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Series: Penny Dreadful

Do you believe there is a demimonde, Mr. Chandler? A half-world, between what we know and what we fear? A place in the shadows, rarely seen but deeply felt? That’s where we were last night, where some unfortunate souls are cursed to live always . . . if you believe in curses, that is.
Vanessa Ives, to Ethan Chandler, "Night Work"

Penny Dreadful is a Gothic Horror series on Showtime in the US and Sky Atlantic in Britain (the series is a co-production between the two). Taking place in 1891 Victorian Britain, the series weaves together various characters from classic horror literature in a story about the supernatural. Stars Eva Green, Timothy Dalton, Josh Hartnett, Billie Piper, and a slew of other familiar faces.

Penny Dreadful includes examples of:

  • Adaptation Decay/Pragmatic Adaptation: Victor Frankenstein, a Swiss character from a story set in the 1810s, is reimagined as an Englishman in 1891. This does have precedent in previous adaptations, though. And it does keep him as a young man as in Shelley's book.
  • A Form You Are Comfortable With: The entity that possesses Vanessa first appears to her in the guise of Sir Malcolm, and again as Ethan.
  • All Myths Are True: Well, so far we've got Dracula, Frankenstein, Dorian Gray, and as of the finale, the Wolf Man.
  • All Women Are Lustful: Vanessa and Brona certainly prove it. Vanessa's mother too, considering she was having an affair with Sir Malcolm.
  • Alternate Identity Amnesia:
    • In the beginning of “Seance”, Ethan wakes up under the docks with no idea how he got there, or why his hands are all cut up. This is because he's a werewolf.
    • Vanessa storms out of Lyle’s house, still possessed, has sex with a young man in an alleyway, then somehow gets herself back to Sir Malcolm’s to fall asleep in her bed. In "Possession", she claims to "go away" and not remember her experiences at such times.
  • Altum Videtur: As all good Catholics of the day would have done, Vanessa prays the Hail Mary and the Our Father in Latin.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Victor Frankenstein seems to be very fond of Proteus, weeping when he first sees Proteus has been brought to life.
    • They also have kind of a first-date, when Victor brings Proteus out into London and shows him new sights, telling him the names of things.
  • Anachronism Stew: Dorian Gray boasts a haircut that would be far more suited to the modern day than 1891, as well as sporting plenty of open necked jewel tone shirts.
    • Sir Malcolm still seems interested in locating the source of the Nile, which was actually identified back in 1875.
  • Anti-Hero: Sir Malcolm, in spades. He is looking for his vampiric daughter and has stated to Dr. Frankenstein that he wouldn't care if innocents were harmed, as long as he finds what he's looking for. The fact that he left his son Peter to die in Africa and named a mountain after himself rather than in Peter's memory doesn't reflect kindly on his character either. Factor in the implied serial raping and pillaging that he committed during his travels, and you start to wonder if he deserves to be called a hero at all.
    Sir Malcolm: To save her, I would murder the world.
    • The finale muddles the waters a little. Malcolm's still a despicable human being, but he shoots Mina to save Vanessa, realizing Mina is working for the Master and intends to turn Vanessa.
  • Anyone Can Die: Seriously. So far, the most notable characters who have bitten it are Proteus, Van Helsing, Fenton, Mina, and Brona (well, until she gets resurrected).
  • Anything That Moves: Reeve Carney describes his character, Dorian Gray, as being 'omnisexual' and open to everyone and everything. It certainly appears in full force in "Demimonde", when the very first scene is of Dorian conducting a relaxed orgy of men and women, complete with a pretty young thing of each gender draped over his lap.
  • Artificial Zombie: Proteus, who seems to be made of only one person’s reanimated tissue instead of a patchwork of dead bodies. It’s still Victor’s science-y meddling that’s brought him to life.
    • Victor’s first Creature, who shows up at the end of “Seance” is also this. As of the season finale, Brona may be his next project.
  • Asshole Victim: The bounty hunters chasing Ethan in "Grand Guignol" really were asking for it when he turns into a werewolf and kills them.
  • The Atoner: Ethan, Sir Malcolm, Vanessa, and Victor all to a certain extent.
  • Badass: Ethan is the most physical, but Vanessa can stare down an Egyptian vampire by herself.
  • Bait and Switch: Throughout the first two episodes, one is led to believe that Proteus is Frankenstein's first attempt at bringing the dead to life. We discover at the conclusion of Seance that it's actually his second attempt, but arguably his first true success, as his first creation is a murderous and bitter man.
    • "Seance" gave the initial impression that Peter died as a young teen, not a grown man, because Vanessa's vocal pitch makes him sound very young. It also gave viewers the impression that it's Mina whom young Vanessa saw Sir Malcolm having sex with, not Vanessa's mother.
    • It's repeatedly hinted that the Bride that The Creature is considering is the actress at the Grand Guignol. The finale then reveals a recently-euthanized Brona as Victor's choice.
  • Battle Amongst the Flames: The fight with the vampire nest aboard the plague ship in "What Death Can Join Together" briefly becomes one of these, as a lit lantern gets knocked over and lights the place aflame.
  • Battle Butler: Sembene, for Sir Malcolm. Notable in that Sir Malcolm is perfectly capable of defending himself, and that Sembene may potentially have supernatural powers.
  • Bedlam House: Vanessa was sent to one in an attempt to cure her mysterious illness.
  • Big Bad Ensemble: The Master vampire, Frankenstein's Creature, Mina Murray, and whatever the hell is possessing Vanessa.
  • Bilingual Bonus:
    • Sir Malcolm and the lead vampire mook have an entire untranslated conversation in Arabic in “Night Work”.
    • Vanessa - or Amunet possessing Vanessa - has an untranslated speech in what is presumably Egyptian in “Seance”.
