Sunday, 3 January 2016

Year in Review: Terrible Sequels in 2015 – Part 1

We are knee deep in winter and very low on sunshine.  Dark moods and darker thoughts prevail.  So while the January blues are making you grieve, let me rant about the sequels that had ruined it for me in 2015.  I am sure you’ll agree: misery loves company.

Penny Dreadful Season 2

Penny Dreadful blew my mind when it premiered in 2014, filling the screen with re-invented Victoria gothic characters, a tight plot and dialogues so rich and full-bodied, they could get you drunk and bewildered by the end of each episode.  The show’s protagonist, Vanessa Ives, played by Eva Green, is a woman wanted by the devil to be “the mother of evil.  She admits to be “drawn to the deep ocean, to the dark whisper…”   Her curiosity, her subsequent transgressions has given her “true knowledge of man’s virtue as well as his sin… The sight beyond the world.”

Eva Green as Vanessa Ives
Eva Green as Vanessa Ives
Vanessa’s quest for redemption centers around her efforts to control the demon in her, while she helps to locate her childhood best friend Mina, believed to be captured by vampires.  The rescue team, headed by Mina’s father Sir Malcolm Murray, consists of Dr. Frankenstein and an anachronistic American werewolf in London, each of whom has their own dark secrets to reckon with.

Vanessa’s character is particularly riveting.  She has deep understanding of her flaws and those of others.  Her connection to the dark side has resulted in a brief but passionate romance with the seductive Dorian Gray, a relationship that she decides is not healthy for her.  Their breakup scene has one of the most brilliant dialogues that season.
Vanessa: Between us there's a rare connection, I won't deny it.  But that very intimacy released something unhealthy in me, something I cannot allow.
Dorian: You will not be able to deny it.
Vanessa: I'm sorry, I will.  Poor Dorian. You've never known this feeling before, have you?
Dorian: I don't know what I'm feeling.
Vanessa: It's rejection.  Goodbye, Mr. Gray.
At the end of the season, when the search for Mina reaches a bittersweet conclusion, Vanessa asks a priest if it is possible for her to purge the demon inside.
Father Matthews: … before we say another word, you must look into your heart and you must answer me a question.  Just one.
If you have been touched by the demon, it's like being touched by the back hand of God.  Makes you sacred in a way, doesn't it? Makes you unique, with a kind of glory.  The glory of suffering, even.
Now, here's my question.  Do you really want to be normal?
I drank in every line, every scene of Season One, that when it finished, I was ready to worship its creator John Logan as my new religion.

Then Penny Dreadful Season 2 came along, and all the good that was the previous season seemed to have gone down the drain.  When John Logan, in a promotional clip, revealed that Vanessa in Season 1 was the one hunting for Mina’s captor, and he wanted her to be the hunted in Season 2, I had my fears for what that could mean for the story.

As I have suspected, Vanessa devolves from the brave heroine who hunts and confronts the dark powers into the passive victim of her enemy’s terror. With all the wisdom and strengths she has, her fears in the second season are unfounded, unconvincing.

Witches (the nightcomers) are the villains in the second season, led by Madame Kali, who has a macabre cellar filled with lifelike (voodoo) dolls/puppets, each containing a human heart and a brain.  Blood and bloody organs aplenty, not to mention that scene with the baby’s having her heart ripped out, the second season has veered off the path of gothic thriller and into the territory of horror, which is fine, if the story is worth it.  Not in this case, unfortunately.

Madame Kali's puppet for Vanessa Ives
Madame Kali's puppet for Vanessa Ives
In the show, witches can walk through walls and mirrors.  Since Vanessa is the one they want, why they can’t just kidnap Vanessa from her bedroom and take her back to Madame Kali’s cellar is beyond me.  Instead, they take great efforts and lots of screen time in seducing Sir Malcolm, so he will be trapped inside Kali’s evil den as a way to “lure” Vanessa to them.  Are you kidding me?

Along the way, clues are dropped like bread crumbs building up anticipation that leads nowhere.  The whole putting together the puzzle of Verbis Diable (meaning “Words of the Devil”) achieves nothing but stating the obvious – that the devil did not fall alone, he is taking others with him.  To that, Vanessa’s reply echoes the audience’s frustration for the futile quest.
You'll understand I find it difficult to accept I'm the object of an eternal Satanic quest that's so far only demonstrated in something that's half-poetry, half-gibberish.
Another clue to defeating the devil appears promising in episode 3 when the cut-wife shows Vanessa the forbidden, “Poetry of Death”, known to be the most cursed of the texts and spells.  The cut-wife says to Vanessa,
If ever the day comes when my Little Scorpion is crushed and beaten, if her God deserts her completely, only then does she open it.  And on that day she will never be the same.  She will have gone away from God, forever.
I was counting on Vanessa to use the book on the season’s finale to battle whatever demons and witches that are upon her, but no, she simply out-curses her own voodoo doll/puppet and Madame Kali in the devil’s language, which she already knows and saves everyone from the witches’ spells.

What a complete waste of the “Poetry of Death”.

I will be willing to overlook the other nonsense such as the contrived romance between the werewolf and Vanessa and Dr. Frankenstein’s sudden crush for the abominable bride if the overall story arc makes sense, but it doesn’t.  The second season feels very short on story and long on screen time, and so, segues and detours are deployed to occupy the excessive screen time.

I still believe in John Logan’s ability to write an excellent show, and hopefully, Season 3 will restore my faith in Penny Dreadful.  Until then, my rant continues.

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