Wednesday, 28 December 2016
I have decided to suspend my post for this week (which would have been about motivation and will be out around New Year) and go into a few details of two series I binge-watched the last few days. The first one is the second season of “Penny Dreadful” and the second one is the second season of “Black Butler.”
At first glance, they don’t have much in common, the first series is horror-themed and works with real actors and scenes, the second one is an anime series which has horror themes, but usually leans more towards action and humour. Both, however, left off at the first season with interesting premises for the second one. “Penny Dreadful” set up some topics (with the massacre at the inn and the preparations to raise Brona from the dead), “Black Butler” could have ended entirely (since the contract between Ciel and Sebastian was fulfilled).
The second season of “Penny Dreadful” enhanced the thematic of Vanessa Ives being sought after as carrier of the apocalypse. In the first season, a vampire master wanted her, so he could rule, in the second season, someone else seeks her out for the same reason. Thankfully, Vanessa doesn’t turn into a damsel in distress in the second season, either, facing the one after her in the end and defeating him. It’s a nice stroke, however, to see her hunted by female characters this time, by a coven of ageless black witches. At the same time, Victor Frankenstein succeeds at making a mate for his first creature, but things do not go as planned. Sir Malcolm finds it impossible to reconcile with his wife, but at the same time is not going to end the marriage - to preserve her reputation much more than his own. Ethan Chandler has to deal with the fallout of the full moon and is still hunted by one of the Pinkerton men who caught up with him at the end of season one.
New things come to light. The audience learns Vanessa is a trained witch herself, trained by a former member of the coven after her who never turned from the light. She gave Vanessa a chance against the witches which have been after her for a long time, but lost her life to her former ‘sister.’ It is her end which, ultimately, will push Vanessa towards darkness and will give her equal footing against her enemies.
We hear more about Ethan’s past and see his werewolf form as well. He was a soldier who killed more than his fair share of Indians (which makes it very likely he was cursed by one of them). He is unable to control himself in his wolf form and unaware of most he does. He wakes up to carnage, he never chooses to do it willingly. We also learn his real name is Ethan Talbot.
Victor’s creatures are like night and day - the outwardly ugly and scaring monster calling himself John Clay and the outwardly beautiful woman now called Lily Frankenstein. While John Clay is ugly, he has the soul of a poet. Lily is outwardly beautiful, at least as long as clothing covers the scars on her body which were necessary during the preparations to raise her again, but she is filled with hatred for mankind and her creator.
We are introduced to the darkness inside Dorian Gray which also kindles the darkness inside Lily/Brona. In the first season, he met Brona and didn’t care for the disease she carried. He didn’t have reason to, since his body can’t decay and die. He also was the one who pushed Vanessa back into being possessed by a demon, a state which took a full episode to heal. In the second season, he proves to be more than just a seducer. When his latest companion Angelique (who would qualify as transgender these days, being a man who feels like a woman) discovers his secret, he kills him without the slightest feeling of guilt.
In Lily, he meets an equal spirit, just as ready to kill and discard. At first, Lily, bereft of her memories of her past life, seems winsome enough and both Clay and Frankenstein are enamoured by her, which sets them up against each other. Lily, however, finds herself more and more in control of her fate, unlike in the past. When Clay finally loses patience and comes to claim her, she wipes the floor with him and tells him in no uncertain terms that she will never again kneel to a man - she will make men kneel. Right afterwards, she promises him what he wishes, but her vision of their future together are enough to show him she is not what he is looking for. She wants to destroy mankind in order to free space for their own brood (if they should be able to have children) and she wants to start with Victor Frankenstein himself.
John Clay has a bad time himself. Not only is he out of work at the beginning of the second season (since he was fired from the theatre where he worked as a scene shifter and general worker), he also seems to only fall for women who despise him. Both the blind daughter of his new employer, the owner of a waxworks, and his intended Lily do not find him the slightest bit interesting - neither of them enjoys his poetic soul. One person does, though: Vanessa Ives whom he meets by chance while she works for charity. But Vanessa doesn’t want him to accompany her to a desolate waste far from others. Not because she doesn’t like him, rather because she does. Those around her get hurt and she doesn’t want him to hurt.
The second season makes a clearer cut than the first one did - the series could have ended here. Yet, there is another season to come.
The first season of “Black Butler” closed with a clear and definite end: Ciel’s wish for revenge was fulfilled, which means his soul now belongs to his butler, the devil Sebastian, who was about to consume it. So why is Sebastian carrying around his young master in a suitcase at the beginning of season two? Because all of Ciel’s memories were robbed and without them, the soul is tasteless.
Season one set up devil against fallen angel, season two pits Sebastian against a fellow devil. The relationship between Sebastian and Ciel is mirrored in the relationship between Claude and Alois, but not really. Claude has four additional devils to help him, but it won’t make things easier for him. In the end, both devils are after the same goal: Ciel’s unusually pure soul. And both are going to lose, but in different ways.
Comic relief is present in the form of Grelle Sutcliffe again, the red-haired shinigami is still after Sebastian and ready to lend a hand (or a magical chainsaw) when necessary. Even though the season has very dark themes and a very well-layered plot, it also comes with a lot of interesting comical situations.
The end of the second season is more ambiguous than the end of the first was - things have fundamentally changed this time, which makes me curious about season three, which is still waiting on my desk.
Both series have a very well-designed plot. They deal well with their threads (though “Penny Dreadful” has more of those, because of a wider cast) and present enough twists and turns to keep things interesting.