Mastodon Mastodon Mastodon Mastodon Mastodon Penny Dreadful - Seance - Review

SpoilerTV - TV Spoilers

Penny Dreadful - Seance - Review

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 memories" and we will see if this indeed holds true.

We open the episode on a lady of the night, sitting by herself on a bench in the dark. Not the best place to be with a killer on the loose, a fact cemented by the prostitute's choice of wrapping on her lunch, a newspaper with headlines screaming that the Ripper is stalking about once again. It might be reaching to consider her choice of snack, an apple, as a representation of the carnal temptation she peddles, especially since it is obvious this woman won't survive long. Startled by an eerie metallic scraping in the distance, a lamp lighter is revealed, making his way down the lane, sporting a beard that would probably consume small children if they got too close. He neglects to light the lamp above the prostitute's perch and skulks off into the fog, not going far before we hear the clatter of his pole. One can barely make out a figure of a man emerging from the fog as the prostitute reacts in terror before she is forcibly parted with her limbs.

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.

Ethan stumbles into a seaside pub and orders whiskey first thing. Breakfast of champions and I'm surprised he is able to produce enough money to entice the barkeep to leave the bottle. Ethan is soon joined by Brona Croft, a lady for hire with an accent thicker than the fog outside. Within the first moments of their meeting, Brona steals a swig of Ethan's whiskey and talks a mile a minute. The two bond over their "breakfast", Brona explaining that she came to London for factory work, only to have her job taken by the new-fangled machines of the Industrial Age. She subtly refers to her current trade, propositioning Ethan, who declines. What we see in Brona Croft, whose name she tells us means "sadness", is a worldly woman making her own way. I was worried I would be annoyed with this character; that she would present as a simple caricature with an Eliza Doolittle accent. However, Brona has a history. She is educated, in a worldly sense at least, knowing a trade though she can't employ it. How she will fit in to the demimonde with the rest of our cast will be interesting to see. Ethan is certainly charmed by her.

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.

Despite this incidental religious imagery, Frankenstein rejects naming his creature "Adam" as a symbol of new life and instead ops to let the creature name himself. I'm amused because "Adam" is actually what the creation in the original Mary Shelley text used to refer to himself. In the text, the creature claims he is the "Adam of your labors" when confronting the doctor. Frankenstein grabs a volume of Shakespeare's works and flips through it, miming that the creature should stop the pages when he chooses and what he lands on will be his name. Fittingly, the creature's finger lands on the words "Enter Proteus". Proteus is the name given to one of the gods of the sea in Greek mythology, which ties in nicely to what we learn of the creature as the episode progresses. It also suggests the idea of being first born, the prefix "pro" usually meaning "forward" or "in favor". The work of Shakespeare that this name comes from is The Two Gentlemen of Verona, one of the Bard's early works regarding friendship and the fickleness of lovers. And some may remember in the Harry Potter books that Hermione Granger used a Protean Charm, which caused an object to change its shape to mimic another's. From all of these examples I find Proteus to be a fitting name for a creature who is the first of a new race, a creature born from and representing change, the change of one state (death) to another (life).

After this naming the doctor excuses himself, not without protest from Proteus, to attend to an appointment that might prove lucrative for the both of them. He remarks that he now has "two mouths to feed" strengthening the father/son imagery. This is quite the change to the original text where the doctor, disgusted by the folly of his playing god, abandoned his creation instead of nurturing it as we see here. Frankenstein is off to see Sir Malcolm and Vanessa, to offer more insight to the mystery corpse the pair plopped on his table in the first episode. Before the doctor arrived, Sir Malcolm had ordered Vanessa to leave her top button undone as a way of enticing the young doctor, but it appears Frankenstein responds to a more intellectual courtship. While the doctor is taking blood from the mystery corpse, Vanessa notices a few books peeking out of the doctor's Gladstone. Vanessa proceeds to recite a bit of poetry, whose lines the doctor eagerly finishes in union with her. The poem they are reciting is the last stanza in Wordsworth's Lines Written in Early Spring. In this work, the speaker is enjoying an idyllic day surrounded by nature, but towards the end the poem takes on a melancholy tone as the speaker realizes the contrast between humanity and nature, that the natural world is a godsend and what that must say about the pain mankind brings to it.

