An African explorer, a spiritualist, a gunslinger and an anatomist pit themselves against creatures far deadlier than Jack the Ripper on “Night Work,” Episode 101 of Showtime’s eerie thriller “Penny Dreadful.”
The title refers to cheap, lurid stories popular among adolescents in Victorian Britain. This new tale of the macabre – set in London during 1891 – features a mash-up of classic horror characters such as Frankenstein, Dracula and Dorian Gray.
Renowned explorer Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton) is determined to rescue his daughter Mina Harker (Olivia Llewellyn), who was kidnapped and turned into a vampire.
That’s why Malcolm’s psychic colleague Vanessa Ives (Eva Green) must recruit “a gentleman who’s comfortable with firearms and not hesitant to engage in dangerous endeavors.”
Vanessa sets her sights on troubled Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett), the sharp-shooting star of “Colonel Brewster’s Wild West Show and Emporium of American Curiosities.”
Ethan and his troupe are departing England for a Paris engagement, but he still has time for some mysterious night work.
“Is it a murder?” Ethan asks Vanessa.
“Would it matter?” she replies.
Apparently not, for Ethan arrives at the appointed time in a foggy alley outside a Chinese opium den.
“Do not be amazed at anything you see,” Malcolm warns Ethan. “And don’t hesitate.”
Sound advice, for moments later they’re slaying vampires in a bloody underground lair. After sword-wielding Malcolm dispatches one particularly frightful monster, he brings the body to Dr. Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway).
At first Victor refuses to perform a necropsy. But his curiosity swells when Vanessa pulls back a shroud and reveals a hideous, fanged creature. Beneath its exoskeleton are hieroglyphics.
The symbols are from the Egyptian Book of the Dead, points out Ferdinand Lyle (Simon Russell Beale), an eccentric researcher with the British Museum. And the writings tell of a blood curse.
When Ethan comes to collect his payment, he’s shaken and confused. What had he witnessed the night before?
“A half world between what we know and what we fear,” Vanessa explains. “A place in the shadows, rarely seen but deeply felt.” A place where “unfortunate souls are cursed to live always.”
So will Ethan hasten his journey to Paris? Or will he remain in London and plunge deeper into a terrifying netherworld?
“A wise man would walk away from this house and make a concerted effort to forget everything that occurred last night,” Vanessa says. But Ethan, admittedly, is not wise.
Also recruited in the search for Mina is Dr. Frankenstein, who accepts an expensive suit from Malcolm and a dinner invitation at the members-only Explorer’s Club.
The scientist would be handsomely rewarded for his services, but he’s dismissive of helping “amateur occultists.”
Malcolm is far from a dabbler in the supernatural, however. He’s hell-bent to free Mina and find a cure for a “most rare disease” trapping her between life and death.
“To save her, I would murder the world,” Malcolm vows. “Join me, doctor. With me you will behold terrible wonders.”
Victor experiences a wonder of his own when he reanimates a dead man. Hooked up to electrical cables, the corpse awakens when a lightning bolt strikes the laboratory.
Finally, Malcolm receives a brief visit from Mina. She initially appears lost and vulnerable. Then she’s a demonic vampire once more, vanishing out a window.
“There was such need in her eyes,” Malcolm tells Vanessa. “And then something … monstrous!”
The encounter evokes a frightening memory of a big-game safari.
“The wind changes, the grass stops swaying. The lion turns, looks at you,” the explorer recalls. And in that moment Malcolm realizes he’s no longer the hunter.
“You are the prey,” he exclaims.