Previously on Penny Dreadful, “Ebb Tide”
“Fear not old prophecies. We defy them. We make our own heaven and our own hell. Let him come. He and I shall write the ending in blood as it was always going to be.”
This is a difficult one to write, Dreadfuls, now that Showtime has confirmed Penny Dreadful is at an end. The End. Those two words on a dark placard left the fandom in a frenzy of confusion as the official social media accounts went dark until morning, but then a video surfaced verifying that the series would not return. Originally having planned a single season, John Logan, the show’s creator and writer of the majority of episodes, fleshed it out to a definitive 3-season arc, and the cast and crew have bid it farewell.
“Ethan, please, let it end.”
Vanessa Ives, Mother of Evil, Queen of Darkness, Goth Goddess Extraordinaire, is dead, having martyred herself like her beloved Joan of Arc at the hands of the Wolf of God, Ethan Chandler, to save mankind from this turn of their eternal apocalyptic wheel. He can’t protect her. He can’t save her. The one thing she needs from him is the peace of the grave, as John Logan interviewed afterward. A true Gothic tragedy indeed, a bride to death; and, yet, a victory as she returns to God in her final moment. Perhaps some questions remain regarding her need as a female character to die tragically so that her male counterparts should live, but as the dark mistress of the world, it is a position she uniquely holds and could only resolve one way, for the rest of humanity anyway.
Bereft of her presence for the majority of these two episodes, there was no further explanation on her soul’s origins nor the entity she might become when partnered with Dracula, only the results of her actions: a pestilent fog full of thralls and plagues sweeping through London, slaughtering thousands. Bodies pile up in the streets. Frogs seep up from the sewers. In a rare light moment, Renfield, caught listening to a recording of Vanessa’s session about Ethan (“the only moral man”), takes a bite out of a large toad and comments to Seward,
“I think we can consider this my resignation, Doctor.”
Ethan, Malcolm, and Kaetenay battle the stinging fog back to Grandage Place, finding it empty but not without callers: Catriona, in impressive fighting form, sweeps in to trade bullets with invading thralls and flirty banter with Malcolm before cauterizing a bite wound to save his life; Seward retrieves them after confining Renfield at Bedlam; and, Victor Frankenstein reports to join them at last for the final mission. Using Malcolm’s staff as a metronome, Seward hypnotizes Renfield into giving away Vanessa’s location, exposing his toxic loneliness endemic to this show’s characters, and the crew sets out into the night. Once again, a mesmerizing performance from both Patti Lupone and Samuel Barnett.
Hunting in the full moon, Kaetenay confesses Ethan’s wolfman origin: Kaetenay himself was turned long ago, believing it was to save his unknowing people, but, guided by a vision, turned Ethan in order to imbue him with power to save all people. He hasn’t just claimed him as an Apache—he’s claimed him for God. Dracula meets Ethan on the street, urging him to leave Vanessa alone, but can’t blame him for trying.
“Without her, what do we have left?”
Returning to the charnel house, Dracula offers to let the remaining Dreadfuls go to please his bride, but Malcolm, confronting him over Mina’s misuse, declines, encouraging the group to leave him behind.
Victor: Not a chance.
Catriona: Makes a change for a Tuesday, though.
Seward: Fuck him.
They hold their own for a while, but on the third wave of acrobatic demi-dead, the Wolf Duo bursts in for the assist, Ethan rushing upstairs to find Vanessa in a stunning white/gray gown, surrounded by candles and pleading for his mercy.
“It’s not him. It’s me. This is what I am. And this is what I’ve done.”
He begs her not to ask it, but she places his gun in his hand. They kiss, and, once more he serves as her confessor, leading her in the Lord’s Prayer. At its end, he shoots her, gently holding her as she dies with relief, seeing the Lord in her last moment. Robbed of his prize, Dracula simply vanishes and the fog recedes, sunlight pouring across the city. The men gather at Grandage Place, Malcolm wondering if reincarnation is real or if Vanessa’s at peace. Ethan declares it would be cruel for her to suffer further. Victor gives an unsure assent, but offers Ethan a kind embrace. John Clare watches from afar as they load her coffin onto a glorious, glossy hearse and follows them to the burial site, intoning Wordsworth’s “Intimations of Immortality” over the close.
“One day all of you will understand that of which I am capable.”
In the other tales, Dorian dismisses Lily’s army back to the street and snaps Justine’s neck, lightly paralleling Ethan and Vanessa, after she tells him she would rather die than return to the tortures of street life. Lily unsurprisingly talks Victor out of going through with the treatment, revealing the story of her daughter’s death, alone in the cold while Brona was beaten senseless by a john, and begging him not to take it from her, this scar that defines her. He relents, earning a kiss.
