The Frankenstein ChroniclesAirtime: Wednesdays, 10pm
Cast: Sean Bean, Richie Campbell, Eloise Smyth, Vanessa Kirby, Ed Stoppard, Robbie Gee, Tom Ward, Samuel West, Mark Bazeley, Brian Milligan
Subtitle: “Lost and Found”
Network: ITV Encore
Air date: 2015-12-16
In the season finalé of The Frankenstein Chronicles, we finally have our monsters, the residential mad scientist is finally revealed, as is the answer to the only real question on our lips: will Sean Bean’s John Marlott make it to the end without dying? Well, all situations aren’t as mutually exclusive or clear cut as they might at first appear to be. "Lost and Found" covers the most ground of any episode thus far, attempting to wrap up events in the first three acts before dropping an absolute bombshell on the narrative in the final act, delivering on the slow-burn sci-fi horror promises of the season arc in a way that will make fans heavily petition for a second series should it get cancelled.
Why would it not get renewed? One of the issues I’ve not really addressed is how The Frankenstein Chronicles has only been aired on the ITV Encore channel in the UK, which (approximately) nobody has heard of, and can’t even be accessed without a subscription to Sky, Sky Go, or Now TV. For the love of all that’s decent, this show deserves a proper full-fat audience. Whether the A&E network over in the US can make a decent fist of it, we’ll have to wait and see; but take my advice and pre-order the DVD if you can’t get access to ITV Encore. It’s a small price to pay to watch one of the most interesting shows this year, and if you love gothic drama then it’s a no brainer (or a Frankenstein monster brain at the very least).
Picking up after last week’s revelation that child-raping villain Garnet Chester (Mark Bazeley) may have been set up by his cousin, Sir William Chester (Samuel West), to take the fall for the hideous acts of "recombination", the story tantalizingly floats the idea that this is where the journey ends. Marlott is waiting after hours outside of Chester’s hospital, and witnesses his own boss, Sir Robert Peel (Tom Ward), make a suspicious nocturnal visit, leading him to surmise: "It confirms my worst fears, he knows what Sir Wiliiam is up to; he has done all along, and this monstrosity reaches to the very heart of our government". Case closed. Light up a Meerschaum, pour yourself a Cognac, and kick off your Hush Puppies, Sherlock; you’ve earned it.
Except, when Marlott returns home to pick up his old service pistol and has what appears to be a full blown syphilis-induced paranoid attack on his young ward, it becomes apparent that we’ve all been duped: it’s not shady Sir William, but the munificent Lord Daniel Hervey (Ed Stoppard) who has been “steeped in blood, in ways you can’t even begin to imagine”, whilst his man-servant, Lloris (Brian Milligan), is the child-snatching "monster" that all the children fear. Cue the dramatic suspense sound effect!
This then becomes something of an uphill battle for Marlott in convincing others that he’s now got the right suspect (suffering from the "the boy that cried were-wolf" syndrome, perhaps?). When Marlott enquires of Lady Hervey (Vanessa Kirby) "Has he told you about raising the dead?", he may as well have also asked about Daniel’s ability to crack the moon in half with a well-placed expulsion of wind -- there is no way that Marlott can sound credible whilst he’s ranting like a frothy mouthed foreteller of the End of Days -- even though they are fast approaching the predicted "World without God".
It’s also at this point that Marlott deserves his first reprimand of the episode for a Keystone Cops-esque blunder, when he realizes that Lord Hervey’s Abbey hospital is on the other side of the river from the exact spot where he’s been placing the blame. How did Marlott not make this connection, and why didn’t I think about looking across the river? I wouldn’t be surprised if on revisiting earlier footage we could see the Abbey in the background, possibly with Lord Hervey stood on the embankment, flipping us the bird. It’s not the last time I kicked myself whilst this week’s episode laughed at me.
Without Nightingale (Richie Campbell) -- who has ironically decided that his job in law enforcement is more important -- Marlott ventures into Lord Hervey’s territory, passing over the Cave Baestium floor seal and mingling amongst the same ruined grounds where he saw Alice (Jessie Ross) in his "visions" from earlier episodes. Once more, when the reality of police work fails Marlott, the mystical fronds of the narrative lead him towards the truth, which is rapidly of limited success and comfort for Marlott, who finds Alice still alive in a dark underground cellar, but in quick succession finds himself knocked out, bound to a chair, and forced to drink a green liquid as crows circle and caw overhead.
Marlott manages to wake up in his own bed (which is a feat he was obviously assisted with -- I’ve drunk my fair share of green liquids), with the caveat being that he’s covered in someone else’s blood (I wouldn’t know anything about that…). Once Marlott gains his bearings, he discovers some shocking truths. Lying on his bed, the Inspector is finally confronted by Blake’s works, which Flora (Eloise Smyth) laid out on the floor for him last week.
