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Sunday, May 3, 2015

"Fresh Hell" For Some In PENNY DREADFUL Premiere

Article originally written for Seat42F.

Showtime’s PENNY DREADFUL returns for a second season this weekend with “Fresh Hell.” Picking up shortly after season one ended, many of our characters try to continue the paths they are on, whether that means raising a bride from the dead, or leaving England for good. A new villain arises, though, that may change their plans.

WARNING: The following contains light spoilers, but is mostly just a preview of the sophomore premiere.

It’s extremely interesting that the Big Bad of season two is a human, a fact well-publicized, so I don’t feel bad about revealing it here. Madame Kali (Helen McCrory), introduced in the first year, now has witches at her command and bathes in blood. She is the same woman viewers have met, yet different, with a lot more power at her command. We don’t get her origin, at least not right away, so I’m curious to see how she became this new person. But in a show full of the supernatural, seeing someone who is a human being as the threat is pretty cool.

Kali’s first attack is sent against Vanessa (Eva Green), an obvious target since she’s the one Kali has seen in action, and may just simultaneously be the most powerful and the most vulnerable of the group. The two women are similar in some ways, although Vanessa is on the side of good, for the most part, anyway. As Kali prays to a demon, Vanessa puts her faith in Jesus Christ. It seems a no-brainer that God will defeat Satan, but the battle is only beginning, and already seems quite exciting! There could definitely be casualties along the way.

Vanessa is less vulnerable than she was, though, because she has a bit of a family around her. From Ethan (Josh Hartnett), who changes his plans when Vanessa’s life is threatened, to Malcolm (Timothy Dalton), who views her as a daughter, to Sembene (Danny Sapani), the protector, to Dr. Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway), perhaps the least enthusiastic member of the band, but willing to serve when called upon. They have formed a sort of club against the dark forces, and PENNY DREADFUL is fast making them a real team.

The characters in PENNY DREADFUL do not make the most obvious family. They are, for the most part, antisocial and fairly concerned with their own affairs, which happens when people are going through what they are going through. Yet, somehow it makes a certain amount of sense for this particular set to stick together, and it makes the show more satisfying  and easier to invest in when they do.

The person most involved in outside work in “Fresh Hell” is Dr. Frankenstein, as he helps The Creature (Rory Kinnear) raise the lady he loves, Brona Croft (Billie Piper), from the dead. The Creature is supremely lonely, and he hopes that Brona going through what he did will give them a sort of connection that will draw her closer to him. It seems dubious to me that it will work, but “Fresh Hell” gets that story arc going pretty quickly.

Thankfully, PENNY DREADFUL doesn’t tie all The Creature’s hopes at social interaction up in this particular plot, giving a possible alternate life for him should Brona not be happy to be his bride. He finds a job in the season premiere that allows for his appearance. It’s hard to tell if the people The Creature gets involved with are trustworthy or not; attitudes seem mostly positive and good-natured, but like any person who would hire him, they want something from him. Since The Creature is not part of the central unit of the show, he has no one to rely on should things go south, always a strong possibility.

And that’s how PENNY DREADFUL begins, with “Fresh Hell” for a number of players, especially Malcolm, who I didn’t really discuss, but possible paths forward for a few. It’s a dark enough show that I don’t see any happy endings working out for anyone in the near future, but any bit of time that can be enjoyed is welcome, relieving a bit of the misery. Though, their misery does make for compelling narrative, too.

PENNY DREADFUL airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET on Showtime.

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