Sunday, May 1, 2016

REVIEW: 'Penny Dreadful' - Vanessa Visits a Therapist as a New Evil Emerges in 'The Day Tennyson Died'

Showtime's Penny Dreadful - Episode 3.01 "The Day Tennyson Died"

Vanessa seeks the help of Dr. Seward to battle a new evil.

Vanessa and her friends were once again successful in defeating the forces of evil that were conspiring to deliver her to the Devil last season. And yet, that victory wasn't what ultimately defined their journeys at the end of the year. The story was much more than whether or not they were successful in defeating Evelyn and her witches. Every single member of the team was faced with a devastating personal choice that ultimately threatens to rip the entire team apart. They weren't united upon this victory. In fact, they were violently ripped away from each other because there is still so much darkness in this universe. Any victory they have is short lived because this isn't a universe that allows for personal happiness. It's a world defined by harsh disaster and painful consequences. Some of the characters chose to leave London in search of something greater for themselves. But others had to flee their comfortable surroundings because of the darkness of their previous actions. It essentially makes "The Day Tennyson Died" a very table setting premiere episode. And yet, Penny Dreadful once again showcases just how effective with its storytelling it really is.

The narrative is fragmented right now. None of the main characters are interacting with each other. Their lives have become so intertwined over the past two seasons. And yet, there is still so much happening in his world that not everyone knows about. Everyone is just forced to sit back and grapple with the darkness that defines their own unique experience of the world. Right now, that means everyone is scattered throughout the world. They are each trapped in situations where they can't embrace hope or happiness. Their lives are being defined by the dark things both done to them and by them. The wheels are already starting to turn on how the ensemble is going to come together once more. But right now, it's still an enjoyable experience because the show has created a deep ensemble of characters with memorable and understandable personalities. All of these characters are able to carry their own stories. They do just that in this opener to the third season.

It's honestly pretty interesting to see the show escape its London surroundings for a little bit too. This has always been a very artful and beautiful show to watch. And now, that visual style is being applied to new surroundings. In this premiere, the narrative journeys to the New Mexico territory, the German-controlled portion of Africa and the Arctic Circle. The show has become a globe-trotting adventure in this first episode back. It's a thrilling experience as well because so much of these new locations are not what they initially seem. Even though the characters have left London, there is still so much danger around every single corner waiting for them.

Malcolm left for Africa in order to give Sembene the proper funeral he deserved. Africa is a place Malcolm has been to many times before. His need to see and conquer the world around him is what destroyed his family. He has returned to this country as a changed man. A man who has embraced the makeshift family he has formed with Vanessa. He will do anything to protect his new friends. But he also returns to a country that has been changed. This is no longer the country of wonder and adventure it once was. Perhaps that's because Malcolm is seeing it through realistic eyes for the first time. It's a country riddled with death and destruction all in the pursuit of money and power. The human condition has broken down to the point where humans are turning their fellow man into slaves. It's a sight that horrifies Malcolm because of what it means to him. Is he now destined to be a man who no longer fits in with the times? Or does he just have to find a new way to experience these thrills? An opportunity arises when he mets Kaeteney during a battle for survival. He points Malcolm to America in order to help Ethan. It's the first indication that the characters' paths will cross again. But it's also meaningful in that it gives Malcolm as a man purpose again.

Ethan chose to surrender himself to Rusk instead of living a potentially happy life with Vanessa. He knows the creature he is on the inside and wants to be as far away from her as possible. He wasn't expecting to be shipped back to America to stand trial for his crimes. And yet, the situation is so tense just getting him back home. It's thrilling when the show embraces a wild west mentality in this episode - leading to an epic shootout on the train. Sure, it's an amusing sight to see everyone - except Rusk and his partner - wearing hats. But it's a meaningful showcase that shows that death and brutality will always be closely associated to Ethan. He's not responsible for this massacre. But he is at the center of it. So many people die just so his father can bring him home. It won't be a happy reunion at all but Ethan still exists as a prisoner to the outlaws of this land. He's going to fight back shortly but it's still very uncertain if that will do anything to make his life any better than the bleak reality surrounding him now.

