In the same dark and twisted fashion of last week’s impressive premiere episode, Penny Dreadful is starting to affirm a trend towards amazing opening scenes. The second episode, Séance, opens in much the same way as last week: a woman, alone, cold, surrounded by darkness. In the distance, a dark figure walks in a rhythmic, steady pace towards her and with each step your heart rate raises in anticipation for something to happen.
As the figure gets closer, he begins lighting up the street lamps (or fairy lights, as Frankenstein’s monster calls them later in the episode) and the threat of a mysterious creature of the night disintegrates. As we carefully watch him pass, lighting each lamp with every few paces to breathe some life into the darkly ominous scene, the man suddenly drops his torch, and a new dark figure approaches from the shadows. We watch in fear as the figure draws closer, and we take the position of the unknown character, closing in on the defenseless, screaming woman, just before the camera cuts to a blood spattered newspaper with bold words that suggest Jack the Ripper is back.
Just as the Whitechapel killer was blamed for the gruesome murders of the two females in last week’s opening scene, it’s starting to become apparent that maybe Jack is in fact just a personified version of the true evil supernatural forces at work in a dreary Victorian London.
The clever contrast between the bleakness of the night and the flaming torch with which some poor man attempted to light up the scene, indicates quite how literal the title of this episode will be. The divide between life and death is about to become clearer.
We then cut to a more comfortable scene as day breaks on a hazy dockland where we see Ethan waking up from what must be the strangest night of his life. He proceeds to intoxicate himself at the bar, clearly still affected by the real-life nightmare he experienced with Vanessa and Malcolm. As he takes a second sip of his alcoholic breakfast, the sweet Brona Croft (played brilliantly by Billie Piper) introduces herself.
Brona is an Irish immigrant and ex-factory worker now trying to make money through more risqué means. She has a clear zest for life for someone also suffering from tuberculosis – another hint at the contrast between life and death. Her risqué profession, which now earns her what little money she evidently has, is posing for raunchy photos so explicit for the time that she would put today’s lads mags to shame.
Turns out the commissioner of these photos is in fact none other than the eternally young, seductive Dorian Gray, who we come to know is someone who flaunts his handsomeness just as much as Ethan. Brona and Mr Gray share a scene of intimacy that reminds us why the show is an 18 – if not for the violence – and it’s clear from his flirtatious introductory meeting with Vanessa later in the episode that Dorian is simply living up to his passion for vanity. A role played extremely well by Reeve Carney.
Vanessa meets the alluring Dorian when she and Malcolm attend a social gathering at the home of Egyptologist Sir Ferdinand Lyle, with whom we became acquainted last week. Lyle introduces the renowned medium Madame Kali, who entertains the guests with a séance. However, she’s outshone by a terrifyingly possessed Vanessa, who becomes manifested by a malevolent spirit taunting Malcolm at the prospect of his kidnapped daughter suffering in the dark underworld he fears he has lost her to.
The more sentimental part of Séance centres on Victor Frankenstein and his creation, Proteus. It’s a fitting name for a former human whom we learn was once a whaler. Proteus was a sea-god in Greek mythology, and this character development was dealt with so sincerely that you realise how unlike a monster Proteus really is. Frankenstein has essentially created a less intimidating but more endearing version of the famous character Hordor from Game of Thrones, who once in a while just utters his name and nothing much else. He’s given human-like qualities, and Victor slowly educates his creation by taking him out onto the streets of London and letting him experience life once again as a new man, albeit a man given life by unorthodox methods of science. But still, a man he is, and one whom we become so fond of in such a short space of time.
The abrupt conclusion to Séance, however, is one that will leave audiences gasping in shock at just how quickly events can turn in Penny Dreadful. It is the epitome of the show’s ongoing theme of life and death and the sudden, flick-of-a-switch division between both. Four days after watching the episode and I’m still shaking from how well the ending to this one was written. It’s going to be interesting to see what secrets Vanessa rightly claimed Victor was hiding.