    • Malcolm and Sembene have a short exchange in Swahili in "Closer than Sisters".
  • Bi the Way: Apparently Ethan also likes men (or at least Dorian), as well as women.
  • Black and Grey Morality: None of our protagonists could ever really be called a "good" person (the closest is probably Brona, and even she is thoroughly cynical and jaded about the world around her), but the forces they oppose are undeniably pure evil (with the possible exception of The Creature, who is still a much darker character than the protagonists).
  • Black Eyes of Evil: What the demon who's plaguing Vanessa flashes to prove he isn't actually whomever he's taken the form of.
  • Blood from the Mouth: Brona, thanks to her tuberculosis. At one point, she hocks up a faceful of blood on Dorian Gray - while they are having sex. He doesn't seem to mind in the least.
    • In a flashback to his childhood, Frankenstein's mother suddenly coughs up a whole lot of blood onto his face.
  • Body Horror: Most notably with The Creature and Proteus, but also aspects of it with Vanessa's possession and the vampires being more insectlike than human.
    • Proteus's death is terrifying.
    • Vanessa's trepanation at the asylum is pretty disturbing to watch, moreso in that unlike examples above, it's something that really did happen to people.
  • Book Case Passage:
    • Victor has one that leads from his flat to his laboratory.
    • Dorian, appropriately enough, has the painting variant to disguise the passageway leading to his real portrait.
  • Boom, Headshot: Seems to work pretty well on vampires; Ethan dispatches two of them like this in the pilot, and later, Ethan and Malcolm dispatch more.
  • Byronic Hero:
    • Ethan Chandler seems to be one, as he's attractive and charismatic, with a hinted-at dark side and extremely cynical.
    • Victor Frankenstein is one, passionate about his research and beliefs in science, extremely introspective and isolated, with a potentially dark past.
    • Alternately, almost all of the main characters fit the attractive, intelligent, passionate, brooding, damaged, living-outside-society's-norms Byronic Hero mold.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: In "Seance", Peter Murray's spirit glares in hatred at Malcolm, as he condemns him for leaving his only son behind to die.
    • Vanessa has a version in "Closer than Sisters", as she lays into Malcolm for how hypocritical he is, claiming she doesn't understand blood and evil when she's been possessed by a demon and thrown into an asylum, and that her darkness isn't going to leave when they find Mina.
    • Ethan gets one in "What Death Can Join Together" and then another in "Possession", telling off Malcolm for his Manipulative Bastard actions. Things have gotten so drastic, even Victor joins in on the calling-out.
  • Camp Straight: The Egyptologist Lyle is tremendously camp, but married to a woman (or so he claims).
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Brona's St. Jude medallion that she gives Ethan in "What Death Can Join Together" is used in "Possession" when Ethan uses it, along with a prayer to St. Jude and his own faith in Vanessa to exorcise her.
    • The werewolf play at the Grand Guignol in "Demimonde" returns as a Meaningful Echo in "Possession" when Vanessa dreams of Mina repeating the phrase "for claw will slash and tooth will rend/there cannot be a happy end", realizing Mina is at the theatre. It's also a hint that there actually is a werewolf in this universe — Ethan.
      • The trapdoor used during the same play is later triggered by the second vampire to dump Ethan into the sub-level where the vampiresses are waiting.
  • Chest Burster: How Victor’s first Creature kills Proteus.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Whatever it is that's possessing Vanessa, it's got quite a potty mouth.
    • Particularly in a Country Matters-laden moment when she accuses Sir Malcolm of having illicit sex that Vanessa spied on.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience:
    • When young Victor's mother is alive, he is a bright, curious, poetical boy in all white. When she dies, he wears all-black and tosses aside his writings for texts on human biology and anatomy.
    • When they are children, Mina and Vanessa are seen in white and pale colors. After Vanessa's possession and Mina's abduction, Mina continues to wear white, but Vanessa wears black from that moment on.
  • Con Man: Ethan Chandler, who would have been a small boy when Custer was battling the Sioux. Vanessa calls him on it.
  • Corpse Land: The opium den that Sir Malcolm, Ethan and Vanessa visit - the floor is covered with bodies.
  • Creating Life Is Unforeseen: Played with in Proteus's case: while Victor evidently did intend to bring him to life, it's a storm-triggered malfunction of his lab equipment that animates his stitched-up body before Victor can throw the switch.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: This show seems to like this trope:
    • Proteus is ripped apart by The Creature's bare hands, along his chest seam, into two pieces.
    • Fenton is impaled by a shard of glass through the back of his head due to a fight with Sir Malcolm.
  • A Day in the Limelight: Most of "Resurrection" is dedicated to The Creature's interactions with Frankenstein, as well as both of their backstories.
    • "Closer Than Sisters" is entirely centered on Vanessa, and her relationship to the Murrays.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Victor Frankenstein.
    Well, it would appear you have an Egyptian man of no particular age, who, at some point in his indeterminate lifespan decided to sharpen his teeth, cover himself in hieroglyphics, and grow an exoskeleton. Or you have something else altogether.
    • Brona Croft, at least when she's alone with Ethan.
  • Decoy Antagonist: The second episode introduces Proteus in a manner that deliberately fools the audience into believing that he's Victor Frankenstein's famous Creature, and that his cordial relationship with Victor will inevitably give way to hostility. Nope. We learn that he isn't Frankenstein's first creation when The Creature—the real Creature—shows up and brutally murders Proteus at the conclusion of the second episode.
    • The "master" vampire featured throughout the series, despite controlling a small army of Brides and Renfields, is just a powerful mook. The true Master, implied to be Dracula, has yet to make an appearance.
  • Demonic Possession: What's happening to Vanessa, with a snarling disembodied voice saying "soon" and "hungry" while she's praying.
