harsens_rob (harsens_rob) wrote,

Penny Dreadful Reviewed: S1, E1


Penny Dreadful
Season 1, Episode 1

"Night Work"

DIR: J.A. Bayona
Writer: John Logan

Blurb: In London of 1891, renowned explorer Sir Malcolm Murray and his companion Vanessa Ives are on the track of someone dear to him. Vanessa decides they need a sharpshooter on their team, as their search leads into the hidden supernatural world, existing in the dark warrens of London.

Scene 01: We open with a fight focus on a young girl, apparently sleeping soundly. Next to her lies her mother. The room is obviously horribly cold, as both are fully dressed under their covers. And since we're in Victorian London, I think we can tell straight off that we're with a pair of the city's have-nots.

Mother creeps out of bed. Our mother is up and about, because she has to visit the loo. The toilet sits in front of a darkened set of windows, and from outdoors, the mother hears strange rustling & banging.

Sudden, with a loud growl, the windows bust in and mother is yanked with force and speed out into the night with a single, short scream!

Commentary: Now, that was how to introduce a dark series. And how to do a jump scare. I actually jumped a little, even though obvs this woman was a deader the moment she left her room. *Whew*

Scene 02: In their bed, little girl startles awake from the noise. She calls for her momma, but getting no reply, also wanders down the hallway. Our little girl creeps down to the bathroom herself. When she opens the door, she lets out a horrible scream.

Our credits do provocatively credit

Scene 03: We join a woman now, kneeled and bent over her waist in an empty room, but for a single crucifix on the wall. The woman (who will be Ives - Eva Green), is whispering a fervent prayer.

As she tips her head up to look upon her Lord and Savior, a fat spider crawls from behind the cross and crawls over The Christ.

This causes her to tremble, and redouble her concentration in her prayer. When she dares open her eyes again, another spider has crawled onto her dress. It makes its way down her arm, and then across her clasped hands.

Vanessa rises on her knees, and appears to slip into a trance.

She hears sounds, a call for help, an animal growl.

Scene 04: We suddenly skip over to a blurred image of a man with a gun, who quickly shoots. This turns out to be a sharpshooter, firing on clay pots. He shoots the tip of a cigar in a man's mouth.

We're at a Wild West Show, where our sharpshooter regales the crowd with his tale of facing down Crazy Horse on the plains of Wild, Savage America.

As our storyteller/sharpshooter entertains, and the crowd's eyes go from one end of the field to the other to watch his gunfire shattering targets, who-we'll-find-out-is-Ethan is drawn to the intense woman in the crowd. It's Vanessa, and she only has eyes for him in a disconcerting stare.

As his last trick, Ethan shoots the feathers off of a woman's hat in the crowd, to the audience's wild cheers.

Scene 05: Moments later, and we hear a woman - the hat woman, in fact - in the throws of ecstasy, as Ethan nails her from behind, as they're standing behind wagons.

[Yes, you get to check out Josh Hartnett's shapely ass. It's shapely. I'm happy.]

When they're done, the woman asks if she'll see him again. He has a ready, easy lie about the show being off to Paris too soon, and all of the work that has to be done to get ready to go.

Ethan tells the woman that she has made his trip very memorable and he'll never forget her. She replies saucily that perhaps he'd like to know her name then. [HAH-Hah-hah.. that was hilarious, and the actress delivered that line with tart wonderfulness!]

Ethan grins back at her, being caught not as smooth as he thought he'd been, and her definitely not naive.

Scene 06: Later in a pub, Ethan is having a whiskey and contemplating a pocket watch with an inscription from his father.

He's startled by a woman's voice telling him that his story at the fairgrounds were a load of crap. It's Vanessa.

They verbally joust lightly for a bit, before Miss Ives gets staight to the point for her visit. She's there to hire Ethan for his firearms expertise for a dangerous bit of night work.

She goes on to size up Ethan pretty well, with a Sherlock-scan of his clothing, and physical signs he is trying to hide pointing to a complicated history of knowing wealth, but not currently and drinking to excess that has his left hand tremoring.

Ethan agrees to hire on for Vanessa's mysterious, dangerous, probably illegal dark doings that very evening, but only after she agrees to grace him with a smile. She hands over a slip of paper with an address.

