This season on American Horror Story I am fascinated by the conflict between the carnival performers and the “normal” citizens of Jupiter. While modern audiences are not at all surprised that someone who looks like Dandy could turn out to be evil, the citizens of Jupiter are still operating under the assumption that moral quality is reflected in physical appearance.
I am about to discuss an extremely creepy topic during a thunderstorm, in a dark room. (Why is the room dark? Oh, wouldn’t you like to know, Theoretical Reader, wouldn’t you like to know!) This week I am blending two different stories that share a conflict: possession. No, not that possession; I’m referring to the one that involves either extreme psychological phenomena or non-corporal-but-sentient-beings, depending on whether or not the characters believe in ghosts, demons, and/or spirits. In Penny Dreadful and The Exorcist*, characters become actors in deadly conflicts that turn their bodies and minds into war zones.
While there is plenty of internal and interpersonal conflict in Penny Dreadful, the plot is driven by the clash of mortal values and supernatural desires. The group of characters that I refer to as generally “Pro-Human” (Sir Malcolm, Vanessa, Ethan, Victor, and Sembene, and Dorian Gray) have personal goals that vary widely but are not incompatible. They are united in the search for Sir Malcolm’s daughter Mina, who has been kidnapped by mysterious creatures. This is an example of a classic super-ordinate goal: mortals vs. evil non-humans, but this is only one layer of conflict woven throughout Penny Dreadful’s story. (Warning: there are more spoilers in this post than there are pale people in British period pieces).