Penny Dreadful: Here There Be Monsters

Episode 101Are we ready for some atmospheric, period horror? Let’s do it.

We open with a young woman climbing out of the bed she shares with a little girl—her daughter, presumably. She lights a lamp and heads down the hall to the loo, where she barely has time to get herself settled before something bursts through the wall and grabs her. The little girl wakens and goes looking for her mother, sensibly heading right for the loo. Whatever she sees there makes her scream her head off.

After the credits, we join Eva Green, kneeling and appearing to pray before a crucifix on the wall. She looks up and sees a spider make its way down the crucifix, and then another spider crawls up her arm. She rises slightly and seems to go into some sort of a trance—eyes rolling back and everything.

Cut immediately to Josh Hartnett as the sharpshooting star of a wild west show. We finally learn that it’s 22 September 1891. He puts on a good show for the crowd, hitting all kinds of impossible targets while he talks about how crazy it was at Little Big Horn. Eva Green’s in the audience, her eyes fixed on him, not what he’s shooting (the shot of her staring straight ahead while everyone around her looks back and forth in unison is totally grabbed from Strangers on a Train). Josh doesn’t notice her, because he’s too busy making eyes at some woman in the audience.

After the show he has sex with said woman up against a covered wagon. There’s no point to that scene at all, other than to titillate. I swear, I’m not some kind of uptight prude, I’m just getting a bit tired of all these shows throwing in sex scenes just because they can. We learn in the very next scene that this guy’s a womanizer, so what’s the point of this? Eh, maybe she’ll come back and be important later.

Later, Eva finds him in a grubby tavern, looking at a watch engraved ‘To Ethan, from Father’. She immediately calls bullshit on his ‘I was at Little Big Horn’ story, though she claims he wasn’t even born when Custer died, which can’t possibly be true, because he’s obviously older than 16. History fail, Eva. He shrugs that he’s just playing to the crowd and invites her to join him for a drink. She does and tells him she has work for someone good with a gun and comfortable with dangerous expeditions. She then proceeds to do a swift cold reading of him that reveals the following: he comes from money, but now has none. Also, he’s a drinker who tends to get involved with married ladies. He asks if this job’s illegal in any way and she asks if that really matters. Guess not, because he moves on and says the show’s moving to Paris in a few days. Luckily, the job is that very night. She gives him an address and asks him to meet her there at ten p.m. And then, for no reason at all, she refuses to give him her name.

The address is in a rather trashy looking part of town. Ethan arrives right on time and Eva leads him into an opium den, where Timothy Dalton’s waiting for them. I may as well just tell you now that Eva’s name is actually Vanessa, and Timothy’s is Sir Malcolm Murray. Malcolm confirms that Ethan has his weapons and warns him not to be amazed by anything he sees. Also, don’t hesitate. At this point, I think most sensible people would get the hell out of there, but not Ethan. Malcolm tells him they’re looking for someone very dear to him who’s been taken.

They travel underground and approach three men standing sentinel at a door. Malcolm tells them they seek the one they serve. He and they then begin chatting in a language I’m not familiar with, but given what’s coming, I think we can say with some certainty that it’s the language spoken in Transylvania. One of them turns away, and then surprise attacks Malcolm, who was apparently ready for it and responds with fists. Another goes after Ethan. While the men tussle, Vanessa listens carefully and hears a girl wailing. She calmly walks through the door the three creatures were guarding and enters one hell of a charnel house, glistening with blood and body parts.

Ethan and Malcolm, meanwhile, mostly dispatch the creatures guarding the door, though one of them gets back up and attacks, only to get a bullet to the head, courtesy of Ethan.

