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Penny Dreadful Reviews: "Resurrection"


          The popular idea of Frankenstein’s monster is that of a tall lumbering, intimidating and threatening but also pitiful creature. With bolts sticking out of his neck. And that version of the monster cemented in pop culture by the great Boris Karloff is a good character, and his and director James Whale’s interpretation of Mary Shelley’s novel is certainly very fascinating, but it’s not quite true to the original source. That creature was well-spoken, intelligent, lamenting, often poetic, but capable of great violence, becoming the fearful monster the world saw him as; very much like Rory Kinnear’s Caliban, formally introduced in this episode of Penny Dreadful.
          “Resurrection” is mostly concerned with this story exploring a bit more of Frankenstein’s character and to a greater degree, the origin of his first creation Caliban. And I don’t mind too much the detour from the main season plot, especially considering we do get some of that by episode’s end when the team go on another night operation. But Caliban’s story is handled very well and even though aspects of it are known by those familiar with the story, others are distinct or at least feel more new.
          The episode opens on a flashback to Frankenstein’s childhood where we see the beginnings of his obsession with life and death. In the present, picking up where the last episode ended, his monster forces him to listen to his own story. As it turns out Frankenstein had brought this monster to life earlier but because he was wild, violent, and uncontrollable his creator fled in fear. Alone, he learned to read and speak and committed to tracking down Frankenstein in London. While most humans feared and shunned him, he was taken pity on by an actor who named him Caliban (admittedly not the most sensitive name given the nature of the character in The Tempest) and he was given a job behind the scenes at the Grand Guignol theatre. Now he’s found Frankenstein and demands he create a mate for him. Meanwhile, the team investigate the London Zoo, prompted by one of Vanessa’s visions, where they find a person/vampire servant called Fenton and capture him in the hopes he’ll lead them to Mina.
          Though a somewhat common device on TV dramas to open an episode with a flashback to a particular character’s childhood when the episode in question will heavily deal with said character, I like that it was done here. Yeah it was probably a bit too early but Frankenstein’s past demands examination. He’s a fascinatingly insane character and we want to see why he’s so obsessed with life and death, and as is often in such circumstances, it comes down to mommy issues. His mother died young (after traumatizing him by coughing blood on him out of nowhere!) and so naturally he devoted his life to reanimating corpses. We then continue with the backstory of the monster and it’s done exceptionally. As soon as we see the monster emerge naked, blood-soaked, and screaming, you can feel Frankenstein’s terror and how in over his head he is. And as you’re meant to with any of its incarnations, you feel sorry for the monster. Rory Kinnear’s performance is great both as the anguished and suffering creature and the eloquent, intelligent Caliban. Though I have to say for all the talk of being cast down for his hideousness, he’s really just pale with a few scars. But his delivery keeps you engaged throughout the backstory, even if it seems he can never respond to anything without a grand, tortured speech. You can tell that Kinnear like Caliban has quite the theatrical flare. Caliban’s work with the theatre company and alongside the very welcome Alun Armstrong comes off as more Phantom of the Opera than Frankenstein, and I’m not sure how to feel about it, but it works well enough in its effect on Caliban. I do however love the fact that Frankenstein was inspired by romantic literature (considering the novel is a piece of romantic literature itself; hell Mary Shelley was married to one of the most famous Romantics). The way his literary interests influence his work is very interesting, and how Caliban asserts he’s a modern creation thus why Frankenstein rejected him is a nice touch. Especially with the successful romantic creation, Proteus still lying dead in the room. The interactions between Frankenstein and Caliban are pretty good once Frankenstein is less fearful. I am very interested to see where they go with their take on the “Bride of Frankenstein” story. Will they stick to the book or the James Whale movie? Or attempt something else entirely. Caliban has proven he’s not someone to be crossed!
          There are other things that happen in the episode, but aren’t quite the focus. The zoo scene is decent, notably when Chandler is able to calm the wolves ...which I think is implying something. We also see distrust between Sir Malcolm and Vanessa as he used her to lure a vampire servant to them. Chandler gets some extra character development through his relationship with Brona (who has consumption...and still syphilis, so that sex scene...eww...) as well as his opposition to torture (though he’s okay with murder). And I love Sir Malcolm’s response to Chandler’s objections, ““no one in this room is kind -that’s why we’re here.” I should also mention Danny Sapani who’s listed in the main cast despite only having a couple of lines thus far in the series. He plays Sir Malcolm’s African butler Sembene and I’m hoping we’ll learn more of him soon. If for nothing else, but for those grid marks on his cheeks. Olly Alexander does a decent job as Fenton playing up the creepy and revolting traits of his character who eats wolf flesh and drinks blood.
          But the star of “Resurrection” was Caliban and I was very interested in the exploration of his back-story as well as some of Frankenstein’s. Though it wasn’t the most interestingly written or adapted origin, I really liked the execution of it. Beyond that the episode was fine. They’re really comfortable with this slow build and it’s working out. Maybe in the next episode or two something big will drop, but I’m content with how it’s progressing if it can keep the character and situation building at this kind of quality. And I forgot to mention, the horror was done very well, especially around Caliban’s birth. I’m also particularly interested in the final moments of the episode. Though nothing compared to the previous one’s shock, this episode closes on Frankenstein who we already know is going to be occupied with creating Caliban’s mate telling Sir Malcolm, with new knowledge after his own experience, they are responsible for Fenton. It closes on Fenton in his seclusion seeing the door open and saying “Master”. Though he’s supposedly a vampire servant, I wonder if he couldn’t also be some stand-in for Igor.
          Or Eye-Gor. That would be even more entertaining.

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