Rory Kinnear as the Frankenstein Monster, Caliban.
The third episode of Penny Dreadful, Resurrection, lacks the frantic pace of the first episode and the melodramatic fun of the second episode. The show continues to be one of the most interesting things currently airing, but the third episode undeniably dips in quality somewhat. This episode suffers from unnatural, stilted dialogue and a certain lack of clear direction. By the close of the episode, every character is (physically and psychologically) almost exactly where they were at the end of the first episode. Little feels like it has been accomplished other than introducing a potential antagonist in the form of Rory Kinnear’s Caliban (better known as Frankenstein’s Monster). Performances remain strong and the show continues to impress with its Gothic atmosphere, but it can’t be denied that Resurrection is simply not as strong as its predecessors.
The episode opens by recounting the back-story of Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway), revealing that his obsession with re-animating the dead is the result of his mother’s tragic and painful death from consumption. The scenes with young Victor are not very well executed. The young actor playing 10-year-old Victor delivers his lines in an unnatural and wooden manner. When he comes upon a dog corpse in the first scene, the prop looks so ludicrously artificial as to suck any pathos from the scene entirely. There is a very effective and disturbing moment in which Victor’s mother vomits blood as she attempts to comfort her son, but it is the only such moment in the entire flashback segment. The plot then returns to the present, with Victor Frankenstein being menaced by Caliban, only for Caliban to begin recounting his own origin story. It seems likely that writer John Logan was attempting to draw a parallel between Frankenstein and his creation by presenting their “childhoods” side by side like this, but it falls flat since there is little to link the two mini-narratives together. The first episode of Penny Dreadful featured the birth of Proteus (Alex Price), Frankenstein’s second attempt at building an artificial human. The scene was directed in such a casual fashion that it felt ludicrous (and was one of the only bad aspects of the pilot episode). Proteus’s “birth” scene was shot and edited to feel irrelevant and inconsequential. The exact opposite is true of Caliban’s “birth”, revealed through flashback in this episode.
The “birth” of the Frankenstein Monster is one of the most famous scenes in the history of fiction. Almost every human in the western world has likely heard some variation of the phrase “It’s Alive! Alive!” (from the 1932 film version of Frankenstein). The creators of Penny Dreadful are doubtlessly aware of the significance of this scene, because it is presented in the most bombastic and histrionic manner possible. Kinnear’s Caliban, covered in blood, comes to life and begins to scream as thunder and lightning overwhelms the scene’s audio. After last episode’s hilariously over-the-top séance scene, it is actually impressive that the crew behind Penny Dreadful have managed to construct a scene that is even more absurdly hammy. After this, Caliban recounts to Frankenstein how he learnt to read and speak by thumbing his way through Romantic poetry. It is a very nice touch that the Frankenstein Monster finds his voice by reading the poetry of Shelley (this husband of the woman who created the original Frankenstein novel: Mary Shelley). After this, Caliban’s flashback relocates to London, where the monster finds work as a stagehand for a lowbrow horror-show theatre. It is at this point that Caliban is given his name (taken from the villainous monster in Shakespeare’s The Tempest) by a kindly but eccentric actor at the theatre. With the flashback complete, Caliban reveals his reason for tracking his former creation down- he desires a female monster as a companion; a concept taken straight from the original Frankenstein novel. When Frankenstein refuses, Caliban threatens to kill everyone that his creator loves. Honestly, this threat seems rather empty, since nothing of Victor Frankenstein’s family or friends has been mentioned of even indicated. This threat is especially confusing since Caliban claims that Frankenstein cannot love and is more a demon than a man. Perhaps the script for this episode would have been improved by a minor redraft of these scenes.
The second plotline of the episode follows Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) returning to the employ of Sir Malcolm (Timothy Dalton) and Vanessa Ives (Eva Green). The American gunfighter has fallen for Brona (Billie Piper), the Irish prostitute that he met in the last episode, and seeks money in order to buy her treatment for her consumption. Considering Chandler and Brona’s proximity to the home of Frankenstein, and that Brona is dying from the same ailment that killed Frankenstein’s mother, it seems plausible to assume that Brona may end up dying and being resurrected by Frankenstein as a female monster for Caliban (though this is perhaps too obvious for a show like Penny Dreadful). Chandler accompanies Sir Malcolm and Vanessa to London Zoo. Vanessa has experienced a psychic vision of Mina, Sir Malcolm’s missing vampire daughter, and this same vision featured the distinctive sound of exotic animals. Whilst no trace of Mina can be found, the monster-hunters discover disturbing creatures and an unsolved mystery on the zoo’s grounds.
This episode’s main purpose is to set up plot elements for future episodes. Resurrection is the first episode to allude to the existence of Count Dracula, who will likely appear later in the series as the show’s primary antagonist. The episode introduces Caliban as the show’s first recurring villain, and establishes a “ticking clock” plot-thread with Brona’s consumption (if she is not treated, she will eventually die). Chandler is revealed to have an unusual ability to communicate with wolves; an unusual ability that none of the other characters ask about or even mention for some reason. Unfortunately, the episode offers little more than hints at how interesting the show is going to become in the future. One of the most disappointing parts of the episode is the character dialogue. Whilst it makes sense for Caliban to speak in an archaic, almost medieval manner (due to his learning to read through pastoral poetry), much of his dialogue is shockingly clunky and unrefined. At one point, he describes himself as a thoroughly modern creation of the Victorian era: a mechanical man created in an industrial age. It is the sort of metaphor that should be conveyed to an audience silently, through more subtle implementing of dialogue and performance. It is almost as if the character turned to the audience and said “I am a metaphor”. Whilst this is a show that revels in high drama and over-the-top performances, this monster/machine comparison is horrendously blunt. Caliban may be a reanimated stagehand, but his dialogue should still sound natural!
With such simplistic dialogue, and little to offer in terms of horror or excitement, this is by far the least effective and interesting episode of Penny Dreadful so far. Whilst it does set the groundwork for what promises to be a very strong first season, Resurrection is ultimately a disappointment.
Image from io9.com
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