Penny Dreadful: season three review

And so endeth Penny Dreadful. Before its time some might say. Despite the fact that creator John Logan said it would always end with (*spoiler!) the death of Vanessa Ives (Eva Green), not many of us believed him.

It felt rushed, particularly as most of the characters had been flung across the globe on personal quests of their own. Suddenly they’re hurried back to London at pace, at the bemusement of fans no doubt. Fair enough conflicted Texan werewolf/gunslinger Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) always had the threat of his father with which to contend, so it made sense he deal with that.

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And why not have a dishevelled Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton) along for the ride? Even though he’d half lost his way he was still a better father figure to Ethan than his real dad, Jared Talbot (played with gusto by Brian Cox).

The creature (Rory Kinnear) was off on a quest of his own to discover god-knows-what in the Arctic. He then returned to London after a few episodes to reconnect with his family. It was touching I suppose, but not really the story I wanted to see and his arc felt like a distraction. In some ways it would have been more exciting to see him team up with the gang to fight a common foe.

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And speaking of common foes, this season saw the introduction of Dracula (Christian Camargo), bringing to a head his long pursuit of Vanessa Ives; which more or less started in the first season. And, whilst it was refreshing to see the way in which he pursued her, like most delectable things in life, it was over all too soon. For a baddie that big I wanted more.

Especially because the gang got two new additions, which both proved extremely interesting as characters within the first few episodes, but didn’t get the time they deserved. Namely, Catriona Hartdegen (Perdita Weeks), a stunningly attractive supernatural expert who was sassy, held her own in a fight and seemed to flirt with every character she encountered – and that was seriously refreshing when the show was in danger of becoming too dour for its own good. We also got the addition of Vanessa Ives’ therapist, Dr Seward (Patti LuPone), who gave the show a nice bit of weight and gravitas cutting through the melodrama with her no-nonsense approach.

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The trouble with a lot of it – because so much revolved around Vanessa Ives at the end of the day – is that most of the main characters didn’t interact with each to any great degree until almost the last episode. Long-form storytelling is fine if you’ve got maybe five or six seasons, but if you’ve only got three you’re shortchanging everyone, from characters to actors to audiences alike.

So I’m somewhat conflicted. Big fan, but frustrated.

And I’d also add I’ve been a huge fan of Eva Green since her debut in Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers, and this show – and her character – perfectly suited her occult and otherworldly qualities. Not that it was all about her, as the rest of the cast were also outstanding. I’d go so far as to say this has been the best work we’ve seen from both Timothy Dalton and Josh Hartnett in a long time. Rory Kinnear, as ever, is a very fine actor and massively underrated and the others all did a fine job, too.

Perhaps, in some ways, there were too many characters and stories to explore. From Lily Frankenstein’s (Billie Piper) escapades with Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney) to Victor Frankenstein’s (Harry Treadaway) experiments with Dr Jekyll (Shazad Latif) it seems like John Logan bit off more than he could chew in the time he had given himself.

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These days it seems like every show wants to be Game of Thrones but tries to leap ahead and run before it can walk. Not that you can really compare the two shows, but the point has some relevance. Whatever caused the show to end before its time there’s one thing that’s clear, it will be missed by some pretty devout fans. Particularly as it was a show of real quality and substance.

And if they resurrect it minus Eva Green, it just won’t be the same. Don’t do it. Let’s just let it rest in peace as a decent thing which ended before its time eh?

Penny Dreadful: season 2 review

The first season of Penny Dreadful focused on Sir Malcolm’s (Timothy Dalton) hunt for his daughter, who had been captured by some sort of vampire master. It also shared equal screen time exploring Vanessa Ives’ (Eva Green) story, a battle with a demonic spirit which was attempting to consume her soul.

And we were introduced to troubled doctor Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) and the monsters he creates – in particular John Clare (Rory Kinnear). Then there was strong and silent American gunslinger Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) with a dark past of his own. Plus the mysterious and eternal Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney) popped up from time to time in a subplot that bubbled along throughout.

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For season two it’s very much a continuation of the first in terms of the main characters and their journeys, albeit with a different antagonist for them to face; a trio of nightcomers/witches who, at the bidding of their master (spoiler: a fallen angel aka the devil) step up their pursuit of Vanessa’s soul.

In general the show is quite slow burn, so if you’re expecting True Blood set in London go elsewhere. It’s dark, moody and there’s some nudity involved, but otherwise it’s a completely different beast. Again there’s a large focus on Vanessa, building up more of her backstory; as she’s such an interesting character it’s a pleasure to spend time in her company. There’s also Ethan Chandler’s past which catches up with him, along with a secret he can no longer keep hidden.

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The primary difference in season two is two-fold: first, the main antagonist has more of a human face and development of character; as the witches are led in suitably machiavellian fashion by Madame Kali (Helen McCrory).

Secondly, the main group, essentially rookies in season one are more cold, clinical and ruthless this time round. They know the sort of darkness they face, both internal and external. That said, the demons they’ve accumulated keep coming back to haunt them.

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We get more Vanessa Ives backstory in which to sink our teeth and the relationship between her and Ethan develops almost as you might expect. Dalton’s Sir Malcolm takes a bit of a backseat this season, but makes way for more of Victor Frankenstein and his flawed creations, including Lily (Billie Piper), who becomes – in almost a 180 switch of character – a bit of a walking nightmare for Victor. Vanessa aside, she probably has the most compelling character arc.

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The season finishes (without giving too much away) with the characters all pursuing different goals of their own and in different places, geographically. As such it will be interesting to see – should they choose to do so – how John Logan and the show’s writers will pick them all up again come season three.

We’ve had vampires and witches. What’s next for them to face?