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Penny Dreadful Season 2: Billie Piper’s Stand-Out Performance isn’t Enough to Save This Doomed Series [Review]

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Penny Dreadful is a Showtime Victorian horror series from John Logan, starring Eva Green, Josh Hartnett, Billie Piper, Rory Kinnear, Reeve Carney, Harry Treadaway, Simon Russell Beale and Timothy Dalton.

Many people are familiar with classic literary characters like Dr. Frankenstein and Dorian Gray. “Penny Dreadful” brings those and other characters into a new light by exploring their origin stories in this psychological thriller that takes place in the dark corners of Victorian London. Sir Malcolm is an explorer who has lost his daughter to the city’s creatures, and he will do whatever is needed to get her back and to right past wrongs. His accomplice, seductive clairvoyant Vanessa Ives, recruits charming American Ethan Chandler to help locate Sir Malcolm’s daughter and slay some monsters. Oscar-winner Sam Mendes (“American Beauty”) is one of the series’ executive producers.

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I had some issues with the first season of Penny Dreadful, the most glaring one was the pacing which felt like subplots were dragged out to death for no reason. When Ethan finally turned into the wolf man last year I had expected more wolf action for season two and although I got just that — it doesn’t mean it was worth the wait.

We spend the majority of season two having a new group of witches terrorizing Sir Malcom and Vanessa’s crew. Helen McCrory (Peaky Blinders) is the main antagonist this year after having a short guest starring role as a mystic last season. McCrory acts her ass off – she is astounding and truly made me believe that she was channelling Lucifer whenever she recited her spells. Or you know – dissecting a baby.

I almost quit Penny Dreadful this year after the second episode when one of the witches kidnaps an infant, kills it offscreen and then brings it to McCrory’s Evelyn Poole who proceeds to, ONSCREEN mind you, dissect the baby, remove it’s heart and then place it inside a wooden dummy in order to create some sort of voodoo doll. Get the fuck out of here. They crossed the line both in terms of shock value and silliness. Later on, a main character has a full blown shouting match with a dummy carrying their likeness but is actually Satan himself. It comes across as goofy rather than frightening…

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The action is light this year and the shocks aren’t as plentiful sans one death in episode nine which still bums me out big time because we lost the opportunity to get to know them further. In terms of acting, Eva Green continues to slaughter most female leads but her gravely voice is starting to get on my nerves a tad. Simon Russell Beale went from a recurring role to an essential supporting slot on the show and I’m extremely grateful because he added a much needed dose of personality to one of the dreariest shows on television.

The most surprising turn on Penny Dreadful this season belongs to Billie Piper, who dropped the awful accent from last year upon being resurrected and winds up owning the most dramatic turn of the entire series thus far in my opinion. Her line delivery near the end of the season when we realize she’s more aware of what happened to her is both frightening, energizing and extremely powerful. She is a force to be reckoned with…

Harry Treadaway as Dr. Victor Frankenstein and Billie Piper as Lily in Penny Dreadful (season 2, episode 6). - Photo: Jonathan Hession/SHOWTIME - Photo ID: PennyDreadful_206_2480

Aside from Piper’s amazing performance as ‘the creature’s bride’, and McCrory’s fabulous turn as the antagonist, Penny Dreadful season two dragged even more than the first. By the end of the lacklustre finale it seemed like the writers had no clue how to progress this story and cast of eccentric characters in a natural way for the long-game. I don’t feel the need to continue with this series in anyway and I should’ve bailed after they hacked up the baby in episode two, but then I would’ve ruined my chance to see Piper’s kick-ass performance… Ugh… I’m so annoyed.

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