This review contains spoilers.
3.8 Perpetual Night & 3.9 The Blessed Dark
Following the announcement earlier this week that the third season would be Penny Dreadful’s last, the show closes on a double bill of Perpetual Night and The Blessed Dark. Dracula feeding on Vanessa has, as foretold, brought an unholy fog down on the world that is killing London’s residents. The night creatures are also on the prowl and it is into this city that Ethan, Sir Malcolm and Kaetenay arrive to find Vanessa. They’re not alone in their efforts, joined by Catriona and Dr Seward. Frankenstein has to decide whether he will force the serum upon Lily whilst Dorian clears his house of her army. John Clare’s slice of domesticity proves to be all too brief and the shadow of death looms large over everyone.
The idea of finding a sense of peace is the connecting theme across the two episodes, bringing a sense of closure to the series as well as for its characters. First and foremost is Vanessa, largely absent for the majority of scenes, but at the heart of the battle; there can be no defeating the forces of evil that seek Vanessa without taking her out of the equation. The suggestion is that she knows this and has put herself in the position to be stopped, knowing that Ethan will be the one to perform the task. Eva Green has been so good in the role that it is a shame we didn’t see more of Vanessa’s acknowledgement that this was how it needed to end, especially in the final episode. It takes away some of her agency, but that final scene with Josh Hartnett is a powerful one, a brief restoration of their relationship that conveyed their whole history in a few short words.
Ethan’s journey across the two episodes is one of acceptance, both of his past and his future. He finally discovers where the wolf comes from in Kaetenay, he accepts his destiny to protect and save Vanessa before finally finding a home with Sir Malcolm at the end of the episode: “You’re my family.” It also gives Sir Malcolm another opportunity to restore the family that he has lost. Although it is brief, their reunion with Frankenstein is a welcome one and creates an unconventional family unit of their own. Ethan’s hug with Victor felt like the awkward reunion between brothers and their fractious relationship has always had that sibling feel.
Just as Ethan pulled himself back from the brink in the confrontation with his father, so too does Frankenstein here, faced with his decision to “tame” Lily with Jekyll’s serum. Lily’s story of her daughter is a powerful scene, once again Billie Piper proving what an asset she has been to this season in particular. Harry Treadaway matches her, taking his Frankenstein from cool determination through to guilt-ridden and forgiving by the end of the scene. For both, that scene is about recovering the humanity that they feel they had lost and giving them both a shot at pulling back from the brink. Frankenstein is returned, rather swiftly, to Sir Malcolm’s side and shies away from becoming the real monster in his story to fight heroically once more for Vanessa.
For Lily, it is finally finding her independence away from men and walking away from Dorian. Their last scene together is simply stunning in all aspects, from the way Dorian is framed against the window and surrounded by his paintings to the inherent tragedy in his ending. It is also another neat shift in their power dynamic, something which has been constantly in flux. Though he claims to be above everything, Lily gave Dorian a shot at feeling again, but her walking away denies him that future or possibility. She can make her own way and on her own terms. He remains. “You’ll be back and I’ll be here… I’ll always be here” highlights the true loneliness of Dorian Grey, a man trapped outside of the world because of his ability to outlive everyone in it.
John Clare and his family provide a domestic contrast to the ongoing battle between monsters elsewhere, as an entirely human tragedy as his son dies of his illness. For all his talk of being inhuman, he proves to be the most humane of all of Penny Dreadful’s characters, refusing to bring his son to Frankenstein in order to resurrect him, understanding that death is a natural consequence. The idyll he found with his family was clearly never going to last and he remains, as before, on the outside looking in. Rory Kinnear’s performance has been a consistent episode stealer and though it is sad that John Clare never found his happy ending, it feels a fitting one for a character who will never be at ease with what he is.
The season’s newer faces all acquit themselves brilliantly across the two episodes. Shazad Latif’s Jekyll could have done with more development, but the twist of how he becomes Lord Hyde is a canny one, subverting our expectations and providing one of Penny Dreadful’s better namedrops. As Dr Seward, Patti LuPone’s been a blunt force in contrast to the show’s flightier aspects; her response to Sir Malcolm telling them all to leave the battle might just be the line of the season. The presence of Catriona is one of the highlights of both episodes, Perdita Weeks gliding through scenes like silk before revealing all the sharpness of a dagger. It’s a shame we won’t get to see more of her because she’s a wonderful creation that slots into the world immediately.
The finale’s credits dispense with the usual theme in favour of a lullaby and a montage of the characters at the various troubled stages of their respective journeys. It’s a beautiful sequence and one which works well with the focus on the characters for this final season. It is fitting too that we end with a poem, Intimations of Immortality by William Wordsworth. The literary ties have been a key feature of the show, beyond the use of certain characters, which has aided the richness of the show’s themes. Delivered beautifully by Rory Kinnear, it emphasises the sense of loss at Vanessa’s funeral and the burial in the water of John Clare’s son as well as continuing the exploration of faith that was at the heart of Vanessa’s journey.
That John Logan gets to finish Penny Dreadful on his terms should be celebrated alongside mourning the loss of the show. The third season has felt a little rushed at times and it is a shame that more time wasn’t spent with the ensemble together as opposed to the separation that characterised much of these episodes. However, Logan continues to weave the tapestry well, tying up loose ends, solving a few remaining mysteries and allowing each of his characters to find their own peace. Penny Dreadful has been a wonderful experience from the start to its end. Let’s hope dear Lyle fared well on his trip to see Imhotep…
Read Becky’s review of the previous episode, Ebb Tide, here.