“Where to mate?” “The Gothic Castle!”
Following the well-received, though somewhat uneven first season of Showtime’s gothic horror series, this second go-round boosts the stakes, sheds more light on characters and significantly ratchets up the blood quotient. That is to say: Penny Dreadful is still pretty awesome.
Creator/showrunner/writer John Logan aims to have this follow-up season reach next level. Aided by arguably the best cast on television and unparalleled production design, he achieves it. Despite a hit-and-miss start out of the gates, the show brings it home in a big way, once again proving to be one of the most addictive and watchable series on the small screen — and single-handedly making a Showtime subscription a necessary home expense.
The story so far: psychic medium Vanessa Ives (Eva Green, 300: Rise of an Empire), American sharpshooter Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett, Pearl Harbor), ethically challenged Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway, City of Ember) and global explorer Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton, Flash Gordon) have created a nifty little supernatural crime-fighting squad, having defeated some deranged vampires in season one. But their cabal is about to be challenged in a big way when Lucifer himself starts targeting them, using a family of evil naked witches to do his bidding. Meanwhile, Frankenstein’s Creature (Rory Kinnear, Skyfall) tries to attain a degree of mortal normalcy with his newly manufactured Bride and Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney, Snow Falling on Cedars) continues to cornhole anything with a pulse (and some without).
That’s all you’re going to get for me. The biggest delight in navigating this ornate, bloody, complex Victorian nightmare is getting pile-driven by the plot twists that’ll hit you regularly, every episode. John Logan and crew are not afraid to shake things up, even when they’re dealing with public domain characters with libraries of retellings of their stories at hand. And with an omnipresent atmosphere of threat and gloom the momentum if the show never lets up.
The characters benefitting the most from the deeper dives in Season Two are Vanessa, The Creature and Ethan. Eva Green deserved a purple heart for all the torment she endured last season and, thankfully, she’s less of a victim this go-round. Her immense power is further revealed and for the first time she is in more control of her own destiny. The Creature is still prone to overly-theatrical monologues on the nature of humanity, but his arc is arguably the richest this season and his parting shot the most tantalizing. Finally, Ethan, the de factor co-lead with Vanessa. The two have solidified their chemistry and Ethan’s furry little secret is finally let out of the bag for all to see. I could have used a bit more charm and a bit less angst, but if you spend your nights devouring sheep, I suppose you’re not going to be a barrel of monkeys.
On the other end: Frankenstein had his moments, but came across more as naïve little scientist; Sir Malcom essentially sits on the sidelines; and Dorian is a smoldering bore until the finale (but it’s a great finale and hint of what’s to come). One final nitpick: the big showdown that the show thus far has been building too falls short. It’s abrupt, weird, confusing and short-changes the payoffs of major characters.
Penny Dreadful remains premium television, unlike anything else out there. It’s visually stunning, well-acted, nicely plotted and injects new life into age-old characters. Bring on Season 3.
Showtime’s gorgeous Penny Dreadful: The Complete Second Season Blu-ray awaits you. The production breathes deeply with a 1.78:1/1080p transfer, rendering Victorian England and it’s horrors with verve and is supplemented with a strong 5.1 TrueHD audio track. Extras: video production blogs, a round table with Reeve Carney and fans, a “History of the Occult” featurette and some brief character profiles.