Previously on Penny Dreadful, “And They Were Enemies“
Shine your crosses and bless your holy water, because it’s time for another season of Vanessa Ives (and some dudes) against the forces of darkness. In review, season 1 introduced us to the League of Extraordinarily Tortured Individuals, and season 2 pitted the Dreadfuls against the Devil and his Sisterhood of Traveling Witches. Where there was previously an air of romance with a grimy underbelly, season 3 takes us deep into the darkness of the Industrial Revolution. Between the squalor of Victorian Era England, the slave-trade destruction of Zanzibar, the outlaw grit of Western America, and the heartless crush of Arctic exploration, the smog of progress and its accompanying racism, avarice, and corruption is nearly choking. And yet… Penny Dreadful manages a textural lushness in even the dirtiest of scenes.
In the season 2 finale, Ethan-as-Wolfman killed Sembene and the team was subsequently scattered to the corners of the earth. That is where we find them on October 6, 1892, the day Alfred, Lord Tennyson, died, thrusting all of England into sadness. London itself descends to Vanessa’s perpetual state of mourning, and there we meet several new players, challenges, and season 3’s Big Bad.
Inspector Rusk and his lieutenant escort Ethan Chandler/Talbot home on a dusty train through the New Mexico Territory. The tension is easily set as Ethan surveys the room while Rusk takes a tea break, strolling past a variety of questionable characters… and Hecate, dolled up in white. It is not Ethan who busts out of his questionable bonds, but a car full of sharp-shooting, cattle-rustler types, who haul him off into the desert slung over a horse back to his father. I particularly loved the blood-spattered window marking their escape. This scene alone proves that Penny Dreadful can skillfully transport its viewers into any landscape.
Odds on his father being a werewolf pack leader?
New Players: Potentially cattle-rustling werewolf pack
Quote: “He butchered a lot of people… and ate a fair number of them.”
Challenge: Get away from his father’s claws paws clutches and back into Vanessa’s arms group.
Sir Malcolm Murray
Having returned from the African interior to bury Sembene, Malcolm ironically finds Zanzibar tainted with the corruption of slavery. One hopes he had this revelation while looking in the mirror. Accosted on the street, Malcolm is assisted by a Chiricahua Apache, Kaetenay (Wes Studi), who scalps his prey, but not without reminding us that Malcolm is himself a hard man. Kaetenay prophesies Malcolm’s purpose, to fight evil until his death, and declares that Ethan, their surrogate son, needs their help. What is it about Ethan that inspires people to adopt him? The veteran partnership of Wes Studi and Timothy Dalton can only mean one thing: pure awesomeness.
New Player: Kaetenay
Quote: “Our son needs us. Where is your heart, Malcolm Murray? Be who you are.”
Challenge: Rescue Ethan
Dr. Henry Jekyll (Shazad Latif) strolls into the scene, assaulted by chamber pot contents and a racial slur. Introduced as a schoolmate of Victor’s and a believer in “the old work,” Henry answered Victor’s last-ditch desperate call, but not without some pointed saltiness about being ghosted. Surrounded by squalor, Victor is keen to enlist his neurological chemistry skills to destroy Lily, but Henry proposes controlling her instead. With not a little eroticism, the men come to an agreement. Their new partnership provides an equal footing that this storyline has been lacking, and, given what we know about Dr. Jekyll, promises the darkest peer review experience in history. Thrilling!
New Player: Dr. Henry Jekyll (and obviously Mr. Hyde)
Quote: “What if I could tame her… domesticate her… leave her purring like a kitten in your lap? What then? Would you want that?”
Challenge: Control/Destroy Lily, Control/Destroy themselves
John Clare, aka Caliban
At the opposite end of the world from Sir Malcolm’s story is John Clare, whose ship is frozen into the ice. Once again he’s confronted by the animal nature of mankind as the starving shipmates debate cannibalism while he goes seemingly unaffected. Singing to a dying boy, the tenderness of his song awakes his first memory, of his wife, of singing to his sick son, and of a glance in the mirror at his living face. He kisses the dying child, breaks his neck to give him peace, and strikes out on the ice for home.
Quote: “If we’re going to die, let us die as men, not animals.” *scoff*
Challenge: Suffering the monstrosity of humanity, hiking to London from the North Pole
If ever a place stood for dramatic Victorian malaise and depression, it is Grandage Place, which has since been covered in dust cloths and cobwebs. In the absence of her support team and faith in God, Vanessa has lapsed into withdrawal, eating delivered groceries on the floor like an animal and lying abed in the dark, smoking and scratching. It is a wonder Sembene hasn’t returned from the dead to haunt her for ruining his clean house. Sir Lyle invites himself in (Hooray!) with surprisingly patient panache, determined to get her out into the world, and refers her to a counselor, joking lightly that she need only fix her hair.
The power pairing of last season returns as Patti Lupone plays Dr. Seward, a descendant of the Clayton family and gifted “alienist,” the emerging field of psychiatry. She instructs Vanessa to do one new thing on the way home and report back tomorrow. After their powerful acting lesson in “The Nightcomers,” I look forward to this interaction.
Vanessa’s followed by two vampiric thralls and buys a death ribbon for Tennyson, but doesn’t yet put the “anemia” mention and “my beloved” clues together. She wanders into a natural science museum. After gazing wistfully at the taxidermied wolf, she meets the zoologist, Dr. Alexander Sweet (Christian Camargo), over the scorpions. He passionately encourages her to visit the dusty, forgotten cases. Inspired by these contrasting presences, she cleans the house and quotes Tennyson (“Maud”) in a stunning scene against the moonlight.
Meanwhile, Dr. Seward’s secretary, Renfield (click only if you want literary spoilers: Renfield), heads out for some sad Victorian street sex, but wakes in a vampire nest. Reduced to tears by the surrounding thralls, a voice seduces him into its service, commanding him to report back about Vanessa and offer his neck as payment. Enter Dracula.
New Players: Dr. Seward, Dr. Sweet, Renfield, Dracula
Great Moments: Vanessa crying in Sir Lyle’s lap like a child. Sir Lyle putting a black handkerchief on the divan to sit down.
Quotes: “My dear, dear Miss Ives, my heart is saddened to see you in these lowered circumstances, amongst the spiders and flies. Shall we not at least try to bring you back to the mammalian community?”
“All the broken and shunned creatures. Someone’s got to care for them. Who shall it be if not us?”
Challenge: Get sane, not date Dr. Sweet instead of Ethan, defeat Dracula
When last season ended with the team split apart, I felt a bit of trepidation about starting this season, but with clear plans already in the works to bring them together, I’m looking forward to the journey. Each new setting and character appears beautiful and believable. Despite the addition of a great deal of testosterone in this world already packed full of alpha males, the new players feel right for their storylines and bring necessary diversity to the decidedly white cast. From the tease of Mr. Hyde revealed and Malcolm and Kaetenay swooping in to save Ethan, to the promise of the classic Dracula tale and Eva Greene working with Patti Lupone again, Season 3 is indeed off on the right foot. My only complaints are that I wished Josh Hartnett had more to do than glare, and the shipmates felt a bit like caricatures. Otherwise, a fantastic beginning to Season 3.
Some images to consider:
- Spiders and flies vs. mammalian company
- Dusty scales
- Undelivered mail
- The chipped teacup
- Parallels between Victor and Vanessa
- Fish feeding on volcanic gases to create their own light
Penny Dreadful S3E1 = 9.8/10