Penny Dreadful: The Last Rites

Penny Dreadful Trilogy

That gnawingly immaculate show, clinical, gothic… surely it was intended as a joke for Lit grads? It shouldn’t have gone anywhere but it did until in its third year it was prematurely staked. Jokerside’s final look at Penny Dreadful this Halloween dwells on where the those otherwise immortal characters ended up.

*Spoilers for the complete run guaranteed.*

World Without a League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

And so it ended with Wordsworth, the romantic poet so extricably linked to the Frankenstein myth that was just one of Penny Dreadful’s beating hearts. In 2014,the show provided one of the best Frankenstein adaptations during a first season that Jokerside couldn’t help but include in a review of the state of Mary Shelley’s legacy that year. The fall of the witches, a surprising turn that powered the show’s second season, its strongest, was also irresistible. Jokerside mashed it together with Hannibal’s final season in our 2015 update (the best things come in threes), as that show veered from the indulgence of Thomas Harris’ Hannibal to his early perfect thriller Red Dragon.

So, how could Jokerside resist a glimpse at the bitter-sweet end of Penny Dreadful, now the soil has landed on the coffin lid? Happy Halloween.

Certainties

Despite an emphatic if premature conclusion, it’s difficult to say anything about Penny Dreadful with absolute with certainty. After three seasons of curiously differing lengths the story was noticeably dramatically shortened. Some characters retreated from their potential in the rush while some premises faded away. Hastiness didn’t work well in the Penny Dreadful universe, and that was more apparent than ever when the motley crew entered the villain’s lair in the finale, the climax of three years of meticulous plotting and prophecy. It was the primary storyline revolving around the enigmatic Miss Vanessa Ives that showed the strain, despite the rich fabric that stretched across compelling supporting characters. Those sub-plots, many feeding into the primary story, had mixed success in concluding individual stories. Penny Dreadful was always particularly good at expanding minor and complementary themes, lifted from the great works of gothic horror, and using them to breathe new life into familiar characters. Many had already reached a satisfying end point at the end of the first or even second year only to be have new life breathed into them for the third. Take Caliban, the original creature of Frankenstein who ended the second season on an oh-so-fitting icebreaker his story thwarted in misery, only to return to London to have yet more heartache heaped upon him in the third year.

The finale began as it ended: with death. That was to be expected, but as much as it delivered more sumptuous horror from the pen of John Logan, who’s to say prolonging the pain of these characters was really the enjoyably right thing to do? Even the glimmers of hope were steeped in melancholy.

It’s a key question, as Penny Dreadful, a sometimes purposefully difficult mix of clinical stylisation and gothic romance was always a contrary beast.

Back to one

“The dead place”

Few shows matched Penny Dreadful’s first year success, when it simultaneously provided a compelling conclusion while enhancing and priming its central roster of characters ready for a heightened second year. Not every character made that first year of course, but Brona Croft’s demise not only allowed Ethan Chandler’s story to fulfil its supernatural promise, but through the creation of Lily, propel the good Doctor’s story onto the Bride of Frankenstein. Every character, except Sir Malcolm Murray’s manservant Sembene, was left in a stronger position come the close of that first season. And most tellingly of all, although a strong and unmistakable shadow had been cast, the show’s main nemesis not only failed to appear but wasn’t even named. Come the second season, the show’s longest at 10 episodes, there was an astonishing turn of events as the villain we all anticipated fell back, replaced by the revelation of two separate nemeses of unimaginable power and evil. Two brothers. Two fallen angels. Both of many names. Dracula assumed the physical side. And on the unphysical, the one most easily called Lucifer.

The second year, Lucifer’s time in the limelight, closed with a glorious pitched invasion of the witches lair, a beautifully realised coven enslaved to Lucifer. Her back story having once again taken mid-season prime position, there was no doubt as to the importance of Miss Ives as those dramatic events unfolded. By the end every character had lost something, but for Miss Ives it was the one constant she’d held on to for two years: her faith. That was a strange response to an infernal meeting and escaping the jaws of the devil, but it left her alone in London while the majority of other characters were scattered across the globe.

The third season seized those reins, embracing the global diaspora after the claustrophobic events of the show’s second year. It was a tough act to follow and the multiple, parallel strands in the Arctic, London, America and Africa, unsurprisingly lost the momentum that had made the previous year the show’s strongest. Despite the show’s clear intent to forge powerful stories of its own around familiar characters and original creation Vanessa Ives, the third season couldn’t match the rhythm of its predecessor. That second year benefitted from storming set-pieces, a chilling and opaque foe in those powerful witches and their puppet overlord, a disembodied foe of mystery. That year undermined expectations, pulling characters further from their source works, and the third year consolidated it.