Commentary: Already, I am really liking the chemistry between Ava and Josh in this scene. I liked the way they played Ethan and Vanessa sizing one another up, and it's a very promising start as one imagines that both of these actors will be playing a major role in the show together.

Things are rolling along - just a bit slow, maybe - but at the same time, I'm enjoying the character work enough that it isn't even annoying me that Vanessa speaks in vague ways about what she needs Ethan to do, and he's not bothering to ask for details.

Scene 07: Later that night, a bustling narrow alley is lively with crowd noises and vendors.

Scene 08: But a short distance away, another alley is quiet and deserted. It is this alley that Ethan strolls out of the fog to find Ms. Ives waiting. Ethan is lightly flirty and amused, but Vanessa is all business. She leads him to a door, and gives a short knock.

This leads into an opium den.

Vanessa leads him into the back, where she introduces Sir Malcolm. Ethan asks what they've doing here, and Sir Malcolm replies that he only needs to know that they're looking for someone. He's told not to be amazed at anything he sees, and not to hesitate with his weapons.

They go even further into the hidden warrens of the warehouse behind the public opium den part.

Ethan is led down into a dank cellar under the warehouse, where he gets from Sir Malcolm that they seek someone dear to the older man, who was taken from him. But Sir Malcolm is not in the mood to overly share.

Commentary: I really like the deep tones of the suspense music in the background. I don't know my instruments, but this could be a cello, I think. It's under the scene enough not to be intrusive, but it's also enhancing the dark danger that Ethan isn't quite aware that he's in yet. I'm quite taken with the direction and sound placement thus far.

Scene 09: As Sir Malcolm leads Vanessa and Ethan through the underground, empty storage space, three men stand at the end of the corridor, waiting.

The men look like they're strung out, and speak in Arabic, as Sir Malcolm tells them he seeks their master.

As Sir Malcolm and the lead guy argue in Arabic, Ethan notes that the stranger's two companions have been inching around to their side, in an obvious maneuver to ready for an attack on his employers. He readies to draw his guns.

There is the sudden sound of a girl crying, but it may be someone that only Vanessa hears.

As a brawl suddenly breaks out, with our Arabic men going on offense, Vanessa wanders in a daze hearing the girl scream and cry.

Vanessa strolls forward, and down a second flight of stairs hidden in inky blackness without hesitation as Sir Malcolm and Ethan continue fighting for their lives around her.

Scene 10: Vanessa follows the feminine yells farther and farther from any help.

Above her, Sir Malcolm and Ethan are still fighting, despite Ethan's sharpshooting, as their foes seem hard to keep down.

Scene 11: Below, Vanessa is led by the cries into a charnel house of bodies covered in grue. Piles and piles of them.

Amongst this mess, is an exceedingly pale woman with white hair lying on the ground in deep unconsciousness. Vanessa finds two fang marks on her neck. Vanessa is confronted by another young man, who is anything but.

She asks after the girl they seek, but an answer isn't forthcoming. Vanessa demands to know where his master is at. He tells her that he's far closer than she thinks, and asks if she'd like to meet him. But before they can verbally spar further, two gunshots ring out, blowing a hole in henchman's chest through his back, and the back of his head by Ethan's arrival.

Ives shows Sir Malcolm the woman he found, but it's not who he seeks. And there is no indication that the missing person is among the piled dead.

Scene 12: To Ethan's growing horror, he sees a hand twitching among the dead bodies and inches closer to a pile. The hand turned out to have been a rat scurrying around, but before he can breathe a sigh of relief, he gets a jump-scare by a mostly-face suddenly appearing with a mouthful of sharp teeth and hissing at him.

The very tall, and now clearly inhuman creature stands up. Ethan shoots him pointblank several times, but ends up being flung away to crash into a wall, stunned.

The creature stalks toward Sir Malcolm, who has a sword at the ready, but Ives steps between them and the creature and she have a staredown. This is brought to a close by Sir Malcolm's sword through the back of the monster.

While Ethan is pulling himself together and trying to deal with the sudden knowledge of such a creature as he just confronted, Vanessa tells Malcolm that "she isn't here". They return to the white haired woman and try to get out of her whether there is another with them, like the monster whose heart he pierced. She simply hisses loudly at him, her eyes red and clearly sporting vicious fangs.

