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Penny Dreadful - Resurrection - Review


"Resurrection" is the title of this most recent episode and it seems mainly to refer to a resurrection of the past for Doctor Frankenstein. Not only do we get the good doctor’s back story, but that of his first creature as well. The episode is heavy with this story and may seem a bit slow in the action area if you are already familiar with this famous literary work. The first creature is something to behold, extremely well spoken and filled to the brim with venom for his creator. While not much action occurs in this episode, it does serve the purpose of finally bringing all of our characters together, cementing them in their united goal of unraveling the mysteries surrounding Mina Murray and the monster that holds her captive. The pacing once again seems lopsided, due to the heavy back story with not much happening in the present. That being said, the look into Frankenstein’s premiere creature’s back story was not an unpleasant one, though it would seem we will be learning more about him as his past is left partially unexplained for now. One hopes that each of our characters receives this kind of care, that we learn more of what brought Sir Malcolm, Ethan, Vanessa and the rest to their current situations.

The episode opens with a flashback to the life of the young Victor Frankenstein. We see him walking among the daffodils, very Wordsworthian, quoting poetry in a voice over. Speaking of Wordsworth, the poem being quoted is Imitations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood, an ode to the fact that the world and nature as one interprets them in adulthood is merely a shadow of the idealistic way one viewed the same things as a child. To say this is fitting to the events of this flashback would be a severe understatement, as young Victor happens upon the rotting corpse of his beloved dog amidst the daffodils. This occurrence strongly reminds me of a similar one in Alan Moore’s From Hell, where the doctor who grows up to become Jack the Ripper happens upon a similarly deceased animal amidst nature and dissects it, fueling the drive and morbid curiosity that would cause him to become a sadistic killer. In Frankenstein’s case, discovering the death of his pet only causes the boy to question the act of death itself, to whether such a natural occurrence is peaceful and serene as it is written in the poetry he holds so dear.

The boy is comforted by his mother later in the day, who assures young Victor that perhaps death is not an ending but a movement, another state of being. This comfort is cut short as death once again comes calling in the most horrific of ways. Victor’s mother proceeds to cough up a huge glob of blood on her son, before quickly succumbing to an illness. Victor Frankenstein decides right then and there that death is not a thing of serenity. At her funeral this woman is called "Caroline Frankenstein". In the novel her maiden name is Beaufort and she was taken in by Frankenstein’s father, later marrying to him. Caroline dies from scarlet fever, one of the symptoms of which is coughing up blood, so it is safe to assume that is what took the life of her Penny Dreadful counterpart. We see this early loss is what fuels young Frankenstein's interest in medicine. Alone in his bedroom, the grieving Victor casts away the childish drawings on his desk to make room for large and imposing medical tomes on biology and human anatomy. Already the future doctor has decided that he will master the realms of life and death.

We jump to the present, right where the last episode left off with Doctor Frankenstein being confronted by his first creation, the mangled body of Proteus laying at their feet. The doctor is not in control of this situation; he cowers, refusing to meet his creation’s eye as the creature delivers lyrical insults. I strongly believe this creature to be the figure that we barely saw over Doctor Frankenstein’s shoulder towards the end of the first episode. It is clear that the creature is now in charge, though what is it that Frankenstein fears? Is it the fact that he abandoned this newly-formed man to the mercy of the world or is it something else entirely? The creature proceeds to tell his tale to Frankenstein, his now captive audience.