“A grisly, undead thing”

Having established the challenging threat of the two brothers, the third series expanded its interest in pairs. Gothic master of duality Henry Jekyll was a high profile addition, working with his old school friend Victor Frankenstein to control the latter’s second surviving creation. Unfortunately, although the news of the show’s cancellation came late into the run, the third year was forced to confront the imminent apocalypse with indecent haste. And it was a singular mission for the most part. As Vanessa Ives walked into the arms of her immortal lover, other characters were forced to battle their personal demons and almost entirely the consequences of their earlier actions before they could join her. Yes, Vanessa’s true love was the knockout twist of the third year, matching the powerful reveal of Dorian Gray’s painting the year before. This was the year we met Dracula. But anyone expecting the two diabolical brothers to be pitted against each other were to be disappointed. There was little point pitting evil against evil when their rivalry could simply fuel the terror and impossible odds stacked against our anti-heroes. For each one had shown their fair share of weakness and flaws since in the three years prior. One foe eventually had to rise above the other. As established in the year’s mandatory exploration of Vanessa’s background, this time in the claustrophobic confines of an asylum cell, Lucifer was on the descent, Dracula very much on the ascent. Read more…

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Penny Dreadful and Hannibal: Fall of the Witches, Rise of the Dragon

Hannibal meets Penny Dreadful

“Dire combustion and confused events new hatch’d to the woeful time”

A tale of two gruesome halves. A celebration in the brutal wake of Penny Dreadful’s second series conclusion and farewell to Hannibal’s Hannibal as he prepares his last stand against the advent of the Red Dragon. For those up to date with the horrors of both series – these *spoilers* don’t come in the night.

Read on or jump to: Hannibal

Pennies – Penny Dreadful leaves the mortal plain

Penny Dreadful: The Second Season

“I think that you are the most human man I have ever known”

PENNY DREADFUL CONCLUDED EARLIER THIS MONTH WITH A FINALE OF TWO PARTS. TYPICALLY, THE SECOND HALF WAS DEVOTED TO THE INTRICATE RE-POSITIONING OF ITS PLAYERS ON A CHESS BOARD PRIMED FOR ITS LUXURIOUSLY CONFIRMED THIRD SEASON. And that that says more about the show than a first half given over to resolving the second season arc, a battle in the blurred war of dark and light that continues to run like stitching through its take on gothic literature.

The threat of coincidence hangs over all narrative, nowhere more apparently than in episodic television. As America’s television grows to rival its film industry, enticing stars with higher budgets and heightened writing, arcs and themes have developed to match. Many shows have managed to rise above their Hollywood comparators in terms of tight plotting and scripting, although some of the biggest cheat with multiple sketch-based storylines (one set in and around Westeros in particular). Elsewhere critically acclaimed ‘thematic’ series make their job easier by limiting storylines and cast to a single season. But with Penny Dreadful, confronting coincidence while chucking its characters together is very much the point.

A stronger field

The depth of the villain was stretched and strengthened…

As Penny Dreadful’s second season unravelled we saw polarisation. Compelling powers pushed and pulled the characters to various extremes, always seen through a finely tuned and psychological needle’s eye.

Writer John Logan’s dialogue and scope improved beyond even the first series. After seemingly setting up (the unnamed) Dracula as the main villain, the second season instead wrenched us into the world of witches – another and effective lieutenant of he who must not be named. Over the course of the season, the result was a rich deepening of the character’s opposition; a villain stretched and strengthened while crucially retaining its mystery. It was a neat trick to the point that a killer twist might not even be confirmed. And on the way there was time for dolls and wax works to take the place of the Grand Guignol. And crucially, lest all humour depart us, a wonderful full-time position in the script for Simon Russell Beale’s Ferdinand Lyle.

One year on

“Modernity personified” in the age of the industrial

Last year’s mid-point look at Season One came from the early gothic slant of Frankenstein. In particular, the stunning adaptation of the good doctor’s story that made up the third episode, which starts with:

“…The brutal lessons of life and death that the young Frankenstein was forced to learn. We see him walking through daffodils and quoting not just Wordsworth, but the poet’s Intimations on Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood. We see the origins of the Doctor of course, and how death set him on an inevitable route. The creature narrates what we’ve seen so far, the Doctor who favoured Wordsworth and the Romantics’ view of the world who creates something that is “modernity personified” in the age of the industrial. It’s no wonder that Frankenstein fundamentally cannot stand his creation, and is incapable of making any effort to make up for his abandonment. It shouldn’t fit quite so well with the other son we’ve seen, not quite, but it does. That’s perhaps due to the quality of the creature’s argument. Tellingly, Frankenstein doesn’t speak for minutes as his firstborn addresses him. When told by his son that they are the Janus mask, “inseparable” his first words, “how could you do that?’ The response that it is a mercy for the tragic Proteus – “you put me through nothing but pain”.