With the vampire bride not responsive to questions, Sir Malcolm runs it through the heart with his sword (it seems the mythos is that gunfire can kill a vampire, if not easily - I'm not sure if Sir Murray's sword is supposed to be silver, cold iron, or if just piercing the heart in any way is enough, yet... I'm sure we'll learn more of the mythos when they have to explain just what the hell to a shaken Ethan).

The dying vampires screech echos along the corridors underground, and out into the night.

Scene 13: The next stop is a study-morgue, where young doctors explore human anatomy on the not-really-preserved remains of the destitute and unclaimed.

Sir Malcolm addresses the coroner, but he's passed onto his assistant. A young man who does not appreciate being disturbed as he's studying his current corpse of interest. The young man is quite pissy about not being bothered, as he's uninterested in the usual studies, but when Vanessa uncovers the corpse of the monstrous creature, he's suddenly very interested indeed!

He begins an exam, and quickly proceeds to cutting the thing open. But underneath the "skin", which the young scientist refers to as some sort of exoskeleton covering, he finds thick black skin, knotted with lettering! Even knowing generally what they're fighting, Malcolm and Vanessa are still shocked and fascinated to find the writing appears to be Egyptian Hierogryphics carved into the monster.

Scene 14: Cut to Mr. Chandler: "Who the fuck are you people?" at Sir Murray and Ms. Ives.

Instead of a direct answer, Sir Malcolm gives Ethan his address to meet them the following day at noon.

Scene 15: The following grey morning reveals a crowd gathered and murmuring at a second storey window. The window is half open, and the sill and a splatch on the wall is covered in blood.

The window is the same as our mother was yanked out of to her death in the opener. Inside, inspectors are surveying the scene, including the torn apart remains of the young girl - whose scream was not in response to finding her mother, but in finding the monster who had killed her. Alas.

The hallway is covered in grue and blood, and the childs limbs are strewn about [which is shown, but I'm not capping it].

Commentary: That was really harsh. The grue was very well done, and was ... ew. Especially the loving close up of the girl's dead face, still screaming. Yeah. Thanks for that image, guys.

Scene 16: Ethan arrives at Sir Malcolm's where he is greeted by a black gentleman/manservant with tattoo scarring on his face.

Ethan walks into a parlor, while our manservant (let's just shortcut to his name: Sembene) is retrieving Sir Murray. He finds a large map of the world on the wall.

Behind him, Vanessa Ives speaks up, introducing herself by name. She asks Ethan to accompany her into another room.

Scene 17: The room is a large library and contains a table, on which Vanessa has a deck of Tarot. Ethan is skeptical of spiritualists, but Vanessa asks him if he believes in a shadow world between what we see and what we fear and after the events of the previous night, he can't answer negative. Though, he really wants to speak to Sir Malcolm. But Vanessa assures him that she can speak on his behalf.

Vanessa asks Ethan if he's a wise man, and he answers not especially. She next tells him that a wise man would forget about what he'd seen the night before, walk away from Sir Murray's house and never look back. He asks if that was a warning, but she answers it was an invitation.

She tells Ethan that they need a man of Chandler's sort: a man of violence, but also depth. She tells him that he plays his role well, but that is not who he is. He demands to know what is going on, and she tells him that they seek Sir Malcolm's daughter, who was taken away by creatures like the ones they'd just fought.

Ethan chooses not to join their hunt, not finding any pleasure in killing for money, and she tells him that Sembene will have the money he earned waiting at the door. She also invites him to look her up, if he ever finds himself lost in the shadowy world that they spoke of.

But as he's leaving, Vanessa begs him to indulge her and pick a card. She tells him not to do so impulsively, without thought. She stares into his eyes and tells him to believe and his hand hovers over the spread cards.

He flips a card, not from the spread, but from the hand that she had dealt out for herself. The card flipped is The Lovers.

Commentary: I have to say that Josh Hartnett hasn't been one of my favorite actors (as I mentioned in the Halloween: H20 review), but I am mesmerized by Ethan Chandler (which I can honestly say is not because of Josh's butt shot, appreciated as it was) and he continues to have some amazing chemistry with Eva. As to her, I'm having an issue with her, but I believe I'm supposed to. Vanessa is coming across as hiding secrets of her own, and possibly playing a part as well -- a woman above the horror that she's witnessed, but Eva is also engaging me to learn more by hinting that her character has a streak of dry humor.

