After two episodes characterized by criss-crossing narratives, Penny Dreadful switches things up for “Resurrection,” the bulk of which is concerned with the story of Victor Frankenstein and his original creation. The first three-quarters of the episode features only brief cutaways to the other main characters; otherwise, “Resurrection” focuses squarely on the aftermath of poor Proteus’ demise, punctuated by flashbacks revealing the backstory leading to that moment. The question is, why now? And, given that Frankenstein is the most familiar of the show’s characters, why this story in particular?
It’s entirely possible that Penny Dreadful will stick with this format for the next few episodes, unveiling the origin stories of the rest of the gang, but I would have preferred a bit more follow-up on last week’s events before taking this deep dive into the world of Frankenstein. It’s true that “Resurrection” doesn’t follow Mary Shelley’s story to the letter, but the general outlines are familiar enough.
The episode begins with more Wordsworth quotations, this time from (appropriately enough) “Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood.” We learn that Frankenstein’s battle to cheat death began at a young age, when the sickly lad watched his mother waste away. His first attempt at resurrection, as we have already gleaned, goes horribly awry: the creature is born in a state of sheer horror and shunned almost instantly. He lives on the streets, where he is beaten and called a freak; he knows only rejection until he is befriended by an aging stage actor. The creature is given a backstage job at the actor’s theater—the Grand Guignol, of course—and, like his “younger brother,” a name plucked from Shakespeare: Caliban.
Now Caliban has returned to his creator with a specific purpose, which he reveals during a waterfront stroll that painfully echoes the one Frankenstein took last week with his dear, departed Proteus. The creature wants a bride, which should turn out well for everyone involved. It’s not that Caliban’s sob story is devoid of interest—I enjoyed Alun Armstrong purposefully hammy turn as the actor, Vincent Brand—so much as misplaced. Just when the storylines were gearing up and taking shape, everything comes to a halt to fill in some blanks we’d mostly figured out on our own.
In its last 15 minutes or so, “Resurrection” gets back to the larger narrative, as Chandler, in need of money for the consumptive Brona’s medical treatment, decides to take Vanessa and Sir Malcolm up on their offer after all. After Vanessa has a vision or visitation from Mina, the league of…uh…special individuals chases down a new lead at the London Zoo. Viewers who pegged Chandler as a werewolf have their suspicions all but confirmed when the gang is surrounded by a pack of wolves and Chandler is able to calm them. (I suppose there could be another twist and some alternate explanation for his rapport with the beasts, but for now I’m going with “werewolf.”) They next encounter a servant of the vampire who took Nina. He’s a near-feral man with an appetite for raw meat, so I assumed this had to be Renfield, but his name is given as Fenton. Perhaps it is Renfield and he’s using a false name for reasons to be disclosed later; otherwise this is a puzzling, seemingly arbitrary change.
Fenton is in on the Amunet/Amun-Ra/”all light will end” conspiracy and still appears to be under the sway of his master. Frankenstein is called in and proposes a blood transfusion to restore Fenton’s humanity and intelligibility. The society of exceptional folks is made official as its members swear oaths to each other, and that’s the end of an episode that feels like it should just be getting underway.
"Resurrection” is watchable enough, but still a bit of a letdown. Its attempt to evoke sympathy for a creature that just eviscerated the most sympathetic character on the show is only partially successful. The questions raised by last week’s seance still hang in the air. Momentum has stalled, but with any luck it’s just a minor speed bump.
- More fuel for the “Chandler is a werewolf” theory: the cut to Josh Hartnett’s troubled expression after Brona says “There’s eating to be done.” (At least, I think he was going for a troubled expression. It’s sometimes hard to tell.)
- Caliban quotes from Shelley’s “Adonais,” in part to mock his creator’s love of Romantic poetry. But when you consider that Percy Bysshe Shelley was married to Mary Shelley, who wrote Frankenstein…we have an unsolvable paradox on our hands.
- Penny Dreadful has been visually sumptuous so far, but the shot of Chandler putting his hand in the wolf’s mouth was…not so good.