TV Review: Penny Dreadful Season 3

“Why would the devil be interested in you?”

And so the penny drops, John Logan’s Penny Dreadful comes to an end after 3 highly atmospheric seasons of gothic drama, anchored by a sensational performance from Eva Green that ought to have been way more recognised that it was. It’s taken me a little while to get round to watching the series after writing about the first episode so apologies for that, but sometimes, life (and summer holidays) just get in the way. Beware, spoilers will abound.

In some ways, the ending of Season 2 acted as a finale that really worked, the key characters left shell-shocked by what had befallen them and scattered across the globe, as manifested in a gloriously down-beat last half-hour of Episode 10. And so the main challenge of Season 3 was to find a way to reconnect their stories in a way that was at least thematically interesting, if not necessarily the most dramatically satisfying.

For me, this was the key weakness, the stretching that the scriptwriters had to go to re-establish a world in which everyone co-existed, the final result never quite landing. But if you’re happy with the dramatis personae all getting on in their separately dastardly ways, then there’s much to enjoy here for when it is at its best, this is Penny Dreadful at its most affecting, particularly in the tour-de-force that was A Blade of Grass, the should-have-been-award-winning flashback episode in which Green’s Vanessa and Rory Kinnear’s John Clare explored their hitherto unknown connection. 

Naturally, Vanessa remained at the heart of the story and the focus of the Big Bad, this time being Dracula in the silkily sexy form of Christian Camargo, and I loved the bringing back of Patti LuPone as a ballsy New York therapist (with Irish ancestry, natch) to aid her quest for inner peace. Samuel Barnett’s Renfield, serving first the latter then the former, added greatly to the quality here, the Dracula myth thoroughly reinvigorated.

I was less keen on Ethan Chandler’s journey of self-discovery in the Wild West, stranding Timothy Dalton’s Sir Malcolm over there with him, but there was extremely powerful work from Billie Piper’s Lily, raising a feminist army (including a sparky Jessica Barden) to crush the ways of man – thus rendering both Reeve Carney’s Dorian Gray and Harry Treadaway’s Victor Frankenstein helpless, almost pathetic in her wake. The philosophical discussions inspired in both were also very well done, culminating in some strong moments, not least the tragic farewell between Lily and Dorian.

I’d’ve loved to have seen more of Shazad Latif’s Jekyll, though the revelation of his ‘other’ self was very neatly done. And even if the point of Kinnear’s Clare was the hopelessness of his isolation, again I just wanted more of so fine an actor doing such fine work. Finishing off the series in the way that Logan did is probably the best way for Logan to go, on his own terms, and given the shocking sacrifice that capped it all off, you do wonder what future Penny Dreadful could have had without Eva Green at its quiveringly haunted heart.

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