    • Confirmed in “Seance”, at least. Kali calls up Amunet (an Egyptian goddess), but the entity already possessing Vanessa calls itself "much older".
    • Depicted in flashback in "Closer than Sisters", and finally is incited by Vanessa having sex with Dorian in the present-day at the end of "What Death Can Join Together".
    • "Possession" does Exactly What It Says on the Tin - depicts Vanessa in the throes of a full-scale possession.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: Attempted, in an amusingly Victorian way, by Vanessa. When Victor shows up to re-examine the vampire body, Sir Malcolm orders her to unbutton the top of her dress to expose more of her neck. Not her cleavage, just her neck. Subverted in that it doesn't seem to work.
  • Does Not Like Men: Amunet seems to regard "you man" as an insult, judging by how she berates Sir Malcolm in "Seance" and her caregivers in "Possession". Not that it stops her from screwing Dorian and some guy she met in an alley, mind.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Both Proteus and Van Helsing are unceremoniously killed by The Creature, both times being to send Frankenstein a message.
  • Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette: Vanessa.
  • Egyptian Mythology: A large facet of this universe.
    • In “Night Work”, the vampire is revealed to be of Egyptian origin, utilizing spells carved in hieroglyphics on his chest.
    • In “Seance”, the goddess Amunet possesses Vanessa. Mr. Lyle the Egyptologist reveals the meaning of the hieroglyphs on the vampire corpse - they’re a resurrection spell, invoking Amunet and her counterpart Amun-Ra. If they ever came together, it would bring about the end of the world, and Amunet’s spirit has chosen Vanessa.
  • Electromagnetic Ghosts: The classic "lights-dimming" example, though interestingly enough, the manifestation of Mina Murray also causes this. Whether that manifestation is a ghost or a vampire is unknown.
    • Though since most of the indoor lights seen so far are gas lamps, "Windy Ghosts" would perhaps be more accurate.
  • Everybody Has Lots of Sex
  • Everyone Meets Everyone
  • Everything's Worse with Wolves: A pack of them at the London Zoo.
  • Evil Is Not a Toy: Implied to be the source of both Vanessa's supernatural powers and Malcolm's missing daughter.
    Vanessa: Was I not responsible? But for my transgression, would any of this have occurred?
    • "Closer Than Sisters" reveals that her "transgression" was giving into the temptations of whatever it is possessing her, leading to her sleeping with Mina's fiance, which drove Mina away and presumably into the clutches of the master vampire.
  • Evil Sounds Deep: "Soon, child, soon."
  • Fan Disservice: A lot of the show's viewers were eagerly awaiting a nude scene with Eva Green. When it finally happens... it's utterly terrifying.
  • Fantastic Catholicism: Averted and also subverted. In "Possession", a priest is brought in to see Vanessa. He very specifically refuses to exorcise her, saying he can only give her the Last Rites. Before he can do so, Vanessa breaks her restraints and attacks the priest, Malcolm, Sembene, Victor, and Ethan. The latter throws everyone else out of the room and does the exorcism himself, despite self-professed atheism. He exorcises Vanessa solely with his faith in Brona's Saint Jude medallion and in Vanessa's own ability to fight her demon.
    • Although he's later seen praying for Brona in Latin, implying he was once a Catholic and lost his faith. Perhaps something to do with being a werewolf.
  • Femme Fatale:
    • Vanessa seems to play it straight, but ultimately averts it. She doesn't use sex to manipulate, and while mysterious, she has more agency than most Femmes Fatale.
    • "Grand Guignol" hints that Madame Kali, aka Evelyn Poole, might be one of these. She's a mysterious widow who wears a fascinator, has a scandalous job as a spiritualist, an affinity for guns, and seems to be angling to hook her nails into Malcolm, given her assurances that they would meet again soon. Knowing what we know about Malcolm, she may have met her match.
  • First Episode Spoiler: Sir Malcolm’s missing daughter is named Mina, that nice young man at the mortuary is Dr. Victor Frankenstein, and Vanessa’s possessed by something demonic.
  • Five-Man Band:
  • Foreshadowing/Freeze-Frame Bonus:
    • Sir Malcolm's letter to Frankenstein reveals his last name (Murray) before The Reveal.
    • A newspaper has an advertisement for Dr. Jekyll.
    • The play's line "for claw will slash and tooth will rend/there cannot be a happy end". The season finale features were-Ethan slashing his father's thugs, vampiresses chomping on Ethan, Sembene and Victor, and Sir Malcolm gunning down Mina when he realizes she's willingly become a monster and lured Vanessa into the Master's trap. Oh, and Brona is euthanized by Victor.
  • Frankenstein's Monster: An example of the actual creature. We see Victor skulking around a secret passage in his house, and later see what he's been working on - a very human stitched-together corpse he's been keeping hooked up to a generator and cooling in ice. Notable in that it subverts many of the traditional accompanying tropes - Victor is not shown Grave Robbing, the Creature itself is not "monster-looking", no bolts on the neck, no Igor or shrieks of "It's ALIIIIIIIIVE", and the lightning is a simple storm outside, not powering the generator. Further scenes with the Creature show his childlike wonder at discovering/remembering new words and objects.
    • However, The Creature, Victor's first creation who murders his "brother", demonstrates the more monstrous side of the trope, with his yellow eyes and inhuman reaction to the death. He also has a more terrifying appearance.
    • Notably Proteus does not seem to be an attempt to create new life, as in Shelley's novel, but bring someone back to life. He's one whole body, and distinctly starts to remember his past life before death, something that excites Victor. The Creature seems to be closer to the book's version, where it's a brand new being, sans any past memories.
  • Functional Addict: Victor, who was given cocaine to control his childhood asthma and moved on to morphine as an adult.