Their counterparts, Dorian and Jekyll, are not pleased with the turn of events. Dorian dares to hope Lily has seen the light, but she leaves him and Justine’s body, poised in one final dance. He stands in the eerie light of his empty portrait room swearing to always be there, like his art, “dead and beautiful.” Jekyll, seething, likewise tells Victor a place will always be waiting for him in the heart of science. “I create myself!” he spits, revealing that his father’s death has left him the new Lord Hyde. I can’t pretend not to have cheered at that.
“Flint is the heart of the world.”
In the last story, John Clare’s reunion with his family is short-lived as expected when, during a hopeful discussion of future plans, Jack has a relapse and crawls into bed to die. Having tasted the benefits of resurrection with none of the downsides, Marjorie instructs John Clare to either take their son to Frankenstein and return with him alive or not return at all, a position, however wrong, it was impossible not to sympathize with. Determined to save his child from the soul-rending burdens of immortality, he wraps the boy in a shroud and gives his body to the Thames.
I’ve said goodbye to several series since joining Project Fandom, yet none has left me so emotional as this. My degree is in British literature, so I am particularly used to tragic Gothic endings, but it is hard to let Penny Dreadful go. From the redone opening theme introduced by a haunting lullaby to John Clare’s hands in the dark soil above Vanessa’s grave, mourning both her and the peace he will never have, the finale was deeply moving, though imperfect. At times it felt rushed and abrupt, with a slightly muddled message of how even the most monstrous are never really alone, except when they are, and how one can always find acceptance, except when one cannot. A few moments hit a false note—Catriona’s repeated introductions and gratingly cheerful hints that she might be a “more fun” Vanessa replacement, and Dracula handily throwing the supposedly uniquely powerful Lupus Dei into the wall. Further, with the unclear finality of the live showing, it was off-putting not to know if we should try to get over Vanessa’s death and look forward to the next adventure or come to grips with the end of the series.
Overall, Penny Dreadful left a lovely echo as it rang into immortality. Enough cannot be said for the considerable powerhouses in this ensemble, especially Eva Green, and it is criminal that she’s been overlooked by the Emmy’s. I wish more had been done to explain Ethan’s religious powers. I wish we’d seen more from the promised conflict between Ethan and Dracula. I wish we had learned John Clare’s name. I wish Simon Russell Beale hadn’t been so talented as to reign over a Shakespeare revival and render us mostly Lyle-less. I wish Reeve Carney had been allowed to show more of Dorian’s claws in Season 3. I wish Ethan and Vanessa had more than their brief, tragic love on the moors. But it is not a happy tale.
Penny Dreadful didn’t answer all of these questions, nor tie up all of its threads, but rather promised that there are more horrors in the world, should we wish to find them: Dorian Gray’s portrait, Dracula’s reign, Lord Hyde’s quest, Frankenstein’s restless mind, Imhotep’s mummy, Hartegan’s time travel… In short, life without Vanessa. I’ll just be over here doing the Slow Wall Slide of losing my favorite show:
Flourishes, Symbols, & Quotes
- Lily: “Can I have a moment alone with my Doctor?” — Whovian shoutout
- Vanessa’s two dresses: outrageously stunning. Brava to the costume department!
- The blessed dark: the world of the owl, bat, and spider
- Seward: “I intend to reach into his mind and rip it out.”
- Renfield confesses to Seward, calling her Mother, like Ethan addressed the older Apache woman in the saloon.
- Seward: “I’m a New Yorker, Sir Malcolm. We know our way around random gunplay.”
- Dorian and the other immortals are the anti-reincarnation
- The dead wolf hung in Vanessa’s room — creepy during the show, but terrible in the promotional photos
- Kaetenay’s wolf man makeup was also not great
- Ethan returned to using “Ethan Chandler” when he introduced himself to Catriona
- If Vanessa was the reincarnation of Lilith, is there a separate human soul that can go to Heaven?
- Malcolm asking for a gun after being bitten, and Kaetenay saying practically, “Give him the gun.”
- Catriona: “You could do worse, though I have a firm hand, Sir M. Sit.”
- Billie Piper’s acting while reciting the tale of her daughter, shackled by her memories as much as the physical chains… so good.
With a kiss. With love… Farewell, Dreadfuls.
Penny Dreadful S3E8 & S3E9 = 8.6/10