TV Review: Penny Dreadful Season 3 Episode 1

“The cycle goes on, the snake eating its own tail”

The focus may be elsewhere with regards to returning cult TV shows this spring but to my mind, there’s something more satisfying about the Victorian Gothic psychodrama of John Logan’s Penny Dreadful than we’ve had recently in Westeros. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a turn on the Game of Thrones as much as the next Lannister child but the greater focus and emotional intensity of Penny Dreadful’s supernatural solemnity has kept me gripped over the last two seasons (Season 1 review; Season 2 review) and had me keenly anticipating the third, showing on Showtime (USA) and Sky Atlantic (UK).

The catastrophic climax of Season 2 saw our cast of characters fleeing the gaslit darkness of London and scattering across the globe, each ruminating over their lot. Josh Hartnett’s Ethan Chandler is extradited back to New Mexico under Douglas Hodge’s wonderfully taciturn supervision as Inspector Rusk, Timothy Dalton’s Sir Malcolm finds himself in Zanzibar after burying the unfortunately deceased Sembene, Rory Kinnear’s John Clare aka Caliban aka The Creature is stuck on an ice-bound ship in the Arctic, and in a London caught in mourning for Alfred Lord Tennyson (the episode is called “The Day Tennyson Died”), Eva Green’s Vanessa and Harry Treadaway’s Frankenstein are each trapped in their own emotional paralysis.

With a considerable ensemble cast that only keeps growing, I did have my fears about a loss of the tightness of the narrative that I have so admired but what was impressive, both in Logan’s writing and Damon Thomas’ direction, was how the connective threads between these parties, though pulled far apart, remain strong as ever. The decision to rest Dorian Gray and Brona for the episode is bold but pays off well as little time is wasted in beginning the machinations of a new season and all its possibilities and whilst the New Mexico strand seems intriguingly promising, it is in London where it’s all happening really. 

I’ll try to avoid spoilers here by not mentioning character names, as the reveals are fun (and come at different times, depending on how strong your literary references are!) but the arrival of Frankenstein’s old schoolfriend should reinvigorate his strand, not least in the sexual charge Shazad Latif is bringing to his character. And Vanessa’s decision to seek help from the new field of alienism (psychiatry by an archaic name) brilliantly brings her back into contact with an unexpected face from Season 2 and throws Samuel Barnett into the bargain too – win win! The episode’s final flourish sets up the drama for the series ahead in typically gothic style and I can’t wait to see where the ride takes us this year.

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