Meanwhile, Victor is the only one who knows the grave threat that Dorian and Lily pose to the world. He has unleashed monsters hellbent on destroying everything so that they can rule. The only way he can cope with that horrifying knowledge is to once again seek the comfort of drugs. It's a solitary existence for him. He is crippled with guilt over what his actions have brought forth. But now, he's starting to be a little proactive about the situation as well. He has hardened as a man over the past two seasons. Now, he fully believes that killing is the only one to deal with these supernatural threats that plague this world. That's how it has been done with his various interactions with Vanessa, Malcolm and Ethan. He wants that same fate to fall upon Lily for what she has done. And yet, it's significant that Victor hasn't shared any of this tragedy with any of his friends who will listen to it with reasonable ears. His secret work with reanimation is still largely a mystery to them. But he does get a new ally in this battle with evil in the form of Dr. Jekyll, a colleague from school with some personality issues. That's a strong partnership in this premiere that only promises to get better as Victor heads directly into the monster. Jekyll convinces him that Lily can be changed. Victor still wants to love. But seeing as how that has always failed on this show, it seems destined that this story is only going to be more personally destructive to him.

And finally, Vanessa is the only one still seeking comfort in the mansion. She was victorious in battle but suffered a crushing defeat when all of her friends and allies left her to handle their own problems in their own ways. She has fallen into a terrible depression after losing her religion. She has lost so much at this point. She is still standing and holds her identity solely to herself. But it's a lonely existence that is only getting more and more complicated to upheld. She hopes going to see a therapist will help her handle these problems that have defined her life for so long. It's shocking that Dr. Seward looks just like the Cut-Wife who trained Vanessa last season - apparently she's a descendant of the same family which is why Patti LuPone can play both roles. But their first interactions are dynamic and powerful. Seward is able to expertly cut through everything that defines Vanessa in her existence. So much is uncertain right now regarding whether or not this is an arrangement that both are comfortable with. And yet, it does prove to bring meaningful change to the character. Vanessa is stuck in patterns right now. She's not able to rely on the comforts that have frequently helped her in the past. But she gets a new ray of hope as well in the form of zoologist Alexander Sweet, who reminds her that the dusty collections can be just as mysterious, engaging and rewarding as the flashy displays.

Of course, Vanessa's life isn't destined for happiness for very long. Once again, her world is going to be rocked by an evil plotting to destroy her and everything she loves. On top of Dorian and Lily, this season will also feature the evil of Dracula. He has a fantastic introduction in this premiere as well. Vanessa hopes that therapy will bring meaningful change to her. And yet, that environment is already being corrupted by evil. Dracula has taken Seward's secretary, Renfield, and turned him into his servant. It's a terrifying final scene in this premiere. When this show goes for the horror and scary storytelling beats, it nails it phenomenally well. That closing sequence is remarkable in how unsettling this new horror is. Dracula makes his presence known in a big grand way that can only spell pending doom for Vanessa. The show may be juggling a lot of plots right now but it can still find new and exciting ways to reinvigorate its formula and make the stakes incredibly personal to its characters.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Day Tennyson Died" was written by John Logan and directed by Damon Thomas.
  • The whole city of London is mourning throughout this premiere as well as the world is rocked by the death of poet Alfred Tennyson. It's largely a background story but it's still significant because this show thrives on its world and its connection to both reality and the supernatural.
  • The mystical Indian is a very stereotypical character trope. That's essentially what Kaetenay is here as he explains to Malcolm that Ethan is in danger. And yet, this is a world that lives completely in the mystical. So, it's not as annoying or out of place as it typically is.
  • The Creature left for the Arctic Circle in order to avoid having to live with humanity and their monstrous actions towards him. And yet, his time there is still plagued by the demands of humans. Plus, he gets his first memory of his past life before he was resurrected by Victor. So now, he's off to find his family.
  • Hecate was the only witch to survive last season. Her presence will continue to be important as she is seen on the same train as Ethan. Plus, she's one of the few survivors of he massacre. She doesn't even have to kill in order to survive.
  • Vanessa's only friend who comes to check on her in the mansion is Lyle. That's sweet. But more importantly, he's the one who suggests she see Dr. Seward in order to address her problems.