Making a horror television show work without being cheesy or ridiculous or stupid is no easy feat. The Twilight Zone showed that a horror television show could be pure brilliance if handled with the proper storytelling and direction. Now that we are entering something of a revival of horror television, it’s imperative that we dissect these shows and not settle for mediocrity. Let’s face it, it’s not that difficult to make someone jump from a pop out scare. Any decent horror film will have this happen at least a few times. What IS difficult, is cultivating an actual air of mystery and fear. Eeriness and atmosphere should be most horror shows’ priority. Unfortunately, these days, many horror filmmakers are content with a few jump scares and no lasting effect. I don’t know why. Maybe because a show like American Horror Story with its ADD style storytelling keeps people guessing? Maybe they don’t think audiences can stand to sit and let a little atmosphere be built? Whatever the reason, too many shows are settling, so it’s comforting to know that Penny Dreadful is going for something of a middle ground between the two extremes.
Picking up sometime after the events of the first episode, Chandler meets a nice hooker with a heart of gold after an all night bender; Ives and Murray continue to search for answers about the vampires; Dr. Frankenstein connects more heavily with his creation; and Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney) from Oscar Wilde’s legendary novel is introduced into the cast.
“Seance”, like many sophomore episodes, feels like it’s meant to begin the true building of the characters and mythology. Malcolm continues his search for his daughter Mina, while also beginning to help the police track a dangerous killer, one who may be more beast than man. Dorian is introduced as the beautiful, tortured soul from the novel, blessed with looks but tormented by the haunting image of his true form. Victor begins teaching his monster how to read, talk and try to understand how the world around him works. The first scene where Victor and his monster, nicknamed Proteus, enter into the world together is absolutely beautiful. Rory Kinnear comes off as incredibly endearing and emotional as Proteus while Harry Treadaway is cast in the role of father and teacher with Victor Frankenstein. So far, I’d have to say Victor and Proteus are my favorite storyline so far, but it also feels the most upfront. Though the very end of this episode had an epic surprise I really wasn’t expecting.
Chandler and Ives remain the wild cards, as Ives is obviously battling with some kind of devil. Chandler just seems thrust into the middle of everything and, for better or worse, he is something of the audience connector. Charming and brash, I find Josh Hartnett instantly likable in the role. Likewise, Eva Green has been killing it as Vanessa Ives, particularly during the titular séance sequence in which she comes alive with frightening demonic realism.
I still have no idea whether or not this show is “good” so far, but it’s definitely entertaining, with an almost limitless sense of potential. Two episodes is still way too early to make any large recommendations, but I think Penny Dreadful has the capacity to find an exquisite balance between serious minded atmospheric horror, and black comedic horror. Here’s hoping the show stays strong for the rest of the 8 episode season!