The third instalment of Penny Dreadful, the show about penny dreadfuls… Penny Dreadful has got into all sorts throughout its two previous seasons, however there was still a large subject area to be dealt with and the leftovers from season 2 to be handled, season 3 was looking like it could be one of the best…
There will be spoilers for season 3 of Penny Dreadful in this post.
Yet it wasn’t, and most of that was down to the odd situation of the series coming to an end after the conclusion of the final episode. What made it all the odder was the fact that they didn’t release the fact it was the final episode until the final episode had aired, a good idea in theory because it made the events of the finale surprising, however it also had the negative effect of seriously pissing off their fans.
Loss in life is something which is very difficult to deal with, it hurts and can leave lasting effects, however the greatest loss is a sudden loss, one which you didn’t see coming and have had no time to adjust to the realisation that you are losing that thing. I know that seems dramatic about a TV show and of course it is an exaggeration, however if it was announced pre-season that this would be the last, I highly doubt that the backlash would have been as great as it has been. The anger and hate towards the decision to cancel the show would have decreased and a level of acceptance would have developed, instead we got this and it wasn’t helped that the finale was a cluster fuck.
I have always been fairly confused with Penny Dreadful, it has often been a show where I at times am not quite sure what is going on, that was the case this season as well, however it was more to do with the writing than the actual subject matter. Everything was a total mess, it felt like they had a plan for the season, were told they had been cancelled about half way through filming and then decided to try to work an ending which didn’t really make too much sense.
Season 3 was actually going fairly well in my opinion, it had the Ethan story which was a nice change of pace, we were learning more about his backstory and it played on his doubts over his role in the world and the potential that he may move over to the dark side. We also got Malcolm in his natural habitat as well as a new character in Kaetenay which was very nice. Brian Cox was also excellent as Jared Talbot, Ethan’s father. I would say that Ethan’s story up until his father got shot was the best part of this season by quite some distance.
Vanessa’s story was also fairly enjoyable up to a point, the episode where she was in the psychiatric ward was one of the best of the season and also gave us an insight into who Caliban was as a person before his unfortunate rebirth. The introduction of Dracula as an antagonist was expertly done, and his reveal was clever. Dracula being one of the most famous Penny Dreadful era works along with his teasing since season 1 made his introduction into the series as a cunning and handsome zoologist all the more impactful.
Up until about episode six, I would say that this season of Penny Dreadful was actually fairly solid and enjoyable, however after episode six it plummeted so fast it was quite startling. I can only imagine it is at this point where they found out that they were being cancelled and decided to try and wrap up the final story so that it actually got an ending, pure speculation of course as the writers claimed they knew half way through season 2.
The problem with the final three episodes was that they wiped clean a lot of what was set up in the previous six episodes and two seasons. All of a sudden Ethan was a happy chappy and loved god, despite having turned his back on him only an episode prior. Vanessa went from resisting and fighting being taken by the devil/Dracula for two and a half seasons, being prepared to kill him and then after five seconds submitting to him… What was the point of everything which happened throughout the season if you just skip straight to this?
If you were to take the final three episodes in isolation then I think that you would look on them more fondly, however when what precedes them makes what actually happens seem very much against the grain it damages those opinions. It felt like the reset button was firmly hit for these final three episodes. The only good thing to happen in the final three episodes was the introduction of Catriona Hartdegen, who was badass.
These episodes themselves were very odd because Vanessa (who I would consider the main character) barely appeared in the final two. It also managed to make the vampires look like absolute punks, to the extent where you wondered why they were so concerned about them throughout the season. Essentially six people (two of whom had very limited experience) managed to take out an entire pack… After destroying every vampire in London, we saw Dracula fighting against the protagonists, whilst letting Ethan sneak away to Vanessa (I would assume [and hope] deliberately seeing as she said she would handle him), but after a good five minutes the biggest threat in the world had only handed out a few scratches. You call him a threat all series and then when people get into hand to hand combat with him he can’t kill a single one…? It hampers the idea that he is a danger and makes him look incredibly weak.
The conversation between Ethan and Vanessa was great, the ending of the conversation less so. I understand that the reason Ethan killed Vanessa was to break the union between herself and Dracula, however couldn’t he also have done that by killing him? Wouldn’t a better ending have potentially been for Vanessa to do it herself? Instead after a few days she decided that she had made a mistake and more or less committed suicide. Like any situation I can find ways that it could make sense, however I think it is just sloppy writing. They then let Dracula go without ever having a big show down with him and the season ends on a sombre note.
The idea that the death of Vanessa Ives ends the series because ultimately the series is about the life of Vanessa Ives is something I can get behind, however there were so many story threads which were never actually played out, so many wasted opportunities which will now never be realised. Things like seeing Mr. Hyde, the mummy which was hinted about in Ferdinand’s trip to Egypt, the culmination of the battle between Dracula and the Devil, Ethan’s reaction to seeing Brona alive and so many more areas which were swept over or left totally untouched.
One of the biggest weaknesses of Penny Dreadful has been that there are certain characters that we follow who are in no way linked to the actual story. The biggest one of these is Dorian Gray, a character who has never actually made sense in the overall story arc of the show. Season 3 was probably Dorian’s worst outing as he interacted with almost nobody other than Lily in a total waste of time. At the end of season 2 it really looked like we were finally going to see why we were seeing Dorian Gray, instead we got this weird women’s empowerment story, where Dorian becomes emasculated and is totally dominated by Lily. It had nothing to do with the season story arc; it was a total waste of time, as was his entire series arc. The definition of a wasted character is Dorian Gray.
Lily was just as bad, at least the story made more sense from her perspective, albeit it still terrible and a waste of time. The thing which really annoyed me about Lily was that out of nowhere we have to sympathise with her because she lost a child once, despite the fact that she has been a bitch for the better part of two seasons, it seemed so out of place.
The Frankenstein story was fine and at least made sense from his characters point of view and was in line with what we had seen previously. The problem with Frankenstein’s story arc is that it also went totally nowhere, ultimately ending in him letting Lily go, so we spent all this time and ultimately got nothing in return. The oddest thing about the Frankenstein storyline was that it spent a lot of time developing the relationship and character of Dr. Jekyll, teasing a few times that he would break into Mr. Hyde, but ultimately it came to nothing.
Caliban, much like Dorian, has been on the precipice of the main story arc throughout Penny Dreadful, however unlike Dorian he has been an important part of the story (back in season 1), however in season 3 he was sadly poorly used once again. If this wasn’t the final season then his story arc would have been fine, it gave us backstory to who he once was and also delivered more tragic moments into his already tragic life. The problem arises when you consider that this was the last season and you realise that the character never really went anywhere and ultimately served its purpose in season 1.
Essentially what it comes down to is that Penny Dreadful season 3 would have been pretty good if it wasn’t the last season, the problem is that it was the last season and the final three episodes did a lot of damage to what had preceded it, leaving many stories feeling unfinished or discarded.
The season itself felt very disjointed and uneven (possibly because the characters were so spread out and there was very little interaction between them) and it is a shame that a good show has went out on such a sour note. I hate being negative because Penny Dreadful is a show I like, it has great characters and has always had some really nice acting and performances. I’m sad to see it go but I would have been sadder was it not very this finale.
So what did you think of Penny Dreadful season 3? Have I been overly harsh in my review? Did you think that Vanessa dying was the perfect ending to the show? Are you wondering how to get a marvellous moustache and haircut like Ferdinand Lyle? Well leave a comment and share those thoughts.