This Penny Dreadful review contains spoilers.
Penny Dreadful season 3 episode 1.
Alfred Lord Tennyson died on October 6, 1892. That year Neptune and Pluto were conjunct, Lizzie Borden was arrested on two counts of murder and Arthur Conan Doyle published The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Tennyson didn’t envy the beast unfettered by the sense of crime, because he knew the virtues of love and loss. The main players of Penny Dreadful are coming to terms with their own lost loves.
Penny Dreadful ended last season with its main players scattered to the farthest ends of the earth. Sir Malcolm, the wolfman, hitherto known as Ethan Chandler but revealed as Larry Talbot, and Dr. Frankenstein’s creation shipped out, leaving Vanessa Ives) to keep things tidy at home. Things don’t always work out as planned. Sir Malcolm wanted to put the world of adventure behind him. Talbot thought his torment would cease at the end of a rope. Frankenstein found solace in the needle and his creature just wanted to chill. Vanessa, like the punk poet Patti Smith she sometimes resembles (hint hint John Logan), thought she’d never do dishes again.
Dead language dandy Ferdinand Lyle (Simon Russell Beale) is not one to stand on ceremony but on the day of the death of the Poet Laureate he also is not one to stand idle while his cards go into the dead letter bin. Lyle has had enough of death. He began as a kind of double-agent, working with Evelyn Poole (Helen McCrory) to lure Vanessa to the demon with the porcelain face, but because of his peculiar nature, switched his allegiance to the Penny Dreadful monster squad. Lyle brings humor to the show and life to Vanessa Ives, who is also suffering the loss of her true twin flame, the wolf to her scorpion.
Larry Talbot, or as his family still know him, Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett), has returned to a dead country. America, as Inspector Rusk (Douglas Hodge) – the Scotland Yard detective who is charged with Talbot’s extradition – observes, is built on the skeletons of its past. And no one cleans the meat off a bone like a werewolf. The inspector has developed an appreciation for the mass murdering cowboy. Chandler has quite a few admirers who are shadowing him, including a well-armed posse that wants to bring him home to daddy who execute a perfectly maneuvered animal rescue. Evelyn Poole’s daughter knows that once you go wolf, you never go back. She is a secret passenger on the dusty trail. An old Apache named Kaetenay (Wes Studi) is also braving dry sands to make his peace with the wolf.
Sir Malcolm (Timothy Dalton) thinks his adventuring days are behind him, or at least that’s his plan. But the adventures define Malcolm. They are his fate and he has not yet reached his final destiny. He came to the realization that his life cost him his family only after the bill had been paid. A mysterious messenger delivers a new check just as he is finished burying Sambene, his trusted traveling companion, in a secret service.
Eva Green gives her emotions free reign as the bottled-in Vanessa. When the episode opens, she is in the depths of despair but when she recognizes the psychiatrist Dr. Seward (Patti LuPone), she is barely able to contain her glee. Little impish smiles of knowing keep popping up on the side of her lips. You can see glimpses of happiness breaking through the cracks of her smile as she ponders the exoskeletons of the insects. All the broken and shunned creatures, someone’s got to take care of them.
The creature, played by Rory Kinnear, continues to be the most human character on Penny Dreadful. True to the book, he travels to the icy terrain in search of solitude long enough to realize he has more to share with the civilized world than most of the uncivilized people who live in it. The former near-freak show attraction lovingly sings a lullaby before snuffing a child’s pain. He has seen enough pain. Kinnear is touching in every scene and as he steps out of the doomed ship he finds discovery on the tundra.
The camerawork on Penny Dreadful continues to be masterful and this season promises a much more varied palette. There are scenes that come out of deep darkness and it there is the honey golden sunsets of the American prairie. Darkness and light each hold their own special dangers.
The new season introduces a new literary character, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll (Shazad Latif). The good doctor went to Cambridge with Dr. Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadway) and became fast friends. They were both outcasts and half-castes, isolated from their peers by their specialized interests and nineteenth century prejudice. Dr. Frankenstein is losing himself in the alchemy of the needle and Dr. Jekyll brings new meaning to the phrase “better living through chemistry.” Jekyll promises Victor that Lily will be a purring kitten in his lap after he puts together the right potion. This is creepy in a post-Bill Cosby world. We know how easy it is to hide a double nature.
Jekyll isn’t the only new character to come crawling out of a classic book of horror. The episode ends as a certain mental health assistant named Renfield first encounters the master, Dracula.
“The Day Tennyson Died” was directed by Damon Thomas and written by John Logan.