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.

Elsewhere, we come across Brona Croft who seems to have been able to drum up "work" at the house of someone extremely well off. Every wall is covered with an array of oil paintings, opulent decorations on every surface. This is very fitting as her host, a dashing young man who was leisurely studying his art-laden wall upon Brona's entrance, introduces himself as Dorian Grey. The Picture of Dorian Gray is a novel by Oscar Wilde, one that got Wilde is a great deal of trouble due to the accusations of indecency regarding the story's subject matter. It was actually edited to tone down some of the homoerotic subtext (or in some cases text). The Picture of Dorian Gray tells the tale of the titular Dorian, who when basking in the glow of his own beauty while looking at a self-portrait, wishes the painting to age and rot so that he may stay young forever. This wish is somehow fulfilled, allowing Dorian all the time in the world to indulge in every hedonistic impulse he desired, with only his portrait as a witness, aging and disfiguring as a reflection on the blackness this young man poured into his soul. While not in the text, it's common in cinematic depictions that Dorian dare not look at his portrait or the wish will be undone and he will succumb to the damage of his vices. I wonder if Penny Dreadful will take the same route, with the twisted depiction of Dorian's immorality being locked away for safe keeping.

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".

So, back at Dorian's Den of Debauchery we see Brona modeling for Mr. Gray in her unmentionables while a photographer is busy capturing photograph after photograph of her scantily clad form. Dorian seems to be obsessed with portraits, perhaps even with capturing life on film. This could point to the fact that he is unable to gaze upon his own portrait for fear of knowing the truth of what he has done and is capable of. It's worth mentioning that some cultures believed having one's photograph taken would steal the subject's soul, so perhaps this is Mr. Gray's design, his method of collecting life. Though it would seem that life is not what piques Dorian's interest the most. Brona is suffering from tuberculosis and throughout the episode has been given to coughing fits, the worst of them seen here as she hawks up globs of blood, Moulin Rouge-style. This instantly captivates Dorian, positively enthralling him as he draws closer, ignoring Brona's embarrassment and protests regarding her disease. Dorian seduces her, taking Brona right there in the middle of his parlor, wondering aloud the entire time as to whether someone fading from life like she is can feel things more deeply. Perhaps since Dorian has gained immortality, he has long since lost the ability to feel. The curse of immortality is boredom. What is left after every sensation is experienced, every thrill is felt? It would leave one an empty shell, with the final adventure being death itself. Is Dorian draw to Brona because she will soon achieve the one thing beyond his grasp? Interestingly, despite being asked to leave and develop the pictures already taken, the photographer stays in the room and captures every moment of Dorian and Brona's union against the wall. I wonder if capturing Dorian Gray on film with have repercussions later on.

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.

Over at the Frankenstein place, Victor is surprised to hear Proteus (I am so thankful he has a name, it was becoming tedious writing "the creature") singing softly to himself. I'm surprised at not only how quickly Proteus is learning language and skills, but how calmly as well. He isn't the mute, bumbling monster often seen in films, but very much a man or perhaps a child, enraptured by each new experience. The song Proteus is singing sounds like a sea shanty and this must have inspired the good doctor, for Frankenstein fetches a book from a nearby pile. A peek at the partial title reveals it to be Up North in a Whaler, Or Would He Keep His Colours Flying?, an illustrated book for boys on the subject of whaling. Frankenstein flips it open to an illustration of whalers at sea. This book actually exists, published originally in 1891 and I really have to hand it to whomever is in charge of doing research on Penny Dreadful, because the attention to detail is impeccable.

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.

And so later that night, we see Sir Malcolm and Vanessa, true to their word, attending the party thrown by Mr. Lyle, the egyptologist. Mrs. Lyle is nowhere to be seen, said to be making friends with the drink cart. As Sir Malcolm and Mr. Lyle head off to make their introductions, the egyptologist more keen on showing off such a renowned guest than examining the remaining hieroglyphic photographs, Vanessa wanders off by herself into one of the many parlors. It's not long before she has gained the attention of young Mr. Dorian Gray, a last minute invite to the night's festivities. Dorian seems to be drawn to Vanessa, though not with the fascination he held for the dying Brona. He seems to sense whatever Vanessa has been struggling to keep below the surface. Could this be years upon years of experience contributing to Mr. Gray's reading of her, or perhaps their shared darkness? As Dorian draws close to Vanessa, she steps back. Remember, this is a woman who stared down a formidable vampiric foe like it was nothing at all, but here something within Dorian Gray seems to both cause her unease and captivate her. Dorian remarks upon a duality in Vanessa, her mind wanting to appraise while her body wants to touch and be touched. Is this foreshadowing at what's to come?