Read more…

James Bond: Everyone Needs a Hobby – Craig #Bondathon

Craig Bonds

The Sixth Storified set of ‘Tweet notes’, concluding a complete (canon) Twitter #Bondathon up to and including SkyFall, the film released on the franchise’s 50th anniversary – whether that’s at the cinema (UK) or on DVD (USA). Typos as guaranteed as a pulse-stopping savage battering.  Spoilers very much guaranteed.

ANY EVALUATION OF THE EVER ALIVE AND HEALTHY CRAIG TENURE MUST CAST A RATHER SAD SHADOW IN PIERCE BROSNAN’S DIRECTION.  Surely in this new realistic universe, the reputation of his films will fall the furthest? It’s hardly any fault of the man himself, often talked about favourably for his portrayal despite his over-reliance on one-liners.  In truth his tenure took the same number of films to jump the laser-equipped-shark as Roger Moore’s.  Brosnan might have expected to have been given the same chance as his predecessor, and indeed suggested Casino Royale as his For Your Eyes Only style reboot…  But he may also have expected to receive the boot when he was quite so passionate about Quentin Tarantino taking the reins.

Now it’s easy to dismiss Brosnan as the Bond who, when eventually laying his hands on an Aston Martin, made it vanish in a diamond haze of post-90s excess, while Craig brings us a serious and palpable Bond for a never ending recession.

Still, in the mid-2000s, Brosnan was loved.  Despite his last film arguably being the nadir of the series up until that point, his roguish charm contributed greatly to the rather unfair reception Craig received when he turned green on the way to his reveal.  Then, in the midst of what seemed like one of the longest film shoots, speculation ran rife – mainly about some blue swimwear.  Signs were good, but there were worries – and four year breaks in Bond are never good…  But…  When it arrived; bloody hell, it was fantastic.

Casino Royale.  To think a 20 film old franchise still had the option to film the original book.  It was an incredible opportunity and one they seized.  An oddity of the film, effectively three distinct parts rather than acts, it hangs around the sturdy spine of Fleming’s novel – a massive strength which showed up its flimsy recent predecessors.  It was excellently cast and shot in the returning and capable hands of Martin Campbell.  While his CV may show that he’s not infallible, he certainly knows how to steer a Bond reboot.

Much was made of Bond’s survival in the post-Bourne age.  While Casino Royale certainly acknowledged it, again the luxury of a much older franchise meant that there was no need to rush Bond Begins.  Having stripped out the most recognisable, and therefore parodied, elements, they could reintroduce them at their leisure.  While parts of Casino Royale, such as the stupendous Quantum organisation – an excellent successor (predecessor) to SPECTRE – deserved further exploration, the choice to run it through a Vesper red mist proved a mis-step.

Quantum of Solace, though a stunningly beautiful film, suffered badly in almost every respect.  A weak plot, dull delivery and no sense of threat amid inexplicable references (Oilfinger?) left the masses cool.  It made a tremendous amount of money, but it seemed that Craig had quickly followed Moore’s lead of delivering a poor follow-up to a fantastic debut.  Of course, Quantum was hit by the writer’s strike in the late 2000s.  There were excuses, good excuses.  But nonetheless, the honeymoon was over and there wouldn’t be immediate reassurance.

No.  Once again money issues hit the franchise as its major stakeholder MGM struggled to maximise its assets amidst debt and litigation.  It would prove once again to be a four year wait.  Craig however, never seemed worried, despite a history of such waits taking leading scalps.  At least this time the franchise had a valuable MGM stable mate in the form of The Hobbit.  There was actually plenty of activity keeping the franchise afloat.  Prominent literary additions by Sebastian Faulks and Jeffery Deaver were voiced by high profile video game entries.  Craig not only lent his voice and likeness to a new Bond game, but even replaced Pierce Brosnan in a remake of the legendary GoldenEye.  It’s a lesson to us all how out of date the then 15 year old GoldenEye game was.  No, things were moving slowly.  And as the rights to the Blofeld character fell back to the stable, plans grew for the franchise’s 50th anniversary.  It became clear there would be a film.  And so it arrived.

