[This is a review of Penny Dreadful season 1, episode 2. There will be SPOILERS.]
There isn’t a single poor performance in Penny Dreadful. It’s just impossible for anyone to steal the spotlight with Eva Green around.
In episode 2, ‘Séance,’ Vanessa and Sir Malcolm continue their search for Sir Malcolm’s daughter, Mina Harker, by reconvening with Victor Frankenstein to further discuss the anatomy of their kill from the previous episode and then drop by Inspector Galsworthy’s office where Sir Malcolm discovers the Spitalfields murderer’s thing for kidneys, livers and reproductive parts. The pair makes strides and now has the associates and contacts to uncover even more, but the most striking and telling component of the second episode of the show involves an unexpected encounter, a run-in with the renowned medium, Madame Kali (Helen McCrory).
The séance at Sir Ferdinand Lyle’s (Simon Russell Beale) party is wildly unnerving and immersive, and it also functions as an absolutely masterful delivery of exposition. Lights flicker, glass breaks and there’s one horrifyingly unnatural back bend, but this is essentially six full minutes of Green talking and little more.
She begins the scene as Vanessa, but then gives way to various forces speaking through her character, all while upholding the terror and suspense of the situation and ensuring the viewer isn’t completely overcome so they may retain pertinent plot points. The shot selection, production design and editing are all spot on, but Green could have made an indelible impression all on her own.
Green absolutely steals ‘Séance,’ but yet again, it’s Harry Treadaway as Victor Frankenstein who comes closest to rivaling her work. He’s all about the science, but as his literary collection confirms, he also has an enormous heart. Treadaway’s ability to demonstrate both at once is what makes Frankenstein’s portion of the show so profound, and particularly at the end of this episode.
Just like the finale of ‘Night Work,’ the last moment of ‘Séance’ continues to prove that Penny Dreadful will go big, but never without earning it first. The reveal of Frankenstein’s previous creature isn’t just about leaving you hungry for more, it's also about conjuring a stronger appreciation for what you’ve already endured. Proteus’ (Alex Price) innocence, his undying admiration for Victor and the respect Victor shows him back becomes quite comforting, making it impossible to move forward without longing for what we’re leaving behind.
Ethan is still the least colorful of the bunch, but his budding relationship with Billie Piper’s Brona Croft makes him a more desirable element of the show. She’s got no problem strutting around, showing and sharing all and does so with a magnetizing amount of pep and poise, making a winning first impression. Even though her composure never cracks in front of Ethan, it does with Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney), and the unusual combination of apprehension with a relentless and rather dark form of passion makes her an even more fascinating draw.
As for Dorian himself, Carney does exhibit a curious charm, but without delving into what he’s about and what effect his character will have on the progression of the show, in ‘Séance,’ he simply functions as smooth-talking eye candy and little more.
However, even though Penny Dreadful does have some character and plot deficiencies at the moment, they never detract from the experience as a whole. The team behind the show has done such an exceptional job building this world and establishing an air of mystery that they’ve also created an incessant curiosity and need to know. Until Hartnett and Carney get the opportunity to sink their teeth into unforgettable scenes like Green’s séance or Treadaway’s revelatory moments with Proteus, this lingering sensation that their storylines will eventually shower us with oddities, twists and turns, will keep us engaged until that time comes.
Penny Dreadful continues next Sunday with ‘Resurrection’ at @ 10pm on Showtime.
Follow Perri on Twitter @PNemiroff.