“‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”
The above quote from Lord Tennyson is a fitting thematic summation of this premiere. This is a show that constantly deals with internal and external monsters, exploring various evils like this season’s Count Dracula. Yet, it still has a beating heart underneath it all, a light that drives its characters even as the darkness threatens to consume them all. That light takes form in the connections they forge and the relationships they develop, and as a result, there’s an optimism to be found in many aspects of the series.
Take “The Day Tennyson Died”, for example, which splits up all its characters and sees them struggling to deal with their own pains. This could easily become a morbid and unceasingly dark set of scenarios, but each storyline is instead imbued with a sense of hope. Common threads involve appreciating loved ones, appreciating who you are, and acknowledging the wonder of life in all its forms. “Are there no fresh wonders left? No worlds left to conquer?” Sir Malcolm asks early on in the premiere. Showrunner John Logan’s answer would be “Yes, there is.”
“Be who you are,” Kaetenay tells Malcolm, echoing the theme behind Lyle’s words to Vanessa in the first scene of the episode. It’s all about the “unique nature” each person holds, and it’s this nature that helps make our lives “belong to no other”. Over the course of the episode, we see Vanessa begin to realize what she needs to do to move forward, to come to terms with who she is and appreciate what she has. Patti LuPone’s Dr. Seward tells her to “break the cycle” she’s created for herself out of her unhappiness, isolation, and guilt, and it’s nice to see her smile when she talks to Christian Camargo’s Dr. Sweet in the museum. It’s also nice to see her state “I remain” at the end, demonstrating her understanding of Lyle’s words in the opening scene.
Finally, on Dr. Frankenstein’s end of things, new character Dr. Jekyll clashes with him a bit about Frankenstein’s creations. “What a thing, Victor, to have created life,” he says. “It’s a miracle.” Frankenstein responds by lamenting the horrors he’s spawned, asserting that he wants to kill Lily rather than love her (as Jekyll suggests). In the end, loving and killing someone are both probably easier said than done, and it’s clear that Penny Dreadful understands the complexities of the experience that is life.
-Another scene about love: Dr. Sweet talks about his favorite scorpions being “the unloved ones. The unvisited ones…all the broken and shunned creatures. Someone’s got to care for them.” Everyone and everything is worthy of affection in some way.
-I didn’t cover every storyline in this review, but I’ll probably touch on them as they develop over the course of the season. I will not be reviewing this regularly, but I might check in once in a while.
-That ending is incredible.
Photo credit: Showtime, Penny Dreadful