When the poets write of death, it’s invariably serene, says a young Victor Frankenstein. Not on Penny Dreadful. Here death comes at you in vibrant red on frilly white pajamas. Clutching hands and itchy eyes. Life isn’t that serene, either, on Penny Dreadful, especially not for the newly undead. Frankenstein’s monster, abomination, science project first try, is born in fear and abandoned on sight.
Frankenstein’s monster knows nothing but fear and anguish. The first taste of kindness he gets in life is from an actor, inebriated on some potent underground concoction, who works at the Grand Guignol. The Grand Guignol, in the world of Penny Dreadful, has been conveniently moved from Paris to London. Everything’s been moved to London. Dr. Frankenstein’s a native Londoner in Penny Dreadful. Didn’t we learn anything from Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein? Pardon me, boy, this is the Transylvania station and here we break shoes instead of shining them.
This might bug me in Penny Dreadful. It’s TV, it’s premium cable, take a road trip. Go to the Grand Guignol. Go to Paris. Go to Naples. I hear it’s beautiful and quite telegenic. Mary Shelley’s Dr. Frankenstein is Genovese, so he knows something about breaking shoes. He was born in Naples and raised in Geneva. Not London. Not everything happens in London, you know. Eva Green, who plays Vanessa Ives, is from France. She can show you around, might even know where to get a filming permit.
I like this show. I don’t mind slipping into the portals of Vanessa Ives’s eyes and suspending my disbelief. But when you play with my long-held belief in the monsters she’s seeing, well, I don’t want to believe it. That’s why I’m here watching, I miss my old friends from House of Frankenstein. I miss the quicksand. Penny Dreadful gives lodgings to all the favorites. The only ones missing are Drac and the Wolfman. I know Dracula’s coming soon, but he’s certainly making a long entrance. He’s almost treated like Kurtz in Apocalypse Now. Everybody’s talking about him. The only character not from House of Frankenstein is Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett). He looks like he stepped out of Billy the Kid Versus Dracula.
Chandler is getting wrangled into a fight with Transylvania’s favorite son of the dragon. Invited to join Sir Malcom Murray (Timothy Dalton), Dr. Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) and Sembene (Danny Sapani) in their quest to take down the underground menace, he is firmly on Eva’s side. I’m sorry, but this reminds me of an old Get Smart episode. Trying to recruit a pre-teen spy, Max and Siegfried heap more and more promises on the young whiz until Siegfried finally throws down the final offer: CONTROL may have a crack softball team but KAOS lets you cheat. The kid chooses CONTROL because Agent 99 is a “knockout.”
Malcolm thinks he has a poker face, but Vanessa is better at reading cards than gamblers who count them. As I predicted, or wishfully thought, Vanessa is a monster magnet. This makes her good bait on a cold night in a graveyard, but she was the one who wanted to be there in the first place. Dalton is having a good time as the bad good guy. The good man driven to evil deeds by personal anguish. A good man who has the funds to back up his personal battles. Kind of like Dick Cheney, only with charm and slightly less monstrous.
This is the monster’s episode. Rory Kinnear gives Frankenstein’s creation humanity and intelligence. It’s the intelligence that’s frightening. You get the feeling he can deliver on his threats. Telling a scientist not to test something is like throwing down a gauntlet. Frankenstein’s not going to be able to resist. Of course, when you bring up the prospect of a blushing gushing bride, scientific curiosity is going to win out. The other worrying aspect of the creature’s intelligence is his self-awareness. This monster, the inept creation of a brilliant surgical upstart knows Shelley. Sure, he quotes the husband, but if he read the husband, don’t you think he might have caught the wife’s works?
Once again I’d like to mention Rory Kinnear’s father, Roy Kinnear. This weekend, TCM showed The Hill, a 1965 film that co-starred Roy Kinnear, along with Ossie Davis and Sean Connery. Directed by the great Sidney Lumet, the acting in this POW movie is raw and ravaged. Every performance is perfection. Former Dead End Kid, well, from the gang down the block in the play, Sidney Lumet forces tyrannical authority through the camera by using oppressive camera angles. I root for the monsters and those who understand monsters. In Penny Dreadful, that is Rory Kinnear and Eva Green.