In a lengthy flashback, we see that the first creation was born in pain and fear, a scene very different than that of Proteus’s birth. One must wonder if Frankenstein’s methods were not that attuned in the past or if the body used to create the first creature had suffered a trauma that resulted in its demise, causing its first breaths of new life to be saturated with the pain that ended its old one. The creature remarks that his uneasy “birth” is not like the “lyrical adamaious of what Shelley wrote” (forgive my spelling, I haven’t the convenience of subtitles). At first I about leapt out of my chair, thinking the creature was referring to the novel that bears his creator’s name. Then, with a bit of research, I found a more plausible, but none the less satisfying reasoning. Percy Bysshe Shelley, most famously known for his poem Ozymandius and husband to Mary Shelley the author of The Modern Prometheus the literary work that brought us Frankenstein and his monster, also penned a series of lyrical dramas around the time Mary Shelley was completing her own gothic tale. This four-act work was called Prometheus Unbound, and details the Greek mythological tale of Prometheus, who defied his creator and was punished for all eternity because of his actions. This interpretation, that it was Percy Bysshe Shelley’s works being referenced and not Mary Shelley’s, might not hold water since the former’s work tells the tale of Prometheus’s rage against Zeus, not of his birth as a Titan, and surely isn't a tale of easy transition. However, the words of our Penny Dreadful version of Frankenstein’s monster could be colored by the bitterness he feels for his own creator. If Mary Shelley’s works are being referenced here, I would think that to be a misstep. Confirming that the authors of the works whose characters we see throughout Penny Dreadful exist alongside their creations would be bringing a “meta” concept to the show that wouldn’t suit to serve the mood of the mysteries unraveling on our screen.

And so, Doctor Frankenstein panicked and abandoned his creation, leaving it to learn of the world via a small window in the doctor’s workshop, very similar to the original text which has the creature learning to speak by listening to a family through a crack in their cottage wall. The creature learns, through that workshop window, of the cruelty of man. He did not have the guiding hand Proteus did and my musings last review of what would happen should a newborn creature such as this be suddenly exposed to hurt and negativity are answered when we see that the creature learned only of the cruelty of the world at that workshop window. Teaching himself to read from the doctor’s texts, the creature slowly understands why he might have been given up. He labels himself as modernity personified, born from steam and metal, a son of the industrialization so different than the nature that is glorified in the poems of Wordsworth the doctor holds with such high esteem. The creature even throws these ideals in Frankenstein’s face, calling him naive for thinking that in this turn of the modern era man would continue to see “eternity in a daffodil”, a nice shout out once again to one of Wordsworth’s more well-known works, I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud, a personal favorite. This circles back to the poem Frankenstein and Vanessa recited together last episode, that nature is pure and of God, so man and his atrocities such as war must be of something else. Frankenstein does not yet embrace the ideals of the modern era though he uses them for his work, and we see that the creature, born of solely from man’s hand, knows that the era of nature is at an end. The creature does seem to have some severe abandonment issues, man-handling Frankenstein whenever he tries to turn away. They are forever linked, so says the creation.

We take a break from the Visual Autobiography of the Modern Prometheus and head over to Sir Malcolm's place, where Vanessa walks the corridor. She pauses upon hearing a low primal roar, but dismisses the noise as one would the rumbling of one’s stomach. That is, until the spiritualist is assaulted by a cacophony of jungle noises, animals screeching and chattering in panic. This full on auditory hallucination brings Vanessa to a vision, where time seems to stop for a moment and Mina reaches out, calling for help. Vanessa asks the all-important question, “Where are you?”, and Mina rather covertly states that all around her are the beasts that feed in the night and “they are hungry”, before time seems to start again and Vanessa is brought back to reality. The lighting during this vision seems to suggest bars and that, coupled with the wild animal noises, force me to think that Mina is at a zoo. In Bram Stoker’s Dracula, a wolf, under the vampire’s control does escape from the zoo, only to return later on in the book. It would be a safe bet, as we will see, that something wicked is residing at the London Zoo.

Back to the creature’s loquacious verbosity (boy he does like to talk). I almost want to offer the creature and Frankenstein a wet nap or something, as the pair have been marinating in Proteus’s blood all the while the creature waxes philosophical. The creature renews his tale by telling his “father” of how he tracked him down, how he knew what vocation Frankenstein would seek. He likens the job of a surgeon to also be that of a butcher and we see in a flashback what kind of hospitality a man with the creature’s visage gets when stumbling about London. The creature is beaten and left in an alley around the corner of The Red Lion, a common name for pubs in England. As the creature lays cowering in the alley, a stranger approaches him and offers the poor brute whiskey concealed from his cane. I have seen sword canes before, but never a whiskey cane, so this fascinates me. It doesn’t seem to matter the era, people will always employ the most ingenious ways of sneaking alcohol into places. The stranger, an actor, shows the creature the first bit of kindness he has experienced in his short life, treating him to a meal and then offering him a job backstage at the theater the actor currently works at. This actor is no stranger to the purple prose, which may be why the creature is given to lengthy declarations.

