In the last ten years or so, there has been a notable shift in the genre of American television series that are being put out. Following on from the terrible events of 9/11, many networks have greenlighted spy shows focused not on traditional spy antics, but on counter-terrorism and domestic terrorism. Covert Affairs, Burn Notice, Chuck, Nikita, 24, Quantico, State of Affairs, The Blacklist, and many others. Strangely enough, many of these also star female characters, which is an interesting change from the previous era of James Bond styled shows with male characters. Focusing on one of the many intelligence agencies of the American intelligence network, these shows follow the lives of intelligence officers and experts as they head off one threat after another.
One of these shows is Homeland, starring Claire Danes and Damian Lewis, which premiered on Showtime on October 2, 2011 just a little over five years ago and has recently announced its sixth season, which will begin next month. I recently started watching the show, and I’ve been very impressed with it, which is probably why I binge-watched the first season in a mere three days. Danes, Lewis and the rest of the cast and crew have turned in a fantastic political spy thriller with some extremely nuanced and conflicted characters.
Note: Spoilers from the first season will be mentioned so proceed at your own risk. Read the rest of this entry
Going into the finale, at only just eight episodes, one might wonder what it is exactly that Penny Dreadful has been building up to. Is it the story of Frankenstein’s Monster, Caliban, and his search for an immortal mate? Or is it the larger story of the hunt for the Master Vampire who has Sir Malcolm’s daughter Mina in his spell? Or could it be the mystery of the libertine Dorian Gray and his frivolities? Or perhaps the story of Ethan Chandler and the possibility that he is the Wolf Man after all, being one of the stellar crown jewels of penny dreadful stories that the show evokes? The answer, of course, is that it is all of it.
Aptly titled “Grand Guignol“, the entire main act of the finale takes place in the Grand Guignol theatre where Caliban works as a stage-hand and where he has some measure of contentment and peace, having experienced the charity and friendship of one of the actors, and perhaps something more from another one. All of the storylines come to a close in this finale, though some are frustrating dead ends, and that’s where the finale failed for me, though I enjoyed the resolutions to the Sir Malcolm/Vanessa/Mina arc and the reward at the end of the Brona/Ethan arc.
Note: There will be spoilers here.
One thing that Showtime’s latest, Penny Dreadful, has been really good at is delivering on the scares and thrills and mysteries of a horror show steeped in the classics of the genre: Frankenstein and his monster, Dracula and Mina Murray, Dorian Gray and more besides. And when you mix in talent like Josh Hartnett, Timothy Dalton and Eva Green, excellence is what you expect, and thankfully the showrunners have maintained that from the very first episode through to the seven episodes to date. The characters, the actors, the story, everything has come together really well.
Titled “Possession“, this week’s episode is set some time after the events of the previous episode’s cliffhanger, where we saw Vanessa Ives return to Sir Malcolm’s estate and then put on a startling display of her powers. This week, we see how the devil who has been germinating inside her all these years (reference to the flashback fifth episode) begins to manifest itself ever more strongly and in doing so John Logan writes the most character-heavy episode of the show’s debut season, one where director James Hawes delivers an absolutely astounding horror experience that hearkens back to the best of the original The Exorcist.
With last week’s fifth episode, “Closer Than Sisters” Showtime’s latest show, Penny Dreadful, moved into its second phase since this is only an eight-episode debut season. The good thing is that the show has already been renewed for a second season, and well-deservedly so since it has been really great so far. It has taken some old penny dreadfuls, and spun a crossover tale that includes the likes of Dracula, Frankenstein, Abraham Van Helsing, Dorian Gray and many others. It has had a perfect intensity and mood, and it has delivered again and again.
While the last week’s episode was a singularly focused tale that dealt with the backstory between Vanessa Ives and Sir Malcolm Murray, and was utterly magnificent for that, this week’s “What Death Can Join Together” still somehow manages to top all of that. It moves the story forward significantly and throws several wrenches into the gears to really complicate things. And for the first time in this show, we do get the feeling that things are moving for a resolution and that the tension is really ramping up too, and this is a great feeling.
It isn’t often that a show fully steeped in horror and the dark supernatural can really grab you. Last year’s Sleepy Hollow did an amazing job in that regard, and this year the same can be said of Showtime’s surprise hit Penny Dreadful, which just last week was greenlighted for a second season. The first four episodes have been a tale unto themselves, telling a consecutive story that ran all the way through and introduced us to this world of horror, vampires, zombies, dark magic and perhaps werecreatures even. I’ve been a fan since the first episode.
One thing that has stood out for me in the previous episodes is that we got to see so little of the weird relationship between Sir Malcolm Murray and Vanessa Ives. The latter at first appeared to be a confidante and an ally but we’ve seen since that she used to be friends with Sir Murray’s daughter and that there is something dark in their shared history that has brought them to this point. I was hoping we’d get more flashbacks this past Sunday, but what we got instead was a mind-blowing episode that was all flashback and explained almost entirely this relationship between two of the show’s star characters.
Mixing the horror and the supernatural with the historical, John Logan’s Penny Dreadful for Showtime arrived about a month back and it got off on a really good start. The writing by Logan himself was pretty strong, and it also helped immensely that the show had a really good cast of actors who all know their jobs and are powerhouses in their own way. Timothy Dalton, Eva Green and Josh Hartnett together in a historical horror? Oh yes, I’m all for that, and all over that too. Later tonight, the fifth episode will air, and I can’t wait to watch it later this week.
The fourth episode, “Demimonde“, tackles the relationships between all the different members of the primary cast and it also shines a light on the more cerebral nature of those relationships. Each character has a past, something that veers towards the darker nature of man, and in this episode we see glimpses of it again and again. And in a brilliant bit of direction, the episode opens up with an orgy at Dorian Gray’s house, and the sequence ends with him confronting his own portrait, locked away in the depths of his palatial house. All throughout, you are really struck with the depth of the story and the many layers to the characters, all intertwining together into something much more.
When I saw the trailer for Showtime’s upcoming horror drama Penny Dreadful, I got really excited. Right off the bat, the show impressed me with the casting of Eva Green and Josh Hartnett in two of the primary roles. The third, Timothy Dalton, I didn’t quite make out until a friend pointed it out to me, but I was only more impressed for Timothy Dalton is one of my favourite James Bond actors, and that’s something he shares in common with Eva Green since she was in Casino Royale and was utterly fantastic. And Josh Hartnett has turned in a few good roles over the years, so the show seemed to have its central casting down very well, not to mention the mixing of different urban fantasy tales.
When I saw the first episode “Night Work“, and then the second episode “Séance” and then yesterday’s third episode “Resurrection“, I got more excited by the minute. The show mixes in so many different urban fantasy tales and it gives them a whole new spin. We have Bram Stoker’s vampires, we have a representation of the early days of science fiction with Frankenstein and his monster, we have Dorian Gray, and more, so much more. There’s a comment floating about that if this show is meant to redress the wrongs of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, then it is the perfect such redressal. I couldn’t agree more. In fact, in every element, Penny Dreadful is far superior to that silly, cliche, boring movie.
Note: Some general spoilers of the first three episodes are mentioned here.