The big question every television viewer asks themselves when watching the second episode of a series is "will this hold up to the pilot?". Well, I don't know about you, but this episode certainly has cemented my intrigue surrounding the mysteries of our various protagonists in Penny Dreadful. Disturbing new information has come to light regarding Vanessa, Sir Malcolm, and even Victor Frankenstein. I have to say I was shocked and surprised throughout the episode. The pace seemed odd, but that may be due to the various twists and turns our characters' stories are taking. The more we learn, the darker this story gets. And speaking of characters, new introductions have been made, with relationships wrapping around themselves, each player in this drama becoming further connected in a web of supernatural suspense. The motif of water is very present in this episode, as well as that of the sea. Water is a source of life, but can also flood and suffocate, obliterating creation. Joseph Conrad can be attributed to the quote that the "ocean has...no memories" and we will see if this indeed holds true.
The scene jumps to daytime at the wharf, where we see Ethan Chandler, resident American, collecting himself from under a dock after clearly being passed out for some time. Ethan is filthy and appears to have some puncture wounds on his hand. If I know my horror movies, and I'd like to think I do, this bears all the hallmarks of a lycanthropy hangover. That might explain why the woman at the scene of the first episode's murders reacted so strangely to Ethan. It could also explain his almost superhuman abilities with a gun. Heightened hearing, eye sight, and reflexes are all part of the shape shifter package and would aid a sharpshooter's skills nicely. I wonder if the moon has been full recently. Well, so much for my orangutan/The Murders in the Rue Morgue theory, but this could prove to make Mr. Chandler far more interesting.
In his workshop, Frankenstein is teaching his creation how to eat, taking meticulous notes all the while. We see that sometime has passed as the creature now has a bit of scruff on his chin. This also points to the fact that his tissues are healing and regenerating, that for all intents and purposes this is a living man, not a reanimated corpse frozen in time. As Victor teaches his creation how to eat, the image of the doctor placing bread in the creature's mouth brings back Catholic school flashbacks and I am strongly reminded of taking communion at church. For those unaware, in the sacrament of the Eucharist, transubstantiation is the change of an inanimate object, in this case the bread, into the body of Christ. The act of Victor turning dead tissues into a breathing, learning being can be seen as a form of transubstantiation as well; of taking an object and filling it with life.
Frankenstein examines the blood sample, stating that on the surface things appear normal, but then again, he's not a hematologist. Sir Malcolm assures the doctor that such a specialist will be brought immediately as a consult, but when Frankenstein balks, obviously not keen on anything that will take time away from Proteus, the explorer sternly interrupts and presents the doctor with a remittance, silencing Frankenstein into the role of an obedient employee. After Frankenstein leaves, Sir Malcolm wants to know what all that business with the poetry was. Vanessa confidently tells her employer the doctor has a secret. Frankenstein did have an obvious spring in his step that had nothing to do with drawing blood from a desiccated, hieroglyphic-riddled corpse.
Before we delve into the iniquity that is Dorian Gray, we get a brief scene of Sir Malcolm dropping by the police station. Again, one must surmise that Sir Malcolm is a man of political connections and powerful influence if he is able to stroll into an inspector's office and demand to be kept up to date on the most recent murder spree, which is exactly what he does. He seems to think that the attacks have something to do with his vampires, inquiring whether or not the victims were drained of blood. And they were not, though several organs and limbs were missing. Interestingly, the organs taken are similar to those found in culinary offal, kidneys and livers and such. This, and the fact that Sir Malcolm insists they are looking for a killer who is more beast than man, makes me move even further into the "Ethan Chandler is a werewolf" state of mind. We know Ethan's hands shake, and while Vanessa attributed this to alcoholism, it could also be kuru, a neurological disease that causes tremors. It develops when one consumes human flesh on a regular basis. There is an interesting case of a German farmer who was executed as a serial killer and cannibal in the 16th century. He was given the nickname "the Werewolf of Bedburg".
