​Consumptives Make Hot Steampunk Porn on Penny Dreadful

Ethan Chandler wakes up in the street, after possibly Jack the Rippering some more people, and immediately goes looking for a drink. At the nearest inn he meets Billie Piper, a sarcastic hooker with a heart full of hope and an Irish accent that will eventually grow on you but is some rough fucking sailing for a while. He's into her, although she doesn't really seem that interested, and takes a room in the inn so they can become friends. She has consumption and the whole thing, which we know because—like every character on this show—she feels comfortable expositing her entire history to a stranger for ten minutes seconds after meeting him. (Or not her entire history, since everybody on has one million secrets and enjoys coyly implying them at any old time at all.)

That night, this Brona (Gaelic for "sadness," aww) Croft heads out for some sex work and ends up at Dorian Gray's house, who by the way is the Worst. The whole thing with that character is that everybody just kind of wants to fuck him, all the time, and I don't know what Victorian standards of beauty were like but, I don't see it. He's charming, and when he goes in for the kill he seems pretty unstoppable—not to say fully wreckable, tbh—but that's just like a quarter of the time. The rest of it, he's just a seven in skinny jeans, playing at PUA, and that's just... not my idea of sex infinity. Or anybody's. Except every lady on the show.

Anyway they do some corset porn of her being sexy and homeless, and then do some full-on porn together, during which Brona scratches hell out of his back, which he loves, and then coughs up a fairly huge amount of consumption blood all over his face, which he also loves. (None of this really makes Brona look bad, somehow, although that could just be the hilarious/adorable Billie Piper embarrassment every time she coughs blood everywhere.) Any case, it would seem dissolute Dorian's at that stage in his life story where he has become mostly grody; i.e., the picture in his basement is probably much uglier than he is at this point.

He is also ubiquitous: Vanessa and Sir Malcolm Murray attend a party at that Egyptologist Ferdinand Lyle's house, and Dorian puts the moves on her, before that night's entertainment. A medium gets about three seconds into her act when Vanessa goes buckwild, possessed by up to like six different entities—including possibly both of Malcolm's dead kids, a goddess, a demon, and/or something older than both—before getting the eff out of there to go fuck a random in the street. (Dorian Gray sees this go down, and I guess probably has some gross feelings about it.) It's operatic, larger than life, over the top, but never campy: My favorite kind of crazy.

And while it was a watercooler moment for sure—this Eva Green meltdown where she's doing all these voices and creaky moans and crawling around and bending all the different ways and extinguishing candles by screaming and floating around in the air just screaming and going berserk—the mythology of the show, as it develops, seems pointed toward that Carnivale place where maybe it's more complicated than it seems or maybe it's so simplistic it doesn't matter, but either way it seems to have little to do with the literary and theological underpinnings of the show itself, which it's just like, Why did you bother. I hope I'm wrong about that, though.

Because where this show has me is with the Frankenstein stuff. I didn't plug into the pilot until the last ten minutes—even after Victor's sorta mortifying speech at the Men's Club—when his creation came to life. There is something beautiful, ineffable, about the Frankenstein corner of this universe, something deeply loving and a little horny, and mostly just immense, and the amount of time the show spends on it—lens flare giggles in the sunlight, cutie-pie meetings with Ethan and Brona—show careful attention has been paid. I keep checking myself and being like, "Is this something you're bringing to the show, or is the show really being this lavish with this stuff," and it keeps comin' up all cherries.

Victor and his protégée—rather than Adam, here Proteus, named "randomly" but of course meaningfully from Shakespeare's Two Gentlemen Of Verona—run through so many semiotics in every scene that it's dizzying: A lesson in basic digestion invokes the Eucharist, fellatio, the pelican-in-her-piety, the force-fattening of geese; a walk through the streets of London is as much a lovers' stroll as a proud parent showing his son the world, as it is a loving Creator taking Adam through the first Garden. Even as Mr. Proteus begins to remember his whaler's life, and wife, from before his death—sending Victor silent, scared, still and a little pissy—they're never too far from drunk on each other. Victor's pride, and joy, ripple out through the cast, delighting Brona and Ethan when they meet the odd couple on the street, even inspiring Vanessa to heights of near-unbearable poetic recitation.

...Which is what makes the end so devastating when, returning home, the next sign of the Egyptian-skin prophecy—which implies that Vanessa and possibly all of characters are part of a Lovecraftian/eschatological/chthonian return of some dark God or Gods, versions of Amunet and Amun-Ra specific to the show—plays itself out in living color, as a much more well-spoken monster tears itself out of Proteus's chest, discarding him like the skin of a Serpent King, and fairly spits in Victor's face, calling himself his firstborn.

What does this mean? Victor alludes to having committed grave sins—beyond resurrectionism—in the past, to excuse Proteus from his sudden pain at having hunted, and killed, in his other life. Vanessa, the other most clearly tied to the religious/life-and-death/prophetic threads of the story, has implied similar. (Everybody has dark secrets; Sir Malcolm as a father seems to have been somewhere on a spectrum between neglectful, abusive, possibly even predatory; everybody's issues have to do with immortality and the line between life and death; etc.) But in this particular case, it's legitimately confusing. Or I guess intriguing is the word. The timeline is interesting; the outcomes perhaps moreso. It's only the second episode, we're still meeting people.

Maybe Proteus will stick around somehow, in some form or another. Maybe Vanessa will eventually settle down into being one character, rather than twenty exquisitely performed types, and we'll learn there was a there there all along. It's possible all the Mina Harker stuff is going somewhere, and that Sir "Murder The World" Malcolm will end up hunting serial killers, vampires, and Egyptian Gods all at the same time. Perhaps Brona Croft will be the thing that makes Ethan interesting, although if being a possible Jekyll/Hyde serial killer isn't doing it...

In any case, as long as the whole show doesn't come to focus on this Egyptian apocalypse hoohah—since it's pick-and-choose made-up junk for the show, which is always worrisome when writers do that, the "magnets, how do they work" thing of thinking that just because you are ignorant of a subject it's up for debate (although now that I'm bitching about that it occurs to me that a huge part of Victorian spiritualism was about pulling the exact same shit, so maybe that's part of the deal too and all this haphazard syncretism is actually heading somewhere)—I think we'll be okay. And as long as they keep Ferdinand Lyle around, because that little dude just cracks me up.

[Image via Showtime]

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