“Penny Dreadful” Season 3 – Great Character Beats With Incomplete Endings

Eva Green in Penny Dreadful (2014)

    “Penny Dreadful” is a show that doesn’t quite stick to landing. This season we are introduced to more characters (all of whom are interesting) and the cast is seperated after the end of Season 2, so it is at a disadvantage given the main cast having scenes and playing off one another is part of what made the first season as enjoyable as it was. There are a lot of things that I liked about the final season and a lot of things I found disappointing. I’ll get more into that below. John Logan said that this was his vision for how he wanted to end the show, but given all the things that do not work, I have trouble believing that was the case.

The story picks up after Season 2 with Malcolm traveling to Africa to bury Sembene, John Clare in the North, Ethan being transported back to the United States to face justice for his crimes, Victor seeking help from his past friend Jekyll to deal with Lily and Lily and Dorian beginning their path to power as Vanessa faces her depression and isolation. Dracula also begins making his moves to bring about the apocalypse.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

Vanessa’s Depression – Vanessa’s depression is what starts out the show and as someone who faces it himself it was powerful to see. The empty house is a mess and she is simply eating to exist. It takes a visit from Lyle telling her to see a therapist to pull her out of it and you see how it never goes away, it is simply faced.

Dr. Seward – Dr. Seward (played by Patti LuPone who played the Cut-Wife in Season 2) is such a great character. She is the one who helps Vanessa heal and his is a brutally honest character with a dark past. In the end she becomes friends with Vanessa and comes to believe she has multiple personalities with Vanessa’s core personality and that of Lucifer and Dracula. Her story ends with her on the new Team Vanessa when the apocalypse finally comes. She survives the show too.

John Clare’s Story – John Clare’s story starts out slow but has some amazing payoffs. He starts in the North and remembers some of his life prior (his wife and child). He seeks them out and after an amazing talk with Vanessa eventually reunites with them. It is his first brief moment of happiness as his wife accepts him but it comes at a cost. Their son is dying and she asks for John to go to Victor and resurrect him after his death. He refuses sighting that his life is a curse and that their son is finally at peace. This leads to him being alone once more and the last time we see him is mourning the death of his friend.

Vanessa’s Conversations – Vanessa’s conversations are some of the best parts of the show and have been since the first season. We get some wonderful conversations with John Clare, Dracula, Dr. Seward and Catriona to name a few. Eva Green carries this show and it is because of these conversations and relationships. If these relationships and scenes didn’t happen I would have hated this season as Eva Green’s Vanessa is the heart of the show.

Vanessa and John Clare – I’m giving Vanessa and John Clare their own section as we have two of the best conversations with them this season. We have when he is the orderly at the asylum and her only advocate for her who comes to be her friend and as “The Creature” where they discuss being outcasts and that it is worth taking a chance on happiness given that not taking a chance just means they’ll be the same alone they are. The scenes are amazing and Eva Green and Rory Kinnear deserved more scenes together.

Hecate – Hecate is the one character who carries over from last season and is the devil on Ethan’s shoulder. They end up falling in love as we learn about the family abuse they’ve been through and both of their murderous pasts. In the end she is killed but this season redeemed her character as she isn’t as stupid as she was in Season 2 and is Ethan’s protector throughout their time in the United States.

Catriona – Catriona is the newest member of Team Vanessa and is recommended by Lyle when he goes to Egypt for his work and to retire and be safer from persecution. She is such an awesome character. She is a fighter and her scenes with Vanessa feel like dates as their chemistry is amazing and you can see why they trust one another. This friendship is short and I wish we could have learned more about her time as a warrior. She studies death and is the one who helps Vanessa find out who Dracula is.

