Saturday, November 26, 2016

"Penny Dreadful," Year Three

Some moderate, non-detailed spoilers ahead.

It was worth watching the final season of "Penny Dreadful," though it clearly had its problems. I knew about the downbeat ending long in advance, but I thought that the biggest issues were that John Logan added so many new pieces and tried to cover so much ground. Inevitably, there were too many characters who didn't get their due, too many plots that were rushed through, and some very poor storytelling choices.

Things started out well. After the events of last season, Vanessa has been left alone in London to stew in her misery. With a help of a psychiatrist, Dr. Seward (Patti LuPone), she returns to society and becomes enamored with a zoologist, Dr. Sweet (Christian Camargo). Unfortunately, she's also being spied on by Seward's secretary Renfield (Samuel Barnett), recently recruited by Dracula. Meanwhile in America, Ethan is being extradited and a reunion with his hated father, Jared Talbot (Brian Cox), appears inevitable. Sir Malcolm and an Apache warrior Kaetenay (Wes Studi) race to help him. Victor Frankenstein partners with an old friend, Dr. Jekyll (Shazad Latif), seeking to find a way to return Lily to his side. She's still with Dorian, plotting a proto-radical feminist uprising, and recruiting London's prostitutes to her cause. Finally, John Clare tracks down the family (Casper Allpress and Pandora Colin) that he left behind when he died.

Some of these stories play out perfectly well. I have no complaints about John Clare, Lily Frankenstein, or Dorian Gray - Gray actually has his best arc, gradually becoming disillusioned with Lily. However, the rest of the show was rife with truncated or just plain badly conceived ideas. Emblematic of this is Catriona Hartdegen (Perdita Weeks), a jarringly modern scholar of death rituals, who appears in the second half of the season as a new ally for Vanessa. She frequently acts like she's in an action film, with her quips and her fearless fighting prowess, and with next to no development at all, she ends up playing a major part in the finale. Catriona would be a Mary Sue if she had more screen time. Or there's Dr. Jekyll, who in an interesting twist is a half-Indian chemist with massive daddy issues. This season sets up the famous Jekyll and Hyde story, but of course will never pursue it fully. Ethan's history with the Apache desperately needed more time, and I'm disappointed that he didn't get a flashback episode. And what about John Clare's death?

And we have to talk about Vanessa Ives. Eva Green and Rory Kinnear did a magnificent job with their bottle episode, "A Blade of Grass," which felt like it was setting up much bigger things that the series ultimately skipped. I don't object to the ending of "Penny Dreadful" and Vanessa's story, but how the series chose to get there was endlessly frustrating. The all-important seduction of Vanessa felt far too fast, and then the final two episodes only featured her for a single scene with barely any emotional context. It would have taken more than an episode or two of extra material to fix this, and I'm really torn about whether John Logan should have attempted this finale at all. There are so many loose ends hanging around the edges of the series, any sense of closure is minimal.

The production of "Penny Dreadful" remains excellent. I loved the views of the New Mexico territory, Dr. Sweet's museum, and the visions of an apocalyptic London. It was a nice change of pace to see America in this era, and there were some fun variations on the show's predominantly British horror tropes. I'm glad I stuck with the series long enough to see the chapel showdown, Billie Piper calling for revolution on Dorian Gray's dinner table, and that gorgeous final scene with Ethan and Vanessa surrounded by flickering candles.

Even if it means no more Eva Green, I'd love for "Penny Dreadful" to continue. There's clearly so much more that the series could explore, and the series might be able to fix some of these issues retroactively. As it stands now, the show is still by far the best horror television series that I've ever seen, and it won't be matched easily in the future.

No comments:

Post a Comment