Season 1 primarily covered the story of Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton), as he partnered with Miss Vanessa Ives (Eva Green) in trying to rescue Sir Malcolm’s daughter, Mina, from the clutches of a Master Vampire. Along the way, they enlist the help of Dr. Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) and Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett), a gun slinging American with (wait for it) a dark past.
In the first episode, Sir Malcolm and Miss Ives take Ethan to an opium den where they meet with some unsavoury characters who have information about Mina. Shockingly, this does not go well for anybody, and a fight breaks out. During this time, we learn that Ives has some sort of supernatural ability, as she starts to hear voices that none of the other characters can. This leads her to a room full of corpses and a master vampire who is quickly dispatched by Sir Malcolm’s sword cane (natch). Mina is not with this vampire, so they take the only lead they have (the vampire’s body) to a young doctor working in an illegal lab. The doctor peels back the vampire’s skin to find Egyptian hieroglyphics written underneath and is immediately fascinated by what he sees.
They take pictures of the hieroglyphics to a delightfully eccentric Egyptologist named Dr. Ferdinand Lyle. He is quite interested, but doesn’t tell them anymore until they come to his party the following week, since Sir Malcolm is quite famous.
At the end of the first episode, the young doctor we met earlier is fiddling around in a secret lab in his apartment, when lightning strikes and animates a corpse he had been working on. The doctor introduces himself as Victor Frankenstein to his new creation.
Episode 2 finds Victor and his new creation learning the very basics of life, like eating and speaking. Using a copy of “The Two Gentlemen of Verona”, the creature randomly picks a name for himself: Proteus.
Elsewhere in town, Ethan Chandler stumbles into the closest bar to get a morning drink after literally picking himself up from a rough night. An Irish woman named Brona Croft (Billie Piper) with tuberculosis takes an interest in him, and he is instantly fascinated with her. She goes off on a job to be a sexy photographic model, to the house of a man named Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney). While Dorian watches Brona have her picture taken in various states of undress, she coughs up some blood, and is suddenly a thousand times more interesting to Dorian. They have sex and Dorian tells the photographer to keep taking photos.
Sir Malcolm and Ives go to Dr. Lyle’s party, a distinctly lavish affair. While there, Ives meets Dorian and they instantly connect with each other. Before they can say much, Dr. Lyle introduces Madame Kali, a medium, and a group including Dorian, Ives, and Sir Malcolm settle down to “commune with the spirits”. The seance goes awry when Ives starts to contort and something speaks through her to condemn Sir Malcolm of letting his son die in Africa before screaming and terrifying everybody. Ives storms out of the seance into the rain and has sex in a dumpster with the first guy she sees while Dorian sneakily watches. Yes really.
Victor takes Proteus out for his first adventure into the real world, which both mystifies and fascinates him. While out, they meet Ethan Chandler and Brona Croft out on a date. Upon returning home, Victor explains the concept of friends to Proteus, who exclaims that he will have many friends, right before he is ripped in half by a man who announces to Victor that his firstborn has returned.
In the third episode we learn that this man is Caliban (Rory Kinnear), Victor’s first creation, who he abandoned after the resurrection didn’t go as planned. Caliban recounts the tale of how he grew up alone and afraid, fearing and hating humans. He followed Victor to London, only to be beaten up for his frightening appearance. An actor named Vincent shows him the first act of kindness by taking him in and giving him a job in the Grand Guignol theatre as a stagehand, as well as the name Caliban. From there, Caliban tracked Victor down to make a demand of him: a female partner.
Ethan needs money to pay for Brona’s tuberculosis medicine, so he joins up again with Sir Malcolm and Ives as they go to the London Zoo to look for Mina. While there, they run into a pack of wolves, but Ethan is able to make them disperse with a touch of his hand. They find and capture a vampire thrall named Fenton, but nothing else. Ethan is concerned about taking Fenton prisoner, and Sir Malcolm makes all of them, including Victor, swear to follow this to the end. He also reveals that the vampire may be using Mina as bait for Ives.