The next scene is a short one, with Ethan receiving a telegram. It begs him to come home, stating that Ethan's "legal troubles" have been taken care of monetarily. The telegram is signed simply with "your father". I had assumed that Ethan's father was deceased, what with the way the sharpshooter gazed at the engraved pocket watch in episode one. It seems that Ethan's run-in with the law was serious enough to warrant the involvement of a U.S. Marshall and dire enough that Ethan fled the country. I wonder if this has anything to do with both the blackouts we see Ethan falling victim to and the fact that he drew The Lover's card from Vanessa's tarot deck.
Despite having never left the workshop, Proteus is able to name the objects and creatures in the book. This must be Proteus's past life bubbling to the surface. In "Night Work", it was offhandedly mentioned when Sir Malcolm and company visited the resurrectionists that bodies fished out of the river were unsuitable for medical research. Could Victor Frankenstein have "borrowed" one of these rejects for his own work, knowing it wouldn't be missed? When Proteus gets upset at the idea that he might have once killed a whale, the doctor, who had also come to the conclusion Proteus's former life was peeking through, assures his creation that everyone has past sins they are ashamed of. Frankenstein takes on a haunted look, obviously speaking from some sort of experience.
Madame Kali's name is also very interesting. Kali is the Hindu goddess of change and destruction, once again bringing to mind the change and duality seen in Proteus, Vanessa, and even Brona as she wastes away. Tonight's entertainment will be that of a seance, though one as to wonder the wisdom in allowing people such as Dorian Gray and Vanessa Ives to sit in the medium's circle while she contacts the spirit world. Sir Malcolm and Mr. Lyle are among the others who join Madame Kali at the table, the rest of the party looking on at the spectacle. As the medium begins to invoke the spirits, Vanessa can be seen to grow agitated. She clutches Dorian Gray's hand, he being the only person who understands what she struggles to contain.
Despite these dark and uncertain tidings, a bit of levity rounds out the episode. Frankenstein takes Proteus on an outing, showing him the world outside the workshop. At first Proteus is overwhelmed, but soon, with Victor's guidance, he gains the confidence to venture out with his "father". To be honest with you, I was waiting for the other shoe to drop this entire scene, as beautiful as it was. These scenes are shot gorgeously, jumping from event to event, just as Proteus's attention would as he tries to experience everything at once. I was waiting for Proteus to lash out, to become scared or frustrated, but that didn't happen with Frankenstein by his side, guiding him. There are too many moments in this sequence to name, as Proteus drinks in the wonders of the outside world, enjoying himself thoroughly. I wonder though, with Frankenstein showing his creation only the beauty in life, what will happen when Proteus learns of pain. How will he react?
Well readers, what did you think? Did "Seance" live up to your expectations? Will you be coming back for more after seeing what that lies in wait for us viewers? So, the end of the world. The stakes are now higher than ever as our characters flounder further into the darkness. I'm interested to know more about Vanessa and the evil she keeps so tightly under wraps. Mr. Lyle remarked that one should not tell the spiritualist she is being "chased by the Devil", but where does this fit in with Amunet and the vampires?
Water is seen again and again throughout this episode and in the case of poor Proteus, the ocean does have memories after all. Water is mentioned constantly, from Proteus offering Victor a glass to soothe him after being reminded of past transgressions, to the spirit of Peter Murray remarking on its absence during his death rattle. Water cleanses us, it's ever changing. Not to sound cheesy, but Pocahontas had a point when she sang about not "stepping in the same river twice". Water flows and it forgets. It changes, similar to how each of our characters is seen to change. Every player on Penny Dreadful is in a state of flux, a representation of duality. I feel as if I am beating a dead horse by now, pointing out every way that duality has been showcased in this episode, from Amunet and her hidden monster, to Vanessa and her own. My suspicions that Ethan Chandler has his own demons clawing their way out from beneath is skin continue to grow. There's even Sir Malcolm, who has proven in the worst kind of way to unfortunately be more than a loving father. We see Brona straddling the line between life and death as her body wastes away, while Proteus, poor Proteus, leaped from darkness into the land of the living, if only for a short while. Even Dorian Gray, his outward appearance in stark contrast with whatever his portrait may show of him.
Be sure to tell us what you think of this latest episode in the comments section!
And be sure to tune in May 25th for episode three entitled "Resurrection".