glitter_n_gore: (eric draven)
glitter_n_gore ([personal profile] glitter_n_gore) wrote2017-06-29 10:38 am

Pride Month: All About Werewolves - Ethan Chandler

I've been rewatching the first season of Penny Dreadful in preparation for this blog series, and wow, how did I not know Josh Hartnett's "Ethan Chandler" (actually Larry Talbot) was a werewolf from the word Go? Sometimes I'm slow on the uptake. In this case though, I know why I didn't figure it out right away: all the other characters in Penny Dreadful are pulled from classic Gothic literature. The Wolf-Man, however, entered the horror lexicon through cinema.

GIF of full moon rising over the desert as Ethan turns to see it, looking very worried.

The closest thing we have to a werewolf book is Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and that character is represented elsewhere in the series. So Ethan might technically be the Wolf-Man, and yes his real name is the same as Lon Chaney, Jr.’s character in the Universal film, and good for you if you figured that out before I did. But I've only seen the original Wolf-Man one time, and Josh Hartnett's take on the character is remarkably different from the classic monster in many ways.

The first thing you need to understand about Ethan is that he is one of the good guys. The show's narrative focus and framing makes that clear, not immediately, but quickly enough. One of the things I appreciate about Penny Dreadful is enlightening me to the fact that Hartnett can actually, y'know, act. I was aware of him during his '90s heartthrob phase, and of course I've seen The Faculty and 30 Days of Night, but this was the first time he played a character I really loved. The entire series is impeccably cast, from Millennial Queen of the Goths, Eva Green, who seems like she was genetically engineered to play Vanessa Ives; to Harry Treadaway as a pretentious, aloof, but strangely vulnerable Victor Frankenstein; everyone here is throwing all their weight into their performances.

Hartnett is one of the more subtle and mysterious entities here, partly because it took me slightly longer to figure out who he was, but also because his stage persona--the first version of him we meet--is so grating and unlikeable. As a result, it took me a few tries to get into the show. If memory serves, this was around the same time we found out Hannibal was getting cancelled, and I needed something to fill the Murder Husband-shaped hole in my life. This wasn’t it. They’re both highly stylized horror shows, but tonally could not be more different. What I ultimately wound up latching onto was Ethan’s constant fight to do good. Malcolm Murray is out for revenge against the creature who took his daughter. Vanessa is seeking redemption from a past wrongdoing that leads a dark spirit to attach itself to her psyche. Dorian is a sensual hedonist who wants to taste/touch/smell/see ALL THE THINGS. Frankenstein is, well, Frankenstein, pulling scraps of other people together to make himself feel important. Ethan, though. He’s running from his past, yes, but he’s also just trying to start over and be a good person. Like Lupin in my last entry, he is the most decent character in the lineup, and serves as the show’s moral center.

So imagine how thrilled I was when this happened:

GIF of Ethan and Dorian Gray kissing

At this point, Ethan has had only one substantial relationship, with the ill-fated Brona. It’s strongly hinted that he’s going to get together with Vanessa at some point, but that’s not important right now because this episode is when I finally figured out that Ethan was, in fact, a werewolf. That revelation hitting right on the heels of this love scene meant I couldn’t help but tie the two things together. Ethan’s lupine nature is a source of shame, something he keeps secret because he thinks it makes him evil. It’s depressingly common for people all across the LGBT spectrum to feel this way, either through cultural osmosis or direct bullying and violence.

Ethan believes he’s a monster. But he’s wrong. We’re shown over and over that Ethan’s inner wolf is a force for good. He’s called “Lupus Dei,” the Wolf of God, a monster by some definitions but one destined to save the world. This scene isn’t treated any differently than Vanessa’s love scene with Dorian earlier in the season. Dorian fixates on them, they get close enough for him to uncover some hidden truth about them, they have sex one time, and then they part ways. The only one of Ethan’s sexual partners treated as an evil influence is the witch Hecate in Season Three, who was bent on exploiting his brutal instincts for her own reasons. That’s not what’s happening here. It’s one of the more tender moments in a show heavy on extremely graphic, sometimes violent, sex scenes.

