Penny Dreadful got off to a strong start in its first season, boasting a remarkably detailed world, deeply complex characters and an exciting core narrative. But to be fair, as creator John Logan pointed out at the show's Ballroom 20 Comic-Con panel, he's been working on this thing for 10 years.
Beginning by revealing how the show came to be, Logan explained that the idea grew from reading loads of romantic poetry, which eventually led him to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. "I read it and I wept." He added that he was so moved by "those two monstrous creations that are partly angel and partly devil" so equally that he thought, "Well, this is a fascinating world."
However, even though Logan had a slew of great source material for characters like Dorian Gray, Dr. Frankenstein and The Creature, he didn't want to be a slave to the iconic works. In fact, that's part of the reason he killed Van Helsing. "I did that as a provocation of fan to fan, to say in a way, 'Yes, I cherish the sacred text, but we're not creating or recreating the sacred text." He continued, "[Killing Van Helsing] was a joyous act because I think to the audience it says, 'We are liberated. We respect what we have, but we are liberated. Come with us.'"
Logan also pulled a lot from his own life to develop the original characters and then bring them all together. For example, almost all of what we've seen is rooted in Logan's experience being a gay man before it was widely accepted. Logan noted, "I realized the very thing that made me different, also made me who I am," and from that, came what the show's all about. "The monster in all of us, the thing we must embrace, the thing that frightens us, the thing that makes us who we are."
But that's not all. Logan also drew inspiration from the classic Universal horror films, and specifically the second generation, because that's when all the monsters started coming together, forming a cosmology. In Penny Dreadful, this cosmology is key, but what's even more important is family.
Logan's Twisted Family: Ethan, Dorian and Frankenstein
Ethan's another element of the show that's deeply connected to Logan's life. Logan recalled going hiking, seeing coyotes and the occasional mountain lion and thinking, "Alright, well, there you go, he's a werewolf." Josh Hartnett added that the fact that Ethan is a werewolf was key to him right from the start. He explained, "It made me feel more engrained in the actual world because everyone else, they had their secrets; I wanted mine."
Logan pointed out that Dorian Gray was a particularly tough role to cast, but when he met Reeve Carney, he immediately knew he'd be perfect. But they did differ on one thing. Whereas Carney found it important to be informed and read The Picture of Dorian Gray, Logan specifically asked him not to incorporate memories from the novel into the character's psyche.
As for the relationship between Ethan and Dorian, Logan refused to put a label on it. It's not about calling Ethan gay, straight or bisexual, but rather about him doing what feels true in the moment. Logan noted, "As a gay man I thought it'd be corrupt and inorganic not to deal with all forms of sexuality on the show," and that includes the romantic, the sexual, the psychological and the horrific, too.
Whereas Carney studied up a bit, Harry Treadaway did nearly the exact opposite. He knew a bit about Frankenstein courtesy of popular culture, but he specifically only read the portions of the novel that'd be useful for the character. Logan also pointed out that Treadaway is masterful with props. "You give a prop to Eva Green, she drops it and breaks it. Harry is so specific." The cutaway shots of Frankenstein's hands doing surgery? It's all Treadaway!
What's to Come
So we now know Ethan is definitely a werewolf, but it's still unclear how he ended up that way. Is it a lineage thing or was he bitten? Logan wouldn't divulge any concrete details, but he did say that something happened in Ethan's past that caused this curse — or perhaps we should call it a blessing. Could it have something to do with this "monstrous" father Logan described? Hopefully we'll dive into that soon enough because Logan says it's something he's particularly interested in exploring. In fact, he's got his eye on an Ethan flashback episode. He doesn't know if they'll fit it into season two, but at some point, Logan wants the opportunity to deliver backstory for all the main characters beginning with at least one person next season. Logan brought up episode 5, Vanessa's flashback episode, and said, "Next season, we will do something similar."
As for Dorian, if you're not happy that we haven't caught a glimpse of his portrait just yet, don't worry; it's coming. But until that happens, it'll just be a black screen and some green tape on set in its place for Carney. And who even knows what'll happen to Dorian next? Thus far, his connection to the group was through Vanessa more so than anything, but Logan pointed out that it's Ethan and Vanessa's relationship that'll get beefed up most next season, not Vanessa and Dorian.
Speaking of our leading lady, we'll get the chance to learn more about the nature of her possession the next time around, too. At the end of season one, we're left wondering did she invite this thing in or did it take her? Season two will explore that and, as Logan described, it'll be done in a way that has "her standing on the cusp and having to make decisions based on relationships with the other characters."
Logan is also hoping to tap into Dracula a bit more as the show goes on as well. In fact, in the second season, we'll meet a character that'll lead us into somewhat of a Dracula origin story.
The Deleted Scene
Roughly half way through the Q&A, Logan paused the session to show us a little something they shot from the first season that they decided not to use so that they could incorporate it into the second. It's a conversation between Ferdinand Lyle (Simon Russell Beale) and the second season villain, Helen McCrory's Madame Kali.
The scene takes place in a rather warm and cozy looking mansion, but once we're inside, it's clear that Madame Kali is on a bit of a rampage. She's not a fan of Vanessa's at all. She kicks off the conversation by pressuring a very uncomfortable Mr. Lyle into telling her whether or not he thinks Vanessa's pretty. When the conversation moves beyond fashion and poisonous eye drops, she gets to the point, Vanessa is her enemy and between the two of them, "Only one will live and one will die."
McCrory sells Madame Kali's wicked side extremely well, and all in just a single scene. We caught glimpses of Madame Kali twice this season and while she may have hinted at a secret agenda in one of those scenes, it's absolutely nothing compared to her all-out wicked demeanor here.
Season one was an impressive first go, but if Logan's goals for season two pan out, we'll get even more layered characters, more complex relationships and a grander supernatural threat to go with them.