“True evil is, above all things, seductive. When the devil knocks at your door, he doesn’t have cloven hooves. He is beautiful…” The Creature (Rory Kinnear) in Penny Dreadful
Showtime’s Penny Dreadful finishes its second season by vastly improving upon the faults of its ambitious, yet meandering, freshman season. Namely, the creative team wisely chose to focus on a single villain with a human face – Helen McCrory’s (Harry Potter) – over the vampire master of Season One. As such, it gave the new season a darker, more fulfilling sense of dread.
It also helps that McCrory is a very strong actress and, like star Eva Green, is perfectly suited to spouting the sometimes nonsensical dialogue. Both actresses, in fact, seem to have attended the same School for Satanic Chanting in Elaborate Period Garb, and they were clearly top of their class. Green is as good in Season Two as she was last year, and this year’s character arc allows her to explore the character in fascinating ways, particularly in the exploration of her faith and in the internal struggle between Good and Evil.
McCrory, however, has adopted Green’s previous sexual frankness with her character of Evelyn Poole. Poole’s main purpose is to serve her Master (Lucifer, natch) with her coven of daughters/witches. She uses all means of witchcraft, influence, and, yes, her sexual prowess to achieve her goals. My one complaint with the character is that the writers have given us yet another age-obsessed woman who longs for eternal youth and beauty. Poole serves Lucifer because he keeps her young, thus pitting her against other women on the show in an age-old completion for supreme beauty. In a show that consistently finds creative ways of exploring both the beautiful and the grotesque, it’s a little redundant and disappointing to have Poole serve the story in this manner.
Aside from the main plot line, we have Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) finally becoming the werewolf we always suspected he was, and the Creature finding a home in a wax museum. The problem with both stories is the sluggishness with which the stories unravelled, revealing themselves in the pilot but not fully realized until the conclusion of the season. It’s a minor pick, but I will admit to growing impatient with the direction.
The biggest surprise of Season Two was Billie Piper’s transition from dying prostitute Broma Croft into resurrected Lily Frankenstein. It was an unexpected turn of events to have the character shift from doe-eyed newborn to a full-fleshed villain by season’s end. My joy in this was matched by the show FINALLY finding a creative way to explore the Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney) character. At season’s end, he becomes entranced by Lily Frankenstein and ascends into the role of, presumably, the Season Theee villain. Let’s just forget his tryst with the French transgender woman. I’m still processing that one.
Finally, the star of the series remains the elaborate and often gorgeous set design. Highlights include (as always) Gray’s elaborate portrait gallery and the actual blood rain that happens midway the season. Also, the Creature’s wax works home proved a fascinating diversion, one that I would have liked to see more of in fact. And the heart-pounding dive into Poole’s castle at the end of the season was a masterwork of direction and orchestral accompaniment. Not to mention the skull-covered Poole alter or her circle of Satanic ventriloquist dolls.
The set design continues to surprise and amaze, and, as long as that remains true, Penny Dreadful will always remain at the top of my list.
Because who doesn’t love a circle of Satanic ventriloquist dolls?