We’ve reached the half-way stage of this engrossing, grim series, and so far equal time has been given to finding away through the moral and spiritual quagmire of where medicine and science mix with religion. John Marlott – a policeman seconded by home secretary Sir Robert Peel, who thinks that a murderer struck because he was against his new Anatomy Act – had slowly
Like ghosts emerging from the Georgian London fog, these suspects are yet to truly show their hand, but by the end of this episode I felt we were edging closer to a full presentation of possible murderers. But, like so many series before it, this third episode of The Frankenstein Chronicles took a breath to fill out some back story to some of the characters.
It had been inferred that Marlott had passed on the then-fatal, sexually transmitted disease syphilis to his wife and child. The heavy burden of this guilt had been weighing him down like a planet on his shoulders as he trudged around London, the mixture of the mercury pills he had been taking and the stupefying nature of the cases he was investigating (the stitched-together murder victim and the missing girl Alice, who he had become mildly obsessed with because it obviously reminded him of his own daughter) addling his mind.
We found out a little bit more in this episode. The hallucinatory effects of the mercury caused him to have more flashbacks, seeing his wife when she was alive and his daughter being buried after succumbing to the disease. One single line also told us more about his past. During a meeting with the journalist Boz, who chided him for not knowing what the novel Frankenstein was, Marlott told him that all he knew was that he fought in the battle of Waterloo against Bonaparte’s men, and that was all that mattered. Minimal exposition, but enough to tell us that Marlott had lived a life and had probably brought syphilis back from the war with him.
This fascination with Frankenstein provoked him to visit Mary Shelley in Kentish Town. This stern woman (played with real force by Anna Maxwell Martin), who was both suspicious and disdainful of Marlott, revealed that she, too, had had quite the life – her husband, Percy, died four years previously, and her mother Mary Wollstencraft, died in childbirth. Her father had also died.
When Marlott asked Shelley about Prometheus, she answered: “He stole fire from the Gods and moulded from human clay, like my Victor. A symbol of rebellion. For all of us who oppose tyranny and oppression,” she answered.
“Tyranny and oppression? Or the laws of God?
“What would he not do to defeat death, Mr Marlott? Might we not defy God’s laws, in order to be reunite with those we love?”
This was a telling passage of dialogue, one that seemed to refer to Shelley’s past but also Marlott’s past, too. And even perhaps their futures.
Elsewhere, young Flora was beginning to become an important character in her own right. After staying at Marlott’s and building a friendship with Nightingale, she revealed she was pregnant. Marlott had an idea. He escorted Lady Harvey to church and asked her is he could deposit Flora at her anti-Anatomy Act brother’s hospice. She agreed and took both Marlott and Flora there. Marlott’s plan was to have Flora spy on Sir Daniel Hervey and his workings, because, in Marlott’s mind, he was a suspect. Hervey granted Marlott a tour of his charity hospital, and as they saw people with cancer Hervey asked about the syphilis he had instantly spotted when the two men first met in episode one. He told Marlott he could give him a natural remedy that may help, but Marlott rebuffed him. Instead, Hervey took him to see a patient who was suffering from the disease, his face half eaten by the bacteria and suffering form near-death fits. It was enough to terrify Marlott, his own mortality coming sharply into view.
We also saw Sir William Chester, who behind his smirk is playing his Galvanist cards close to his chest, and we caught a brief glimpse of Sir Robert Peel’s parliamentary opponent, Sir Bentley Warburton, who’s also a suspect.
The episode ended when Marlott and Nightingale went in pursuit of gang leader Billy, in the tunnels that were used to ferry the dead bodies between their point of capture and the hospitals. Something tells me this is going to get darker before anyone sees any light.