‘Penny Dreadful’ 3.03 Recap: “Liberty Is a Bitch That Must Be Petted on a Mattress of Corpses”

As much as I enjoy ‘Penny Dreadful’, the show’s confused and sometimes incoherent plotting has been a frustration all along. The new season apparently wants to tie together old storylines from the first two years as if the whole thing has been tightly plotted and interwoven the whole time. How well that will work remains to be seen.

One of the show’s biggest failings concerned the clarity (or lack thereof) regarding the vampire known as “The Master” in Season 1. For most of that season, I assumed that The Master was Dracula, and that a nasty vampire we’d seen on a few occasions was him. But when that vampire was killed in the season finale, we were told afterwards that he wasn’t The Master. Then Season 2 came along and the show’s focus shifted to the Devil, leaving some question about whether “The Master” was just code for Satan all along.

From what I can tell, that isn’t the case either. Now that we’ve been properly introduced to Dracula, this week’s episode confirms that he is in fact the same Master from Season 1. I don’t know why this had to be such a secret. Honestly, I’m still not sure whether Dracula is actually Satan as well. At the moment, I assume that they’re two separate beings.

Ethan & Malcolm

Following his wolf-out and slaughter of the bounty hunters who’d captured him, Ethan wakes up in a stable (still nicely dressed) with Hecate eagerly waiting for him to arise. The witch swears her allegiance to him. “I will follow you to Hell,” she vows. That isn’t something Ethan really wants, but he doesn’t have any other friends right now.

Sir Malcolm and Kaetenay arrive in America and travel west by train. Kaetenay tells Malcolm a prophecy about Ethan being a Chosen One messiah, because that’s just about the only idea the show hasn’t tossed against a wall yet. Their conversation is interrupted by a pair of racists who demand that the Indian ride in the luggage car where he belongs. Malcolm stares them down and intimidates them until they whimper away. (As much as I enjoy Timothy Dalton acting all badass here, I feel it’s really inappropriate to make the white guy the hero of the scene. Wes Studi is perfectly capable of taking care of himself.)

Ethan and Hecate come across a remote ranch away from town and attempt to sneak down and steal a couple of horses. They’re caught by the rancher, who runs out with a gun. Hecate plays innocent in order to get close to the man, then slashes his throat and coldly goes into the house to take care of his family as well. Ethan’s reservations about partnering with her only grow.

Inspector Rusk follows Ethan’s trail to the scene of the trading post massacre and uses his analytical skills to discern that he has an accomplice. Separate from them, Malcolm and Kaetenay find the family murdered at the ranch. Kaetenay tells Malcolm that his intention is to save Ethan if he can, or kill him if not.

Hecate tells Ethan that she wants to be his queen. They’re spotted by Marshal Ostow, whose men open fire on them, to Rusk’s disapproval. The fugitives retreat on their stolen horses.

John Clare

John Clare (or Calaban, whatever you want to call him) makes his way back to civilization. He experiences flashbacks to his former life during the carriage ride to London, and realizes that he has a wife and son, but still doesn’t know their names.

Clare spots Vanessa on the street and makes a move toward her to say hello, but holds back when he sees that she’s in the company of another man, Dr. Sweet. Instead, he goes to the old flat where he used to live and harasses the building owner to help him locate his family, who have moved away in the meantime. He finds them eventually and spies on them without revealing himself. His happiness is spoiled when he sees his young son coughing blood. The boy must have tuberculosis, which is a death sentence in this era.

Frankenstein & Jekyll

Victor is amazed that Jekyll’s serum has apparently cured the lunatic in the asylum. The man, who was a raving maniac just moments earlier, is calm and composed as he laments his condition. He claims that he has no memory of what happens when he loses control. Then, just as suddenly as he regained his sanity, he snaps immediately back to madness and tries to attack Victor until orderlies haul him away. Jekyll explains that the serum only lasts for brief periods, a few hours at the most. However, Victor believes he can extend its effectiveness using his own research into electricity.

Dorian & Lily

Having rescued the young whore Justine from imminent torture and death, Lily dresses her up and takes her out to lunch. When they see Suffragette protesters on the street being abused by police, Lily explains her philosophy that working in stealth is more powerful than operating in the spotlight. It’s her intention to start a war against all the men who have ever subjugated women.

Later, Lily and Dorian present Justine with a present – the man who whored her out and then sold her to the torturers. They’ve bound and gagged him naked in a chair, and want Justine to kill him, expecting that the girl will hesitate at her first brush with murder. Instead, she surprises them by grabbing a knife and enthusiastically stabbing the hell out of the man. Immensely turned on by this, Dorian makes out with Justine and invites her to join him and Lily in a disturbingly erotic blood-soaked threesome.

Afterwards, Lily describes Justine as their first soldier in a new army. She wants to recruit more.


In their latest therapy session, Dr. Seward expresses some skepticism about the horrible stories Vanessa has told her. She believes Vanessa may be suffering delusions. Vanessa grabs the doctor’s hand and psychically or supernaturally recites events from the woman’s own past that Vanessa could not have known.

