The deliciously dark and supernatural world of Victorian-set drama Penny Dreadful has returned with the ominously titled première episode ‘Fresh Hell’.
An enrapturing scene plays out in a carriage as Ethan regrettably informs Vanessa that he has to leave London as he is a threat to everyone due to his ‘Blackouts’ and that he should move on to another war somewhere far away. Vanessa passionately replies to Ethan’s surmise with ‘do you think the dark forces that converge on our heads can be vanquished so easily?’ these words from Vanessa prove to be utterly true as they are shortly thereafter attacked by three bald, scarred and naked creatures in the form of women. Thenceforth the majority of the episode is dedicated to the discovery of the identity of this new foe, which is later revealed to be Madame Kali AKA Evelyn Poole and her coven of witches. We are reintroduced to Madame Kali in a sublime tracking shot through her ornately Gothic property while she sings hauntingly to find her bathing in the blood of the slain women who lays at the foot of her bath. This scene is so sumptuous that it was perhaps my favourite moment in the whole episode as it so beautifully embodies the theatricality and insanity of Gothic literature.
Meanwhile, at Frankenstein’s diabolical workshop Caliban assists his creator in the resurgence of his bride to be Brona. This idea of the long lamenting Creature helping his creator to bring him a bride is quite warped for Caliban had bemoaned his existence throughout the first season so for him to help create another creature like him will perhaps wholly corrupt his already fragile psyche. Also while Caliban is out seeking employment on the streets of London Frankenstein participates in some subtle necrophilia with his creature’s bride to be. This is a rather bizarre moment but serves to show that like his creation Frankenstein is very much alone. This moment also mirrors Caliban’s poetical assurance to his creator that ‘we are bound on a Wheel of pain thee and me’ and that truthfully ‘what is doctor Frankenstein without his creature?’ As in all actuality when you subtract the creature from Frankenstein’s life he is proven to be just another lonely man with a brilliant mind but through the creation of Caliban he has transcended himself and his peers to become a true albeit heinous genius.
Elsewhere Caliban happens upon a creepy waxwork emporium that is advertising employment; he then enters and examines the frozen figures with a sympathetic eye. As he goes to approach the owner of the establishment he begins to hide his disfigurement in a moment of self-consciousness however he immediately corrects himself and pushes his hair back to once again reveal the deep scars that adorn his face. This moment perhaps demonstrates that Frankenstein’s creature is becoming less fixated on his appearance and feels more at ease in society. However, he backtracks slightly when the owner’s blind daughter asks to touch his face as he replies ‘it is not a face for touching’. Here he is feasibly embarrassed and ashamed as the young women exudes an innocent charm (partially due to her blindness) that is the complete opposite of his sinister and creepy persona which therefore suggests that she is going to become another one of his fixations.
In conclusion, this episode performed dramatically well as a reintroduction to the world of Penny Dreadful and has built up a substantial amount of tension and apprehension for the events to come this season. Moreover, among some of the most interesting hints at what awaits this season was when the witches referred to Ethan as ‘Lupus Dei’ which means Wolf of God and as Vanessa’s protector (though it is quite obvious that all the men in her life act this way) it would seem that Ethan and his condition could very well play a major part in the battle for Vanessa Ives soul this season. Equally fascinating was Malcolm’s confrontation with his wife and her venomous assertion that ‘We have no more children for you to save or to kill’ which perhaps hints that like Ethan Malcolm will be fighting hard to save Vanessa from the danger that is brewing. Also, another thing that wandered through my mind this episode was where is Dorian Gray and what is he up to? Being one of the most fascinating characters last season I am also looking forward to his part in the wider story of Penny Dreadful, and as to whether he and Vanessa will reunite at all.