This review contains spoilers.
1.5 The Frankenstein Murders
“To the unflinching eye of the intellectual soul,” toasted foursome Mary Shelley, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Sir William Chester, and some other guy called James Hogg in the flashback that opened this week’s episode The Frankenstein Murders. In one of the most easy games of ‘one of these things is not like the other’, it didn’t take a mad scientist to figure out which of the four was going to draw the short straw (that’s not a euphemism; they actually drew straws) when it came to being the guinea pig (that is a euphemism) for William’s shiny galvanism equipment. Will knew how to work the electrodes, and the Shelleys are literary Gods, so that left the guy with no other part in the plot so far, or history in general, saddled with dying for Science and late night party shits and giggles. Poor James; who made his debut in the show as the ITV gothic crime series’ equivalent of a Red Shirt.
Like a few other beats in the show so far, the business of who was going to be strapped to the reanimation machine to be brought back Flatliners-style wouldn’t have been a surprise to canny viewers, but was quickly followed with something that was. Prepared to get a glimpse of galvanism in process, we were instead shown the Science Squad not being able to bring James back after suffocating him with a throw cushion, the switch to realism bringing us back down to the mundane. Sparks of electricity don’t give life; they just hurt a bunch and make the air smell like bacon for a few minutes: the scene made quick work of showing the group dealing with the consequences of their idealism and pretentions to greatness. It was an unexpected and well-chosen route for Chronicles to travel, especially satisfying for anyone who finds privileged young things thinking they can change the world sickeningly irritating (that might just be us, folks). And it was a canny kick-off for an episode where the plot points set up throughout the series began to pay off.
With the Chronicles‘ hallmark of following a nod to genre convention with something more interesting, sometimes even oddball, the show’s small world syndrome (‘Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon’ style – Flatliners! Did it in one!) was at play again this week. Remember that rich guy Flora mentioned a while ago? The one who drugged and assaulted her after Billy was charging too much for her virginity? London’s a big place, it would be almost impossible to track down who– oh, Garnet Chester’s closing the door to her room at the hospital and is acting possessive while she’s out cold; it was him. Well, it was always either going to be Garnet, his brother William, Daniel Hervey, or Bentley Warburton, them being the characters with fancy waistcoats and ambiguous alignments – Garnet probably the least predictable, him not being a particular focus for the story so far. The reveal wasn’t lazy storytelling, but efficient writing, serving to set up the possibility that Garnet is just bad enough to be experimenting on stolen children instead of, or with, William. So, a convenient way to shovel in even more red herrings, more pieces to stop the solving of the case becoming too easy a puzzle.
And talking of oddball, on a related note, we got more – Marlott’s discovery of Garnet’s erotica collection in his living room. Porno clock, a book left open on a naughty picture on the sideboard, more filth in the drawers, and some Blake etchings shoved underneath. Garnet living in Bizarro World where poetry is hidden under pornography, and dirty pictures are kept out where guests can see them. For Marlott, that made the guy just unhinged enough to attack Flora, and he was right (but we could have told him that earlier).
In more oddball-ness, we also went back to the intimidating cake shop that Bentley Warburton had disappeared into with no explanation a few episodes ago (which was enjoyable even as a lose plot thread) to find out there’s a brothel underneath it; a related bit of blackmail marking the end of any Anatomy Act opposition. Rookie cake-shop-brothel mistake, Bentley. The evidence garnered from the dead pig water race of episode one also came in handy, it helping Marlott to figure out that the Chester family home in Greenwich was where the missing children were ending up. That sounds stranger every time it’s typed out, but makes sense in the series. Sort of.
With the nice n’ weird plot work this week came some extra character beats. Marlott using Billy’s pride and feelings of ownership over Flora to secure a confession. Marlott trusting Daniel Hervey enough now to ask him to consult on the case. And the kissing with Jemima Hervey, but that seemed shoe-horned in, perhaps in a bid to balance out the ongoing misery levelled at Marlott with some lightness (it wouldn’t work). Or to set him up for more heartbreak down the line (that would). The romance with Lady Hervey’s quick tangle into the Anatomy Act struggle – “By the way, John, I’m engaged to Warburton, but I wouldn’t have to marry him if the act doesn’t pass, or something – this wasn’t too well thought out. You didn’t really need extra motivation to solve the case, but here’s some more anyway” – wasn’t very successful, a little rushed, but might have further repercussions come next week; we’ll see.
Ending with the reveal that ‘the composite’ of body parts found at the start of episode one probably crawled to the water by itself, we were left with the teaser of a look at the reanimated creatures in the next episode. And, you never know, perhaps “the secrets of heaven and earth […] the outward substance of things or the inner spirit of nature” will be revealed, as well. But we’ll settle for more weirdness; its stranger parts are what makes this show such an interesting chimera.
Read Phoebe-Jane’s review of the previous episode, The Fortune Of War, here.