On their next date, Dr. Sweet tells Vanessa that he’s a widower. He says that he never fully recovered after his young wife was ripped away from him too soon. Knowing that he’s Dracula, I assume that he’s talking about Mina.

The two of them go to a circus and wander into the Hall of Mirrors, where they get separated. Vanessa is confronted by a creepy vampire who’s been stalking her. He taunts her with his knowledge of her being locked up in a white room, but then suddenly drops to the floor and skitters away. Fearing that her presence is endangering him, Vanessa breaks off her relationship with Sweet.

Dracula is enraged that the creepy vamp defied him and ruined his plans for Vanessa. He orders his other vampire minions to attack and feed on the offender.

Vanessa asks Dr. Seward to hypnotize her in order to help recover memories of time she spent in a mental clinic. Although she resists at first, Seward eventually concedes. The episode ends with Vanessa remembering a room with white walls, and a hospital orderly. As the man’s face comes into focus, she realizes that it was John Clare.

Episode Verdict

I would like to believe that it was series creator (and sole credited writer) John Logan’s plan all along for Dracula to be a unifying force across seasons of the show. As earlier episodes played out, they sure didn’t feel like Logan had a very clear map of where he was taking the story. However, right at this moment, I can’t think of any blatant contradictions between new events and old ones. Perhaps some will come to light later?

True to form, John Clare’s storyline is the least interesting happening right now. I’m disappointed to say that Ethan’s hasn’t really grabbed me either, though I do enjoy his uneasy alliance with Hecate. Surprisingly, I’m eager to see where Frankenstein and Lily go.

The season still feels overly fragmented. I think it would be wise for the various story threads to start coming together, but based on last season I’m not confident that will happen satisfactorily.


  1. Ryan

    Did not read the recap, since I am holding off on this season until the end (then watch all at once). Anyway, how is this season?
    Please tell me there’s nothing as bad as Dorian’s storyline from last year.

    • Josh Zyber

      Well, Dorian is still a major character, but his storyline seems more interesting so far. (The focus is more on Lily than Dorian.) I agree that he was one of the worst things about last year.

      It’s still a little early to tell, but the season feels like an improvement over the last one. However, it still has some issues.

  2. Adz Dethonator

    Dracula was ALWAYS in the background of the first season. Never revealed, kept ambiguous as to whether he was one of the nosferatu looking bastards, but always there. See the speech by Fenton, see the explanation by Vanessa of what happened to Mina – “she got involved with ANOTHER man” – Dracula, clearly, from the literary references which you don’t need to delve to deep into pop culture to understand. It was always clear that Dracula was there in the background. “Where is your master? Right behind you…don’t you feel him there in the shadows??” Gave me chills.

    Season two revealed that Dracula and Satan are the two aspects of Lucifer – like Jesus is 1/3rd of the catholic trinity. “When Lucifer fell, he did not fall alone”, revealed Joan Clayton. The Verbis Diablo puzzle revealed that when Lucifer was cast out of heaven, his soul split into two brothers. One fell to earth, the other to hell. Dracula is the earthbound, that feeds on blood. Satan is the hellbound that feeds on souls. Both are parts of the same entity, – Amun-Ra (Lucifer) – which desires to be conjoined with the mother of evil – Amunet – Vanessa.

    Season three merely reveals Dracula as an active part of the story for the first time. The Nightcomers – season 2’s witches failed to claim Vanessa for Satan; she vanquished them in their feeble attempts, more easily than some of her peers. Now Dracula steps out of the shadows to attempt to seduce her at her most weak. The only disappointing thing about this season is the physically underwhelming portrayal of Dracula; i wanted it to match the awesome sense of insidious evil that seeped from the screen during the first season; as sexy as Langella, as enigmatic as Lugosi, as unnatural as Oldman, as imperious as Lee, as imposing as Evans. Carmago’s disarming Doctor is none of these things – but he is something different. Still, who knows what lurks underneath that disarmingly sweet exterior. And it makes sense – like most PD characters, it’s about the two secret faces, internal and external. Vanessa has pure darkness inside of her – she is something more than she appears, the show is anchored around that. Alexander Sweet is her opposite number.

    It’s not too uncomplicated, and it is progressing well, at a breakneck speed, this season. If anything, that’s what feels strangest about this season – the slow burn has given way to rapid strides to resolve and introduce things.

    I’m in love with it. Best show on TV, hands down. Look forward to it rabidly each week. A period horror drama with a literary heart? Sounds tough to swallow; it works so, so well.
    I pray to all things that lurk in the demimonde that it stays on the air for a good deal longer.


    BTW case in point, the literary heart was palpably beaten with John Clare this week – the spying on his family and leaving them gifts – straight out of the novel where the monster serves as an anonymous benefactor and observer of the idealised country family that are his neighbours. I was captivated…and filled with dread, for, like the novel, his heartbreaking rejection is all but inevitable.

    • Josh Zyber

      I wish the storytelling in the series were as clear and coherent as you spell it out here. I didn’t get anything about Dracula and Satan being connected out of Season 2, and I’ve always found the Amun-Ra/Amunet stuff confounding. Your comment here puts the puzzle pieces together better than the show has, so I thank you for that. 🙂

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