Showtime’s Penny Dreadful managed to breathe life into some the most trafficked characters in our collective pop culture. Frankenstein. The Wolfman. Dorian Gray. Creator John Logan managed to take these well-worn archetypes and offer a unique take.
Penny Dreadful is a gorgeous gothic horror series set in Victorian England. The production design is peerless. The acting is top-notch. And the stories are consistently interesting despite the familiarity of the faces. It was a big surprise and quickly turned into one of my favorite shows.
At the center of the mythology is a unique character: Vanessa Ives (Eva Green, Casino Royale). She’s a tortured soul, menaced by demonic forces beyond her comprehension and clinging to shreds of her Catholic faith. She’s the flashpoint of the otherworldly antagonism that our heroes find themselves embroiled in.
For Season Three, the writers have brought out the big guns (yes even bigger that last year’s moronic Satan-doll). Dracula is in the house and he has eyes for the lovely Ives. As the Dragon circles his prey (with his sights on using her power to end the world and let the bloodsuckers run free–or something, Ethan (Josh Hartnett) is trapped in the American West, battling his werewolf duality.
And that’s the thrust of Season 3, essentially a battle for the soul of Vanessa Ives. Dracula is a nice addition and we get a half-decent treatment of the legendary character. The reveal is drawn out a bit (and it’s not a big surprise) but he turns out to be an able heavy.
But, surprisingly–and a bit disappointingly–this buildup to the Final Showdown culminates in a rush job. The best sutff of Season 3 happens in the West with Ethan, his Apache father (Wes Studi!), Malcolm (Timothy Dalton) and Ethan’s biological (and wholly bad) father. There’s some great Old West-style stuff done here and Hartnett Makes Ethan a lot more complex than “having fleas suck.”
(Also disappointing: the entirety of Dorian and Dr. Frankenstein’s stories.)
It is at end of all things where Penny Dreadful where everything bows under the weight of the unknown future; Showtime confirmed the show’s cancellation after production. The final two episodes are an all-out sprint. The apocalypse happens in record time, the vampires roam the street and Vanessa Ives sits out the entire penultimate episode (?!) and essentially has a cameo in the finale.
And like that “The End” flashes on the screen and Penny Dreadhul is over. Also, it wraps up in a hugely depressing way. So, yeah, good times all around.
Look, at the end of the day it’s a great show and a decent season. The abruptness of its denouement is a soft kick to the testicles. Vanessa’s story, in particular fizzles out. A shame, since she’s been the key to it all from the get-go. But it’s still worth your time and it remains an absolute visual feast.
A visual feast made that much more delectable on Blu-ray: 1080p, 1.78:1 and a pair of high-end audio mixes (Dolby Atmos and Dolby TrueHD 7.1). Extras are okay: some modest featurettes on the production and set design and cast interviews.