[Review] Penny Dreadful – Season 1


The 19th Century penny dreadful periodical told lurid stories of a sensational nature. Based on that title, the series is a psychological thriller that weaves several classic horror stories together. The mysterious but beautiful Vanessa Ives (Eva Green) enlists the help of an American circus sharpshooter, Ethan Chandler (Josh Harnett), to do some “night work”. Together, with Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton) and Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadway), they infiltrate a supernatural underworld.

I’ve been really looking forward to this series because a) Josh Harnett (Eeee!!) and b) I really wanted to obsess over a new horror series. There’s something really spooky about the Victorian horror stories as there was an influx of newspapers sensationalizing murders such as that of Jack the Ripper. It wasn’t only the penny dreadfuls that captured people’s imagination as there was also a flood of books during this time that were gothic in nature.

While the show does have thrilling moments, the pacing overall is on the slow side. We explore the underworld through various characters’ experiences but it takes a lot of time for the story to evolve. Emotionally, I felt that the Victor Frankenstein and his creation, Caliban (Rory Kinnear) storyline was the most fleshed out. It’s probably because the show’s creator focused on the Mary Shelley novel first and foremost before deciding to bring other gothic novels into the plot so it’s the story that felt the most developed.

However, I will say that I really became enveloped into Vanessa and Sir Malcolm’s storyline upon watching the episode, “Closer than Sisters,” which comes more than halfway through the season. By far, this was my favorite episode of the season and I’m glad for it as their storyline comes full circle by series end.

Before that episode, their relationship was a total mystery to viewers. It also build things up for the exorcism episode in which Eva Green gives such an excellent and physically demanding performance.

As for the other aspect of the series, I felt that there was so much that was touched upon but never really worked out in the story overall. Not much is known about Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney) or Sembene (Danny Sapani). I was much more annoyed that we didn’t get more out of the Dorian Gray story in the first season but again, there are so many stories to tell and not enough episodes to cover it all. Why even make him such a significant part of the first half of the season if it doesn’t truly payoff?

Taking note of the storytelling in American Horror Story, I wish the show played up the horror factor more than the gothic. There’s a difference between the two. The gothic is more a stylistic choice while horror provides surprise and thrill. I will look forward to Season 2 but there is room for improvement in this series.



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