Two episodes were provided for review prior to broadcast.
The haunted Vanessa Ives (Eva Green) remains at the bloody heart of Showtime’s Penny Dreadful as it launches headfirst into its second season. Based on the first two episodes, the series remains as scary, sexy and spine-tingling as before the break, but new threats and altered circumstances promise to add new flavor to an already tasty concoction of supernatural thrills, dramatic twists and Victorian ambience.
Most pressing out of those new threats, as was teased by the trailers and plot synopses ahead of time, is the unveiling of Madame Kali (Helen McCrory), aka Evelyn Poole, as a sadistic, Elizabeth of Bathory-esque mastermind, in communication with Lucifer and devoted to tormenting Vanessa until such a point as she is ready to become the bride of Satan himself. In order to carry out this mission, Evelyn enlists the help of her coven of witches, called ‘nightcomers’ by Vanessa, who appear in every dark corner, ready to pounce and rend their prey limb from limb.
Penny Dreadful lacked much of a tangible antagonist in its first go-round, but coronating Evelyn as a queen of darkness immediately adds a dimension of urgency to the series. Whether she’s purring into the ears of susceptible men or creating voodoo-esque dolls in order to assert control over her targets, the character feels right at home in the series’ horrifying yet absorbing world. In the first two episodes, “Fresh Hell” and “Verbis Diablo,” Evelyn and the nightcomers certainly appear to pose a credible threat to Vanessa and the rest of the gang (which still includes Timothy Dalton’s Sir Malcolm, Josh Hartnett’s Ethan Chandler and Danny Sapani’s Sembene, as well as occasionally Harry Treadaway’s “good” Dr. Victor Frankenstein), all of whom are still recovering from their near-death encounter with the vampires inside the Grand Guignol.
Other new problems seem poised to propel each of their characters forward, however. Sir Malcolm is increasingly transfixed by Evelyn, whose employment of an ancient demonic language may turn Malcolm into more of a threat to Vanessa than he’s conscious of. Ethan, still grieving the death of his paramour Brona Croft (Billie Piper), is forced to grapple with the aftermath of what has become known as the Mariner’s Inn Massacre. Increasingly aware of his affinity with the wolf that is said to have protected its worshippers in the olden days, he’s fighting the urge to leave London, now that he’s newly obliged to protect Vanessa from her new enemies.
Meanwhile, Victor toils to bring Brona back to life as a bride for the tormented Caliban (Rory Kinnear), hopeful that providing a soulmate for his most-hated creature will finally push the piteous savage out of close proximity. But when he succeeds, it remains unclear whether teaching a woman about life, love and how to balance both in a world that values neither will prove too treacherous a task for the doctor.
With all the balls Penny Dreadful is already juggling in the first two episodes (which also see Reeve Carney’s Dorian Gray, spurned by Vanessa, embarking on an unusual love affair of his own), it seems clear that showrunner/writer/creator John Logan hasn’t missed a beat in drawing viewers back into what has proven to be one of television’s most luridly, languorously entertaining dramas. In this new season, some things have changed, to be sure, but the show is sure-footed as ever.