This Penny Dreadful review contains spoilers.
Penny Dreadful Season 3 Episodes 8 & 9
Penny Dreadful’s “Perpetual Night” and “The Blessed Dark” are full of surprises. I’ve already given away the biggest in the headline, so, I want to once again give the spoiler warning, and try to bury as many secrets as get buried tonight.
It’s so hard to be the new boyfriend when your lover is part of a tight clique. This is especially true when her ex-boyfriend is still part of the crowd. They look at every little thing. Scrutinize the smallest of shortcomings. You have to walk through the landmines of their magnifying glass. They look for problems. They are actively rooting for you to fail so your new girlfriend will go back to her old boyfriend. God forbid you have a little bit of a temper. They will make you seem like a monster. They will mock the friends you hang out with because your crowd is never as good as theirs. Oh and just forget about it if every now and then you take a little drink … of blood. It is a tortured existence.
And what about that old boyfriend? Is he really all that he’s cracked up to be? Sure, for the most part, he’s a good dog, fairly well-heeled, but when the moon is full and you’re running low on wolfsbane, he can be an animal. Of course, that’s also his saving grace. As Epiphany Proudfoot says in Angel Heart, it’s the bad ass that makes the heart beat faster. The only one who seems to get it is Renfield.
Sam Barnett has made quite the actors trip this season. All characters grow as a series progresses, but this guy had a comet’s arc right under our noses. From the closet perv poring over ledgers to giving the best exit interview since Johnny Paycheck sang “Take This Job and Shove It.” I love how Renfield twitches and jerks as he vacillates between desires. He’s a living percolator, but he doesn’t brew coffee, which doesn’t really go with frog’s legs, he prefers to sleep in. Creatures of the night make some beautiful music.
Renfield loves the master. He finds him beautiful, accepting and perfect. Although Renfield may also ache for Vanessa Ives (Eva Green), as everyone on the show does eventually, he wants Dracula and his bride to be happy. Listen to Barnett lightly plead for Dr. Seward to just let them be happy. It is emotionally articulate and quite moving.
Not as moving as Frankenstein’s creature, of course. Monsters should have their happiness and the biggest monsters of the show all had theirs wrenched from them. The scene between John Clare and his wife is heart-wrenching. Roy Kinnear bares the scars he keeps inside to match the ones on his forehead. He is the forever outcast, up to the very last scenes of the series where he reads poetry to no one. His own son never gets a proper burial, but finally gets to go swimming. He shares the pain of losing a child with the Bride of Frankenstein, and the two will never know it. Such is one of the many tragedies, in the classical theatrical sense, of Penny Dreadful.
The ending episodes feel a little rushed. Assembling the Magnificent Six before they march down the center of Dodge, or in this case the pestilence and penises of the backstreets of London, has none of the nuanced suspense that Penny Dreadful oozed through its storytelling flow. Catriona Hartdegen (Perdita Weeks) seems like Mrs. Peel dropping in off a canteen break from The Avengers. There is a lot of action, as the monster squad fights their way to the former military scourge of Transylvania. But the only characters who reveal themselves in the fray are Drs. Seward (Patti Lupone) and Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway).
Dr. Seward comes heavy. She’s from New York and not just any New York. The city in the 1890s was a hotbed of gang skirmishes that went from the Five Points all the way to Tammany Hall. We know the good doctor has a violent past, and aren’t that surprised she channels her inner pistol Annie, but it’s her slyly good-natured wit.
The fight scene shows Dr. Frankenstein go from a tentative gunman to an enthusiastic head basher. Once he gets a taste for it, the physician is positively exuberant in his pummeling. He could almost be one of the droogs in Clockwork Orange bashing Billy Boy in his big bolshy yarbles, the eunuch jelly. But that’s a pretty nasty dig that Dracula gets in on Sir Malcolm (Timothy Dalton). And on Father’s Day of all days, telling the old man that you did his daughter and would do it again, if she was still alive. It’s bad enough she meant nothing to him. Of course the whole old man thing is relative, because as old as Sir Malcolm will ever be, Dracula is older.
The first episode ends with a perfectly timed full moon. A wolfman can’t always depend on the moon to be so accommodating, but what was Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) thinking, going out looking for Dr. Frankenstein on the night of the full moon? If he’d have done what he intended rather than going off with the creepy he would have ripped the doctor’s throat out and who would have soldered that? Doesn’t he know when it’s going to be a full moon? That’s was probably one of the first features of the calendar, the phases of the moon. Kaetenay (Wes Studi) always knows where the moon is, he should have taught that to his spiritual son.
The mother of evil, who I supposed would be Lilith, is best served through Brona and Dorian Gray. It is very encouraging that the Bride of Frankenstein doesn’t get the sadness and anger zapped out of her through the pupils of her eyes. Though, I will say that if they were going to do it, there is no better altar to classic horror than the recreation of Drs. Jekyll and Frankenstein’s lab, and right in the heart of Bedlam, an extra nice touch. Brona is instead condemned to live, much like Dorian will spend the rest of his days in front of pretty portraits of the people he’s killed. Brona’s creator-healer would be happier ending his days shooting himself into Palookaville.
Dr. Jekyll (Shazad Latif) didn’t quite fulfill his promise this season, did he? In the book, the chemist is transformed into a wanton psychopath who gets on the scene like a sex machine. We wanted to see him spout fanatical fur and fangs as luscious lips and lascivious looks and what do we get? Lord Hyde. That can be pretty frightening. We all know what torments Lords can put the peasantry through, but we thought we were getting an inner psychological battle and it ends up as calls warfare. Penny Dreadful is very good at circumventing expectations.
The best of the expectations the series circumvented was what appeared to be the inevitable death of Dracula. I am very happy to see the bloodsucker live on in his Dead Place. He and Chandler were well matched. Dracula has a strong respect for his adversary. He also has empathy. Ethan is fighting for the love of a good woman. Dracula is doing it for love, but good has nothing to do with it.
Vanessa Ives is sorely lacking in the final two episodes of the series she led. She first shows up as Morticia Addams to Dr. Sweet’s Gomez and doesn’t show up again until her last scene as the sacrificial lamb. Many people died so Vanessa could live. Yes, Vanessa Ives died for our sins and Penny Dreadful ends its days with a few bangs and a few whimpers.