I look forward to learning more about Miss Ives, and seeing if she is as restrained as she tries to appear. Because right now, I'm getting a sense that she isn't. It was also interesting that the vampire stopped in its tracks, when she stepped in front of it and gave it the juju-stare. It is certainly being hinted at strongly that she is, in fact, a psychic of some ability.

Scene 18: In Sir Malcolm's office, Miss Ives joins him. They discuss Ethan, and Sir Malcolm says with some force that Mr. Chandler will be back to help them. He doesn't intend on allowing anything else. As he stares at a photograph of his missing daughter, he tells Miss Ives that he'll be needing her in an hour to make a visit with him. To her question as to where, he says that they're going to a place among the dead things.

She leaves him staring with regret at the photograph, and we see there are/were two children: the missing girl, and a boy.

Scene 19: Out on the streets, the afternoon paper is being sold, which is asking if Jack is back in response to the gruesome slaughter of mother and girl.

We join Sir Murray and Vanessa, who've come to the London Museum to speak to Ferdinand Lyle, an Egyptologist. An eccentric one, at that.

Sir Malcolm has brought photographs of the hierogryphics carved inside of their vampire creature.

Something which Mr. Lyle reads obviously upsets him - enough that Vanessa senses it, even though her back is turned. He tells Sir Malcolm that he would like to see all of the glyphs that he has, but not there and now. Ferd informs them that the true scholarship doesn't take place at the museum. He also tells Mr. Malcolm that he would enjoy if he and Miss Ives were to come to his and his wife's gathering prior to business, so that he can get to know what type of people is seeking him out.

Though Sir Malcolm tells him there is some urgency in this translation, Mr. Lyle is not to be rushed. Though Sir Malcolm is too impatient to see it, Ferdinand is clearly worried over what little he instantly translated. Ferd does share that the inscription on the photograph comes from the Egyptian Book of the Dead.

Commentary: What doesn't come from the Egyption Book of the Dead? I'm convinced it's an infinate volume with everything from summoning the dead, to recipes for a hardy chili in it.

Scene 19: Back at the apartment of the woman and child victims, the police are hauling out the mother's remains. Ethan is there gawking with the others, but he seems more preoccupied. Perhaps because of the monsters he only just encountered.

A gawker wishes whoever did it right to Hell, which for some reason seems to upset Mr. Chandler even more.

Scene 20: Elsewhere, Sembene delivers a package to an upstairs flat. Knocking at the door reveal its the flat of the young scientist. He quickly locks a door, suspiciously, before answering. A door then hidden by a swing out armoire.

The box contains appropriate attire for meeting with Sir Malcolm at his club that evening.

Scene 21: That evening, our young scientist [oh, for goodness sakes - it's Victor Frankenstein, okay] arrives at The Explorer's Club for dinner as requested, but he certainly doesn't look thrilled with the invite.

Meeting Sir Malcolm, there is discussion of the thrill of discovery, though Dr. Frankenstein is clearly unimpressed with Malcolm's accomplishments as an explorer. And he isn't impressed with the other disciplines represented in the club, which basically includes EVERYone not involved in the practical matter of piercing the veil between life and death. He is openly contemptuous of "knowledge for its own sake" or planting a flag as some sort of self-aggrandizement.

And he's pretty flippin' rude about it, in fact.

Victor finally gets over his rant and asks Malcolm as to his summons. Sir Murray wants to fund Doctor Frankenstein's work, in exchange for his focus on trying to find a cure for the disease that is the creature which he'd brought to him. Most likely, he's thinking ahead to finding Mina, and that she must be infected by now, if she yet lives.

Sir Malcolm has recognized Victor's ability to see outside of the norm and his willingness to simply accept the unnatural on its face, without shock and hysteria. He needs those skills.

Victor gets up, telling Sir Malcolm that he's not interested in joining an amateur occultist club and Sir Malcolm informs him, with a bit of anger, that he's not interested in forming one. Sir Murray tells Victor about his daughter, and to Victor's question about why he's choosing himself, Sir Murray replies, "Because you were unafraid to pull back the skin and look beneath".

