While millions of eyes were glued to Game of Thrones on Sunday night, some of us were in the throes of watching Penny Dreadful wrap up its superb final season. (Showtime and Penny Dreadful creator John Logan confirmed to Deadline that the series will not be returning.) Showtime aired the last two Season 3 episodes back to back, and they were frequently excellent hours that brought all the main characters together for sometimes surprising fates. WARNING: SPOILERS FOLLOW FOR THE SERIES FINALE OF PENNY DREADFUL.
Season 3 took structural risks earlier on when it sent Josh Hartnett’s Ethan off to America, separating him from Eva Green’s Vanessa and Timothy Dalton’s Sir Malcolm. It further segmented the show by giving separate storylines to the teams of Dr. Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll, and Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney) and Billie Piper’s Lily Frankenstein. But the master plan of show creator John Logan, who wrote most of the episodes, revealed itself over the last few episodes, to create a highly satisfying conclusion.
The show was recently reconstructed around the idea of Dracula (Christian Camargo) as the season’s biggest baddie, and Carmago and Green proved to be a magnetic couple, linked in gloom and doom. Green, of course, seemed to up the game of anyone with whom she shared a scene. “A Blade of Grass,” the extraordinary fourth episode, set largely in a padded room in an insane asylum, was a showcase for Green and Patti LuPone’s Dr. Seward. Its harrowing depiction of madness transcended the penny-dreadful pulp-novel context of the show to give us a timeless portrait of someone enduring awful mental distress.
Certainly the season was uneven. Various subplots became weaker — the story line about Frankenstein’s monster (Dorian Gray, played by Reeve Carney, and Piper’s Frankenstein) and his family turned mawkish; Dr. Jerkyll/Mr. Hyde was always a bit unfocussed; Piper’s initially electric performance was, oddly, more subdued the closer she came to turning into the Bride of Frankenstein — while others surged with strength and invention. New characters, such as Wes Studi’s Native American adventurer Kaetenay and Perdita Weeks’ Catriona Hartdegan (now she is what ABC’s misbegotten Agent Carter should have been like!) were superb.
In the end, Vanessa — so long a figure in psychic agony, so sympathetic in her struggles against mental distress — found fleeting flirtation with Dracula before understanding that she had to give her soul to him to achieve any sort of peace. She found that peace in the arms of another, however — Ethan, who’d gone full Wolfman earlier, but in the finale returned to human form to proclaim his love for Vanessa … and put her out of her misery.
Ethan and Vanessa recited the Lord’s Prayer and then, as she wished — “Please, Ethan, let it end” — he shot her. Though Showtime hadn’t officially canceled Penny Dreadful as of last night, that “The End” title card, when combined with the death of Vanessa Ives, looked awfully final to me (and now we know it was). Penny Dreadful has been a terrific experience — its horror with pretentions was far superior to something like the overrated Hannibal; its use of fictional characters by various authors in one overarching plot was superior to numerous similar attempts, such as The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. I’d love to see a new show from Logan built around Catriona Hartdegan as its chief protagonist.