Season of the Count: Penny Dreadful
I think it’s obvious by now that I’m a sensitive little goth man who likes anything to do with vampires. I’m also a person of great and exalted taste, obviously, who believes that Eva Green is one of the best actors ever and she should be treated as such. Naturally, as a result of these things, I fell head over heels for Penny Dreadful: John Logan’s expensive and excellent fan fiction of Victorian London that is populated by vampires, werewolves, witches, demons, and eventually, the Count himself.
In Penny Dreadful, Dracula always felt like a promise way down the road. The first season had vampires, but they were more animalistic and ancient, season two had a coven of witches led by the iconic and brilliant Helen McCrory (rest in peace, my dark queen) who worked for the Devil. What they wanted was Vanessa Ives, played by Green, a character of extraordinary depth (much of which came from Green herself) as she was pulled between the Devil and his demonic brother who is revealed in season three to be Dracula.
Played by Christian Carmago, most known as the Ice Truck Killer from season one of serial killer drama Dexter, Penny Dreadful’s Dracula plays with the dichotomy of the character that has become more pronounced with every adaptation. He has his own group of vampire underlings: blood junkies who move in unison like a humanoid version of a Rat King, to which he has little care for. His monstrous side plays him like the unhinged stalker that he is, for example, in this version of the story his human servant, Renfield, is Dr. Seward’s secretary, who passes on the details of Seward’s psychiatry sessions with Vanessa to Dracula.
Dracula as a character has become about the balance between desire and desperation. This version has a romantic side who goes by the ironic name of Doctor Sweet, a zoologist who cares and preserves the wild animals of the world due to a kinship he feels for them; something Vanessa can relate to.
Surprisingly, Vanessa does actually become the Bride of Dracula, but crucially, we are shown just how societal norms isolated her enough to feel so lost in the first place. Throughout the show, Vanessa’s powers, possessions, and encounters with evil are stand-ins for mental illness and Penny Dreadful doesn’t hold back when show the barbaric treatment mentally ill women had to go through. The show also tells us that being a bride or even the bride of Dracula isn’t all its cracked up to be. In the end, we see how a man of means of power and control -supernatural or otherwise – can shrink the life of the woman he desires to make himself the beacon of hope in that life. Dracula is an abuser, a monster in the shape of a man, and this is what it looks like when he, however briefly, wins.
Check out the rest of the Season of the Count series on No But Listen!
By Kevin Boyle
(header image via Digital Spy)