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: Sembene has ritual scarring on his face.
    • Proteus has a few noticeable scars on his head from Frankenstein's surgery, but they can be covered up by a hat.
    • The Creature also has scars, but they're covered by his hair.
  • Gorgeous Period Dress
  • Gothic Horror: The show's bread and butter.
  • Great White Hunter: A staple of the period, Sir Malcolm is this, having spent years in Africa and having encountered many fantastic creatures.
  • The Grotesque: Proteus actually subverts this trope - he is very human-looking, if you ignore the stitching, and has shown both curiosity and compassion.
    • The Creature, however, plays it straight. His skin is deathly pale and his facial scars are rather hideous. Despite his rather brutal murders of Proteus and Van Helsing, it's clear that he very much wishes to be normal and he has been more often a victim than a victimizer.
  • The Gunslinger: Ethan Chandler, who is introduced showcasing his skills as part of a traveling Wild West show.
  • Hall of Mirrors: Dorian Gray has one leading up to the hidden chamber where he keeps his portrait.
  • Hero of Another Story: Van Helsing makes an appearance, but his exploits in Dracula seem to have happened long before the events of the series.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Both Sir Malcolm and Ethan Chandler have hit this, for different reasons. Sir Malcolm has taken the loss of his daughter personally, and wants to hunt down every vampire or supernatural creature he can lay his hands on. Ethan has "sins at his back" and doesn't seem to be opposed to killing for money, but it's unknown why he's developed into this.
  • Heroic BSOD:
    • In 'Seance,' the grief and Tranquil Fury in the aftermath of Vanessa's multiple possessions leaves Sir Malcolm sitting furiously at the table, even after others have left.
    • Frankenstein has one when The Creature rips Proteus apart, covered in blood and unable to move.
      • He has another one when The Creature snaps Van Helsing's neck.
    • Ethan, Malcolm, and Victor all have one long, extended one throughout the week they spend trying to care for the possessed Vanessa, unsure of if she'll survive.
  • High-Pressure Blood: The climax of the Grand Guignol werewolf skit.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Brona Croft.
  • The Hunter: Malcolm Murray is one. Ethan Chandler is about to become one.
  • I Have No Son: In Sir Malcolm's case, daughter. Seeing what Mina had become forced him to kill his own daughter, but also saving Vanessa's life, proving to her that he was her father figure and to him, his real daughter.
  • I Let Gwen Stacy Die: Malcolm allowed his son Peter to die in Africa. Notably, this action does not spur him to become more heroic, but more villainous.
  • Ill Girl: Brona, who is dying of tuberculosis.
  • Immortality Bisexuality: Dorian.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: Ethan, who has an entire sharpshooting act built from this.
  • Incurable Cough of Death: Brona has consumption; heavy coughs that bring up blood are kind of a given.
  • I Never Told You My Name: In the fifth episode, Doctor Banning is visibly startled and summons security when Vanessa uses his full name...which she has no way of knowing.
  • Instant Marksman Just Squeeze Trigger:
    • Played straight in the scene where Ethan teaches Victor how to shoot. He manages to hit a bottle on his third try, and just a day or so later, is able to shoot three of the "Brides" during the battle at the Grand Guignol.
    • Averted with Malcolm's new automatic pistol in "Grand Guignol" - it's so new that virtually no one has experience with it, and his first attempts with the thing ricochet everywhere. He eventually figures it out.
  • Ironic Echo: In the third episode, Frankenstein calls his first Creature a demon. A few minutes later, the insult is flung right back at him.
  • Jack the Ripper: There are newspapers proclaiming "Is Jack Back? Couple Ripped in East End Carnage“, and it’s implied he’s the mysterious murderer/creature that killed the mother and child from the very beginning of the pilot. Ethan also overhears two women at the second crime scene:
    Woman #1: Is it the Ripper come back?
    Woman #2: Who else but old Jack?
    • Given the events of "Grand Guignol", it's implied that the killer is actually Ethan's wolf form.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: The Creature really didn't need to kill Proteus, but he has every right to be furious at Frankenstein for the way he treated him.
    • Amunet may be a bitch, but many of her vicious chastisements of Sir Malcolm are well-deserved.
  • Jump Scare: Constantly.
  • Keystone Army: In "Grand Guignol", the vampire 'brides' collapse the moment Malcolm kills the head vampire.
  • Kukris Are Kool: Sembene carries them.
  • Light Feminine Dark Feminine: An interesting variation - Vanessa is one of our heroes, but is virtually always seen in dark colors, whereas Mina (and the Brides) wear all white, and are serving evil. It’s most striking in Vanessa’s beach vision, where Mina and her blonde hair are all in white, and Vanessa herself wears a hooded black cloak and dress.
  • Lightning Can Do Anything: While the thunderstorm doesn't seem to be powering Dr. Frankenstein's experiments, nevertheless, the Creature comes to life on a dark and stormy night.
  • Literary Allusion Title: A "penny dreadful" was a serialized fiction story appearing in Victorian newspapers. They were frequently filled with lurid, sensationalized content - sex, death, the supernatural.
  • Living Bodysuit: In “Seance”, Vanessa is possessed by - in order - younger and older versions of Sir Malcolm's son Peter Murray, Amunet, Mina Murray, and finally the demon that's already possessing her.
  • Looks Like Orlok: The first master vampire. One of his minions, also.
  • Love Dodecahedron: Vanessa has shown interest in both Dorian and Ethan, the latter has in turn slept with the former and Brona, who modeled in a raunchy photoshoot for Dorian (which ended in sex). Vanessa also had sex with a demonic entity in the form of Sir Malcolm, so it's possible there's some Unresolved Sexual Tension between them as well. Vanessa and Dorian have sex in episode six.