Before Dorian Gray and Vanessa Ives can get to know each other more intimately, Mr. Lyle calls upon the attention of the room. Tonight's entertainment has arrived in the form of a medium, Madame Kali. As I mentioned in my review of "Night Work", spiritualism and the occult were often seen as a hobbies among the more well to do. It was common to engage in "spectacles" at the time, to see hypnotists and stage magicians perform their wonders. Often, the elite would bring a medium to a party just as this to "channel the spirits" and commune with the dead for a thrill. It's the same concept behind girls breaking out the Ouija board at slumber parties. Mediumship fell out of favor when many famous practitioners were exposed to be frauds. Often, the con artists would employ cheese cloth as a substitute for ectoplasm, and despite this and other glaringly obvious signs of fakery, clients staunchly clung to the idea that it was possible to speak with the dead, for either sentimental reasons or to preserve the novelty of the entertainment.

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.

Things rapidly and disturbingly go south for the seance. This is the scene that will stay with you for the rest of the evening. Madame Kali senses the presence of another, almost disturbed as if this invocation isn't her doing. She begins chanting the name "Amunet" over and over again while Vanessa grows steadily tenser, as if holding something back. Unfortunately, Vanessa's will isn't strong enough and she appears to be taken over by whatever spirit is lurking at the periphery of the circle. The medium is no longer in control here. After convulsing and contorting in the most painful ways, Vanessa seems to lose consciousness, only for a low, creaking moan to escape her throat, followed by a string of what I think is Arabic before suddenly snapping into the high, youthful voice of Peter Murray, Sir Malcolm's son. At breakneck speed, the possessed Vanessa takes us through several moments in Peter's life, where we find the boy was keen to be an explorer like his father, only to succumb to dysentery and die. The child-like voice Vanessa speaks with makes the scene monumentally more disturbing and she cycles through the boy's excitement, fear, despair, and acceptance of death, all the while begging his father to name a mountain after him. Well, Sir Malcolm did tell Frankenstein of the Murray Mountains last episode. The snippet of song we hear this shade of Peter Murray sing has Vanessa reenacts his last breaths is The Unquiet Grave, an English folk ballad that tells the story of a man who mourns his wife so persistently, the deceased can get no rest. The husband wishes to join his wife in death, but the wife instead encourages him to live and move on. This was Peter Murray's final message to his father as he lay dying of dysentery, that Sir Malcolm remember him but ultimately let him go. Very fitting the ballad is about someone communicating from beyond the grave, wishing those living to leave well enough alone.

If you thought this depressing tableau was the end of our spiritual hijinks, you were certainly wrong. My emotions are still sore from the mood whiplash employed, for right after we witness the quiet final moments of Peter Murray, whatever is possessing Vanessa switches gears, sneering at the idea that it is Amunet like Madame Kali said. "No, much older" the spirit, demon or devil with a capital D exclaims, before slamming Vanessa's hand down, shattering the table top. The spirit, through Vanessa, then accuses Sir Malcolm of sleeping with Mina, his own daughter, claiming Vanessa discovered them doing the deed. The most colorful distasteful language is used to describe the act. I think a few sailors over at the pub Ethan has been haunting might have fainted even. The vocalizations and facial expressions Eva Green presented in this scene just heightened the horror of the acts she described. I found myself growing extremely uneasy as the manic voice the spirit spoke with grew higher and louder, spewing forth insults, violent imagery, and even spoke in tongues while Vanessa, climbing on top of the table, contorted in unimaginable ways. Even Madame Kali is completely losing it in the corner. As I said, this scene just stays with you. The rapid change from unexpected heartbreak towards Peter Murray's plight to the revulsion at Sir Malcolm's actions is exhausting and I found myself almost disoriented after the seance ended in chaos, the unkempt Vanessa storming out of the party into the London rain. Where is Mrs. Lyle with that gin because I need a drink.

The next day, Sir Malcolm pays a visit to Mr. Lyle, who staunchly refuses to have Vanessa around again. You know, I wasn't a fan of the egyptologist at first, but he has certainly toned it down and I am enjoying him more on my screen. Sir Malcolm finally gives in and shows the final photographs of the mystery corpse's hieroglyphics to Mr. Lyle. The egyptologist identifies Amunet, the star of the party last night. He goes on to explain that she is known as the "Hidden One", due to the face that she had a monster within her. What Mr. Lyle sees next shocks him to the core. The photograph appears to be Amun-Ra and Amunet in the same picture, which should be impossible according to the egyptologist. To be honest, I first mistook the deity with Amunet to be Horus who is also commonly seen with the head of a hawk, but if you look closely, you can see the sun disk associated with Ra hovering above the depiction's head. Amunet represents everlasting life at the cost of the souls of others, while Amun-Ra is the sun, the bringer of light and creator. These two are never seen in the same depictions because bringing them together result in Amunet becoming the Mother of All Evil and plunge the world into darkness. What Sir Malcolm has stumbled upon is spell that will end the world.

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?

There is a darker moment among these scenes of child-like wonder. Proteus comes to the wharf and begins naming sailing vessels as if it was second nature. He then remembers a wife from his past life, growing solemn as he asks his creator, "what am I?" Victor is spared an awkward explanation as Ethan and Brona, who had agreed earlier to partake of a meal together not found in a bottle, stroll by. Proteus behaves himself and seems to charm Brona, referring to the gas lamps as "fairy lights". One gets a sense that the good doctor doesn't feel comfortable with the bond Proteus forged with Brona, wishing to keep his creation to himself. Proteus assures Victor, back at the workshop, that he will have many friends one day, but his declaration is cut short as a terrible cracking is heard. Proteus stiffens, blood appearing to seep through his shirt, before a pair of hands burst through the creature's chest. At first I thought this was a dream sequence, a bloody metaphor for Doctor Frankenstein's fear of the memories trapped within his creation, but this occurrence is very real as the hands rend Proteus in two, allowing what's left of the man to drop to the floor. The figure responsible steps into the light while Frankenstein kneels over his creation and simply says, "your first born has returned...father". Ah, so Proteus, despite his naming, was not the first. This must be the Adam of Doctor Frankenstein's labors, the original Modern Prometheus. I'm interested to know why Frankenstein tried his methods again after spawning such a brutal creature the first time, though the explanation as to why Proteus progressed so quickly is clear; the doctor learned from his mistakes. And it is this jarring reunion brings episode to a close.

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?

This episode has solidified my interest in the show, though the pacing felt a bit uneven. The first half of the episode seemed to drag a bit, naturally because Penny Dreadful needed the time to establish two new characters, as well as further develop the ones we met in episode one. This unevenness can also be attributed to the length of the seance scene, which leaves the viewer exhausted. While the first half of the episode moves all our players in place, the second half is almost a sensory overload. It's an enjoyable one, but so much information was dished out. I also feel Ethan's character is getting the short end of the stick in the character interaction department. He once again appears in the least amount of scenes and while my interest in his past is growing, I wish to see more of the sharpshooter interacting with the likes of Vanessa or Sir Malcolm. I know the character is meant to be a loner, but I find myself wishing he would join the pack and lend his skill to the events at hand.

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.

The next episode will be directed by someone other than A. J. Bayona and I hope that whoever takes the helm will bring us the stunning visuals we've grown accustom to seeing. Part of the intrigue of Penny Dreadful is that despite the gore and raw subject matter, it looks amazing. Scenes like Proteus's outing are wonderful to watch and even the more disturbing elements, such as the seance, are still captivating. And my goodness how the music soars on this show, whether seductive or melancholy, it truly enriches the experience.

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".

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)

Sign Up for the SpoilerTV Newsletter where we talk all things TV!


SpoilerTV Available Ad-Free!

Support SpoilerTV is now available ad-free to for all subscribers. Thank you for considering becoming a SpoilerTV premmium member!
Latest News