John Logan is perhaps one of the boldest names in the contemporary entertainment industry; his name is not only responsible for Hugo Cabret’s amusing adventure in his eponymous film, but he was also responsible for the script of one of the best ventures in the franchise, starring James Bond with ‘007: Operation Skyfall’. However, Logan also delved into the television niche, working with showtime in ‘Penny Dreadful’, drawing on the tales and urban legends of Victorian England and offering an even more macabre perspective on the horror and suspense narratives that have always populated London’s dark alleys. And, of course, the result could not have been different: in addition to being highly acclaimed by critics and the public, the series brought into vogue a top cast that surrendered to its characters with heart and soul and enchanted a bloodthirsty audience, sex and the supernatural.
In his second year, Logan, returning as showrunner and writer of all new episodes, would have a slightly bigger challenge. After all, he should maintain the ascending level of his work while cultivating more complex and darker arcs for the protagonists. As we remember, the first season delved into Vanessa Ives’s troubled relationship (Eva Green) with his mentor, Sir Malcolm (Timothy Dalton), both looking for a daughter and near-sister who had given in to the forces of Darkness and clamored to be found. Now, after having the help of the mysterious Ethan (Josh Hartnett), each one follows its path trodden by destruction and death only to meet again in a future closer than imagined.
On the one hand, we have Ethan returning to the arid lands of the American West, deported and hiding from his true nature – the Wolf of God, an uncontrollable werewolf responsible for countless deaths. On the other hand, Malcolm and Vanessa discover that a new evil rises from the abyss of Hell, wishing, somehow, to lead the poor medium to darkness on a path of no return. Of course, in the first chapter, everything remains very vague: it is possible to notice the mannerisms of the creator with the constant immersion of the viewer in scenarios scrutinized by a dense fog, contradictorily repulsive and inviting, which hides indecipherable and even deadly mysteries. As the revelations are made, this imagery device ceases to exist, giving way to the coherent and seductive play of light and shadow that remains faithful to the show’s message until the final moments.
It is possible to say that Ives’ life will never be easy, especially when we know the real nature of his next enemies: Madame Kali (Helen McCrory), who had already made a brief appearance in “Autopsy of a Scene” in the previous year, she returns triumphantly as a powerful witch without any qualms about achieving what she wants. Her characterization is purposefully conflicting, being supported by stories about the Countess of Blood, a high society woman who bathed in the blood of virgins to preserve her youth. However, Logan is keen to engulf us in a wonderful twist by placing her as Lucifer’s servant and architecting her to follow her commands without explicit submission.
No wonder Kali sends one of her daughters, Hecate (Sarah Greene) to the United States as a way to prevent Ethan from returning to Vanessa’s arms, leaving her free to be used as the witch wants. Kali actually makes use of her knowledge to create an evil vessel that will face the medium in all her power. And none of this would be possible without an incredible and passionate performance by McCrory, whose subtle delineations find fertile ground to explore. Here, the artistic-narrative interactions also make a point of showing her as a two-faced character – well, she even becomes Malcolm’s lover just to get closer to her troubled family.
Anyway, it’s not just this group that steals the show. billie piper also behaves with excellent versatility incarnating Lily, the resurrection of Brona Croft by the hands of Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway), who sees the death of the sick servant as an opportunity to free himself from the eternal torment of his first creation, John Clare (Rory Kinnear). However, things don’t go quite as planned, as Lily starts to have a lot of contact with the seductive and Machiavellian Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney), teaming up with him to start a race of powerful and indestructible creatures.
But don’t think that these subplots are played by chance: Logan maintains his surprising credibility by creating two different scopes that, in the last seconds, are united by the supernatural theme. While Vanessa and Kali fight for the supremacy of good and evil, light and shadow, power and weakness – concepts that go beyond human comprehension and that give way to the ruins of an excessive ambition – Lily and Dorian are more realistic for the own tangible inexistence. Despite being “monsters”, so to speak, they function as palpable embodiments of human sins – mainly anger, pride and lust. This scenic play is also reaffirmed by the narrative multiplicity and the rhythmic editing work that at no time fails to orchestrate a tenebrous atmosphere.
The series also returns to an interesting comfort zone by putting us in flashbacks explanatory. Along with the underrated technique of the foreshadowingO showrunner takes us to the not-so-distant past of Vanessa and her meeting with Joan Clayton (Patti Lupone in a memorable performance), perhaps the only witch who can help her consolidate her powers. The entry of new characters also makes room for necessary sacrifices as a way of keeping the plots on a cathartic roller coaster – one of the points of greatest respect and prestige of the work.
With its second season, ‘Penny dreadful’ not only endorses its name as one of the most shocking audiovisual products in contemporary television, it also raises its bar to the ultimate level. It’s sad to know that Vanessa Ives’ story would be about to end – while it’s very satisfying to know that she will never be forgotten.