Back inside, Vanessa looks around and finds a woman, or what used to be a woman and is now a vampire, lying on the ground. She’s joined by the lead guard vampire and asks where his master is. He says he’s closer than she thinks and asks if she wants to meet him. Before he can elaborate or make introductions, he’s shot dead (I guess) by Ethan. Malcolm looks at the woman Vanessa found and says it’s not the one they’re looking for. Ethan, meanwhile, sees something moving in a pile of limbs and approaches. A truly horrific creature suddenly emerges—all fangs, red eyes, and skeletal body. It advances on Malcolm, but Vanessa throws herself between them and stops him just with the force of her stare. Malcolm stabs it dead and turns to the vampire woman, demanding to know if there’s another creature like the one he just killed. She bares her fangs at him and it’s at this point Ethan sort of freaks out. Really, Ethan? You’re going to act surprised now? Malcolm warns him not to move and Vanessa asks him to help them. Malcolm, presumably figuring they weren’t going to get any useful information out of the vampiress, stakes her.

Malcolm and co travel to a morgue where medical students do dissections on the sly and ask for help from one of the guys. He sends them to his assistant, who must be important, because he’s got a nice big room all to himself. He dismisses Malcolm and the others, telling them he’s busy with research, not butchery, like the others. Ethan tells him to get the hell over himself, and the guy clocks his accent and immediately asks if he knows anything about the experiments in electricity currently being carried out Stateside. Of course Ethan does not, but the young man, Victor, is soon distracted by the creature Malcolm uncovers. Victor’s amazed by it and carries out a swift exam during which he notes that the skin’s unusual, being more like a carapace than skin. He slices down the chest, pulls it back, and reveals hieroglyphics on the chest underneath. Victor says that they either have an Egyptian man of no determinate age who, at some point, decided to sharpen his teeth, cover himself in hieroglyphics and grow an exoskeleton, or they have something completely otherworldly. That’s why they brought this body to an expert—to get helpful evaluations like that.

‘Who the f*** are you people?’ Ethan asks, as Malcolm and Vanessa turn to leave. About time he asked that, frankly. Instead of answering, Malcolm invites him to his home the following day.

A crowd has gathered outside the building we started off in, while inside a police inspector looks over the carnage with a photographer while a policeman vomits in the background. We finally see what’s been done and it’s grisly, to say the least. Both mother and daughter torn to pieces.

Ethan arrives at Malcolm’s and is ushered in by a black butler with really interesting facial tattoos: lines of raised dots on his cheeks. He asks Ethan to wait in the foyer, so naturally Ethan wanders off as soon as he can and is found by Vanessa, who finally introduces herself and shows him into a highly covetable library. He notes the tarot cards on the table and guesses she’s a showman, like him, but she says that’s not how she operates. She calls him a skeptic as she begins dealing out the cards and he says he’s not, after the night before. She tells him there’s a sort of half world between what is known and what is feared. He believes it, having now experienced it firsthand. She tells him a wise man would flee immediately and live his life, but if Ethan’s not one of those men, they have a use for him. He orders her to tell him what this is all about and she tells him that Malcolm’s daughter was taken by a creature just like the one they saw and killed the previous night. They didn’t know there was a second one. How do they know that was a second one and not the one they were looking for? Are they that distinct from each other? Ethan asks what her part is in all this, but she won’t say. He tells her he’s not interested in being a hired gun, having tried it before. She tells him their offer stands, if he changes his mind. Before he goes, she tells him to pick a card, carefully. He considers, and then selects one, turning it over. She smiles. He’s chosen The Lovers.

Vanessa joins Malcolm and tells him Ethan was intrigued. Malcolm instinctively knows Ethan will be back and tells her he’ll need her in an hour. She goes and he continues to stare at a photograph of a little boy and girl on his desk.

An hour later, they make their way to the British Museum, past people reading the news of the East End murders. The papers wonder if Jack the Ripper has made a return. I think even he would have been taken aback by that scene, Inside, Vanessa and Malcolm go to meet with Ferdinand Lyle, an Egyptologist/cartoon character with some seriously insane hair to go with his ridiculous accent. He fanboys all over Malcolm and asks him to sign his book. Malcolm agrees and introduces Vanessa who admires some carrion beetles. Malcolm shows Lyle the hieroglyphics they found on the creature and asks him to translate. He checks them out and says they translate to ‘blood cure’ or ‘blood transformation’. Uh, those are two very different translations there. Oh, they can also mean ‘blood curse.’ Glad they were able to get that all cleared up. He looks again and suddenly gets very serious, asking Malcolm if there are more. Malcolm says there are. Lyle wants to see them, but not at his office, at his home, during a party in a week. Malcolm tells him they’re kind of in a rush here, but Lyle refuses to help him until they’ve broken bread together. What a pain in the ass. He does tell Malcolm the source of the writing is the Egyptian Book of the Dead.