The theater in question is The Grand Guignol. More than likely this theater is based off of a real life venue of the same name located in Paris, which specialized in naturalistic (that is to say plays of a more natural flavor that stilted prose and minimal sets) horror shows. The special effects of these shows were said to be so real-looking that they regularly caused audiences to faint or vomit. The theater was relocated to London for a short while, though much later than when our story is set. One would assume that the opportunity to use the name of such a well-know theater of terror was too good an opportunity to pass up, despite the anachronism. The Penny Dreadful version of this theater's current production is that of Sweeney Todd, and as I mentioned in my review of “Night Work”, this story comes straight from the titular pages of the penny dreadfuls. The actor gets the creature a job as a stage hand, the person responsible for the mechanics behind the scenes for all of The Grand Guginol’s productions. He also gives the creature a name, taking inspiration from Shakespeare’s The Tempest and calls the creature “Caliban”. Interestingly, in The Tempest, Caliban is a villain, the child of a sorceress who once ruled his island, but now works as a slave for the protagonist, Prospero. He is often depicted as a deformed creature or a wildman in productions of the play, so while the name fits the new stage hand, it’s unfortunate that not only does it seem Caliban’s benefactor was having a bit of a laugh in naming him, but the creature's new name does not ring of positivity as his younger “brother” Proteus’s did. Instead, Caliban’s name causes one to think of something lesser, something tied closely with the mystical and servitude.

Despite this, Caliban embraces his new role and the community found with being part of the theatrical company, though it is clear he desires more as he watches one of the female actresses from the shadows. In The Tempest, Caliban attempted to rape one of the female characters and I think this may foreshadow problems for the creature. We don’t yet know why the Caliban of Penny Dreadful left a post where he was comfortable and enjoyed the work, but I think that trouble of this kind might have been the reason the creature renewed his search for his father. It is worth mentioning that the actor, when getting Caliban acquainted with his new job and lodgings, mentions that one of his duties will be to oversee the limelight and gas. I already checked, The Grand Guignol did not suffer from a fire in the past, but such an obvious mention of that specific mechanism, coupled with Frankenstein’s monster’s traditional cinematic fear of fire, must have be given screen time for a reason. We shall see if fire plays a role in why Caliban left this theater.

All the while he is learning of his creation’s past, Doctor Frankenstein has been cowering on the floor, pleading to know what his creature wants from him. Taking the doctor on a short field trip, Caliban shows his creator the people of London, specifically the women. Caliban desires a mate and he wishes his “father” to create one, just as he was created. Similar to the novel, the creature wishes an immortal companion to share his life with. However, in the novel, this ends poorly with Frankenstein feeling guilt over creating another abomination, one that might procreate with the first, and destroys the bride. This incurs the creature’s wrath, who proceeds to kill everything to doctor holds dear. Caliban makes a similar threat, that if Frankenstein does not do as he has been ordered to consequences will be severe.

Elsewhere, Ethan Chandler is meeting with Sir Malcolm and Vanessa, both surprised to see the sharpshooter once more. He and Brona are certainly more than friends now, as a brief scene of love-making will show, though it’s obvious Ethan cares deeply for Brona, which is why he showed up on Sir Malcolm’s doorstep, looking for more “night work”. Ethan wishes to earn money so he can buy Brona medicine to treat her tuberculosis. It’s unclear at this point whether the romance is one-sided or not, though I personally am more excited by the fact that our characters are finally coming together under a common flag, something I had hoped would happen sooner rather than later. Vanessa and Sir Malcolm explain that they may have an idea as to where Mina is being held, Vanessa attributing her knowledge and second sight to being “affected by forces beyond our world”. That is putting it mildly to say the least, given last episode’s much-discussed séance scene. Sir Malcolm leaves Vanessa to fill Ethan in on the details and Ethan can’t help but ask what happened to Mina. I’m a bit disappointed that all we get of Mina’s backstory is that which we could find in Bram Stoker’s novel. It’s almost not worth recapping, just the usual business; Mina was a governess engaged to Jonathan Harker, but fell under the thrall of a mysterious foreigner who may be more than just a man. Ethan questions as to where Vanessa and Sir Malcolm believe Mina to be held and the spiritualist cheekily asks is Ethan has ever been to the London Zoo.

