I enjoy eating dinner while watching TV. I know it’s a bad habit, but I indulge in it anyhow. The more I watch of Penny Dreadful, the closer I am to curing this practice. If the opening credits (spiders and bugs crawling over each other) don’t kill your appetite, the gratuitous amount of blood will.
With that said, this weeks episode was a lot more poetic than the previous two. “Resurrection” begins on a close up of a young Frankenstein. As he wanders through fields of his family’s estate, he meditates on the happiness he experienced as a child. This reflection is interrupted when he stumbles upon the heavily decomposed body of a dog. While he stares at what was once, no doubt, his loving pet, his mother appears and comforts him, spouting off wisdom about the nature of death and how we must learn to accept it.
The very next shot is of Frankenstein sitting in bed with his mother. She continues her diatribe about death and then suddenly starts violently coughing up blood. Within thirty seconds, she’s dead. I have to give it to Logan and the Penny Dreadful team- they are not shy about giving their characters consumption. It seems like every other character in Penny Dreadful is constantly spewing blood.
In the last few moments of “Séance,” we learned that Frankenstein’s monster Proteus was in fact his second successful creation. His first monster, a misshapen creature named Caliban, returns in the second episode and brutally murders Proteus.
The third episode largely revolves around Caliban’s origin story and his desire for Frankenstein to make him a wife.
I wrote in last week’s recap that the relationship between Frankenstein and Proteus was the most interesting part of the TV show. Episode three opens up this relationship by introducing a new monster, as well as tangible motivation for Victor’s quest for immortality. This all serves to make Victor a richer, layered character.
“Resurrection” is very much about death and how people deal with loss. It’s sort of a meaty subject matter for a pulp horror TV show to tackle, but it does so with surprising elegance. It would have been easy to make Caliban a villain. He’s very unattractive, incredibly pale and-above all else-a murderer. After he kills Proteus, he attacks Victor. Yet, as Caliban tells his story of how he came to hunt Victor, it becomes clear that Caliban responds with kindness in turn. Caliban actually seems like a pretty decent guy. He is aggressive towards Victor, but this aggression is inspired by Victor’s cruelty, not any intrinsic sense of evil.
Once the Frankenstein plot wraps up, the episode quickly moves forward with a series of happenstances that seem a little forced: Ethan Chandler joins Vanessa and Sir Malcolm in order to raise money for Brona’s consumption medicine, and the group goes to the London Zoo after Malcolm decides that may be where Mina is hiding. They don’t find Mina, but do encounter a pack of wild wolves and a skinny boy feeding on the blood of a monkey.
The gang take the boy back to Sir Malcolm’s house and tie him up in the basement. Chandler objects to the boy’s treatment, which prompts Sir Malcolm to remind the entire group that their task is “not for the weak or the kind.” “No one in this room is kind. That’s why you’re here.”
This moment, was, I thought, one of the most chilling moments in the season to date and also one of the most important. The characters in Penny Dreadful aren’t kind nor moral nor particularly good. Given what they’re fighting against-monsters tasked with destroying the world-we, as the audience, have no choice but to root for them.
Structurally, this gives Logan an opportunity to explore the humanity of these characters without having to worry about making them likable. Penny Dreadful is not a world of black and white, but of differing shades of gray.