The crowd’s still gathered outside the house of death from the beginning, as the bodies are taken out. Two neighbours gossip about how awful this is, as Ethan hovers nearby. One of the women looks up and seems to recognize him, and he hastens away.

The butler, Sembene, arrives at a rundown tenement, carrying a big white box with a fancy satin bow on it that is utterly incongruous with the surroundings.. He knocks at one door and we see Victor’s inside. He quickly clears some things away and opens the door. Sembene hands over the box and says it’s from Malcolm. Inside is a white tie tux and an invitation to the Explorers’ Club.

Victor, properly dressed, arrives for his appointment and is shown into a very posh room filled with very posh people. Malcolm’s waiting for him. Malcolm, it seems, is a fairly well known explorer. Victor is not impressed. He think most current study is useless and thinks the only worthy goal of scientific exploration is piercing that which separates life from death. Yeah, it’s clearly worthless to gain a greater understanding of the world we live in and how it operates—let’s just become immortal instead! Because if we live forever we won’t have to know how to work with the natural world to prevent it from becoming a horrific deathscape, will we? Malcolm compliments Victor’s poetic turn of phrase and they turn the conversation to the creature. He tells Victor he wants to find a cure for a very rare disease and he wants Victor to work with him. Malcolm confesses that he’s trying to rescue his daughter and promises that Victor will see amazing things if they work together. Victor seems to like the sound of that.

Ethan eyes Malcolm’s house from across the street as Malcolm returns home. Inside, he goes to his room, closes an open window, and starts to undress and get ready for bed. He completely fails to notice, as he crosses the room at one point to tend to the flickering gaslight, that a young woman dressed in white is standing by the door. But when she starts to cry he hears her and turns, amazed. It’s his missing daughter, Mina. Mina Murray? Oh, of course. The window flaps open, and a second later, Mina is right beside him, all vamp’d out. She bares her fangs once and disappears.

Malcolm summons Vanessa from her bed and tells her what happened. In the course of their chat we learn that Vanessa for some reason holds herself responsible for what happened to Mina, due to some transgression. Malcolm doesn’t seem to blame her, though. He goes to leave and pauses, telling Vanessa that his daughter gave him a look very much like a hungry lion, and he knew he had become some sort of prey.

Victor returns home during a thunderstorm.

Vanessa’s praying again, but this time, when she looks up at the crucifix, it’s turned upside down and hundreds of spiders are pouring out of it. Arachtastic!

Victor lights a lamp and goes into his secret lab via a hidden door. There, he’s got a sewn-together dead body sitting in a tub of ice that has electric nodes hooked up to it. They’re shorting out, and so is the generator. Victor goes to tend to it, lightening strikes, and all the lights go out. Victor curses and lights his lamp again; the scant light and a flash of lightening reveal that the dead body is suddenly gone. Wow, that thing’s awfully spry for something that was only just reanimated. It’s got more control over its muscles than my son does, and he’s had two and a half months to practice. Victor remains remarkably calm, all things considered, and searches around for the creature, which he finds in a corner. It approaches him, looking a little confused, which is understandable. Victor begins to weep as the Creature reaches up and touches his face, retrieving a tear, which it then traces down its own cheek. For the slower members of the audience, Victor now fully introduces himself as Victor Frankenstein.

So, all it takes to bring a dead body back to life is a bolt of lightning? Wow, Ben Franklin was totally wasting his time with a key, wasn’t he?

2 thoughts on “Penny Dreadful: Here There Be Monsters

  1. [” She immediately calls bullshit on his ‘I was at Little Big Horn’ story, though she claims he wasn’t even born when Custer died, which can’t possibly be true, because he’s obviously older than 16.”]

    Wow! Talk about a blooper.

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