I confess to binge-watching the show Penny Dreadful, all three seasons on Netflix. Good God! What was I thinking? It is everything that I cringe about in movies. Blood and gore. Gratuitous sex and debauchery. I almost gave up and stopped watching when the Creature came bursting through the chest of Dr. Frankenstein’s latest creation. And yet for a monster to be introduced to the series in such a way, and then to become the one character that strives hardest for redemption… I was hooked.
Sin and redemption is the major theme of the whole series. And each character strives so painfully for redemption that you cannot help but love them… even though they are monsters.
You see, I, like all other people, am aware that one day, sooner than I would like, I will die and live no more. And life, though filled with heartache and suffering and regret, is a priceless treasure to be guarded for as long as I can hold onto it. There is poetry in that condition. The greatest beauty that can be beheld is soon to pass away into ugliness. The candle flame lights the darkness briefly and then is gone.
The story is built from Victorian era literature and includes Mary Shelly’s Dr. Victor Frankenstein, Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, a couple of werewolves, numerous witches, demons, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll, and a character named Lord Malcom Murray who is obviously based on the African explorer Allan Quartermain from King Solomon’s Mines by H.Rider Haggard.
The characters all do a lot of suffering and striving. Friendships are formed and made blood-and-family deep by shared adventures and brushes with pure evil and death. The main character, Vanessa Ives, is variously possessed by a demon, courted by Lucifer, hunted by witches, and then seduced by Dracula. She uses her deep faith in God, which wavers continually, to defeat every enemy but the last. She is also aided by a cowboy werewolf and sharp-shooter who is her destined lover, protector, and killer. It all swiftly becomes ridiculous-sounding when you try to summarize the convoluted Gothic-style plot. But as it slowly unfolds and reveals new terrors with every episode, it mesmerizes. The sets, the cinematography, the costumes, and the horrifyingly sweet-sad orchestral background music puts a spell on you that, when you awaken from it, you realize you want more than is available. Three seasons was simply not enough.
As I believe I indicated previously, the character that almost made me give up on the series, Frankenstein’s Creature, became the most compelling character of all to me. He began as such a violent, repellent, selfish thing… and in the end became the most self-sacrificing and tragic character in the entire drama. He took the name of the English poet John Clare for himself, and became a tragically beautiful person.
Do I recommend that you watch this thing? This poetic and sometimes deeply disturbing depiction of what it means to be human and be alive? I cannot. It was a moving personal experience for me, one that made me weep for beauty and horror at almost every episode. No one can find that sort of thing through a mere recommendation. It is entirely between you and your God.