Season 1 of Showtime's highly touted 'Penny Dreadful' is over. So after eight episodes, what was it like, what did we get, and was it worth it? Beware, for spoilers lurk ahead.
Although there were a number of subplots with no real payoff, the big plot of the season was that explorer Malcolm Murray's daughter Mina was turned into a vampire by a mysterious Master. Who wasn't the bald vampire that people kept calling "Master," but some other mysterious nobleman. So Malcolm assembled a team of adventurers to hunt down his daughter and free her. This included Mina's childhood friend Vanessa (a psychic of sorts), American Wild West showman Ethan Chandler (man of mystery who turns out to be a wolfman), African tribesman Sembene (who we really found out nothing about), and a young mortician named Victor Frankenstein (who keeps something strange up in his attic).
Together they spend about five of the eight episodes hunting down the Master (1, 3, 4, 6, 8 if you're counting). Tied in with this is the fact that since the vampires have Egyptian tattoos, they are connected to two ancient Egyptian deities who must never meet. Because if they do, the world will end in apocalypse.
And that brings us to the B Plot, which is Vanessa's psychic abilities come from the fact that she is possessed by a demon. It may be the Devil, it may be one of those Egyptian deities. Seeing and having sex (this is Showtime, remember?) awakens the demon within her and then she goes crazy, lashes out at her friends, and bites the cheeks off of priests (this is Showtime, remember?).
I mentioned five main chaacters up above, but there are eight main cast members. So that brings us to Dorian Grey, a mysterious young nobleman who lusts after Vanessa and is intrigued with her darkness. After having sex with Ethan (this is Showtime, remember?) and Ethan's girlfriend, a dying prostitute named Brona, Dorian has sex with Vanessa and unleashes her darkness. Dorian also has a portrait in his basement that he goes to when he needs to instantly heal his wounds, and he keeps talking about how bored he is with life.
Brona is the seventh cast member and she spends all eight episodes dying of consumption. This makes her the future bride of our eighth cast member. Remember up above when I mentioned Victor Frankenstein is one of the intrepid group? Well, he has a creation put together in his lab. It's kind and gentle and innocent... and a red herring because Victor's first creation, named Caliban, shows up at the end of episode 2 and rips Victor's second creation apart. While Caliban works in a Grand Guignol theater as a stagehand, he demands that Victor create a bride for him, and Victor needs a corpse.
There are also some Jack the Ripper murders, and explorer Malcolm has to face the fact that he would "kill the world" to save his daughter Mina. That means he's willing to use Vanessa's demonic link to find her daughter no matter what it does to Vanessa.
And that's pretty much all of our major story elements for season 1. So how does the show wrap it all up? Pretty well, at least as far as the main storyline is concerned. They killed off the Master's lieutenant, and Malcolm was forced to kill his daughter. Before she died, she said that the true Master wants all of them, and Vanessa in particularly to sire a new brood of vampires. So presumably we'll get Dracula next year.
They hold back on revealing that Ethan is the wolfman until the end of the season, and he may not be the only one in England. He seems to have gained his powers from American Indians in some manner, and may be a half-breed himself. Ethan also seems to know enough Latin to either conduct an exorcism or fake one really well.
Victor and Caliban have resolved their differences and now Victor is turning Brona into the Bride of Caliban.
Malcolm and Vanessa have resolved their differences when Malcolm shot his daughter Mina and said that Vanessa was his daughter now. That leaves the ending where she goes to a priest for an exorcism and he asks her if she really wants to be normal. I didn't think Catholic priests who thought exorcism was necessary asked the victims if they wanted to let he Devil loose in the world, but go figure.
Sembene, we learn... nothing.
Along the way we've had Proteus, Victor's first creation. Who met a violent death. And Dr. Van Helsing, who befriends Victor and knows a lot about vampires. Who met a violent death. And we had a medium, Madame Kali, who seems to know more about Malcolm than she claims, and may be a lead-in to a story arc in season 2.
Other than Billie Piper as Brona, there weren't any bad performances in the lot. And it may simply have been that Brona didn't have much to do but die this season. Eva Green had the high-profile role of the season, with two entire episodes dedicated to her character Vanessa. Reeve Carney (Dorian), Rory Kinnear (Caliban), and Josh Hartnett (Ethan) were also excellent, and Timothy Dalton (Malcolm) and Harry Treadaway (Victor) were also strong.
The show also gave us lots of good guest starring actors. Alun Armstrong as Caliban's mentor in the theater, David Warner as Van Helsing, Olly Alexander as the Renfield substitute, and Alex Price as the innocent Proteus.
As befits Showtime, there was plenty of sex, nudity, violence, and swearing.
For those looking for closure, there wasn't a whole lot. Season 1 acted as more of an introduction to the series. Ethan's wolfman-ish and why he fled the U.S., Dorian's immortality, Sembene's whole back story... none of that was explained.
Still, 'Penny Dreadful' proved to be well worth the eight hours Showtime dedicated to it this year. If you haven't seen it, check it out in the inevitable repeats and marathons if you get Showtime, check it out online, or wait for the DVD pack to come out.