There’s plenty happening with Ethan, Dorian Gray, Frankenstein, and even Frankenstein’s creature, Caliban (Rory Kinnear, who brings depth and emotion to such a physically grotesque character) too, but to reveal juicy tidbits would ruin the fun. But there’s a creepy tenderness within most of the plots, and the first two episodes set up intriguing narratives and relationships — particularly for Frankenstein.
At the center of it all is, once again, a still-haunted Vanessa, brilliantly played by Eva Green. Green gave a standout performance in the first season: “Seance” and “Possession” were particularly memorable, with Green altering her entire self — physically and mentally — whenever the devil entered her, switching back and forth between a woman and a demon, growling her lines and contorting her body in unnerving ways. She’s endearing and charismatic throughout, even when hunched and bleeding and losing her mind.
Perhaps the only aspect of Penny Dreadful that rivals Green’s performance is the setting. The dark Victorian streets are at once filthy and beautiful, appealing but running rampant with cholera. It’s pure gothic horror: macabre mansions, rainy streets, dark alleys you wouldn’t dare walk down. The series is dripping in dark imagery, even if it’s sometimes so over the top it resembles teens dabbling in the occult (tellingly, faux-goth teen central Hot Topic debuted a Penny Dreadful clothing line this week).
But the haunting setting is perfect for such a twisted show, and only adds to the show’s scares: It doesn’t want to jolt you with a quick shock — it wants to leave you feeling unsettled for weeks to come.