  • Massive Multiplayer Crossover: Includes characters from Dracula, Frankenstein and The Picture of Dorian Gray, as well as archetypes from Victorian horror literature.
  • Mad Scientist: One of the most notorious in fiction, Dr. Victor Frankenstein, here depicted as a passionate young researcher. Which is what he was in Shelley's original novel.
  • Male Frontal Nudity: Proteus, in "Night Work".
  • Marionette Motion: The vampires seem to move like this, especially the one Ethan gives a failed Boom, Headshot to.
  • Meaningful Background Event: Several; the Vomiting Cop, Proteus disappearing from the operating table behind Victor, Sir Malcolm walking right past his possibly-vampiric daughter Mina in the hallway, and a cloaked figure that may have been spying on Victor.
    • Subverted twice with Proteus's body as if to tease the viewers, then played straight.
  • Meaningful Echo: Three in "Closer than Sisters":
    • "Something spoke. I listened." Explanation 
    • "You have to name a thing to bring it to life." Explanation 
    • "The mirrors behind the glass eyes." Explanation 
  • Meaningful Name:
    • 'Miss Ives' can be read as 'missives', an archaic term for messages. Vanessa is possessed, and frequently conveys prophecies and missives from another world.
    • Brona lampshades hers - Gaelic for “sadness”.
    • Madame Kali has a particularly interesting name for a spiritualist; Kali is a Hindu goddess associated with destruction and change. Her given name, Evelyn, is of French origin, ironically meaning "life".
    • Proteus is, of course, the name of one of the titular "Two Gentlemen of Verona" (the more cowardly and naive one, it should be noted), but it is also the name of a sea-god of Greek mythology, fitting for a former man of the sea.
    • The Creature, Frankenstein's first creation is named by the theatre director who takes him in - a character who, in The Tempest, is depicted as a misshapen monster.
  • Medical Horror: The asylum scenes in "Closer than Sisters", which are Truth in Television.
  • Mercy Kill: Arguably the case when Victor smothers Brona, but since he lies about it and then takes the body to make The Creature's Bride, it's more morally ambiguous.
  • Monster Mash: Vampires, Frankenstein's Monster, spirits of the dead, demonic possession, Dorian Gray, and a werewolf.
  • Mood Whiplash:
    • In one of the series' genuinely touching moments, Proteus returns with Frankenstein to the doctor's flat after a successful venture out into the city, where he shows great aptitude for interacting with others and even remembering flashes from his life before he died. By the time he gets home, he's genuinely overjoyed at the prospect of making friends. And then Frankenstein's first creation emerges from a dark stairwell immediately behind Proteus, murdering him by punching straight through him, then ripping him in half and stands over his horrified creator with a cold Death Glare.
    • The Creature is great at this, dispatching Van Helsing with a snapped neck after the kindly professor bonded with Victor and told him that he wished him a long life.
  • Mythology Gag:
    • Victor suggests "Adam," Mary Shelley's name for Frankenstein's Creature, as a possible name for Proteus. He quickly dismisses the idea though.
    • When first introduced, Victor asks Ethan what he knows of Galvanism, the process of using electricity to reanimate flesh. In Shelley's novel, Galvanism is the one hint to the commonly held belief that the Creature was created through lightning. It also points to the novel's early 19th-century setting; by 1891, the idea of Galvanism would be roughly 100 years old.
    • Dorian Grey is introduced gazing at a portrait gallery.
    • Sembene wields a kukri knife, Jonathan Harker's weapon of choice in Dracula. Harker himself is namedropped earlier in the fourth episode.
    • Frankenstein is a fan of Romantic literature and poetry, referencing the era Frankenstein the novel was set in.
    • The Creature references Percy Bysshe Shelley's poetry while berating Frankenstein. Shelley, of course, was married to Frankenstein's author.
      • Victor later quotes a line of Shelley's "Adonais" to Van Helsing, also a Title Drop for the episode it takes place in: "No more let Life divide what Death can join together".
    • The little girl outside the church that Vanessa speaks to in "Demimonde" is named "Lucy", as in Lucy Westenra, Dracula's victim in the original Stoker novel.
      • Professor Abraham Van Helsing shows up later as the hematologist Sir Malcolm contracts to analyze Fenton's blood and develop a cure. He claims to know vampirism "intimately".
    • Flashbacks show that The Creature, unlike Proteus, was "born" covered in slime on a bloody table. In Shelley's novel the details of how the Creature was born are not shared, except that it emerged in a similar state.
    • "Closer Than Sisters" recounts Vanessa's backstory in the form of a letter to Mina Harker. Dracula itself is comprised of dozens of letters and journal entries, most of them written and/or transcribed by Mina Harker.
    • Vanessa's mother died of shock upon finding insane Vanessa having sex with an unseen demonic presence. In Dracula, Lucy Westenra's mother dies the same way when a wolf crashes through the window as part of Dracula's attack.
  • Neck Snap: How The Creature kills Van Helsing.
  • Nightmare Fetishist:
    • Victor Frankenstein. When given the opportunity to dissect a vampire, he's downright excited about it.
    • Dorian Gray is turned on by tuberculosis. We should expect no less.
  • Nightmare Fuel Station Attendant: Vampires, demonic possession, hideously bloody murders, ghosts, very little seems to rattle Vanessa. Even Sir Malcolm loses his cool when his missing and turned vampiric daughter Mina shows up, but not Vanessa.
  • Noble Savage: Sembene.
  • Non-Action Guy: In "Demimonde", when he and Malcolm are attacked by Fenton and the master vampire, Victor is unable to do much besides be thrown into a corner and look frightened. In "Possession" he starts to avert this trope by having Ethan teach him to shoot, and he joins the team in fighting the pack of vampiresses in "Grand Guignol".
