The Frankenstein Chronicles: Series 1, Episode 5 – “The Frankenstein Murders”

As we draw closer to the end, moral beasts and political monsters threaten to overshadow child murder, until confessions of mad-science experiments gone wrong point Inspector Marlott towards the real mastermind of the season.

Four people are in a candle-lit laboratory; two of them are the Shelleys (Richard Clements and Anna Maxwell Martin), one of them is Sir William Chester (Samuel West), the last one is James Hogg (Hugh O’Connor). Nervously drawing straws, the party toast to “the unflinching eye of the intellectual soul” as they are “about to tale a step that will alter the course of natural philosophy forever”. If you watched last week, you will remember that James Hogg had died previously, and that his grieving mother had burnt all papers regarding his nocturnal scientific adventures, so the results are fairly stacking against him in this flashback.

This week, the Flatliners-inspired scenes shows us how willingly Hogg went to his own wine-poisoned death. If he was properly from the 19th century, one might fancy that he would have filled his pockets with stones and walked into the lake, or died from some exotic disease like consumption or gout, but then we wouldn’t have witnessed the spectacular, lightning-filled attempts at defibrillation, sorry, galvanic resurrection — an attempt that fails, leaving Mary with a permanent personality adjustment, and Sir William fruitlessly flapping through his PhD thesis for answers. “He’s not alive!” somebody should’ve shouted in this clever twist on the clichéd Frankenstein resurrection myth.

After last week’s action packed adventure into the filthy underground passages and shifty marginalized community dwellings of London, this week the episode strays above the surface and into the comparatively clean world of the upper classes; unless by “clean” we’re talking about morality and politics, in which case we’re still in the same shit heap we’ve always been in. Welcome back!

As we hurtle towards the finale of the mini-series, everybody starts to draw suspicion. In the present day, Sir William responds to Mary’s desire to dredge up the past by grabbing her throat, leaving her staggering out of the doorway when the servant rudely interrupts them. Meanwhile, Sir William’s cousin, Garnet Chester (Mark Bazeley) has injected himself more fully into the narrative and locked himself in a hospital room with the still unconscious Flora (Eloise Smyth), all while hovering over her body and uttering “My little girl lost has now been found” — a clear sign that he was the date-raping “gentleman” that abused Flora in the first place.

When Flora regains consciousness, she once again provides the key mystical element to the show, finally rearranging Blake’s art works into a sequence on the floor to discover “it’s a calendar. 12 pictures, 12 months, and it contains the seasons”. It’s handy that Marlott’s (Sean Bean) unconscious mind is still working on the cryptic puzzle with more visions of Alice (Jessie Ross), Blake (Steven Berkoff) in his print room, and another monster-in-the-mirror moment, because his rational-explanation seeking conscious mind can barely manage to make his face seem vaguely interested in Flora’s breakthrough; he just screws up his face like she had just pooped on the floor and pointed at it.

Marlott also fails to consider that Flora is talking about him when she sings “To Be a Pilgrim”, which includes in the original John Bunyan version, the lines: “Hobgoblin, nor foul fiend, Can daunt his spirit; He knows at the end Shall life inherit. Then fancies fly away, He’ll fear not what men say, He’ll labour night and day To be a pilgrim”. Flora’s now the connection between the reality of the world and a dark otherworld shown through the same creative impulses that led to Mary Shelley writing her own novel and Blake creating his art; so when Nightingale (Richie Campbell) asks for Marlott’s blessing in marrying Flora (how old is she again?) it looks like Marlott’s own ability to think creatively will be somehow diminished. Luckily, he has enough innovation left in the tank to consider aloud if the “recombined” body crawled to the river, which may be a grotesque clue that they had previously not considered.

Parallel and intertwined with the Chesters and their struggles with bodies — both mobile and otherwise — are the political machinations of Bentley Warburton (Elliot Cowan) and Robert Peel (Tom Ward), and their opposing stances on the Anatomy Act. Yet, even this battle between the Machiavellian Peel, and Warburton — whose decided to get engaged to Lady Harvey (Vanessa Kirby) after last week’s saucy elbow-touching-at-the-dinner-table moment — comes down to matters of the flesh when it is revealed after an entertaining bow-street dawn-raid that Warburton frequents a gay brothel hidden beneath a flamboyantly run pastel-pink sweet-shop, which for all intentions may as well have been called “Man Candy”.

Lady Harvey was already aware that Warburton was “money to us, and I am status to him”, which gives Marlott his own window of opportunity now that, courtesy of Lord Harvey’s (Ed Stoppard) homeopathic syphilis medicine, he’s no longer having pre-Raphaelite dreams about his deceased wife. Not only does Marlott get to make his move on Lady Harvey, he also becomes her white-knight, proclaiming “I swear to you, whoever it is, I’ll find him. Should he be the highest in the land, I’ll find him”. This interaction feels a little forced, given Marlott’s psychological and physical ailments, and that the two haven’t spent a great deal of time with each other, but it might well be a moot subject as Marlott inadvertently assists in destroying her brother’s career in alternative medicine by helping the Anatomy Act come to pass.

After he attacks Mary Shelley, Sir William looks to be the villain that Marlott is after, especially when Shelley confesses to Marlott that “either someone was tracing our steps or William Chester himself has returned to his great obsession”. This feels like a substantial revelation, until after some detective work coming full circle from the floating pig of episode one, the finger is now pointed at his cousin, who currently resides in Greenwich: the place from which the composite child originated.

Consequently, we are then treated to a scene that feels more like an episode of the British TV show Through the Keyhole, in which clues to the identity of a minor celebrity are given through an examination of obviously placed objects in their home. In Garnett’s case, we have a clock that features a copulating couple, thrusting with each chime; we see a scattering of porno-lithographic prints; and Marlott finally finds several copies of “The Little Girl Lost” poem. With the proof of Garnett’s indecency, Marlott is able to elicit a confession of sorts even as Garnett reminds everyone that “it means nothing, there’s no law against what I did to her, do you hear me?” I’ve pointed out before how ass-backward the Georgian legal system was at the time, and it’s one more reminder that here we have a date-rape case being legal, whilst Warburton’s homosexuality is held up as an example of “scandalous business”.

Not that it matters how legal Garnett’s other activities are, because taking Flora’s chastity without paying her pimp, Billy the “Child Snatcher” (Robbie Gee), is considered a line-crossed by another moral code, resulting in Billy offering a full confession that he supplied “numerous unwanted children” to Garnett; which, when combined with his connection to the area is taken as proof — the kind that that absolutely everybody seems to take on face value when they really shouldn’t — that he also committed the child mutilation crimes.

Peel leverages Warburton, but just as equally, he treats Marlott like a pawn in his game, alternately, destroying Marlott’s career when newspaper stories leak, but also promoting him to special advisor on a committee for the formation of the metropolitan police, when he discovers that the “corpse child [he] found was not an act of political sabotage as [Peel] assumed but the work of a madman, Garnet Chester”.

Everybody benefits from Garnett being blamed for everything bar Marlott’s syphilis (last episode twist?); especially the true mastermind, which is why Garnett conveniently winds up committing suicide through slitting his wrists within a very short period of time, which, oddly enough, is exactly how James Hogg’s death was made to look by Sir William Chester. Peel might find the suicide to be “as clear a confession of guilt as any confession”, but it’s fair to assume that with the knowledge of Shelley’s confession ,the hunt will be on for Sir William Chester and his cavalcade of galvanism horrors in the final episode (even though Lord Harvey, who has been strangely absent from most of this episode, could still be the culprit!)

RATING 7 / 10