UK TV review: Penny Dreadful Season 3, Episode 2
Ivan Radford | On 16, May 2016
Warning: This contains spoilers.
Penny Dreadful is one of TV’s most literary shows – but every now and then, it’s also one of the most predictable. John Logan’s series trades in novels and legends, twisting them together into unfamiliar shapes with the same themes but different endings. In Season 1, we met Frankenstein’s monster – only for him to have his stomach ripped out by another Frankenstein’s monster. Later, Van Helsing appeared, only to have his torso torn apart too. Both were moments of accomplished surprise – and another such moment arrives at the end of Season 3’s second episode.
That moment comes courtesy of none other than Dr. Alexander Sweet (Christian Camargo), who continues his courtship of Vanessa Ives (Eva Green), who, in turn, continues her counselling with Dr. Seward. We said we’d be happy with an hour of just Patti LuPone and Green talking – and we almost get that here, as the show, as always, relishes the chance to savour its characters interacting. People crossing paths is where those points of unpredictability and drama emerge, even more so here, as the third season gradually reunites its disparate players.
“Without my God, I feel utterly alone,” Vanessa tells Dr. Seward, the poster child for that isolation each of our protagonists is currently enduring. Her connection with the doctor is just one of several connections that is helping to give Vanessa’s existence meaning once again.
Throughout the episode, old faces are seeking similar solace through company: Josh Hartnett’s Ethan finds himself going hairy once more for another brutal fight, only for Hecate to pop up in the carnage and potentially save his life. “How I’ve missed you,” she smiles – and, even when she looks this terrifying, it’s not hard to imagine him smiling too.
What will happen when their paths cross with Malcolm’s is anybody’s guess (see?), but similar joy is being found by Frankenstein in the company of Dr. Jekyll, who gives him a tour of his work – and, once again, the attention to detail in the set’s scientific, shadowy backgrounds brings everything vividly to grimy life. Jekyll, the fool, is still promising rehabilitation for Lily and Frankenstein, bless him, is still believing his former study buddy that such a thing is possible.
For Frankenstein, that’s the real connection he wants to make: a reunion with his beloved creation. Thank heavens, then, that we finally get to see what Lily and Dorian (surely the show’s sexiest partnership) are up to in their new life together. Gleefully laying waste to a disturbing underground club, they rescue a young girl called Justine from a no doubt sordid fate, acquiring her as their ingénue to raise and mould in their own image. “We shall have a monumental revenge,” grins Billie Piper, who is still visibly enjoying the heck out of her warped role. Oh yes, she’s no Frankenstein’s little girl anymore.
Harry Treadaway’s tragic little scientist, though, still hasn’t realised it: a shot of him mournfully looking up at her window is adorably pitiful, but rather than leave the tableau there, Penny Dreadful, as always, takes the more interesting root and immediately brings the two together for another encounter. “I need no man to save me,” the undead formerly known as Brona tells the doctor, ever the empowering figure in a patriarchal society – one of the show’s most fascinating, and subversive, thematic flourishes. “I created you more than you created me,” she tells him.
She’s right, of course – and Logan’s understanding of that relationship between monster and maker is right at the heart of Penny Dreadful’s brilliance, from John Clare’s philosophical musings to Vanessa’s theological fears. Upon hearing of Miss Ives’ experiences, Dr. Seward steps outside for a moment, either too shocked by what she doesn’t comprehend, or too scared by what she does. It’s hard to tell which for now, but her advice to Vanessa is fatal: to do something that “might make you happy, doesn’t matter what it is”. Inevitably, that something is seeing Dr. Sweet again – but our finale reveals him to be none other than Dracula himself.
What a perfect revelation it is: Camargo, whose studied charm and politeness even extends to pretending to forget Vanessa’s name, is the ideal cover for her predator. A man who obsesses with dead objects and life? You can bet he and her would get a 100% match on OK Cupid. Why is she so drawn to him? Is it his looks? His representing company at a lonely time? Her chronic terrible taste in men? Or is it the underling promise of a maker once again breathing life into a monster? One is busy soul-searching – the other, searching for a specific soul. Their scenes together still buzz with cute chemistry – and hum with the excitement of the unexpected. What a juicy season this is turning out to be.
Season 1 to 3 of Penny Dreadful are available on Sky On Demand. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW TV, as part of a £6.99 Sky Entertainment Month Pass subscription – with a 7-day free trial. Season 1 and 2 are also available on DVD, Blu-ray and pay-per-view VOD.
Where can I buy or rent Penny Dreadful online in the UK?