Getting to this point was one of the longest teases of the show, and the pay off made me hate myself. Arranged in two concentric circular patterns, taking the first letter from each point in the inner ring spells CAVE, with the outer circle spelling BAESTIUM. You know, exactly like the seal at the Abbey. Were this review in an audio format, to accurately convey my emotions at that point, the rest of the sound file would be an extended, painful raptor scream from Jurassic Park, followed by the whimpering sound of a barrel of crying puppies -- if puppies could also mutter expletives.
As early as the second episode, where Blake’s works were introduced, I suggested that the images contained accompanying text; the first letter of each is made bold, which may be a clue like LYCA was, or the suggestion may be less convoluted as three of the four panels can be plainly read and understood within the context of the show: "Adam", "Christ", and "Monster", but in the end, I literally couldn’t put all the pieces together. Furthermore, these are the same artworks that have been used in the opening titles for the show. The solution to the entire case has been before us from within the first couple of minutes of the first episode. I admire the tenacity of the filmmakers, but I also want to hurt them for making me feel as utterly useless as Marlott must do in the last episode, when his greatest clues are offered when it’s too late to act upon them.
Midway through the episode, Blake’s artworks aren’t even the big surprise of the scene. Remember the blood? That used to belong inside poor Flora, who is now resting on the dining room table as a centerpiece for the dead -- which Marlott discovers at the exact moment that Nightingale walks into the picture.
After these revelations, The Frankenstein Chronicles sets off on a path that may divide viewers. With Mary Shelley (Anna Maxwell Martin) gone, there are no more contextual historical revelations aside from Hervey’s confession; and with the politics completely jettisoned (aside from brief considerations about Peel’s position in all of this), the narrative focuses exclusively on Sean Bean, who gives a career best performance as a man who has been wrongly accused of murder -- and whose life simply gets worse from there.
From a prison cell, Peel refuses to believe Marlott’s accusations as Lord Hervey appears as the Devil on Peel’s shoulder to reveal that “the patient misconstrues the Doctor as the source of all his agony”. Nightingale compounds the situation, giving a court-room testimony that Marlott’s behavior was "deranged", and Marlott’s defense lawyer also "helps" by offering that his client was "not in possession of his moral and mental faculties" due to his venereal disease. This chain of devastating events explains why, in addition to the symbolic connotations, Marlott was burdened with an STD throughout the season -- the corruption of the physical body allegedly reflects the state of the inner soul. If only there was a way to have a different body.
Oddly enough, for a show that has taken its time getting to the climax, I thought that the whole build-up in this episode towards the last quarter was more rushed than it needed to be. It feels like the season was designed to be an episode or two longer, and these events -- which are arguably the showcase for Sean Bean and his phenomenal ability to play a down-trodden and distressed everyman -- are greatly truncated; or perhaps, the reason that John Marlott’s decline’s so affecting is precisely down to how swiftly he has been brought down by the political, social, legal, and moral failings of his era. When Marlott exclaims "I’m not a murderer!", leaping forward to be restrained by both arms being manacled to bench, the constrictions of his world are made manifest.
Another moment that feels slightly off is when Boz (Ryan Sampson) meets Marlott in his cell and explains that he’s "leaving the newspaper business [and] going freelance with a book of sketches; thought perhaps this visit might form the basis for one of them". Yes, this is confirmation that Boz is Charles Dickens, the author of Sketches by Boz, and is famous for his observations about “Scenes” about places such as Newgate prison, but this is hardly the time to trumpet a new business venture -- even if it is a pretext for sending Boz out to find Alice (Jessie Ross) -- Marlott’s Get Out of Jail Free ticket -- in order to make the following scenes more tense. I’m surprised that Edgar Allen Poe didn’t take the opportunity to play the priest offering to take confession, so he could tell Marlott he had just started his writing career too.
And with that, Sean Bean -- sorry John Marlott -- dies on the gallows, kicking, struggling, and with a burlap sack on his head.
And then, he wakes up to the sound of "He lives".
Lord Hervey has taken it upon himself to bring Marlott back from the dead, which for the briefest of moments appears to be almost charitable as he shows Marlott his own hand -- minus syphilis -- but then, along with Marlott, we notice with the new addition of thread sewn around the wrists, and then the neck, and then we hear Marlott’s animalistic moans as he realizes he has a different body: somebody else’s body.
Marlott spends the rest of the episode crying, moaning, or entirely silent, and you can’t really blame him. The detective has crossed a line he had no intention of passing, and it would be impossible for him to close the case now, at the hands of the criminal he’s been chasing for ten episodes. Marlott has also been separated from the afterlife reunion with his deceased wife and child, and it’s quite devastating to witness the end point of the season’s journey featuring a man -- our hero -- who now wants nothing more than to be left alone to die.
