“Pay attention to me!”
Like the first episode, this one moved along pretty slowly, revealing just enough to keep interest up. A slow start does not mean a disappointing start. I loved this episode every bit as much as the first one. These first two episodes feel like the set-up of bigger things to come. Judging by the last few minutes, those bigger things may be coming as soon as next week.
We got to spend a lot of time with Victor Frankenstein and his creation, the newly named Proteus; one of the two “gentlemen” of Verona. Proteus picked his name by flipping through Shakespeare and randomly throwing his finger on a page, picking whatever name he landed on (not unlike how Caesar chose his name in Conquest of The Planet of The Apes). One of these days, a character’s finger will land on “And”, and a confusing time will be had by all.
In Greek mythology, Proteus is an ocean-dwelling shape-shifter. In Penny Dreadful, he’s a creature sewn together from the parts of other men. His mind came from a whaler, and he’s kind of shape-shifter (if a poor one). So he’s batting 1.000.
The time we spent with Frankenstein and Proteus were some of the best moments of the episode. Comical, and more than a little touching. I had a smile on my face the entire time they toured the city. The wonder in Proteus’ eyes was unmistakable. Every animal was a miracle. He quickly learned to enjoy eating as much as crazy, Ukrainian Helena. Though he had the jumbled memories of his past life, he was seeing the world for the first time. Alex Price turned in a great performance in this episode. He was captivating every time he was on the screen. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder if someone was going to recognize him. I assume that Frankenstein gathered the pieces for Proteus from local sources. Surely there are those who knew the man he used to be. I kept waiting for someone to see him, recognize him, remember he was dead, then go screaming into the night.
The only reason the moments with Proteus weren’t the absolute best scenes in this episode was because Eva Green turned in another stellar performance. She was mysterious and slinky until she got to the titular séance. She channeled a few spirits and fell into full possessed mode: saying terrible things in creepy voices, speaking in tongues, slamming doors shut with her mind, standing on a table and bending backwards, etc. It’s was a lengthy scene, filled with things we don’t fully understand yet. It was also extremely creepy. It was a well-done scene that Eva Green absolutely crushed.
We didn’t see much of trick-shooting superstar Ethan Chandler in this episode, and what we did see was him possibly being a werewolf (or Jack the Ripper, or Mr. Hyde, or a Ripperwolf), then trying desperately to score a date with Billie Piper’s Brona Croft: an Irish hooker with a heart of gold. And more than a touch of the consumption.
The consumption, by the way, did not stop Dorian Gray from being interested in her. On the contrary, her disease excited him. Apparently living a hedonistic lifestyle means loving when a prostitute coughs blood in your face. I don’t remember Wilde talking about that, but it’s been a while since I’ve read the book. “I’m an immortal sex-fiend. Nothing revs my engine like a lunger coughing up some blood in the throes of passion.” Victorian London was weird.
We got a few literary references in this episode. On top of the aforementioned Shakespeare and an introduction to Dorian Gray, we also were recited a few lines of Wordsworth’s poem, “Lines Written in Early Spring”, the most telling coming from the mouth of Frankenstein: “What man has made of man.” I doubt Wordsworth was talking about a man creating man out of the remains of other men, but I have no way of knowing that for sure.
The rest of this week will find me greeting new acquaintances by saying, “How do you do? My name is Mr. Proteus,” in the most earnest way possible. Then, as they walk away, I will say, “Who wants to know they are hunted by the devil?” in a low growl. I will invite you to do the same. Should be a fun week.