I was completely enamored with the first two installments of Penny Dreadful, which established the show as a sexy, scary showcase for some tremendous performers – especially Eva Green as the mysterious Vanessa Ives. This week’s episode, “Resurrection,” busies itself with fleshing out a cohesive backstory for The Creature (Rory Kinnear), a character introduced in the whiplash-inducing conclusion of “Séance,” and the show suffers slightly as a result. As such, I have to say that “Resurrection” disappointed me, though the episode isn’t without its strengths.
The exposition dump is a tried-and-true tactic for television shows attempting to condense lengthy storylines into a certain number of episodes. “Resurrection” opens with a pretty massive one, as The Creature, eyes filled with malice, confronts Victor after literally ripping poor Proteus in two. Turns out, Proteus wasn’t the series’ stand-in for Frankenstein’s monster, though writer John Logan surely intended audiences to perceive him as such. That dubious honor goes to The Creature, Victor’s previous experiment with reanimating the dead – a fascination we learn via flashback began after the deaths of his dog Bradshaw and then his mother Caroline (Mary Stockley). Born soaked in blood and utterly terrified, The Creature rampaged through Victor’s lab, and the scientist fled, leaving his creation to experience rejection for the first time. “Was every newborn creature abandoned the moment he was born?” he bitterly asks a cowering Victor.
Without a father figure, The Creature took it upon himself to become learned, watching the comings and goings on a busy London street through a barred window in the lab and then using Victorian literature to discover the world. Still, he rejects the classic ideals he believes Victor intended him to embrace. “Were you really so naive to imagine that we’d see eternity in a daffodil?” The Creature sneers.
Eventually, he took to the streets, where the kind folks of London saw his hideous visage and promptly beat him bloody. Sprawled in an alley, The Creature was stumbled upon by a kindly artisan named Vincent Brand (Alun Armstrong). Feeling compassion towards the hideous wretch, Vincent extended his hand and offered The Creature a position in the Grand Guignol (a theater that will surely become key in Penny Dreadful‘s overarching narrative later on, given that the season finale is actually titled “Grand Guignol”). His nom de theatre? Caliban, from The Tempest.
It’s appropriate in a lot of ways, given The Creature’s deformed appearance and resentful nature. However, whether Penny Dreadful will apply Caliban’s arc to The Creature is less certain. In that Shakespeare play, Caliban is entrapped by Prospero and angrily chooses a new master, only to circle back around to Prospero once he realizes that no one can match him. Given The Creature’s innate hatred for Victor, I seriously doubt their relationship is going to end in a similar manner. Though, as Vincent says, “In our version, Caliban eats Prospero.”
Caliban, as we’ll call him, finds a new home at the theater, though we see that Vincent’s kindness is not exactly matched by the other troupe members. So, Caliban opts to remain in the shadows as the “stage rat,” dealing more with machinery than people. He’s a natural and quickly takes to the work, but Caliban, cursed with a human heart, longs for a ladylove but knows his face would repel any human suitors. That’s where Victor comes in – Caliban wants an immortal companion, and he knows just the man to build a suitable one for him. Of course, Victor, still devastated by Proteus’s brutal demise, isn’t game, but Caliban also isn’t about to take no for an answer. “I’ll strike down all those you love, and turn your brightest day into darkest night,” he threatens.
“Resurrection” is a big showcase for Kinnear, who does a great job of communicating Caliban’s rage and jaundice. Hopefully future episodes won’t be as narratively dense in their treatment of him, but “Resurrection” is a mostly promising introduction for him. The ferocity in his final threat to Frankenstein is the second-best acting I’ve seen on Penny Dreadful yet – after Vanessa’s possession in last week’s episode, of course.