Penny Dreadful Season 3: Last First Impressions

As of this morning, post-season 3 finale, it’s still unclear if Penny Dreadful is coming back. The finale felt like a series finale, although the show could easily do an anthology-style continuation or spin off a character or two (Catriona Hartdegen anyone?). Just confirmed that the season finale was the apparently planned series finale: EW interview with John Logan and David Nevins from Showtime HERE.

I passionately loved this show and am baffled that it didn’t bring in more viewers, though it has a rabid fanbase. Penny Dreadful was horror with depth and heart, stunning imagery, and a fiercely talented cast. Eva Green, if you hadn’t noticed yet, is a goddess, absolutely fearless. I will miss it terribly.

Here are some thoughts on season 3, its last. (SPOILERS)

Superlatives:

Favorite New Character: Catriona Hartdegen

Favorite Storyline: Lily, Dorian, and the army of vengeful prostitutes.

Favorite Episode: “A Blade of Grass” (episode 4).

Favorite Moment: Ethan and Vanessa’s reunion in the finale. Sad but beautiful and perfect.

Whatever the Opposite of a Superlative Is

Least Favorite New Character: While every new character was interesting, Dracula wasn’t scary enough for me.

Least Favorite Storyline: Ethan et al. in the American West.

Least Favorite Episode: “This World Is Our Hell” (episode 5).

Least Favorite Moment: Ethan aligning with Hecate, in more ways than one (do you see a theme?).

Unresolved Questions/Issues (A Wishlist)

We never got to see:

  • Ethan and Lily (Brona) crossing paths again.
  • Ethan and Dorian crossing paths again.
  • Dorian’s painting!!!
  • Victor and The Creature/John Clare crossing paths again.
  • Catriona Hartdegen develop as a character.
  • Dr. Jekyll develop (much) as a character or become Mr. Hyde.
  • Ethan and Vanessa make love.

Season 3 was not my favorite, but it still captivated, surprised, and moved me. Watching Dorian, Lily, and Justine have sex covered in blood, I was reminded of another atmospheric horror show with supernatural elements that I loved, True Blood. Both mixed the grotesque with moments of absolute tenderness and beauty. However, Penny Dreadful was more cinematic and made good on its promise of consistently complex female characters; the latter is a highlight of the show for me.

Although I appreciated the separation of the central characters and branching storylines, that separation felt a little drawn out and the characters’ reunion and introduction to the new ones a bit hasty. I struggled also with a few of the characters’ choices and rationales, primarily Ethan’s abrupt, I-may-as-well-be-evil attitude, which just as quickly disappears. The dinner table showdown felt anti-climactic, too, with Hecate and Rusk’s deaths seeming to have little meaning after all the build-up. I did like Ethan and his father’s final confrontation, though, with Sir Malcolm stepping in so that Ethan didn’t have to commit patricide and become the man he hated. As Ethan says in the finale, Sir Malcolm is his family, not Talbot or  or even Kaetenay. The found family aspect is another element I love about the show.

Initially I also questioned Vanessa’s giving in to Dracula when she’d seemed so strong with the help of Dr. Seward and Catriona, plus the vision of Kaetenay and Ethan. Upon thinking about it more, her feelings of isolation with the others gone, however incorrect they may be, were clearly a big factor, given her final words with Ethan, who assures her she was never alone. I do wonder when the moment was that she regretted her choice; we don’t see it.

Knowing now that this season was planned to be the last, the introduction of Catriona and Dr. Jekyll in particular felt like a tease. Catriona was an instant fan favorite (and I already started shipping her with Vanessa), and the addition of the famous Dr. Jekyll led to assumptions that we might “meet” Mr. Hyde. This is one reason that I was surprised the finale was THE finale.

I’ve got nothing but love for everything else this season. As mentioned above, I was most drawn to Lily’s arc, which very nicely dovetailed with Victor’s, naturally. The show has put what Victorian society did to women at the forefront of its storytelling, with clear ties to the present, which continues to punish women for many of the same “sins.” Lily’s backstory was a surprise, though it wasn’t needed for me to understand and sympathize with her “war” against men. Though I don’t condone violence for violence, there was a vicarious thrill in watching victimized women take vengeance. I was relieved that Victor came to understand Lily better and the wrongness of his own plan. And I was relieved Lily left Dorian to his own hollow devices. All of these characters, no matter how angry I might have gotten with them at times, were easy for me to sympathize with otherwise.

I was sad to see Mr. Lyle go, yet he still managed to play a critical role, helping Vanessa twice (recommending her to both Dr. Seward and Catriona). On the other hand, I was happy to see Patti LuPone back and very cleverly as a new character. Her sessions with Vanessa served as a contrast to what Victor and Dr. Jekyll were up to, as well as what Vanessa suffered in that white room in the past.

However sad, the ending worked for me: Vanessa is at peace, and Ethan helped give that to her. Sir Malcolm wants to go on, without running away from anything. Ethan recognizes and values his family, and I think Victor feels similarly (ask me about my Ethan-Victor brothership feels). Mr. Clare will not make a monster of his son.

So, fan writers, help a sister out! In addition to the unresolved items above, I hope to see:

  • the adventures of Catriona and co.
  • who Sir Malcolm becomes
  • what Lily does next
  • what Mr. Clare does next
  • Dorian learning about Vanessa’s death
  • Dorian’s goddamned painting
  • the new found family

Have at it, and I promise to contribute if/when a plot bunny strikes!

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I know how you feel, Vanessa.
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Penny Dreadful Season 3: Last First Impressions

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