Halloween kicked off this week. Like many people, I enjoy some spooky films or books to get into the spirit of the season. Last week, my wife and I decided to watch the final season of Showtime’s series, Penny Dreadful. Just as a head’s up, I will endeavor to be as spoiler free as I can about the final season itself, but I will likely include some spoilers from the first two seasons. Proceed with appropriate caution!
Penny Dreadful’s third season picks up where the second season left off. Sir Malcolm has gone to Africa to take the body of a loyal companion back to his people. He soon meets an Apache named Kaetenay, played by Wes Studi, who informs him that their mutual friend, Ethan Chandler is in trouble. Meanwhile, Ethan Chandler has turned himself into the authorities because he killed numerous people in his werewolf form. Meanwhile, Frankenstein’s Creature has gone to the North Pole aboard a ship. Back in London, Dorian Gray and Lilly, a woman resurrected by Dr. Frankenstein, seem to be happily-ever-aftering while the series’ protagonist, Vanessa Ives has been left alone and is one again going mad. Fortunately, Egyptologist Ferdinand Lyle drops by and refers her to a good psychologist, Dr. Florence Seward, played by Patti LuPone, who played Joan Clayton in season two.
Over the course of the first episode, Dr. Jekyll, played by Shazad Latif, pays a call on his old classmate, Dr. Frankenstein and asks for assistance in his work at Bethlam Hospital. We also learn that the king of all vampires, Dracula has arrived in London and has an interest in Vanessa Ives. All of these characters in different locations and all of these plotlines are a lot to wrap up in nine episodes. If anything, I’d say that proves to be the final seasons greatest weakness. In particular Ethan goes through many twists and turns as he travels in America, meets a witch, and confronts his father and his past. I felt like we breezed through that storyline so fast that we didn’t have a chance to understand why Ethan made some of the choices he did and for a series that seems concerned with matters of good and evil, I was somewhat confused about which he actually turned out to be. The brief season also makes the ending feel abrupt and unsatisfying. There’s an interesting thread in the season about women and how their right to be individuals can put them at odds with societal expectations determined largely by men. I didn’t really feel like this thread was resolved in a satisfying way. It seemed to me that one or two more episodes may have gone a long way to giving the series a more complete feel.
Despite that issue, there were several elements I enjoyed in the final season. The characters of Kaetenay and Dr. Seward were fascinating and well acted. I particularly enjoyed the final season’s portrayal of Dracula. The writers and actor took a nuanced approach to the character. He could come across as genuinely charming and vulnerable, yet he was also decidedly creepy. Frankenstein’s Creature also went through a sad and well performed story arc as he regains his memories and seeks his long-lost family. The final season also seemed to feature a bit less gore and fewer jump scares than earlier seasons.
Overall, I was glad to have watched the entire Penny Dreadful series. There were some great moments that will stick with me. Even though I would have liked better resolution to some elements, pondering those will likely lead me to some story ideas. Of course, you can see my own take on vampires in my Scarlet Order vampire series. The links below will take you to the books:
If you’re a fan of comics, don’t miss the chapter I adapted from Dragon’s Fall with Bram Meehan and Michael Ellis.