Monday, May 11, 2015
Penny Dreadful: Season 1
With the second season of the Victorian gothic show Penny Dreadful, I wanted to write a bit on how the first season fared. It's a bit of a mixed bag.
Victor Frankenstein and his monster
I am always interested in a good retelling of the Frankenstein story. This one starts with an amazing fakeout. The creature seems childlike and good and completely the opposite of the story until the real monster (who aptly calls himself Caliban) rips it apart. Then he starts making demands and such like the regular story. I like that the show seems to say "Yeah, we read the book too." to the viewer and plays with their expectations in cool ways. Both characters are sympathetic and you can see both of their perspectives. Caliban taking residence in a theater is pure gold and presented so many humanizing moments.
I initially thought he was a bland character with his aloof and bored attitude at his own sex parties, but he turned out to be very interesting. His conversations with Vanessa are always fun to watch. He takes everything in a reserved manner despite his extreme lifestyle. It was also surprising that his sexual appetites weren't completely heterosexual. Many cable channel shows seem to purposefully stay away from male/male relationships so as to not offend the audience with male nudity while at the same time adding in female nudity at every turn. It's nice to see at least one show not totally focused on the heterosexual male audience.
Vanessa is the most magnetic character in the show. Her attitude is delightfully contradictory. She is severe and totally in control most of the time and then she becomes volatile and dangerous when possessed. Her inner demons put all she has at risk. Arguably the most powerful person on the show, she is clairvoyant, reads cards and tea leaves, and can act as a medium for spirits. I had high hopes for her origin and expected a Jekyll and Hyde adaption, but I turned out to be very disappointed.
So much set up and NOTHING HAPPENED. If the show was cancelled, nothing would be resolved at all. Vanessa isn't quite cured; Brona is about to be Caliban's bride; and Ethan just werewolfed out on a whole bunch of people with who knows what consequences. The only thing really resolved was the whole Mina/Master Vampire story line.
The Treatment of Vanessa
As I said, Vanessa is my favorite character, but her origin story is awful. She witnessed infidelity as a child, so she "embraced her darkness" and had sex with her sister's betrothed as a teen the day before their wedding. So Vanessa is blamed entirely for the incident and the families never speak after that. It does make sense with the time period, but it put a bad taste in my mouth. Later, she goes insane because of demonic possession (why? probably because of her evil vagina). Then she accepts help form a demon and has sex with it to make her vagina even more evil than it already was. When she finally has the opportunity to have a nice, consensual relationship with Dorian Gray, her evil vagina says no and it's too risky because she would open herself to being possessed again. Why can't she just be happy? Dorian and Vanessa are my favorite relationship on the show and the writers seem very intent on making her miserable and alone in a misogynistic manner. Dorian is kind of evil and can have all the sex we wants with whoever. Vanessa is slut shamed because of the time period and can't even have a semi normal and healthy relationship with someone she actually likes. She only gets gross demon sex because she basically still being punished for a youthful transgression.
So, while the first season isn't perfect, Penny Dreadful is a different show that features classic gothic horror in new ways. I hope this season is a little less hateful on Vanessa and actually resolves some of the plotlines. I'm intrigued by the Elizabeth Bathory character and if Caliban will finally have a mate. We'll see.