Commentary: Okay. Victor is a real ass, here. Condenscending, rude, egotistical - and blind about it, but I really enjoyed the intensity that Harry Treadaway brought to this scene.

As to Timothy Dalton - he has been very strong as Sir Malcolm in his intensity and the desperate anger that he's trying to keep under wraps, but that is finding small ways to express itself when he's trying to maintain his stiff, aristrocratic upper lip. He's been wonderful, but also chilling in his clearly expressed willingness to step on anyone, and break any taboo in order to rescue his daughter. As he says, and it doesn't come across as hyperbole in this scene - he'd murder the world to get her back to safety.

As characters, both men are going to be problematic to get engaged with, because neither is coming across as particularly good people, but the actors are grabbing me.

Scene 22: Back at the mansion of Sir Malcolm, a figure stands in an alley watching the house. It is Ethan.

Vanessa's bedroom curtain is pulled back, and as she looks down at the street below, Ethan finds himself heading for the front door -- but he stops when a carriage arrives at the front. It's Malcolm returning home.

Ethan struggles with himself about going and joining Vanessa and Malcolm's quest after all, but ultimately, he slips back down the alleyway.

Scene 23: Sir Murray goes upstairs, as a thunderstorm and heavy rain starts falling. We do not know if he convinced Victor to join his quest.

He doesn't think anything of it, but his window is cracked open to the weather, which he now shuts. As he sits on his bed to undress from his evening wear, the gas lights being flickering throughout his bedroom. He adjusts the control, and they return to normal. He returns to his bed to continue removing his shoes.

He seems to sense a presence, however, and slowly looks up. His face fills with hope and fear. "Mina?"

There in his doorway, is his missing daughter, breathing heavily, soaked wet by the rain, and shivering. He is overjoyed to find her home.

Mina looks at the window, and it blows open again against the latch, distracting Malcolm a moment. When he looks again, Mina is up in his face with red eyes and an unearthly screech, in super-surround brightness.

Sir Malcolm's lamps blow out, and when he returns his attention in front of him, Mina is gone.

Scene 24: Moments later, Malcolm is having a stiff drink in the parlor as Vanessa looks into the small fire in the hearth.

As they discuss this visitation, Malcolm tells Vanessa that she cannot know what is happening with his daughter, but Vanessa asks if she can't. She tells him that if it wasn't for her transgression, Mina wouldn't have been vulnerable. Malcolm cuts her off by telling her that she can't remake the past.

He tells Vanessa that they will both live with their guilt, and the important thing is that Mina came to him - whatever the reason, and he will redouble his efforts to locate her.

As Malcolm readies to return upstairs, he tells Vanessa that there was a moment during the encounter when his mind turned to a memory: Being on the savannah, stalking a lion through the tall grass swaying in the breeze and being very quiet. He glimpsed only parts of the lion, the mane, the shoulders. But suddenly, the wind stopped and the grasses stilled. The lion turns its head, and looks at you -- and you realize that you're no longer the hunter, but the prey. Malcolm felt that way when Mina suddenly turned unearthly on him.

Commentary: OH, wow. More layers. What was Vanessa's transgression, what did it have to do with Mina's abduction? Why are she and Sir Malcolm so bound?

But mostly, here, I just wanted to give a kudo to Timothy again. His recitation to tell Mina Vanessa [you dolt] that he believes they're not the hunters anymore was wonderfully intense, if quiet.

Scene 25: Outside in the rain, heavy footfalls splash through the flooding city streets.

It is Victor Frankenstein, also returning home from his dinner with Sir Malcolm. As he reaches his door, he stops suddenly, feeling a chill at his back. In the background, in a heavy coat, we see someone staring at him but the figure is indistinct. By the time that Victor turns around, the figure has moved off around the corner.

Victor goes in uneasily, and returns to his flat.

Scene 26: Back at Sir Malcolm's, Vanessa is again in her prayer room and muttering intensely in prayer.

As she clenches her eyes closed. Behind her, a set of candles levitate. They suddenly drop, startling her. She falls onto her butt, and we see that she's been crying. As she looks to the wall, she gasps in fear: The crucifix is now hanging upside down, and from underneath it, spiders in the several dozens swarm across the wall!

She's left shaking with fear.

