Penny Dreadful, Season 3 ~ A Capsule Review by Allen Kopp
Showtime’s gothic horror series set in Victorian London, Penny Dreadful, draws its inspiration from classic dark literature and horror films: The Picture of Dorian Gray, Frankenstein, Dracula, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Wolf Man. If you think those themes have been done to death, well, Penny Dreadful puts a new spin on all of them.
Season three has shown the advent of a few new characters, namely Dracula, in the guise of a natural historian named Dr. Alexander Sweet; Dr. Henry Jekyll, a “wog” (half-caste Indian) who was Dr. Victor Frankenstein’s only friend going back to medical school; an “alienist” named Dr. Seward (played by Patti Lupone, forbidding but oddly comforting) who undertakes the job of “analyzing” and counseling Vanessa Ives with her many supernatural problems; a “girl of the streets” named Justine, taken up by Lily and Dorian as their new protégé in evil; and Mr. Renfield, a mousey young man who works as secretary for Dr. Seward and who is in thrall to Dracula. Mr. Renfield finds out all he can about Vanessa and reports back to Dracula. (Vanessa, if you will remember going back to the previous season, is much desired by the forces of darkness.) But, wait a minute, isn’t there something familiar about Dr. Seward? Didn’t Vanessa meet her in another place and another time and in a different persona? Vanessa is sure of it, no matter how much Dr. Seward denies it.
When season three begins, soulful, cleft-chinned Dr. Victor Frankenstein is still pining over Lily, who was Brona before she died of consumption and he “reanimated” her. When his old friend Dr. Henry Jekyll arrives on the scene again, Victor is in a bad way with his obsession over Lily and his addiction to morphine, which he injects into his arm. Dr. Jekyll works with dangerous mental patients in Bedlam hospital. After Victor tells him the story of Lily, he says he can help make Lily what Victor wants her to be, by using the treatment he uses on out-of-control insane people at Bedlam. They can help each other. Victor knows how to resurrect people from the dead and Henry can make them docile and amenable.
Ethan Chandler, the wolf man, has been extradited back to America by a one-armed Scotland Yard man named Bartholomew Rusk. (Ethan, you will remember, butchered several people in England, but didn’t they, as the saying goes, have it coming?) In the wild New Mexico Territory, on a train enroute to the place where justice will be administered, the party is waylaid by a band of men who kidnap Ethan because Ethan’s father sent them. Have they saved him or is there something more sinister afoot? But—wait one damn minute!—besides the party who kidnapped Ethan, two other men are on his trail: a mysterious Indian named Kaetenay and our old friend Sir Malcolm Murray who has been recruited by Kaetenay to, as he says, “save our son.” What does he mean by this?
And then there is our friend, “the creature,” whom we met almost all the way back at the beginning of the series. Dr. Frankenstein “created” him, unhappily it seems, and he has been constantly dogging Dr. Frankenstein to do something to help him. His original intention of wanting a mate seems to have been superseded by other, more pressing, desires. He loves poetry and he seems to only want to be loved, but he will rip your head off if you give him any reason to do so. In season three, we are finding out more about his origins and how he came to be changed from a “normal” man into a monster. There is some connection between him and poor, tormented Vanessa Ives. As season three progresses, we will learn more about this.
A recurring theme in Penny Dreadful is the duality in human nature: every good that exists is counterbalanced by an equal or greater amount of bad; in every angel there’s a demon waiting to get out and in every demon an angel. It’s fantasy TV, not for everybody, of course, but for the thinking person who is fed up with raunchy sit-coms and mind-numbing commercials and drivel that TV serves up every minute of every day. It could have been schlock but it’s not. It’s intelligent and engaging, always a little surprising. (Some of the dialogue is brilliant, as in the exchanges between Dr. Seward and Vanessa.) Every episode is beautiful to look at, whether it’s the deserts of the American Southwest or the dreary, crowded streets of Victorian London. The acting is sincere; the actors never seem to think themselves superior to the material, even if it’s campy or overly familiar. I’m a big fan of Penny Dreadful and I have been since the very beginning. You can have Veep, Girls, and Game of Thrones. I’ll take Penny Dreadful.
Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp