Penny Dreadful episode 3 review: Resurrection

Review Becky Lea
4 Jun 2014 - 06:51

Penny Dreadful is a complicated, layered love letter to the period in which it's set. Here's Becky's review of episode 3...

This review contains spoilers.

1.3 Resurrection

The previous episode of Penny Dreadful left us with one cracker of a cliffhanger as Frankenstein’s first Creature returned to his creator with a chest-ripping flourish. The third episode opens with a much quieter moment, devoted to the young Frankenstein learning to cope with death through literature and later through science. It provides a tragic past for the hubristic resurrection man we’ve seen in the previous episodes and makes his actions more understandable, if not excusable. It is this quieter exploration of his childhood that makes his confrontation with his Creature more illuminating, highlighting their difference in experience.

The brilliant flashback scene in which the first Creature is born provides a stark contrast to the more serene way in which Proteus was brought into the world. It’s a full Gothic nightmare with the raging storm in the background and the horrible bloody mess of the Creature’s birth. The Frankenstein narrative across this episode is its best asset and Harry Treadaway rises to the occasion, exploring the full range of the character’s emotions from the terror of that birth scene to the final warning to Murray about the importance of responsibility when dealing with the captured vampire. The arrogance of his first episode appearance has been tempered with the return of his first-born, yet remains in his refusal to build a mate.

Speaking of the Creature, Rory Kinnear arrives in a fullblown rage, sneering and spitting his way through his backstory and stealing away this episode with his performance just as Eva Green did last week with hers. In the flashback scenes of his abandonment and subsequent theatrical employment, Kinnear crafts a tragic character that feels caught in between ages. He has learnt from the Romantics about the ways of the world, but left unprepared for the cruelty of Victorian London. As he says to Frankenstein, he’s not of an “antique pastoral world, [he is] modernity personified.” That clash between Romanticism and modernity appears through much of the Creature’s dialogue, learning as he does from poets such as Percy Shelley and John Keats.

In these references, John Logan has rooted Frankenstein’s narrative within his own literary Romantic context, as well as highlighting how this ideology clashes with the more mechanised world of the Victorian era. It also builds well into the wider themes of life and death that permeate each episode. William Wordsworth is quoted once again in the opening scenes by the younger Frankenstein, reciting lines from Intimations on Immortality. It is these carefully considered moments that excels Penny Dreadful beyond a simple drama. It’s a complicated, layered and referential work that acts as a love letter to the period in which it is set, utilising the familiar to create a new, unpredictable take on these classics.

It is natural, therefore, that certain imagery present within the source literature is carried over too. Blood is one such over-riding image throughout the episode; Caroline Frankenstein coughs up blood in her son’s face, his older self smeared with the blood of the dead Proteus. On a visual level, it provides a bold burst of colour in an episode otherwise portrayed in much more sombre hues and is often used as an effective shock tactic. With the further appearances of vampires in the episode, the idea of blood carrying life or death becomes more central to the ongoing narrative, just as it is with Dracula. With the Murray narrative picking up speed and further hints towards the Count in Fenton, the Renfield-like servant speaking to his master, blood carries a great importance in this world.

As the vampiric side of the narrative develops, Chandler is given more of a focus as his relationship with Brona develops and he is provided with the motivation to go back to Murray and accept his offer of employment. There are further hints that his past is a darker one here and Josh Hartnett gives Chandler a nervous energy that sets him apart from the calm figure of Vanessa, with whom he appears to share an as yet unspoken connection. The scene with the wolf also deepens the mystery surrounding him; it’s a beautifully tense sequence that hints at something animalistic in his past, a parallel to the way in which Vanessa stopped the vampire with just a look.

After the relatively slow narrative development of the first two episodes, the plot aspect of the series is starting to pick up speed as the character conflicts and motivations settle into place. There are still many mysteries left to solve, but if it continues in this vein, Penny Dreadful is going to be something really quite special.

Read Becky's review of the previous episode, Seance, here.

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