactly clear in the episode. He’s obviously a very Renfield-like character, and Renfield was not a vampire, so we’ll have to see where this goes.

      Having unprotected intercourse with someone who has TB still seems like a bad idea to me. No worse way to kill the mood than for one partner to suddenly cough blood in the other’s face while in the throes of passion. 🙂

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