I really hope Morrissey is watching Penny Dreadful. Even better, I really hope Morrissey shows up as a character on Penny Dreadful, because though a slew of classic Victorian novels are being homaged throughout, I also feel like the brooding and literary lyrics from the Smiths belong here, too. In “Resurrection,” the questions of modernity versus a romantic aesthetic are aired as we begin to learn the dark past and creepy deeds of Victor Frankenstein.
Spoilers for Penny Dreadful “Resurrection”
Mary Shelley’s subtitle for Frankenstein is “the modern Prometheus,” referencing of course, the consequences (and potential) of discovery; what happens when we discover fire is tricky, and what we do to those doing the discovering is even trickier. In the last episode, we shockingly met Frankenstein’s first creature (we didn’t know he had two!) who murdered Frankenstein’s second creature, Proteus. Here, the original monster’s adoptive moniker is Caliban (Rory Kinnear), and though other members of the Dreadful gang get their turns here, this episode is mostly all about flashing back to Frankenstein’s past and the details of Caliban’s journey and what he wants for the future.
It turns out Frankenstein’s mom died of consumption when he was really young, and in an Anakin Skywalker-like fugue state he got all stoic and seemingly became obsessed with stopping people from dying and vowed to become the most powerful mad scientist ever! Quickly, flashback duties are taken over by Caliban, who reveals to the audience that he was Frankenstein’s first attempt at a resurrected corpse, thought it’s not entirely clear if lightning was used that time or not. But, as soon as he saw this creature, Frankenstein cut and run and left the creature to do its own thing. Frankenstein also apparently locked up the creature in an attic with a bunch of books and view of the outside world. How the creature fed itself isn’t clear, but in hanging out with his progenitor’s books, the creature figured out Frankenstein’s love of beautiful language and a sense of romanticism, which pissed him off. In the present, he rants that Frankenstein’s love of the Keats and Wordsworth is dumb because those are the beautiful things of the past, which is in opposition to the modernity of Frankenstein’s cuckoo-science experiments.
Caliban argues the future or “the modern age” is personified (or monsterfied) by him. And though Dorian Gray depressingly does not appear in this episode, the sentiments expressed by this incarnation of Frankenstein’s creature interestingly echo some of the themes of Oscar Wilde’s novel: can we move forward into the future and retain the ideals of our pasts? In “Cemetery Gates” by the Smiths, Morrissey croons “Keats and Yates are on your side, while Wilde is on mine.” Wilde’s character might be absent from this episode, but the broad strokes are there, right out of Mary Shelley’s monster’s mouth. Nice work Penny Dreadful, level one literary mash-up mastery totally achieved.
Caliban then reveals he’s been working in the theatre, doing stagehand work after being taken in by a kindly drunk actor. It’s there he is given his Shakespearean name, and in another literary nod, seems to be lurking in the shadows of the playhouse in a flair more Phantom of the Opera than Frankenstein. And if your gothic goggles weren’t already firmly in place, one of the plays being performed is full-on Sweeney Todd, meaning the alternate universe of Penny Dreadful posits Draculas, mummies, and Frankensteins as facts of life while serial killer barbers are outrageous fiction. I know which world I’d rather live in.
But what does Caliban want? Easy. He’s lonely, and he wants Frankenstein to make him a companion, and though he makes no mention of hairstyle preference in his new undead beau, I think we can all hope against hope that the crazy coiffure of The Bride of Frankenstein will somehow make a triumphant return to our culture. In any case, Frankenstein seems to guiltily accept this and heads out into the world to figure out who he has to kill in order to turn them into the Girlfriend of Monster-Caliban. I think we’re all nervous it’s going to be Billie Piper’s Brona Croft, but maybe that’s just me. (I mean she is already dying.)
What’s up with the rest of the Dreadfuls? Well, Ethan Chandler and Brona Croft are having tons of sex and they seem to really really like each other. Chandler even tells Vanessa about it later, like he’s gossiping with his buddy about his new girlfriend. This is a little weird, because it seems like Vanessa and Ethan like each other too—actually, this isn’t weird at all, it’s cable TV. Can a love triangle or a threesome be all that far behind? Penny Dreadful might not be competing with Game of Thrones for kink or gratuitous sex just yet, but I’m predicting it might start going there very soon. I mean, I think the only reason Dorian Gray isn’t allowed in this episode is because his presence just incites orgies, right? Oh, Dorian is here, I guess we all have to get naked.
Sir Malcolm, meanwhile, is all about following up on a lead regarding Mina and her imprisonment by a vampire; though no one uses that word nor the “D” word. (Dracula!) The gang seem to believe Mina might be in the zoo, which I guess came to Vanessa in a crazy vision, though it’s possible she also just wanted to go to the zoo. And so, the episode finds Vanessa, Sir Malcolm, Sembene, and Ethan Chandler chilling with some wolves in the middle of the zoo in the middle of the night. Shocking absolutely no one, Ethan Chandler proves himself to be a straight-up wolf-whisperer, which at this point means if he doesn’t turn out to be a werewolf, the show will be really, really weird.
The gang discover a crazy dude named Fenton eating some small animals, who appears to be a stand-in for the Dracula character Renfeld. He says “master” a lot and channels the 1931 Renfeld (from Dracula) with awesome precision. After making a vow to trust each other and do whatever it takes to be the best monster-squad ever, the characters start looking at each other furtively while Frankenstein readies to do some blood transfusions in the hopes of curing Fenton of his half-way vampire state. The episode doesn’t end with a big reveal of cliffhanger like the last few, but instead makes it very clear that a worse big baddie is on the way. However, it’s not clear if Fenton is actually some sort of red herring; he references the Amun-Ra stuff from the previous episode, meaning he might not be a minion of Dracula at all, but maybe some sort of Penny Dreadful version of the Mummy.
By focusing on Frankenstein and his creature, this episode felt more like reverse exposition than an advancement in the big plot, but it didn’t make it any less satisfying. For the bookishly inclined, who are watching Penny Dreadful with a mental index of their favorite old novels, this show is more than delivering. Now, it’s up to the characters to really surprise us with some of their own stuff.
Ryan Britt is a longtime contributor to Tor.com.