I’ve been impatiently waiting for Showtime to release the premiere of the third season of Penny Dreadful. It’s tradition that the first episode goes live on YouTube a week or so in advance, and I was delighted to see it sitting so pretty in my subscriptions feed. Everything else I was supposed to do immediately hit the back burner because nothing comes between me and my Victorian supernatural drama.
Penny Dreadful takes place in 1890s London, where figures from classic literature walk among an original cast. The show revolves around Vanessa Ives (Eva Green), a powerful woman haunted by the forces of darkness. Her chosen family of misfits and the macabre include Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway), Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett), and Sir Malcolm Murray (Sir Timothy Dalton.)
If Penny Dreadful is a series you haven’t gotten into yet, I highly encourage you to check it out. Past seasons are streaming on Showtime’s website and are also available through Hulu, but unfortunately, I don’t believe Netflix offers the show. They’re short seasons, with season one clocking in at eight episodes and season two holding ten, which makes it an easy binge if that’s your thing.
There will be light spoilers for earlier seasons throughout the remainder of this review, so if you haven’t caught up, please do before continuing.
Season three opens with a despondent and languid Vanessa isolated in the now-empty Murray home. At the close of season two, our family has scattered to the winds: Ethan has been extradited to America, Sir Malcolm travels to Africa to bury Sembene (Danny Sapani), and Victor turns to the needle to cure his heartbreak over Lily (Billie Piper). Vanessa, abandoned by family and faith, is practically feral. Ferdinand Lyle (Simon Russell Beale) insists Vanessa let him in. He recommends she see a “mental doctor” and makes her an appointment.
I’m terribly excited to see how Penny Dreadful explores mental health care this season. With psychology being an up-and-coming science in the late 1800s, you run into several interesting and often dangerous scenarios, a prime example being Silas Weir Mitchell and his infamous Rest Cure.
Patti LuPone is back as Dr. Seward, which adds the fun of a female psychologist to the mix. While I’m not a fan of LuPone, I’m curious to see how she carries the role in conjunction with her previous guest spot as Joan Clayton, Vanessa’s mentor. I was thrilled that they acknowledged the similarity between the two characters in a possible familial relation instead of falling into that weird “reincarnation” thing. Seward encourages Vanessa to go out and do something she’s never done before, and so we venture to the natural history museum and meet Dr. Alexander Sweet (Christian Camargo), taxidermist and caretaker of the museum.
I like him, which means he’s probably evil.
Speaking of reincarnation, The Creature/John Clare (Rory Kinnear) is trapped in an ice-bound ship with three living crew debating the morality of eating the dead to survive. The captain’s young son is also with them, slowly freezing to death. As Clare attempts to comfort the boy, he experiences a memory of his past living life, before Frankenstein resurrected him. We don’t get a lot of Clare in the premiere, but with his declaration of returning “home,” I’m sure the writers are digging in to his origin story.
Sir Malcolm is drowning his sorrows in drink, having lain Sembene to rest. While I know this issue can’t be addressed in the first episode, I truly hope they do Sembene justice instead of killing him off out of convenience.
Last season ended with Werewolf Ethan ripping his throat out, and we never really got an answer about Sembene’s relationship to Sir Malcolm, or where he came from, or what he did before his indenture. He offered Ethan some wisdom regarding his “condition” and served as a trusted friend, but he was an under-explored character in a world teeming with backstory and development. Penny Dreadful has so far turned every trope on its head, and I’m hoping they continue in that tradition. Don’t disappoint me, guys.
Anyway, Malcolm is accosted in an alley. Enter Kaetenay (Wes Studi), a Native American with ties to Ethan. I’m assuming this relates back to the whole werewolf thing.
Ethan’s stuck on a train traveling through New Mexico, charged with the Mariner’s Inn murders. A group of men employed by Ethan’s father storm the train and capture Ethan. That’s about it. Not really the most explored storyline of the episode, but I’m betting the ball gets rolling when Ethan confronts his father. There is, however, a mysterious girl on the train, which, given the era, confuses me. Women rarely traveled by themselves, let alone on a train harboring a “serial killer” and she’s wearing white, so someone should have noticed…
Just kidding! The girl is Hecate Poole (Sarah Greene), the witch from season two. When you’re an evil witch, you get to wear whatever you want without question. I guess she’s determined to follow the “Wolf of God” no matter where he goes.
The last of our new faces is Henry Jekyll (Shazad Latif) and I cannot tell you how stoked I was to see a Middle Eastern Jekyll. Though Latif is British, Penny Dreadful chose to use his Pakistani heritage for the character, which means his introduction is accompanied by slurs and curses. Sorry, Jekyll. Turns out he and Victor know each other from school and Victor has called on him to help solve the Lily Problem.
Lily, if you recall, is Victor’s third creation, and she’s wicked. I wrote a previous piece on her, the role of the Monster’s Bride, and Victorian women.
Victor wants Jekyll’s aid in destroying Lily, but Jekyll offers an alternative solution: taming her. Making her docile as a kitten. You see, he’s made neurology his life’s work, and he claims he can control her inner beast. Maybe it’s the feminist in me, but Jekyll is intelligently skeevy and creeps me out with this nonsense. I’m way more interested in discovering his inner monster (please let Mr. Hyde make an appearance), but I also want Lily to tear him apart.
The episode concludes with the kidnapping of Seward’s secretary, who is none other than Renfield (Samuel Barnett). The vampires are back, and I’m ready for it. They’ve been stalking Vanessa since she left Dr. Seward’s office, and now they have a man on the inside. With Renfield’s appearance comes the introduction of Dracula. The writers promised he’d make an appearance, and while he isn’t shown, we do hear his voice and his command that Renfield gather information on Vanessa.
Season three is off to a strong start. I’ve got high expectations.
You can watch the first episode of the third season right now, for free, on the official Penny Dreadful YouTube channel.
Meghan Harker is a Horror writer for Girls in Capes. She’s currently working on her own Gothic novel and hosts the Courting Casualties podcast. When not writing, she’s either drawing, reading, hunting antiques, or lamenting that she wasn’t born in the 1800s. If you follow her on Twitter (@ExquisitelyOdd), you might get the chance to play Guess Who’s Dead!, her favorite post-mortem photography game (no one else likes to play.)