The story, which takes place in Victorian England, introduces us to Vanessa Ives (Eva Green), a young woman troubled by demons and haunted by conscience over the betrayal of her childhood friend, Mina Harker. Mina’s father, Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton) enlists the aid of a small band of warriors to combat the evil vampire who has seduced Mina and seems to be hungering, ultimately, for Vanessa. An unheard of ancient Egyptian prophecy also comes to light and it suggests that Vanessa could inevitably become the mother of a darkness that could drown humankind.
Fostering a love/hate relationship with Ives, Sir Malcolm nonetheless uses her to find his daughter Mina, hovering between life and undeath, before her soul is permanently damned. Sir Malcolm also enlists a young Dr. Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) and a Wild West performer and ace gunslinger harboring his own demon, Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett).
What is outstanding about this show is how effortlessly it combines so many legendary fictional characters and monsters. It makes sense that so many creatures of shadow would be assembled in this place and time.
Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney) is a brilliant standout character and Carney plays up the mundane trappings of immortality quite well. The Creature (Rory Kinnear) shows up to thwart Frankenstein’s second attempt at creating life from death and his back-story at the Grand Guignol makes perfect sense and it is heart wrenching to see the monster not know what to do with kindness when he finally receives it. Of note also is an all too brief role of Van Helsing as portrayed by the great David Warner.
What makes this series is the dialogue, which all at once feels authentic, barbed, purposeful and duplicitous. Eva Green is marvelous to behold in the role of Vanessa Ives. She looks as if she has walked from the set of a Universal Horror movie and she is often put through serious emotional, spiritual and physical upheavals. I thought her serviceable as an actress, but her turn in Penny Dreadful shows her as a powerhouse performer.
There are plot twists that you will see coming from a mile away, but that does not take away from the pleasure of watching this show. I am also very anxious to see what new characters, appropriate for the time period, may come.
Season Two began last night on Showtime, and it is off to a great start!