The other thing going on here is this phenomenon called “queerbaiting”--that irritating practice where a show, movie, comic series, etc. will inject a lot of ambiguous subtext into the interactions between characters of the same gender, without ever following through. I noticed right away that the buildup to Ethan and Dorian’s moment is styled after Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The huge ballroom, the candles everywhere, the absinthe; it’s a classic Victorian Gothic seduction scene. I just assumed it was some kind of metaphorical seduction. Never for a moment did I believe the show would actually GO THERE. But then they did, and it was both a pivotal character moment, and didn’t become a big deal that somehow altered Ethan’s personality or values. Ethan remained Penny Dreadful’s moral center, and eventually learned to confront and channel his inner wolf in a positive way.

Now, obviously my final post is going to spill over into July, because I suck at pacing myself, but I will be talking about Ruby the Red-Riding Werewolf from Once Upon a Time. See you then!
rachelmanija: (Default)

[personal profile] rachelmanija 2017-06-29 10:40 pm (UTC)(link)
I watched the show with a friend, and remarked, "If TV wasn't so goddamn homophobic, they would kiss right now."

AND THEN THEY KISSED. It was one of the most satisfying moments of TV I've ever seen.
lindalupos: (Default)

[personal profile] lindalupos 2017-07-01 06:15 pm (UTC)(link)
Man, I love Ethan. Best character in the series. Besides him being the moral centre, I loved how he had chemistry with all the other characters. From his pseudo father/son relationship with Sir Malcolm to the sibling-ish relationship with Victor, being comrades in arms with Sembene (such a waste of a good character) to... whatever kind of weird mix of romance/sibling/caretaker thing he had going on with Vanessa. :p

And yeah, I too was amazed that Josh Hartnett could act! I especially loved the episode where Vanessa was confined at Sir Malcolm's house, and the Devil (or whatever it ended up being?) took Ethan's form. Such a great twist and he sold it so well.

Plus, like you said, no Queerbaiting! Penny Dreadful had some missteps but when it was good, it was really good.
lindalupos: (Default)

[personal profile] lindalupos 2017-07-03 11:01 am (UTC)(link)
Yes! Ethan is the one character who is unquestionably Good (well, of the main characters anyway). I loved how he basically became the rock the others could build on, too. Shame it went kind of off the rails in the third season - I felt like it suffered from the same problem Hannibal did in the third season, "oh crap we're going to be cancelled, better wrap this up quicly" and they didn't have the time to let the storylines breathe.

Josh Hartnett as a vampire would be great! And that's not a sentence I would have said ten years ago, heh. Aging out of teenage-heartthrob territory did him good.

And yeah, I mainly meant Angelique and Lily when I said missteps. I adored Angelique (another one of those characters who are just innately good, and I really liked how accepting Dorian was of her - well, up to a point anyway, before he ruined everything) and I have Opinions on how the show dealt with her.
lindalupos: (Default)

[personal profile] lindalupos 2017-07-05 12:35 pm (UTC)(link)
It's like, the first season is always set-up, the second time is when everybody is familiar with the characters and things finally get going. And then usually the third season is either when things get REALLY good, or when it seems the showmakers figure "we have to top our second season" and things go off the rails.
I liked the Europe parts of Hannibal (probably because I'm from Europe myself and have visited Florence, haha) but I could do without the psychedelic bits, so in that regard I was glad when the second half mostly abandoned those (mostly). On the other hand the Toothfairy could have easily been the big bad for an entire series, and I feel like "explore Hannibal's backstory" and "Toothfairy/Red Dragon" both suffered from being crammed into the same season with the result that neither got enough time. And then that stupid cliffhanger (cliff-faller, haha) ending... uggh.

Angelique deserved so much better! I never did warm up to Dorian; he was always in his own plotline, rarely interacting with the cast, so that in itself made me go "so why should I care? What is your point?" a bit (I think they teased he was another of those old Egyptian gods but that never really went anywhere). And then he was just a petulant child who was only in it for the thrill and had no qualms discarding Angelique once she had found out his secret, and I doubt he would have kept her around for much longer once she had stopped being interesting to him.
Part of me wonders what would have happened had she stayed around until Lily and her proto feminism club, though! Would they have accepted her?
star_healer: (Default)

[personal profile] star_healer 2017-07-02 07:12 am (UTC)(link)
Ethan was definitely an interesting character in that series. Although they were all various monsters, he was by far the most human. I was really happy that they were willing to film that scene, and that it didn't become a focal point for derision. I did wish Ethan had gotten to see what became of Brona before the series ended, but I don't think he did.