Last night held a sad pleasure for me, as I watched the final two episodes of Penny Dreadful. Although this show only had three seasons, the quality of what Showtime was able to produce will continue to set a standard for the genre long after the sets have been lost to the archives of film history. This may sound a bit dramatic, but I consider it fitting to say goodbye in a manner that honors the one’s we’ve lost. Penny Dreadful was able to take classical characters from the history of horror and reinvent them, weaving them together in a way that told new stories, in novel and interesting ways, heavily driven by character development and raw emotion; adding incredible layers of depth and complexity to each character. The good guys weren’t good and the the villains were’t evil. Despite the fact that this show centered around monsters, the audience found itself surrounded by humanity. There were no winners or losers in Penny Dreadful, good did not prevail over evil, we merely bore witness to the struggles of the characters to find love, deal with their pain, raw emotions and ambitions, as well as find acceptance, and what little peace could be mustered. These exquisite characters became the definition of humanity, in its’ rawest, most beautiful and most terrifying form. As someone who is not a fan of horror in general, I think this, above all other things, is what attracted me most.
This character driven drama introduced us to, in my opinion, some of the best writing and acting on the small screen. Four of my favorite characters included Sir Malcolm Murray, played by Timothy Dalton, Vanessa Ives, played by Eva Green, Frankenstein’s monster a.k.a John Clare a.k.a. The Creature played by Rory Kinnear, and the Bride of Frankenstein a.k.a. Lily a.k.a. Brona Croft, played by Billie Piper. These actors and the characters they play are my favorites because of the extraordinarily high quality of acting, and the depths and richness of the characters they portray. Timothy Dalton, probably best known as a mediocre James Bond, excels as an English nobleman who has lost his family to his ambition and neglect. That pain both haunts and motivates him as he struggles to find the beast who abducts, and ultimately kills her. His transition from a patronizing man who blames everyone but himself for the loss of his daughter, to a man who accepts his own failings and learns to live with the world he helped create is masterful. The audience gets a great payoff as he grows to love and accept Miss Ives as a daughter, despite her past betrayals.
I cannot speak highly enough of the wonderfully dark and engaging Eva Green. She took a dark and haunted character, with one foot in the light and one foot in hell, and made her beautiful and endearing in the most tragic of ways. Her evolution from hunted, to hunter, and ultimately sacrifice, told the story of faith, loss, despair and redemption in a way that is rarely seen.
Roy Kinnear’s take on Frankenstein’s monster might be the most poetic performance of them all. We’re first introduced to him as brute who seeks to revenge himself upon his creator. Only to find a gentle and troubled soul who only wishes to find some small pittance of love and acceptance in a world that mocks and ridicules him for his outward appearance. Frankenstein’s monster is a true Shakespearean tragedy onto himself, as the moment he finds love with his lost family, it’s ripped away in the cruelest of ways. However, despite this, Mr. Clare finds a renewed since of humanity in his loss. As viewers, we are made more empathetic and human as we observe his suffering.
I’ve been a fan of Billie Piper ever since I was introduced to her as Rose Tyler, companion to the Doctor. In my estimation, she has done nothing but grow in her craft since then. As the would be bride of Frankenstein and former back alley courtesan, we are introduced to a character that was created to be a docile mate to Frankenstein’s monster, only to find a heartless, calculating, manipulating killer. Then we find out quite poignantly that she isn’t heartless, but rather motivated by the overwhelming grief she’s harboring over the loss of her daughter. A loss both due to her previous profession, and the undue cruelty of men. In the end, as an audience we feel her pain, understand her motivations, and weep with her as she begs Dr. Frankenstein not to rip away her memories. The memories of her daughter Sarah. The memories that shaped her. The memories that are all that’s left of the best of who she could be.
The end of Penny Dreadful left me speechless after an emotional roller coaster. Although I’d like to see the story continue, the show closed in such a thoughtful and adept manner, I cannot begrudge the writers, only applaud the gift they gave us in their art. I guess you’ve achieved success, when you leave your audience wanting more. So on the closing act of this tremendous work, I say both bravo and encore…