Penny Dreadful Season 2 Episode 1: ‘Fresh Hell’ review

What we thought of Penny Dreadful Season 2 opener, ‘Fresh Hell’ with mild spoilers

Penny Dreadful

Penny Dreadful’s intoxicating fusion of caged sensuality, gothic ambiance and high camp returns to our screens this week, and it appears the hunters will become the hunted in a second season that delves even deeper into the occult.

Last year the threat was vampires, this time it’s a coven of witches led by Madame Kali, played with smoldering menace by Helen McCroy (Doctor Who, Harry Potter). They want Vanessa (Eva Green) for ‘The Master’, Lucifer no less, and it’s abundantly clear they’ll go to extreme lengths to get her.

When we left the ensemble of this deliciously macabre horror yarn, Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton) sacrificed his vampire-enthralled daughter Mina to save Vanessa. The beast within Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) surfaced, seemingly butchering the men hot on his trail, and prostitute Brona (Billie Piper) succumbed to consumption, with a little help from Dr. Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway).

Season 2 picks up in the immediate aftermath: Sir Malcolm lays his daughter to rest, as Ethan wakes up to the sound of dripping blood. Victor’s creature, Caliban (Rory Kinnear) finds a suitably creepy job at a waxwork museum, while keeping an eye on the good doctor’s progress reanimating Brona to be his mate.

The witches’ first offensive rattles Vanessa in a way that Ethan never expected. That cool, restrained exterior is replaced with terror, perhaps at the memory of her last lost of control. Could it be that the creature that died with Mina at the Grand Guignol was not the real ‘Master’ after all? Is Kali and her coven just the latest of Satan’s deputies sent to plague Miss Ives’ nights and prayers?

The scene setting of the first season is done. We know the characters well enough now to see more of their greatest fears laid bare. What will Sir Malcolm do with himself now he has “no more children… to save, or to kill” as his estranged wife so pointedly says?

“You can’t change who you are, no matter who you save, or who you love,” says the guilt-ridden Ethan. He halts plans to leave London to protect Vanessa. The past may yet catch up with him, as the massacre at the Mariner’s Inn has attracted the attention of Scotland Yard.

Helen McCroryCaliban’s new employers hope to make their fortune on his scarred face – will he find comfort, or is he doomed to be alone with the creator he so loathes? An awkward tank-side scene suggests that sexually repressed Victor is on a collision course with the creature over his intended bride. A love triangle is just what these two don’t need, but it does seem inevitable.

Eva Green is the jewel in Penny Dreadful’s crown. Her performance as the enigmatic clairvoyant struggling with the demon inside her made for Season 1’s truly show-stopping moments, and she stands shoulder-to-shoulder with some of gothic fiction’s most infamous literary creations. Frankly, she deserves an equal and it’s hard to think of a better choice than McCroy.

From the moment we see cracks of lightning illuminating the sinister halls of Madame Kali’s lair, and she stubs out her cigarette in a bath of young maiden’s blood, it’s clear: Penny Dreadful is going full-on this time, and not before time.

“Take that bitch away,” she snarls over the body of a fallen subordinate. This is the character fans of this show have been waiting for.

The battle between good and evil was perhaps not fully realised in Penny Dreadful‘s first season, particularly the rushed final confrontation with Mina. Madame Kali is just what the show needs, and Season 2 looks full of dark promise.

Penny Dreadful starts 10pm Tuesday 5 May on Sky Atlantic. Read about our visit to Penny Dreadful’s set in this month’s issue of SciFiNow.