Penny Dreadful Review: “Séance” (Season 1, Episode 2)


Sitting here writing this, I’m still working to pick my jaw off the floor after the ending of Penny Dreadful‘s second episode, “Séance.” I was impressed by the show’s pilot, which worked quickly to establish a creepy Victorian atmosphere and introduce an intriguing crop of characters. However, after watching “”Séance,” I can safely say that all the Penny Dreadful team got to do in the pilot was thinly veiled table-setting. Now, it appears that they’re ready to have some real fun.

And man if “Séance” isn’t the most no-holds-barred fun I’ve had with a Showtime program since the second season finale of Dexter (Remember? When we realized that Lila was completely flipping insane?). The episode starts off on a high note, with a poor Victorian woman becoming the next victim of the animalistic serial killer rampaging through the show’s alt-history Victorian London. That kind of opening has been done to death courtesy of The CW’s Supernatural, but I’m perfectly content to watch Penny Dreadful take advantage of its TV-MA rating to show things that program never could.

We then catch back up with Ethan Chandler, who evidently responded to discovering the Demimonde with Vanessa and Sir Malcolm by getting black-out drunk by the docks. He wakes up and promptly swaggers into a nearby pub to order a whisky. Soon enough, he encounters the deceptively chipper Irish immigrant Brona Croft (Billie Piper), a character Penny Dreadful has billed as a series lead but held off on introducing until now. Afflicted with tuberculosis and using her body to keep the money flowing (though through modeling more than prositution, she claims), Brona isn’t exactly finding London to be the “greener pasture” she’d hoped for. She forms a connection with Ethan, perhaps recognizing him as a fellow fish out of water, and sparks fly (though, to its credit, Penny Dreadful holds off on coupling them immediately, unlike characters on some of Showtime’s other series). Piper, who has largely kept a low profile since leaving Doctor Who, makes a very strong first impression, nailing Brona’s tricky accent and sadly cynical outlook.

Of course, this is a premium cable network, and Piper is drop-dead gorgeous, so she gets a steamy, unnerving sex scene in her second scene, hooking up with another new addition, handsome bachelor Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney), when she goes to his mansion to model. Dorian is a weird guy, filled with a lot of rage and sadness (and if you’ve read Oscar Wilde’s book about him, you’ll understand why), but all we really learn about him at first is that he’s attracted to dangerous, damaged women. Creepily, it’s Brona coughing up blood that turns him on, and he proceeds to get it on with her up against a wall.