    • Dorian is conspicuously absent when Ethan gets into a brawl at the rat-pit in "Demimonde", and has yet to be seen engaging in anything more violent than rough sex. Ironic, considering his portrait should make him the least vulnerable to lasting injury.
  • Not Distracted by the Sexy: When Victor shows up to re-examine the vampire body, Sir Malcolm orders Vanessa to unbutton the top of her dress to expose more of her neck. Doesn't really work on Victor.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Utilized in “Night Work” with the little girl finding out who or what has taken her mother - all we see is an otherwise calm house and the girl screaming.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping:
    • Reeve Carney as Dorian Gray has a bit of a hard time hiding his American accent.
    • Billie Piper’s Irish brogue is pretty good, but sometimes her English accent slips out.
  • Of Corsets Sexy: Brona has a simple cotton and whalebone one in episode two. We see Vanessa in a gorgeous black one in episode six.
  • Opium Den: Sir Malcolm and Vanessa have tracked the vampires to the basement of one.
  • Our Demons Are Different: Can possess a willing host (i.e. Vanessa) and work magic of sorts through her. Can appear in human form and have incubus-like sex with their target.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: Their hide apparently consists of an exoskeleton of sorts, with skin underneath that's covered in Egyptian hieroglyphics which possibly translates as "the blood curse".
    • The Egyptian vampires appear to be "leaders" compared to the normal-looking mook vampires first introduced. Though the season 1 finale shows that they may be more along the lines of Elite Mooks than anything.
    • Similarly, the method of killing them appears different. No wooden stakes are used (although Van Hellsing reveals he did drive one through his converted wife's heart to kill her, suggesting it does work but hasn't been tried yet), but beheading/headshots seem to work. A sword through the heart can take out an Egyptian vampire (not even cross-shaped like Quincy Morris's bowie knife in Dracula).
  • Our Werewolves Are Different: The werewolf in the series seems to be like the 1941 film version.
  • Overdrawn at the Blood Bank: The walls and floor of the basement of the opium den are covered in blood and ripped-apart bodies. Notably, none of our heroes' clothes get dirty. Happens onstage when the Grand Guignol's stage rats overdo it on the blood pump.
  • Parental Substitute: There are some oddly familial dynamics going on in "Demimonde", with Malcolm acting as a parental figure for Ethan and Victor. After Malcolm invites Ethan to Africa with him, Victor gets jealous, stammering that he wants to be valued and trusted. Malcolm tells him his deceased son Peter was very much like Victor.
    Malcolm: Mr. Chandler is nothing to me. He is a finger on a trigger. You are not.
    • Malcolm was one for Vanessa when she was a child. She certainly seems closer and more affectionate toward Malcolm (and the rest of the Murray family) than to her own mother and father.
  • Plot Threads: The series has a lot of these. To wit:
    • Vanessa and Malcolm are searching for a) Mina and b) a cure for vampirism.
    • Vanessa also appears to be the host vessel for the ancient Egyptian goddess Amunet, who is searching for her mate Amun Ra with potentially world shattering consequences, while at the same time also being possessed by something else, which claims to be "much older" than Amunet.
    • Victor makes (and copes with) his various creations, and is being forced to make a bride for his original Creature.
    • Dorian Gray develops an interest in both Vanessa and Ethan and has a very large, very mysterious portrait in his home.
    • Ethan and Brona form a relationship while having to cope with the fact that she's dying.
    • Ethan's influential father seeks to persuade or force him to return to the States, where he's a suspect in an unknown number of bloody crimes.
    • On top of everything else, someone or something is going around London by night, messily murdering defenseless people. The finale makes it a virtual certainty that it's Ethan, who is a Wolf Man.
  • Primal Scene: Two in "Closer than Sisters". First, Vanessa catches her mother having sex with Sir Malcolm, and then years later, Mina catches Vanessa having sex with Mina's fiance.
  • Prophet Eyes: Vanessa has them when she's having possessed!sex with the demon she's summoned. The sight of them and what is happening causes her mother to die of shock.
  • Psychic Link: Appears to exist between the master vampires and their minions.
  • Psychic Powers: Vanessa, who can read Tarot, channel spirits, and seems to have a bit of precognition. How much is her and how much is the entity possessing her is up for debate.
  • Public Domain Character: About half the cast.
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: The vampires have solid red eyes.
  • The Renfield: Fenton at least has the attitude traits, although he appears to be a vampire.
  • The Reveal: Malcolm is Sir Malcolm Murray, father of Mina Murray from Dracula.
    • There is more than one "leader" vampire. The Murray reveal means that it's likely Dracula.
    • Proteus is not the first Creature Frankenstein created.
    • The Season 1 finale reveals that Ethan is a werewolf which, together with the glimpses of mutilation-victims during his flashback-montage from "Demimonde", confirms that he was responsible for the dismemberment killings in episodes 1 and 2.
  • Rousing Speech: Though it's not exactly intended to be one, so much as a manifesto of sorts. Victor gives one to Sir Malcolm at the Explorer’s Club, attempting to explain his devotion to scientific discovery, rather than exploring new lands:
    There is only one worthy goal for scientific exploration: piercing the tissue that separates life from death. Everything else, from the deep bottom of the sea to the top of the highest mountain on the farthest planet, is insignificant. Life and death, Sir Malcolm. The flicker that separates one from the other, fast as a bat’s wing, more beautiful than any sonnet. That is my river. That is my mountain. There I will plant my flag.
  • Satan: What seems to be possessing Vanessa has long claimed to be the Fallen Angel himself.
