Penny Dreadful – “Night Work” Review. A Place In the Shadows.
Season 1, Series Premiere
Digital Premiere: Tuesday, May 6, 2014, 8PM E/P on Showtime.com/PennyDreadful
Air Date: Sunday, May 11, 2014, 10PM E/P on Showtime
“Do you believe there is a demimonde, Mr. Chandler? A half-world between what we know and what we fear; a place in the shadows, rarely seen but deeply felt? Do you believe that?” – Vanessa
Penny Dreadful, a deliciously macabre series, comes at you with precision in the series premiere “Night Work.” Be warned, it isn’t for the squeamish. There is blood, gore, and darkness galore! For those of you who like taking a walk on the darker side every once in a while, Sundays are your nights to roam the dank streets of London, and watch the mayhem unfold.
“Night Work” introduces us to a few key characters in Showtime’s new bold series Penny Dreadful. I’m reminded of the film The League of Extraordinary Gentleman with regard to the characters we meet – Sir Malcom Murray (Timothy Dalton) is an African explorer much like Allan Quartermain but the name Murray should be ringing bells for you. Vanessa Ives (Eva Green) reminds me of the femme fatale Mina Harker (but Vanessa isn’t a vampire) although, I can’t say for certain she’s all human either. Of course, we have our American sharp-shooter Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett), who is far more dapper than the gunslinger Tom Sawyer – however, this is where the similarities end.
Penny Dreadful skillfully weaves the re-imagining of some of the most colorful, supernatural characters we’ve come to know and love. Sir Malcom Murray is desperate to find his missing daughter, Mina (Olivia Llewellyn). With the help of Vanessa, they recruit Ethan to aid them in exploring a “demimonde” hidden beneath an opium smoke house. What Ethan encounters opens his eyes to things he’s never seen before. Or so we think. Per Vanessa’s intuitive nature, she discerns Ethan has a dark past, something he’s trying to run from.
We also meet a young doctor fascinated with life and death. His experiments with human corpses may prove to be a scientific breakthrough, but in 1891 London, free thinkers aren’t always revered in the highest regards. Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) may have to prove them all wrong.
What intrigues me about Penny Dreadful is the potential of where the series can go. There is so much to explore with each characters’ origins, back stories, and how their choices influence one another. “Night Work” also gives us a glimpse of Vanessa’s powers. When a creature of the night tries to harm Sir Malcom, she intervenes by merely stepping in front of it – it’s very telling that Vanessa is far more powerful than a mere fortune teller. Green does a fantastic job of playing the mysterious Vanessa. Although she prays to a cross on the wall, the darkness that follows her prayers alarms her. She is a complex woman with many layers. I’m looking forward to seeing how Green continues to transform herself into each facet of Vanessa Ives.
I’ve been a fan of Hartnett’s for a long time. He’s still got those boyish good looks (yes, I still swoon over him in Pearl Harbor in the parachute hangar scene) but as Ethan Chandler, he’s more rugged, seasoned, and there is a pain behind his eyes when Vanessa reads him like a book. Ethan is not sure about continuing to help Sir Malcom and Vanessa, but he’s also very curious about what else is out there. He’s had a glimpse of the evil lurking beneath the surface but you know what they say about curiosity…it killed the cat. Good thing Ethan is a sharp-shooter…and not a cat.
Treadaway frightens me as Victor, but in a good way. He embodies this character so fully you actually believe he is Dr. Frankenstein. I’m impressed with Treadaway’s ease of delivering lines under the most gruesome circumstances. All the blood and guts he’s working around look so real. The way he slices open a creature without a second thought is more than convincing. I’m looking forward to seeing more from Treadaway’s performance as the impassioned Dr. Frankenstein.
Bravo to the make-up, set designers, costume, and special effects departments. The stitch work on Victor’s creation (Alex Price) is remarkable. The spiders crawling out from the cross on the wall truly make my skin crawl. The wardrobe is fantastic and the set designs are breathtaking – from the glorious mansion of Sir Malcom to the dismal smoky opium house, everything transports you to another realm.
“Night Work” sets up what we can expect from Penny Dreadful in a wonderful way. We are given bits and pieces; we are introduced to a few other characters that will play vital roles in future episodes; but we aren’t weighed down with so much information that we are overwhelmed by it all. I’m looking forward to seeing the mysteries unfold. Won’t you join me?
Let me know what you thought of “Night Work.” Leave me a comment below or tweet me at @judybopp. Looking forward to hearing from you!
Tune in to Penny Dreadful, Sundays at 10PM E/P, only on Showtime.