Cut to the zoo in the dead of night, while I do my victory dance for calling that one so early in the episode. Vanessa, Ethan, Sir Malcolm, and Sembene, Sir Malcolm’s manservant, creep between the cages while the animals stir and chatter at their presence. Vanessa acts as almost a divining rod for Mina’s presence, tuning in to the ethereal whispers just skirting the veil of her consciousness. Sir Malcolm warns Ethan that Vanessa’s gifts make her “desirable” to an unknown threat. Couple this with Vanessa sensing something terribly wrong in the air and it’s out now that Sir Malcolm is keeping secrets from his partner. We the audience know that this is all to do with ancient Egyptian gods bringing about the apocalypse, but for now Vanessa is still in the dark. And there are more troubling present matters at hand.

Wolves have circles our protagonists, staring them down from the shadows. I am strongly reminded of a quote found both in Bram Stoker’s novel and the 1931 production of Dracula, “Listen to them, children of the night, what music they make”. Clearly this pack of predators has been sent by the unseen vampire foe and the only music they are interested in making is the crunching of bones while they snack on our protagonists’ faces.
Ethan, however, steps up to the plate. He instructs his companions not to fire their weapons or move and approaches one of the wolves, seeming to commune with the animal. He maintains eye contact with the wolf, a huge no-no as sustained eye contact for many animal species is a sign of aggression. Ethan slowly bends down to the wolf’s level and offers his bare hand to the canine, who gently grips it in his jaws momentarily before running off with the rest of the pack. I would interpret this as a sign of submission from Ethan. With dogs and wolves, muzzle biting or grabbing is a behavior where one canine will take another’s muzzle in his mouth as a greeting and sign of dominance. Normally there is no hostility in this act, and for Ethan’s lack of a muzzle, one may guess a hand will do. I would interpret Ethan’s body language in this situation to be, “We are here, but we will not harm you if we don’t have to”. Now, the big question is, how does Ethan so expertly know how to convey this in wolf-speak? I am now, more than ever, predicting that Ethan is a werewolf. This is not out of the realm of possibility with regards to the Gothic literary influence found in Penny Dreadful. Werewolves of many different kinds were seen in 19th century writings which drew heavily from folklore.

Now, with that hairy confrontation past, and an amusing “what the hell was that” glance between Vanessa and Sir Malcolm, our group make to leave. They are distracted, however, by munching and slurping sounds heard within one of the cages. Within they find a young man making a midnight snack of the primates fond in the cage. This ghoul lurches as if to attack, but is swiftly knocked out by Ethan before taken in chains back to Sir Malcolm’s place. Doctor Frankenstein is sent for to examine this recent acquisition in Sir Malcolm’s horror basement. The ghoul’s name is Fenton and the only obvious tie I could find with anyone named “Fenton” and cannibalistic, ghoulish activities is Harvey Fenton, the editor of a non-fiction book about the cult horror classic, Cannibal Holocaust. So clearly, this is a new character, though really I would take Fenton to be an expy of Renfield, Dracula’s loyal servant. Commonly, Renfield is depicted much like Penny Dreadful’s Fenton, a crouching, gibbering mess surviving on blood and “tiny lives” such as birds and small animals, all the while going on about his master. The ghoul claims that his master is there in the shadows, that such darkness will consume them all. He breathes the names “Amun-Ra” and “Amunet”, but knows nothing of Mina, instead taunting that he knows of a past where Vanessa was beaten and starving. Wishing to hear more about this “master”, Sir Malcolm attempts to beat the information out of his captive, but is stopped by Ethan right as Doctor Frankenstein arrives.

