The first season of John Logan’s Victorian-era monster mash was beautifully made, but inconsistent. There were some great ideas and strong performances, but no clear direction. This problem has been solved in Season 2, resulting in a leaner, sharper and highly entertaining show, elevating Penny Dreadful from ‘promising’ to ‘must-see’ status.
Vanessa Ives (Eva Green) is on a mission to find out what Lucifer wants from her, while Sir Malcolm (Timothy Dalton) grieves for his lost daughter. Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) pledges to guard Vanessa while concealing his lycanthropic secret, and Dr Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) and his creature John Clare (Rory Kinnear) begin the process of convincing the reanimated Brona (Billie Piper) that she is Lily, betrothed to Mr Clare.
Into their already troubled lives returns Madame Kali (Helen McCrory), who is not just a tarot card reader, but the head of a coven of witches who are just dying to get their hands on Vanessa.
Having a main villain who is a significant presence helps Penny Dreadful no end. It’s still a show that feels comfortable meandering through its gorgeous sets and leaving its characters to sit and meditate on their inner demons, but there’s a real drive that makes it infinitely more fun.
It helps, of course, that Madame Kali is played by the superb McCrory, whose ferocious and witty performance works beautifully opposite Green’s.
Green, meanwhile, may still be the crown jewel of Penny Dreadful’s superb cast but Rory Kinnear’s brilliant turn as John Clare is one of the season’s absolute highlights, as is the guest appearance from Patti LuPone as a witch who taught Vanessa how to use her abilities.
Some of the problems of the first season still remain, but this is a marked improvement in nearly every category. The pace is quicker, the characters more developed (even Dorian Gray gets more interesting), and the horrors more horrifying.
One or two self-indulgent wobbles aside, it builds to a marvellous crescendo, and we’re very excited to see what fresh hell Logan puts his characters through in Season 3.