Ethan and his Fathers – Ethan and his relationship to his fathers are one of the storylines that work this season. We have biological racist Jared Talbot played by the always fantastic Brian Cox, who is a dark reflection of who Malcolm once was. You have his Apache father Kaetenay played by Wes Studi who is also a werewolf and Ethan’s vengeful side and you have Malcolm who is that balance and his connection to Vanessa. In the end Malcolm spares from patricide and kills Jared Talbot and in the end makes some form of peace with Kaetenay.

Dracula – Dracula was a character I thought I’d hate, given when I first saw a picture of him I was unimpressed. This season that was the point. He is so average and unassuming that it makes him so threatening given how he uses his thralls and his arc is fascinating too as he falls in love with Vanessa. This was an interpretation I didn’t expect and even though I hate that he isn’t defeated at the end, the leadup to the ending is really great. He takes the appearance of a zoologist Dr. Sweet and we learn that he’s a shapeshifter who takes different forms through time. In the show we sadly never get to see his true form though. He always stays in the form of a man even if he empowers some of his abilities. Christian Chamargo did a wonderful job.

Lily Frankenstein – Lily Frankenstein is my favorite role I’ve seen Billie Piper play and I’d love to see her play the Doctor the Master in “Doctor Who,” ideally opposite Eva Green in the opposing role. This season we see her revolution to destroy corrupt men as she recruits prostitutes to kill abusive and horrible men and pushes Dorian out of power in their relationship. This sadly blows up in her face when she is captured by Victor when Dorian betrays him to her but Victor does not change her and lets her go and we are left as she and Dorian are facing each other at the end. This season we learned about the daughter Brona lost and what inspires her pain and vengeance. She is easily the best character this season and her death cult really deserved an entire season for Team Vanessa to face.

The Cons:

Missing Scenes – This season feels unfinished. There are scenes missing in many core relationship arcs through the film. Lyle after recommending a therapist to Vanessa only shows up to leave. We never get a scene of her thanking him. We don’t even see Vanessa in the penultimate episode so we don’t know why she went full “Mother of Evil” or if she is still fighting within herself. Victor never meets up with Vanessa even though they are friends in the same city and he never takes up Lyle on offer to help. We also never see the see leading up to Dorian’s betrayal when he calls upon Victor’s aid.

The Ending and Fridging – Vanessa is killed by Ethan and Dracula escapes and Lucifer never shows up (even though his role was setup with Hecate and Ethan). There are far too many missing pieces and the fridging of Vanessa wasn’t needed. We basically just got a repeat of the Mina story from Season 1, just replace Malcolm with Ethan and it is the same beats. Vanessa deserved so much better.

Lily and Dorian – Lily wanted a revolution but Dorian just wanted to be entertained when at the end of Season 2 it seemed like they had bigger goals. Hell, Dorian even mentions wanting to rule the darkness but that doesn’t connect to Dracula or Lucifer. The whole role of immortals is never fully explored and we are left with nothing when Lily and Dorian reunite once more. Lily is my favorite character on the show and in the end they do nothing with her plot since Dorian neutralizes her and than the writers forgot how to end their story.

Victor Frankenstein and Jekyll’s Plot – Victor is the worst character this season and Shazad Latif’s acting is the only thing saving the underwritten character of Jekyll. Jekyll never transforms into Hyde by the way and Victor is a worthless antagonist to Lily for the entire season as he pines after her. Thankfully he doesn’t ruin her character too with Jekyll’s serum which would have stolen her memories…but that is the only thing I can say. Harry Treadaway was wasted this season.

This season started out really strong and the character moments for Vanessa, John Clare, Ethan and Malcolm are all fantastic. Sadly toxic Victor and the ending do bring down the season. Dracula and Ethan’s dad are at least better villains than the witches of Season 2 but in the end I’m giving it the same score as Season 2. It had the chance for greatness, especially with all the threads and characters and it did not payoff those arcs. I’d still recommend watching it for how the show ends though, if you’ve enjoyed the ride so far as I did. I still like the show but the flaws through all seasons are very obvious.

Final Score: 7 / 10 An incomplete show that was still a fun ride.

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