  • Sadistic Choice: Malcolm is given one in "Grand Guignol" - Mina has taken Vanessa hostage, revealing that she has manipulated them both for her "Master's" purposes. Either he can shoot Vanessa and attempt to "cure" Mina, or he can save Vanessa from Mina. Malcolm has promised Vanessa a number of times that he intends to sacrifice her if it means getting Mina back, but realizing that Mina has betrayed them both and Vanessa will surely be used by the Master to breed a new race of vampires, Malcolm shoots and kills Mina.
  • Screaming Woman: Eva Green’s and Helen McCrory’s screams in "Seance" could strip the paint off walls.
  • Sherlock Scan: Vanessa pulls one on Ethan in "Night Work".
    Expensive watch, but threadbare jacket - you're sentimental about the money you used to have. Your eye is steady, but your left hand tremors, that's the drink, so you keep it below the table hoping I won't notice. You have a contusion healing on your other hand, the result of a recent brawl with a jealous husband, no doubt. Your boots are good quality leather, but have been re-soled more than once. I see a man who's been accustomed to wealth, but has given himself to excess and the unbridled pleasures of youth. A man much more complicated than he likes to appear.
  • Shoot The Hostage Taker: What Malcolm does in "Grand Guignol", astonishingly enough, considering said hostage taker is his daughter Mina, revealing herself as The Dragon and intending to kidnap Vanessa.
  • Shout-Out
    • An unmoving Vanessa in the crowd at Ethan’s shooting exhibition is one to Strangers on a Train.
    • An advertisement drops the name of Doctor Jekyll. It remains to be seen whether or not he’ll show up.
    • Vanessa’s Sherlock Scan of Ethan is nearly note-for-note the same cool assessment Eva Green as Vesper Lynd gave to James Bond in Casino Royale.
    • The appearance of the leader vampire, with its lithe body, clawed fingers, and long middle teeth, seems to invoke Count Orlok.
    • The Creature spending time in a theatre hiding in the shadows, set apart from humanity and growing desirous of a female companion, smacks of The Phantom of the Opera.
    • The song that shows up in "Seance" (hummed by the possessed Vanessa) and in "Closer than Sisters" (sung by both young!Vanessa and older Vanessa) is "The Unquiet Grave".
    • The demonic entity possessing Vanessa, appearing in the guise of Sir Malcolm quotes John Keats' "Ode to a Nightingale".
    • Ethan is indeed a werewolf, making him An American Werewolf in London.
      • More likely to be a reference to The Wolf Man (1941), who also came to Britain from America.
      • Considering they were London Zoo animals, the wolves Ethan faced off with may well be the ancestors of the ones encountered by the former film's protagonist.
    • While explaining Vampires to Doctor Frankenstein, Van Helsing shows him a copy of Varney the Vampire, an actual Penny Dreadful.
  • Shown Their Work: Much of the show is very faithful to the time period it depicts and the stories it’s referencing, but a particularly nice touch is the carrion beetles cleaning a skull in Mr. Lyle’s office - an actual technique utilized to clean bones by many museums.
    • Throughout the series, adult Vanessa is always dressed in black, dark blue or red, and purple - Victorian mourning and half-mourning colors. This is because her mother is dead. This is referenced again in "Grand Guignol" when, after Malcolm kills Mina, both Malcolm and Vanessa are seen in traditional mourning clothing.
  • Sir Not-Appearing-in-This-Trailer: The Creature was kept out of most of the early promotional material and trailers, so as to ensure it was all the more shocking when he finally makes his entrance. He only got his own poster and trailer once the third episode had aired.
  • Slasher Smile: Sir Malcolm's is pretty excellent, as it seems to be his only other expression besides steely stoicism.
  • Spooky Seance: A major plot point in episode two. Initially, it seems that Madame Kali is going to use her potentially-genuine powers of mediumship to entertain the people at Mr. Lyle’s party, until Vanessa (along with Sir Malcolm and Dorian) are picked to sit at the table. Vanessa - or the demonic entity possessing Vanessa - don’t take kindly to the Egyptian goddess Kali calls up, and hijack the seance. Vanessa is also taken over by Peter Murray, who has a scathing condemnation of his father which involves his abandonment of him to go exploring in Africa, and his illicit sexual relationship with Vanessa's mother.
  • Staking the Loved One: What Van Helsing did to his beloved wife, Hannah.
    • Sir Malcolm shoots vampire-Mina when it becomes clear she's been willingly aiding the Master and will bite and infect Vanessa if he doesn't stop her.
  • Starving Artist: Well, Starving Medical Assistant, and the Victorian version, but Victor Frankenstein’s got this in spades.
    Sir Malcolm: You have the soul of a poet, sir.
    Victor: And the bank account to match.
  • Supernatural Gold Eyes: The Creature, Victor’s first creation, has them. Notably, Proteus does not.
  • The Swarm: If you're seeing spiders, chances are whatever thing that is possessing Vanessa is near.
    • Spiders Are Scary: Especially when hundreds of them start pouring out from behind the crucifix on her wall, or thousands from her spread-out Tarot cards.
  • Sword Cane: Sir Malcolm carries one.
  • Tall Tale: Ethan Chandler is the star of a traveling Wild West Show, so as expected, he spins some tall tales. He even gets called out on it. (His skill with a six-gun, however, is not exaggerated.)
    Vanessa Ives: You didn't tell the truth. By my reckoning, you were a boy when General Custer died and 'tis well known there were no survivors.
    Ethan Chandler: What we call a tall tale, darlin'.
    Vanessa: Exceedingly tall.
    Ethan: Vice of my nation. We're storytellers.
  • Tarot Motifs: Vanessa, as a fortuneteller, is adept at reading Tarot. Notably, the show subverts expectations twice in only the first episode - Vanessa lays the cards out in a traditional Celtic Cross pattern, not a 3-card, Past/Present/Future spread, and the card that Ethan draws is from the crown position (the guiding forces upon the situation), and it's The Lovers.