Our protagonists retire to the upstairs rooms, where they are seen making plans for their captive downstairs. A blood transfusion is to be attempted and hopefully will work in curing Fenton (I have to struggle not to type “Renfield”), pointing the way to curing Mina as well. Frankenstein warns that if they start tampering with this being, he will be their responsibility as they will be forever linked. Learned that lesson a bit late, didn’t you Doctor? There is tension among the group, Frankenstein worming out of Ethan that the sharpshooter was involved in the Indian Wars, Ethan himself not too keen on experimenting on the young man now chained in the basement. Vanessa is even leery of Sir Malcolm, who knew that Mina wasn’t at the zoo, that their enemy wanted Vanessa instead, though he lies and claims to not know why. Sir Malcolm then resolves that everyone present swear a pact, that they there is no going back from this moment, they must all proceed as one. I am delighted to see that even though this bond is tenuous, all of our characters are finally on a path together. I find this group to be much more stimulating when they are able to play off one another and now that it seems they will finally be seen working together more, I look forward to what further beasts and mysteries come their way. The episode closes out with Fenton muttering in the horror basement, announcing that his master has arrived.

Well, readers, what did you think? Sound off in the comments section below!

While I don’t think this was a bad episode, I felt it lacked the pop that the first two episodes of Penny Dreadful presented. I know that topping that séance scene from last week would be almost impossible, and yet I was disappointed that the majority of "Resurrection" was devoted to Caliban’s back story. It’s not that the back story wasn’t well done, but the tale of Frankenstein and his monster is something we as an audience have seen many times. I found myself waiting for a twist that would cause me to catch my breath, similar to how I felt when Proteus was revealed to not be Frankenstein’s first creation, but it never came. I actually was more interested in Proteus’s story, the idea that this new creation was experiencing life for the first time and yet memories of a former life were continually bubbling to the surface, causing the creature to question his existence. I am hopeful that the vast amount of back story we received for Caliban will come into play later, considering much of the episode was devoted to him waxing philosophical at Frankenstein. An interesting twist might be that Brona succumbs to her tuberculosis and serves as the body Frankenstein uses to build Caliban’s bride. There are so many possibilities with that.

I wonder if there was an issue getting the rights to both Dracula and Renfield’s names and characters. Clearly, referring to the vampire menace as “Count Dracula” would seem a bit melodramatic and I actually like that he so far has gone unnamed, creating this larger-than-life threat that has been looming in the shadows, quite literally according to Fenton. But a Renfield is a Renfield no matter what you name him. I do look forward to seeing how this ghoul will react to the blood transfusion “cure” though.

“Less is more” is the best policy in regards to horror in my opinion. Scare us by making us use our imaginations, keep us guessing by giving us as little information as possible. That is why characters like Vanessa intrigue me so. We receive snips and snapshots into their lives and pasts, and are allowed to wildly speculate in order to connect the dots. With Caliban, the mystery and horror that accompanied his entrance straight through Proteus’s chest was dissolved the instant his past was over explained. Oh, he worked in a theater, that’s nice.

Like I said, despite my disappointment I found this episode enjoyable, especially the scene at the zoo. It was a tense situation and left me with more questions than answers. It is especially refreshing to finally see all our dramatis personae finally in scenes together. I know I’ve mentioned it several times, but the appeal of such a series is that these characters, each with their secrets and their skills, must come together and uniquely lend a hand to a threat bigger than themselves. We haven’t seen much of that yet, though the forming of the pact seems promising to me that our characters will spend more time in each other’s company.

I hope that the episode airing June 1st, entitled "Demimonde", brings more to the séance table than "Resurrection" did. Be sure to tell us what you thought of this most recent episode in the comments!


About the Author – Ashley B
Ashley is as serious as a sleeping curse when she says television is her life. Professional event planner, avid movie viewer, convention enthusiast, and resident sass master, Ashley writes reviews for ABC's Once Upon a Time, Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, and Galavant, as well as Showtime’s Penny Dreadful. She looks forward each week to the weird and wonderful world her favorite television programs provide.
Recent Reviews by Ashley B (All Reviews)

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