Lord Hervey, on the other hand, is like a kid at Christmas with a shiny new present, proudly explaining that Marlott is "the next step, an existence where there is no suffering, because there is no death", and going so far as to parallel Doctor Frankenstein, calling his new recombination “The One. My Adam.” Yeah, because that turned out well. We discover that through the tutelage of Johann Dipple (who we looked at in the episode 3 review: he checked out Sir William’s PhD thesis. Damn it, another tiny clue Marlott missed!), Lord Hervey has arrived at a point beyond the work of the Chesters and galvanism, announcing to a bewildered Marlott: "Perhaps you were expecting electricity?
The keys to life lie deeper than that, much deeper. Inside us. All around". All of the galvanism talk throughout the season was a massive red herring! Hervey also casually mentions that "the substance that brought [Marlott] back from the grave came from [Flora’s] feotus and thousands of others like it". Just when I thought he was beginning to channel his inner-Wet Wet Wet to say the answer was "Love is all around us"; nope, dead babies; dead babies are all around us. Not quite as catchy, but Hervey seems pleased by the revelation.
Lord Hervey also explains that the main reason he chose Marlott as his test subject was due to his sister, Lady Hervey (Vanessa Kirby) proclaiming the virtue of her white knight. (Note to self: don’t make Game of Thrones-styled eternal pledges to women I barely know; it never ends well). Lord Hervey is the classic villain who can’t grasp the concept of the wrong that he has done, which leads him to bring his own sister into the fold, offering Monster Marlott as a grotesque “wedding gift”. Was this on her Amazon wedding gift list? I fear that we’ll never find out.
Vanessa Kirby, as Lady Hervey, perfectly executes a sublime horror scream response, backing into a corner, hands to face, eyes wide open, and making unnaturally discomforting shrieking sounds, whilst her brother almost laughs with incredulity at her disconcertment. I noticed that in this episode, Lady Hervey wears a variety of green outfits; has this always been the case? For comparison, Mina’s (Winona Ryder) clothes in Bram Stoker’s Dracula are mainly green, because according to costume designer Eiko Ishioka, she wanted to symbolically reflect "her youth, simplicity, and naiveté".
Conversely, green is also the color most commonly associated with Boris Karloff-era iterations of Frankenstein, so this could be her Bride of Frankenstein wedding dress color, to contrast with her actual wedding, where she is wearing a more traditional whitish grey color scheme. (Not that white became a tradition until 1840 -- 13 years after The Frankenstein Chronicles is set -- when Queen Victoria was married.)
Lady Hervey makes it her "penance" to help Marlott, but in the last throes of the episode, and of the season, to the soundtrack of Bach’s Toccata & Fugue in D Minor (a horror classic used in the opening titles of the 1931 adaptation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and more famously in Hammer Horror’s 1962 iteration of The Phantom of the Opera), Marlott stabs his captor, Lloris, in the eye with a fork and escapes, running down the path out of the Abbey to freedom, whilst shots are intercut of Lady Hervey’s wedding -- with Lord Hervey in tow, so he’ll still be roaming the shadows of London in season two -- and Alice returning home to her parents.
Does The Frankenstein Chronicles deliver us a satisfying ending? It perfectly sets up the next season in one major way, as I’m confident that we’re all wondering what a Monster Marlott will be capable of. Lady Hervey’s wedding replaced what was sure to be Nightingale and Flora’s wedding until events conspired against them, and as such it doesn’t really carry as much emotional weight. Lady Hervey (sorry, Lady Bentley) is now trapped in a loveless marriage to a man who has now given her brother, Lord Harvey, the potential for unlimited extra funds for his experiments, so it will be interesting to see how he deals with Marlott’s escape.
Nightingale fizzled out for me, so I’m not in a rush to see him again -- even though he’s probably the first person Marlott would turn to as he can now corroborate his story, and I’m sure Nightingale would be up for some revenge. Now that Alice has returned, Boz can expose Lord Hervey as Marlott intended, but I would expect that storyline to be snuffed out fairly quickly once the engines of politics and power start to grind. It’s a shame that Mary Shelley left the series in episode 5, but with her departure, there’s room for more cameos in the second series, as we edge ever closer to the Victorian period of English history.
On balance, the season ended just as brilliantly grim as it started except, instead of a floating dead body, we now have one sprinting and moaning about London. Have the scales started to tip from the pretenses of rational science to the monstrous and truly fantastical? I’m looking forward to finding out in the second chapter of The Frankenstein Chronicles.