Penny Dreadful: Demimonde, review

Penny Dreadful releases the Demimonde to play

SPOILER ADVISORY: I try to obscure the spoilers, but may have failed in the obscurity.

Let the little girl dance, they might scream in the fifties. Penny Dreadful explores the life of the demimonde and demimondaine in the latest episode. Demimonde means half world in French, it was coined by Alexandre Dumas, the son of the Three Musketeers writer, in a comedy he wrote in 1855 called Le Demi-Monde. Demimonde did what we’d all like to do we if could afford it. They drank, did drugs, gambled and spent lots of cash. They dressed in the height of fashion. They fucked as often and in as many configurations as they could. They had lots of cash to spend. When the cash ran out, after the depression, they were called starving artists. Today they might be called Eurotrash. But they are forever hedonists. Decadent and curious. Rock stars, really.

Dorian Gray learns one of the first lessons of immortality. Don’t get jaded. Immortality can be a boring existence. There are only so many orgies you can RSVP and so many drugs you can smoke before it gets old and you don’t. Poor fucking Dorian Gray. The leisure class. The rest of England was cleaning chimneys. Reeve Carney doesn’t play his privilege for show. Everything is already on display, hung in a gallery of portraits of lovers long gone, I assume. He genuinely looks like he would love to be surprised. His curiosity has not been sated. There is something about him that forever asks, is that a pistol in your pocket or are you just glad to see me?

Victor Frankenstein is such a belligerent fuck when it comes to his first born. This not-quite-mad-but-always-seemingly-peeved scientist messed up this monster’s life. He doomed the creature to an eternity of endless cruelties and disappointments and yet he never misses a chance to be contentious. Hasn’t he antagonized the monster enough? No, the good doctor’s got to remind him he’s ugly. I was glad when the creature (Rory Kinnear) slapped him down.

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I have to agree with the cowboy. These are some morbid fucks. And really, where do they get off going after monsters. What have the monsters ever done to them? Well, sure Mal is all up in arms because his baby’s gone blood-happy, but how’s he to know she’s not better off that way? Monsters, vampires, werewolves and the damned already got it bad by definition, born under a bad sign, down since they could crawl. The real monsters, the ones with funds, go hunting monsters. For the record, I feel the same way about the Bigfoot hunter who brags that he shot two Bigfeet in one day. Whoopdee fucking doo for him. The ASPCA should shoot a subpoena up his ass, offing a rare and beautiful creature. An endangered species and this schtroonz brags, bullshit or not, that he whacked two of them.

Monsters all. Those who hunt monsters are beasts. When Caliban, Frankenstein’s first born creature, says that he is the wave of the future, it is a future denied because there are always mortals buttng in where they don’t belong. If a creature has the unhappy fate of living forever, it is only mortal vanity and jealousy that makes him want to do that creature in. That’s why they turn these creatures into monsters. That’s why ultimately the monsters will die. The people are jealous.

At least Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) has some sympathy for the bloodthirsty. He’s got his own sins at his back that keep him facing forward. Not all gunslingers get hog swaddled at Brokeback Mountain. Chandler is the only one of the period piece Scooby Doo Mystery Inc. gang who would get a vampire something to eat. Of course it’s Sembene (Danny Sapani) who does the delivery.  He just snaps to it.

Vanessa Ives (Eva Green) is den mother of the monster class, so nurturing, who wouldn’t want her? She sees the darkness in the cutest little child. Sir Malcolm (Timothy Dalton) has lost his taste for cuteness and darkness. Dalton plays Sir Malcom Murray as the old time adventurer with a surprisingly soft heart, but no soft center. Would Sir M be running off to Africa while this action has been set in motion? It seems like his character would be too single-minded, especially now that all the pieces are in place to solve the puzzle of his daughter’s transformation.

Fenton (Olly Alexander) is a great character. Alexander gives it his best Dwight Frye and comes up with a little George Zucco on the side. He chews his hand off to get out of bondage. That’s class. That’s monster street cred. I am hoping, but am not predicting, that that hand comes back as a new ripple. It worked for Peter Lorre. It kind of worked for Michael Caine. Penny Dreadful should cast Fenton’s hand as a new threat. I’m sure, like Thing in The Addams Family, Fenton’s hand would also bring a little humor to Penny Dreadful. It’s not completely lacking in it. When Fenton turned down the apple and screamed that his dreadful captors get him some fucking blood, it was a comic turn, impeccably timed. Fenton rocks. Well, rocked anyway. 

Everyone comes together at the Grand Guignol, without which, there would be no Penny Dreadful. This is art flattering life. It moves it perilously close to fan fiction. Bringing all these literary creations and iconic movie characters into a dab of misplaced reality. All of my favorite elements are here and they’re all playing with each other. Even Van Helsing’s putting in an appearance, as a blood fetishist, no less. The play that the Grand Guignol puts on is “The Transformed Man,” about a wolfman.

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Does anyone get the feeling Frankenstein’s creature is going to pick Brona Croft (Billie Piper) as his mate? The camera angles started to tease, to me, that the creature would notice Brona. She would make a good fit, beautiful, young and on her way out, due to mounting consumption. But then it was all about Vanessa and Dorian, who are both “all about” kinds of people, and a scrappy monster running the show.

Penny Dreadful should have been produced by Dan Curtis. At its heart beats the soap of an opera: The floating story lines, the monsters in the cue. The looming spectre of Dracula, forever watching.

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4 out of 5