REVIEW: Penny Dreadful Pilot

In honor of Sin City: A Dame to Kill For starring Eva Green opening this week, I decided to post my review of the pilot of her show, Penny Dreadful!
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When I first heard of this show, the Lit geek in me was very intrigued. The title refers to a type of cheap 19th century British publication featuring explicit and thrilling content. The premise of the show is to have Shelley’s Frankenstein, Wilde’s Dorian Gray and Stoker’s Van Helsing run around and interact with one another in the same world that’s set in Victorian England. Throw in Eva Green and Billie Piper for good measure and they basically created my dream show. Normally, horror isn’t my thing but gothic horror is something I can get behind. Needless to say I was very pumped for this pilot.

From the get go, the tone and the style of the show is established with the music, the camera work and the fact that a mother and child are both violently kidnapped by an unknown force in the opening scene. They’re later revealed to be dismembered, Jack the Ripper style. Alright then, things are scary, gotcha. I really love the opening credits and theme song, so macabre. Eva Green comes on screen and does her thing, which in this scene is praying in Latin, I’m guessing. A spider totally ruins the moment and then we abruptly cut to her watching Josh Hartnett aka Ethan Chandler entertain a bunch of Englishmen and women with his gun-toting American antics. She recruits him for some “night work” (hence the title of the episode) but only after he establishes his character as a brooding, womanizing, there’s-more-to-him-than-meets-the-eye kind of guy. Hopefully this show does something more original with that trope.
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Fast forward to nighttime and we get to enjoy some good old-fashioned vampire hunting in an opium den, where Ethan meets Vanessa’s employer, Sir Malcolm Murray, played by James Bond, I mean Timothy Dalton. The vampires are pretty cool in that they’re not the sparkly kind but the scary kind. They kill a bigger vampire but then reveal that he’s not the one they were looking for since Malcolm’s daughter Mina, yes from Dracula, is not in that vampire nest. Ethan is understandably slightly freaked out, even more so when they bring the dead vampire corpse to be examined by a young man, more on him later, and find hieroglyphs underneath his skin. Cool! I’m obsessed with Egyptology and may have squealed a little when the funny translator chap tells them that the symbols are taken from the Book of the Dead.

Ethan pays a visit to Malcolm’s mansion, my new dream house. Did you see that library? And the room with maps? I want all of it. We finally find out Eva Green’s name in this show, Vanessa Ives. They have another little chit chat about how Ethan is so much more complicated than his violent, sharpshootin’ ways and I’m already bored with his character. I’m much more focused on the tarot cards Vanessa’s laying down and all the stuff she’s saying about the supernatural demimonde. Ethan leaves but not before picking “The Lovers” card. Ooooh, what does it all mean?!
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Meanwhile Malcolm tries to recruit the young man who dissected a vampire corpse and was totally ok with it to join their merry band of monster hunters. The young scientist declines saying he’s uninterested in knowledge for knowledge’s sake but has one goal: “piercing the tissue that separates life from death”. Now, we’re getting somewhere! In case you hadn’t guessed who this character is yet, you will find out in a few minutes. But before that, we come back to Ethan who’s sulking outside the manor with his bag, trying to decide if he’s going to join the team or leave town. He ultimately leaves but we all know that he’s just coming back anyways so what’s the point of this charade? Then we get another scary scene where Malcolm catches a glimpse of potentially-now-a-vampire, Mina. And in case that’s not enough to keep you on the edge of your seat, we finally get to see what the young scientist has in his flat: a secret lab where he successfully reanimates a corpse, revealing to it and to the audience that he is none other than Dr. Victor Frankenstein! Hey, even though you knew this was coming, it was still a pretty sweet reveal.
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Although the pilot had its flaws, like the clichéd character of Ethan Chandler, which I’m obviously giving them time to redeem, I thoroughly enjoyed it as a whole. The production value is very high, from the costumes, to the set designs, to the cinematography. In terms of what I expect from a pilot, it certainly delivered. It introduced its cast, established the main plot, and laid down the intrigue for all the minor sub-plots like: Is Mina a vampire now? Who killed the mother and child? What’s going to happen to Frankenstein’s creation? And more importantly, where is Billie Piper?! Plus I already adore Eva Green’s character, from her deductive skills ala Sherlock Holmes to her intense stare that somehow made a vampire stop dead in its tracks. I can’t wait to find out what else she can do. Episode 2, come at me!

If you’re looking for something to tide you over until fall TV season starts, I recommend this one.

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