“Penny Dreadful” Season 2 – Some of the Best Character Moments and Worst Written Villains

   “Penny Dreadful” continues to be my trash and after this season I’m really curious to see how it all wraps up. This season is not as good as Season 1 and that is due largely to how the characters are written to get to the climax and the villains. God, I hate these villains. They are trash and do not work and I’ll get into the why below. I still think this show is worth your time though due to the strong character moments this season brings.

The show was created by John Logan.

The story picks up with Nightwalker Witches lead by Evelyn Poole targeting Vanessa and her team. At the same time Lily is finding her footing in undeath and John Clare seeks work once more as Inspector Rusk investigates the most recent spate of murders tied to Ethan.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Soundtrack – Abel Korzenioweski is an amazing composer. This season really illustrates it well too as some of the plot is real dumb but his soundtrack still elevates the emotion or threats of scenes. The opening theme song is also worthy of praise as it captures the melancholy tone of the show.

The Lore – This season has some great lore reveals. The greatest lore is reveal is Lucifer has a brother named Dracula who was also cast from heaven and thrown to Earth. I’ve never seen a gothic fantasy show do something like this. I’m very curious to see how this plays out later.

The Characters – The main characters and most of the supporting characters continue to be the strongest part of this show. John Logan is good at bringing nuance and depth to our protagonists and newcomers and this season that is fully on display.

Lyle – Lyle is wonderful. This flamboyant, gay and Jewish egyptologist is under Evelyn Poole’s thumb as a double agent at first but he uses every opportunity to fight back. He even kills one of the witches and is one of the few characters at the end giving Victor a listening ear. I thought he’d die this season but was very glad to be proven wrong.

Angelique – Angelique is one of the coolest minor characters this season. She is a transgender woman who works as an uptown prostitute who becomes the lover of Dorian Gray. She is wrestling against abuse and prejudice and for much of the series Dorian supports her, until he meets Lily Frankenstein and until Angelique finds his painting. Her death illustrates Dorian’s depravity in a way we haven’t seen in the show as it was only his inability to trust that lead him to do it. She deserved so much better.

Sembene – This is the season we get Sembene’s backstory. He is an outsider as he was once a former slave trader and we know he dealt with other beings like werewolves, as when Ethan is revealed to be one he accepts Ethan. Hs story ends in death when he is trapped when Ethan transforms in a very stupid witch’s plot. Like Angelique I wish we had gotten more of his story.

Ethan and Vanessa – One of the strongest relationships this season is that between Ethan and Vanessa. We learn Ethan is “The Wolf of God” and the one thing the forces of darkness fear. We also have Ethan’s inability to open up about being a werewolf to anyone outside of Sembene, but in Vanessa and Ethan’s protecting of each other we see a deep friendship become a complicated sort-of romantic relationship. I loved their scenes together and am curious if this arc is going to pay off next season.

Victor and Vanessa – Victor and Vanessa have a lovely platonic friendship that was needed on this show. Vanessa helps Victor in his courting of Lily (they even go dress shopping together) and she is one of the few he will listen to in facing his addiction. I hope we get more moments of this relationship next season.

Victor and his Creations – This season we see Victor’s guilt tied to his creations and the reasons why. He loves Brona who he turned into Lily Frankenstein but is so jealous that of course it will only end in tragedy. He also created Lily for John Clare (Caliban’s new name). John Clare is a constant shadow over his life as we see the guilt Victor feels in the pain in John’s creation and John’s killing of Proteus. His relationship to his creations is what defines him and when Lily becomes a powerhouse beyond his control he loses himself in addiction at the end of the season.

John Clare – John Clare has a healthy friendship this season, and it is with Vanessa Ives. She sees beauty in him and they talk philosophy and poetry and she even teaches him to dance. Sadly him being the monster leads to his job at a waxworks ending in him captured to be a freak on display. In the end he kills the owners and escapes, and after his understandable rejection by Lily and then her offer of power that he refuses, he asks Vanessa to run away with him. She is afraid to hurt him though and stays in London, leading to him heading north like in the novel “Frankenstein.”

Dorian Gray – Reeve Carney has really come into this role. The season starts out with a broken-hearted Dorian being greeted by Angelique. It is this forwardness that entrances Dorian and for much of the season he is building up her confidence in her as he claims to believe in her. Sadly this ends when he meets Lily Frankenstein and we see Dorian is only interested in what he sees as the newest person to entrance him who can give him new experiences. We also see the depths of sociopathy when he kills Angelique after she still loves him even after seeing the deformed, undead painting of his true self. It is this undead nature that brings Lily to him and at the end of the show they establish an alliance as undead faction with plans to rule all.

Lily Frankenstein – Billie Piper has some amazing range that is really on display this season. We see her rebirth from Brona into Lily and relearning herself and new identity in relationship to Victor. Her arc from here is transcending this as we see her murder a “john” and throw John Clare around when he attempts to force a relationship calling out the abuse of men before offering him power and a chance to rule. This offer ends up being accepted by Dorian, and when Victor tries to kill her we learn that for sometime she has remembered who she once was and has greater plans to rule as an immortal. It’s excellent and I can’t wait to see what she and Dorian do.

The Cons:

Contrived Main Character Idiocy – Most of the idiocy this season is tied to the witches and their plots. I really think the writers didn’t know what to do so they wrote the story to force character action, rather than characters making organic choices that made sense. This really comes to a head in the final episodes that I’ll get into below.

Characters Going Alone – Malcolm is under Evelyn Poole’s spell for much of this season and once he is freed he goes to face the witches alone, when he’s never done that before and last season the whole point was acting as a team and trusting each other. This happens again with Vanessa going alone to save Malcolm and finally Ethan goes during a full moon, knowing he’ll be a danger. He does this again when he turns himself in to Inspector Rusk. This only happened so we could isolate the protagonists to separate them at the end when nothing last season or this season would set this up. I hated it.

Sembene’s Death – Sembene dies from contrived character idiocy and characters going alone. We saw Ethan turn down going out twice before because of the danger of becoming a werewolf and him doing so is how Sembene dies as he is trapped when Ethan transforms. It is real dumb. He is also the only person of color on the cast so his death stands out even more as a toxic trope. Why couldn’t his story continue? He was in the main credits so the showrunners saw him as main cast.

The Witches – The dumbest part of this season is the witches. They are trying to have Vanessa become Lucifer’s wife but none of their tactics do anything to make that possible. When they aren’t failing in basic tasks, they are peacocking around like they’ve already won. They are never scary because they rarely succeed, and beyond staying young they can’t even really control others all that well. In the end nearly all of them are killed by Team Vanessa, with only Evelyn’s daughter Hecate escaping after she uses Ethan the werewolf to kill Evelyn. She clearly has plans for Ethan but I don’t care. She is just as idiotic as her sisters and she only lived due to most characters being hit with the “stupid stick” in the last few episodes.

This season isn’t as strong as season 1 but it has stronger character moments than season 1. In the end I’d still recommend watching on though as that is what I plan to do. I want to see how things end in season 3 as I care about Team Vanessa and see potential in the deep lore that was largely wasted this season.

Final Score: 7 / 10

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