A recent summary  described the plot of SkyFall, the villain’s motives as: ‘humiliate and kill M’.  That’s it.  Simple, effective, playing to the strengths of the existing cast and supplementing them with the strongest roster of acting talent a Bond film had yet seen.  that it also had an Oscar winning director no doubt helped with the casting.  And what’s better: the director was British and a James Bond fan.  The result was a film well done; beautiful and neat in its simplicity.  It made over a billion dollars worldwide, knocking its nearest high-grossing prequel into a steel-rimmed hat.  For once, a four year wait had really done the trick.

SkyFall is not the best Bond film, as subjective as that is.  It’s too simplistic and too reverential to take that crown but it does get a lot right.  There’s little coincidence, a strong line in cause and effect and the return of two Bond staples (characters).  Mostly, the script is witty and fluid without nearing parody.  Bond had previously begun, then it had begun again in a forgettable coda.  Now, it returned to its basics.  By exploring Bond’s personal origin, the franchise could simultaneously nod the hat while releasing itself from nostalgia.  With SkyFall Craig found his swagger.  I may not quite buy into Bond’s educational history through the characterisation, but he had finally arrived at his definitive Bond.  In the distance, Brosnan shares plunged once more.

It’s most important perhaps is to look at Craig’s films as constituent parts.  Perhaps it’s no surprise in the complicated and interconnected celluloid worlds of spies and superheroes, Bond has become similarly inter-contextual.

For the first time since 1981, when people had been allowed to discuss On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Bond was not emotionally defined by his lost wife.  That reached a peak in License to Kill and then the rather depressing The World is Not Enough.  Now that young Bond was pre-marriage, the films would be shaped by his first love Vesper instead.  There was no marriage there, just the only comprehension blunt Bond could lend it: the bitch is dead.  Just as Fleming wrote – in fact, as the end line of his first book.  Aside from this, several other changes to the Bond formula looked set to stay.  The key was not watching Bond learn, but how he was shaped.  In this, Craig’s performance ramped up the turmoil of Bond the hollow assassin that had been relatively ignored since Fleming put pen to page.

Extraordinarily, it took until SkyFall for Craig’s blunt instrument to actually kill a main villain.  And that’s no innuendo; the three films have similarly taken him near the beds of (possibly) only four women.  A line of humour runs increasingly through all Craig’s films, though seemingly undetectable to some as realism holds the most sway.  Villainous henchmen are no longer caricatures.  They are all similar: professional, competent and deadly.  Patrice in SkyFall was a good example, but the airport assailant of Casino Royale was exemplary.  Often prolonged foot chases show Bond to be far less competent than his adversaries but with raw grit and stubbornness.  This deficit often leads to a finite outcome and a running joke involves Bond’s inability to get a job done without killing an important witness.  This often leads M to inquiries and minister debriefings where she has to defend her protégé.  ‘What’s today’s excuse?‘ asks Tim Pigott-Smith’s Foreign Minister in Quantum of Solace, ‘That Bond’s legally blind?’.  However, there are consequences to unleashing this Bond of mass destruction. It is Bond’s inability to complete a mission in SkyFall – although admitedly, not solely down to him – that leads through meetings, inquiries and retirement to fatality.

But she would always defend Bond, and he her.  Was it mutual admiration for each other’s skills?  Was it a natural familial affinity?  Well, it was nuanced, and formed the main driver of Criag’s films; something that SkyFall played on to the hilt.  The mother/son relationship of M and Bond.  Other Ms had fathered Bond, granting him leeway; Silva may well be right that he was previously M’s favourite.  In any event, it formed the lynchpin of the recent trilogy and looks to inform the future.

It’s tempting to think that at the end of SkyFall Bond has just stepped into M’s office for a posting to investigate the disappearance of the Jamaica section chief.  Yes, the ’64 Aston Martin messes that continuity, but what’s inter-contextuality without a little fun.  Signs are good and the franchise is booming.  With Craig signed, Mendes seemingly about to and the phenomenal John Logan supposedly scripting two films with that gun barrel firmly bolted to the back, I’d say Bond will be beginning for some time.

To start, just give it a one word title and have Adele sing the theme.

Casino Royale (2006)
Quantum of Solace (2008)
SkyFall (2012)

CRAIG #BONDATHON ON STORIFY

James Bond will return…  Looking remarkably similar but with an even bigger swagger.

Previous #Bondathon and generally Bondish essays can be found in this underground volcano lair!

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