What am I watching, lately?
Since the cancellation of Hannibal, Penny Dreadful has been my favourite show. Now it’s ended, too, and I am living in a universe made out of sad.
What’s it about? A group of characters in the 1890s — some are recognizable characters
from Victorian (and pre-Victorian) fiction, including Dr. Frankenstein and Dorian Gray,
and others are unique creations, such as Vanessa Ives and Mr. Lyle — have bonded together to fight monsters. Not post-modern, broody monsters, but classic Victorian “separated from God”-style evil monsters. The first season is about vampires, and the second season is about witches, and then the third season returns to vampires. But there are some devils and werewolves and reanimated creatures thrown in along the way. There’s rather a lot of blood and rather a lot of sex, but I’m okay with that.
The show has a number of qualities that appeal to me. It’s dark, and intense. It has a writing style that I just find to be sublime. At times, I think I love it just because I enjoy watching
Vanessa Ives’ intense expressions. One of the things I particularly love is the show’s
willingness to take extended amounts of time just building a particular feel.
There’s a sequence at the end of the first episode of the second season that illustrates
this well. Vanessa, who is essentially the show’s long-suffering hero, is praying. The show
touches on religion frequently, and Vanessa’s faith is an important element of her
character: it’s really the only thing that gives her succour. But the scene cross-cuts
between Vanessa, and the second season’s primary villain, a satanic witch who is similarly
engaged in incantations. The two scenes cut back and forth, rising in intensity. It goes
on for minutes, an amazingly long time to take for a story beat that does absolutely
nothing to advance the plot. But it sets the mood. It’s just about setting the mood.