[This is a review of Penny Dreadful season 1, episode 4. There will be SPOILERS.]
We’re right in the middle of season 1 of Penny Dreadful and that’s exactly how ‘Demimonde’ feels, like an interlude. There’s no bombastic introductions, extensive supernatural combat, opportunities to deliver jaw-dropping performances or major revelations. It’s a rather quiet chance to just be with the characters while delicately building relationships and planting seeds for what’s to come. It’s underwhelming, especially compared to episode 3, but hopefully it will prove beneficial.
Reeve Carney has his work cut out for him. Dorian Gray has appeared in two episodes thus far and there’s only four more to go, and yet his purpose is still a mystery. He gets more screen time than anyone in ‘Demimonde,’ but he still hasn’t proved his worth beyond being a pretty face.
The Penny Dreadful rendition of the character is clearly connected to the Oscar Wilde original, but that’s not enough. Perhaps there is a character-defining plot point to come, one that reveals how he’s connected to the main mission, but until then, it’s hard to get as caught up in Dorian’s storyline compared to the others
And unfortunately, that doesn’t help Ethan either. Enough hints already; it’s about time we know what Ethan’s all about. We already know Ethan is both some sort of supernatural creature and responsible for the murders and now his Absinthe-infused montage at the tail end of this episode further proves it, so why not just come out and say it already?
The kiss at the conclusion of ‘Demimonde’ is yet another link to Wilde’s work, but what did it do for the story in Penny Dreadful? Again, there’s always a chance that the moment will have importance down the line, but as presented in this episode, it doesn’t leave you hungry for more like the rise of Proteus, the death of Proteus or the arrival of Fenton’s master because it doesn’t do anything to build either character or affect the progression of the overall narrative.
The moments between Sir Malcolm and Frankenstein are the highlights of the episode. They don’t necessarily move the story forward, but they do reveal how Sir Malcolm feels about Frankenstein in comparison to Ethan and that adds a significant layer to their relationship, and a particularly appealing one at that.
There are loads of crazy, out-of-this-world things going down in Penny Dreadful and that makes such an honest, relatable bond stand out. In the midst of all this madness, two men who struggle with loneliness identify and take pride in their connection. It’s comforting, but also raises the stakes in the process.
Sir Malcolm and Frankenstein are two strong, engaging characters. You’re always concerned for their safety, but by having the pair investigate that noise upstairs after their conversation, it becomes more than concern for the individual. One also takes into account how what happens to one will affect the other, and that ups the suspense quite a bit.
The only issue with how that sequence concludes is that it leaves you wondering, now what? We know Fenton’s master wants Vanessa, but was finding her ever even an issue? And what did they even learn from Fenton’s torture? Yes, Professor Abraham Van Helsing (David Warner) popped up to confirm the odd property in Fenton’s blood that assists him with the eating of blood. But at this point, isn’t that just stating the obvious?
The big issue with ‘Demimonde’ is that no one makes much progress. There are some stunning visuals, namely watching Caliban do an outstanding amount of machinery and rigging work at theater, and also quite a few incredibly strong conversations – Vanessa’s chat with the young girl (Hayley Canham) outside the church being a standout. But it doesn’t feel as though they’ve accomplished very much.
There definitely isn’t as much immediate satisfaction at the conclusion of episode 4 as there was at the end of 1, 2 and 3, but if the gestation we experienced this episode strengthens what’s to come, ‘Demimonde’ will have served its purpose.
Penny Dreadful continues next Sunday with ‘Closer Than Sisters’ @ 10pm on Showtime.
Follow Perri on Twitter @PNemiroff.