Sir Malcolm brings in a hematologist named Dr. Van Helsing to help study Fenton’s blood in hopes for a cure. It does not go well, and the gang begins to discuss what to do if Mina cannot be saved. Sir Malcolm will hear nothing of this. Ives begins following Dorian around, but being a bit of a creep, Dorian is totally into this. They run into each other, and Ethan and Brona at the Grand Guignol theatre. Brona gets freaked out by how close Ethan, Ives, and Dorian are, and tries to break off their relationship before running into the streets. Dorian takes Ethan out to drown his sorrows – they go watch rat killer dogs and then listen to music and drink absinthe in Dorian’s mansion. Ethan and Dorian kiss, and all our little hearts squee in delight.
The fifth episode is something that is somewhat unique to Penny Dreadful, and that is an entire episode dedicated to flashbacks to a specific character’s backstory. We learn that Mina and Ives’s families grew up in the country together and that the girls were like sisters. We see them grow up and Mina becomes engaged to a handsome young soldier who is going to take her to India. Somewhat out of spite and abandonment, Ives prays and “something answered me.” Ives has sex with Mina’s fiance the night before the wedding, they are discovered and everything falls apart. The emotional/spiritual toll of the night causes Ives to fall into an illness, displaying many symptoms of seizures and catatonia. She asks her mother to let her die as atonement for her sins. She is brought to an asylum where she is treated in the most horrible Victorian fashion before eventually being trepanned and sent home almost completely vegetative. The demon inside of her comes to her again in the form of Sir Malcolm and offers to heal her with magic demon sexy times. Ives’s mother comes in to find her daughter literally fucking a ghost and she dies instantly from the shock. After this, Ives recovers but spends her days alone in the countryside, until a vision of Mina appears to her on the beach and begs for her help. She goes to Sir Malcolm in London and they agree that even though they hate each other, they will team up for Mina’s sake.
Back in the present time, Sir Malcolm takes Ethan and Sembene onto a plague ship looking for the vampires and they find Mina there only to lose her again. Van Helsing takes Victor under his wing and shows him what he can of vampire lore, before Caliban snaps his neck and demands his bride. Ives goes on a date with Dorian, ending in sexy times that triggers her demonic possession, just as Sir Malcolm was ready to trust her again.
Sir Malcolm convinces Victor and Ethan that the only thing they can do to help Ives fight her possession is to keep her safe from herself until she can fight it off. Demon Ives is a wreck, and it becomes clear that Ives is slowly losing the battle, prompting Ethan to want to call a priest. Sir Malcolm objects because he is trying to use Ives’ current state as a way to call out to Mina. After Ethan threatens Sir Malcolm, and Victor agrees, they call a priest to give Ives the Last Rites. She bites a piece of the priest’s face off and tries to escape. Ives regains lucidity for just long enough to request that Ethan kill her. At the last second, Ethan performs an exorcism on her, saving her, and we learn that Ives now does indeed know where Mina is.
Ives breaks it off with Dorian because she knows he is no good for her, and he experiences heartbreak for the first time. Ives then leads the gang to the Grand Guignol theatre, where the vampires have been hanging out since the plague ship. They get there only to find that it’s a trap, but Sir Malcolm kills the master vampire in time, which also kills all the thralls. Mina appears, but reveals herself to have been also turned into a vampire and goes to turn Ives when Sir Malcolm shoots her. She begs him saying “but I’m your daughter!” and Sir Malcolm replies, “I’ve already got a daughter.” and kills her. It’s amazing. Sadly afterwards, Brona succumbs to her tuberculosis and Ethan calls the only doctor he knows, Victor. After sending Ethan out of the room, Victor smothers Brona with a pillow and tells Ethan not to worry because he’ll take care of the body. Victor brings the body to Caliban as his new bride. Filled with despair, Ethan is drowning his sorrows in the inn when a pair of men, who are there to fetch him back to America, arrive. Ethan refuses to go, then turns into a motherfucking wolfman and slaughters all of them.
Ives goes to see a priest to ask about getting properly exorcised. He asks her a very important question, “Do you really want to be normal?”