Scene 27: Back in Victor's flat, he rushes to the secret room. Of course, he's been running experiments there. He has an entire electrical set up in the shockingly large room - for being hidden.

And we see that Victor has a dead male body for experimentation already, as well.

[And Showtime was certainly free with allowing penises onscreen, as long as they were limp, and belonged to the dead.]

The body lies in a tub of ice, its head lying in a conducting cradle. Victor now hooks up the generator, but before he can proceed, a close lighting strike blows out power. The room is plunged into darkness.

Swearing, Victor struggles with a match to light a lantern. When he turns around, he finds the body suddenly missing from where it lain [ridiculously - there is no way that The Creature could've gotten up without a struggle and plenty of noise, which the thunder would not have covered].

Victor is a bit non-plussed, before realizing that his resurrection - for good or ill - has to have worked. He begins slowly walking about his [crazily large hidden] lab as he hears shuffling sounds in the dark. He finds his creation standing against the wall, but he slowly shuffles forward, looking traumatized.

Victor looks upon his success and weeps with the intensity of his emotions, as his triumph looks with puzzlement at the lamp in Victor's hands. Victor stands shaking with his emotions, as The Creature reaches out tenderly and touches his fingertips to Frankenstein's tears. The Creature shakes with emotion next, and wipes Victor's tear from his fingertips below his own eye.

Victor whispers if he can hear, and The Creature gives a gasp of surprise and a smile of wonder. Victor introduces himself, both of them still trembling with the emotion of the moment....

Commentary: Holy crap, this scene. It was intense, it was uncomfortably intimate, and it was rocked by the acting of Harry - again. But of even more impression was the silent physical acting of Alex Price - who was amazing.

But of course, Frankenstein's Monster is not going to end happily, but in this moment I was as swept up in the momentousness as Victor. And the expressiveness of The Creature had me feeling complete sympathy with him, despite knowing that this cannot end well. Somehow, of course, he has to turn out badly and go on a killing spree.. but Alex is utterly, fragily human in his very first scene, and I'm truly taken by his performance. Excellent work.

The Good: I jumped during the opening attack, despite knowing the lady was doomed, so it worked perfectly.

I believe the woman that Ethan seduced was played by Alison McGirr -- she was marvelous and funny.

I am already, out of the gate, loving the actors: Ava, Josh, Timothy, Harry and Alex. They were all wonderful to watch.

I loved the intensity in the scene at Malcolm's club between Timothy and Harry. LOVED IT

Oh, my god. That powerful scene between Alex and Harry as The Creature first meets Dr. Frankenstein, and the quiet intimacy as the two size each other up. It was truly marvelous, despite knowing that things must go bad or it isn't a Frankenstein story.

The Bad: Uh, it seems so minor, but it really was an awful cliche: Of course Ethan draws The Lovers. Of course. The only thing that'd be more roll-my-eyes would be Death.

And of course an Egyptian mystery involves The Book of the Dead. Because, Egypt never wrote anything else in its history, except one tome which speaks of absolutely everything.

And of course, we have one more cliche with the lights going out in Victor's lab, and then The Creature missing from where it was lying in ice without a sound.

Other Thoughts: The grue was intense. I liked it, but I would like it more if it isn't going to be so much in every episode going forward. At some points, it was just getting a little too gross.

Well, one thing about that amazing acting between Timothy and Harry: Dr. Frankenstein did come off as a bit over the top right off the bat. Maybe a slower build into his egomaniacal raving would've been better.

The confrontation between Mina and Malcolm left me a bit cold. It was hard to tell if she was really there, or just a vision, and with the way she suddenly vanished (Why didn't the vampires underground pull that trick?), I was taking it as a psychic vision. But with the blown open window and the shattered lamps, maybe she was actually there.

The Score: I know I put some common cliches in The Bad, that we could probably overlook, and that I probably should. But it was the number of them showing up in one episode, and the first episode at that, that forced me to start listing them in The Bad.

But everything else about this opener was very strong, especially the acting from everyone involved. The characters may be complicated and not exactly stalwart heroes, but damned if the actors aren't pulling me into every scene. If the acting can maintain this level of intensity, I'm going to love reviewing this series.

4.50 out of 5 stars

Tags: penny dreadful s1 reviews, recommendation

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