Penny Dreadful is a Showtime Victorian horror series from John Logan, starring Eva Green, Josh Hartnett, Billie Piper, Rory Kinnear, Reeve Carney, Harry Treadaway, Simon Russell Beale and Timothy Dalton. Season 3 and the series concluded on June 19, 2016.
Many people are familiar with classic literary characters like Dr. Frankenstein and Dorian Gray. “Penny Dreadful” brings those and other characters into a new light by exploring their origin stories in this psychological thriller that takes place in the dark corners of Victorian London. Sir Malcolm is an explorer who has lost his daughter to the city’s creatures, and he will do whatever is needed to get her back and to right past wrongs. His accomplice, seductive clairvoyant Vanessa Ives, recruits charming American Ethan Chandler to help locate Sir Malcolm’s daughter and slay some monsters. Oscar-winner Sam Mendes (“American Beauty”) is one of the series’ executive producers.
It took Penny Dreadful two seasons before it finally found it’s footing as a strong and great show — and it did so just in time to die off as the series is officially over. This announcement was a shocker that wasn’t revealed until the third season finale was revealed to in fact be the SERIES finale after it aired. I always loved the concept of this show – featuring these grim and realistic takes on famous monsters and characters from horror novels, but Penny Dreadful never quite lived up to the hype for me. That all changed in season three, when the action was ramped up, the stakes were raised significantly higher than before and the stories became so engrossing that I couldn’t believe this was the same show I’d harped on so bad last season. Penny Dreadful had blossomed into a beautiful and horrific butterfly in it’s third and sadly final season, finally hooking me in as a fan and breaking my heart in the process.
After all of our characters had seemingly went their separate ways in the second season finale, I had thought the show was doomed to fail for good. I was wrong even though I thought the core of this series was always watching Vanessa, Ethan, Victor, Dorian, Lily, John and Sir Malcom converse with one another and have their paths cross in exciting and unexpected fashion. By having the main cast go their separate ways and grow their own stories organically and in tremendously exciting fashion, Penny Dreadful wound up a rejuvenated and compelling action horror drama unlike any other show in 2016. This was the Gothic period piece I had been waiting for. It embraced it’s nature by bringing in characters like Dr. Jekyll and Dracula…
Ethan’s journey back to America to face his father and the authorities that had been hunting him, was the most captivating storyline for me this season. Brian Cox plays Ethan’s father and he does such a damn good job… The intensity of his scenes this season – that awkward dinner, the church confession sequence – all of it nerve-racking and glorious in only the way Cox is capable of delivering. Wes Studi comes in out of nowhere this season as an Apache warrior with deep ties to Ethan and he also delivers what could be the performance of his career… Just an unbelievable amount of stacked tastiness to explore here and it was nice to get out of the doom and gloom in the London area and explore the darkness of America and still have it fit the tone of the show so well. Even the witch from season 2, who follows Ethan on his quest back home became a captivating character and sympathetic in her own way – which is crazy to me because she was killing babies last year.
Eva Green is a tremendously talented leading lady and the work she has done on this show is glorious – from her dances with the devil to her struggles with inner demons… She has an episode where it’s ALL her and Rory Kinnear mid-way through the season and it was a masterclass in acting. I won’t spoil the details but when you do an episode that is as claustrophobic as this one was, you have to nail it and that’s what they did.
I had some issues with the way Billie Piper’s Lily went this year, trying to start a girl-power crusade with her new lover Dorian Gray, but that’s OK. Also the creature – aka Frankenstein’s monster – mostly went about seeking his origins before his resurrection and it was so depressing that I almost couldn’t take it. But Penny Dreadful isn’t a romcom. It doesn’t shy away from these kinds of horrors and sadness, so I understand the direction they went. I was honestly lost though through most of Lily’s crusade this year until the very end when she has a heart to heart with Victor Frankenstein about her past and it really, really got to me. So even though it took some time to get to the point – when the point came, it came down hard on the heart-strings in ways I didn’t expect.
The writing team struck gold this season by coming up with a winning formula of balancing engrossing character drama and embracing the silliness of it all by throwing us into a hailstorm of werewolf violence and action sequences that damn near come close to Kingsman: The Secret Service levels by the finale. Can we please have a spin-off series featuring vampire hunter Catriona Hartdegan (Perdita Weeks) in the lead? She kicks so much ass… SO MUCH ASS. She was terrific.
Every single storyline wraps up this year whether we like it or not. The show could have continued, albeit with less major characters, but I would have liked to see it move ahead even as conclusive as the series finale wound up being. I won’t spoil what happens for you all here, but creator John Logan made the decision to end the show despite Showtime asking for a fourth because he felt it natural to close it out with the main arc coming to an end. I respect that.