    • Vanessa does another reading in "What Death Can Join Together", presumably for herself. It is a 3-card Past/Present/Future, though we only see the first two cards. The Past card is the Five of Cups, near-total loss and grief, ignorance of important things one still has (alluding to the rift between the Murrays and Iveses, but that Mina is still alive). The Present card is The Moon, unknown forces working against the questioner, darkness and magic (alluding to Malcolm and the plague ship, Vanessa and whatever Dorian did to invoke the possession).
    • Victor turns over one of the cards in "Possession". It is, of course, the Death card - referring to Vanessa being near-death from the possession and the great, sweeping change that the entire ordeal will effect on everyone in the house.
  • Title Drop: In the second episode, a police inspector makes reference to "Newspapers and Penny Dreadfuls" sensationalizing the murders he's investigating.
    • One shows up in the sixth episode; "Varney the Vampire", with Victor expressing shock that Van Helsing pays attention to penny dreadfuls.
  • Traumatic Haircut: Vanessa received one during her stay in an asylum.
  • True Companions: Malcolm invokes this trope in the second episode. By the end of the first season, the main characters are clearly coming to think of one another as family.
  • Truth in Television: Yes, the acting in the Grand Guignol is rather hammy and over the top, but that was precisely how performances of this sort were staged back in the day. Apart from anything else, they needed to make sure the people sitting at the back of the theatre got their money's worth.
    • Vanessa's treatment in the asylum, while horrifying, is also completely accurate for how mental patients were treated in this period of history.
  • Unkempt Beauty: Dorian Gray spends much of his introductory episode in a loose robe or incomplete formal wear. Brona may also fit this trope, at least in comparison to Vanessa.
  • Van Helsing Hate Crimes: Ethan seems to be the only one worried about the vampiric kid they're keeping chained up in Sir Malcolm's cellar and interrogating/experimenting upon/beating. Victor is looking at it from a scientific perspective, Malcolm admittedly wants vengeance and a cure for Mina, Sembene is a Noble Savage totally loyal to Malcolm, and Vanessa acknowledges to Ethan it's difficult, but they need their answers. It's implied that Ethan is a werewolf, and worried this could happen to him if the group found out.
  • Victorian London
  • Victorian Novel Disease: Brona is suffering from consumption, which manifests in the coughing-blood variant. It’s not stopping her from having sex immediately afterward. In fact, she coughs up blood during sex and just keeps going. Then again, her partner is Dorian Gray, who enjoys it even more due to that.
    • Frankenstein's mother died from the same thing.
  • Vomiting Cop: In the pilot, while the lead detective and the crime scene photographer hold a conversation at the scene of a mutilation killing, a constable is seen in the background puking into a wastebasket. You might be vomiting, too, if you were potentially faced with one of Jack the Ripper's murders.
  • Wall Bang Her: Every sex scene in the first two episodes.
  • We Hardly Knew Ye: Proteus.
    • Also Van Helsing.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy:
    • Malcolm's son Peter, a sickly, bookish child rather than the tough, manly son his father wanted. He joined his father's expedition to Africa to prove himself and dies horribly of dysentery.
    • Victor has a case of this going on with both his own father (whom he disappointed, and it's implied his father preferred Victor's more athletic brothers) and Malcolm (whom he seems to regard as a second chance at not-disappointing a father).
  • Wham Line:
    • "Father mine, let me come with you..." ( Peter Murray possessing Vanessa, in "Seance")
    • "Hello, Father. Your firstborn has returned." (The Creature to Victor in "Seance")
    • "You have to name a thing to make it live, don't you?" ( The Demon, in the form of Malcolm to Vanessa in "Closer than Sisters")
    • "But I love you in a different way. I love you enough to kill you." (Vanessa to Mina in "Closer than Sisters")
    • "Course, I know that place pretty well. You might say it was where I was flung." ( The Demon, in the form of Ethan to Vanessa in "Possession")
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: After the events of "Closer Than Sisters" tear the Murray and Ives families apart - Vanessa is institutionalized and then possessed, Claire dies of shock upon seeing her possessed daughter, Mina is held prisoner by Dracula, Peter dies in Africa, and Malcolm returns to London, not his country home - what happens to Gladys Murray and Mr. Ives?
  • What the Hell, Hero?:
    • In "Demimonde", Ethan is quick to call out the others on torturing Fenton for information, and letting Frankenstein experiment on him in hopes of finding a cure for vampirism.
    • In "Possession", it's both Ethan and Victor who finally call out Malcolm on the dangerous extent he's gone to, manipulating Vanessa's demon in order to have a potential conduit to Mina.
  • What You Are in the Dark: In "Possession", Malcolm nearly talks a dying and possessed Vanessa into contacting Mina, using her pain and suffering for his own personal gain. He's stopped by Ethan and Victor, but it's very clear it's only a matter of time until he tries again.
    • In "Grand Guignol", Victor takes a level in amorality when he murders the dying Brona and intends to use her body to create a Bride for his Creature. It might have been less sketchy if he used Brona's body after she died of natural causes, never mind that he lied to Ethan about it.
  • Whole Episode Flashback: "Closer Than Sisters" is dedicated entirely to Vanessa and Mina's backstory.
  • Willing Channeler: Vanessa, though just how many entities she’s channeling at any given time is unknown. Madame Kali is one as well, though clearly not on Vanessa’s level.
  • Wolf Man: As many fans guessed, Ethan's a werewolf.
  • You All Meet in an Inn: Well, Ethan and Brona do, at any rate.
  • You Can't Go Home Again: Implied with Ethan, though "Grand Guignol" makes it seem more like he doesn't want to go back.
  • Your Cheating Heart: In "Closer than Sisters", it's revealed that Malcolm was cheating on his wife with Vanessa's mother, Claire.

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