Showtime aired two back-to-back episodes of ‘Penny Dreadful’ on Sunday, closing not just this season but bringing the entire series to an abrupt end. Creator John Logan has confirmed that this is the end of the line for the show. I really wish it were more satisfying.
Following that fantastic flashback episode in the asylum and the next couple of really strong episodes after it, I was convinced that this was the best season of the show so far. Unfortunately, I really didn’t care for last week’s plot twist. Now, even split between two episodes, the finale feels very rushed in an attempt to quickly tie up all the remaining plot threads, as if Logan and his writers just wanted to be done with the show.
Dr. Seward goes to her office late one night and catches Renfield listening to the recordings of her sessions with Vanessa. Seward demands to know what he’s doing, but Renfield is in full-on evil creep mode now. He tells the doctor that Vanessa belongs to his master now: “They sup on the flesh and the blood and the blood and the blood…” Renfield then disgustingly chomps down on a frog he’s been toying with. More dead frogs litter the floor. When he makes a move toward her, Seward stabs him with a letter opener. They struggle until she eventually knocks him unconscious with a heavy paperweight. She then looks over and sees more frogs crawling up through the drain in her sink.
As Ethan, Malcolm and Kaetenay make port in London, they find the city gripped in a pestilent fog. The streets are deserted, save for a flood of rats scurrying between their feet. Because they can’t even catch a carriage, they have to walk all the way to Malcolm’s mansion. The house appears empty. They split up to search for Vanessa and are each attacked by vampires. Ethan is saved from one by Catriona, who quickly makes her introductions and explains that the fog-borne plague has resulted in mass deaths throughout the city. She says that only Vanessa can stop it. Malcolm was bitten by a vampire in the scuffle and asks for a gun to kill himself with, rather than risk being turned. Catriona instead cauterizes his wound with a hot poker from the fire, upon which he passes out from the pain. Ethan leaves the house to bring back a doctor. Kaetenay follows after him.
Dorian leaves Lily chained in the laboratory under the care of Victor and Jekyll. He then returns home and orders all the whores to get out. Justine demands to know where Lily is, and refuses to believe it when he says that she’s been tamed. Justine stabs Dorian in the heart with a dinner knife, which has no effect on him. The other whores all flee the house. Dorian tells Justine to leave and go back to her old life. She says that she’d rather die, so he kisses her and snaps her neck.
John Clare wants his family to move back to their old home, and makes plans to rebuild all their lives. Unfortunately, his son is still very sickly.
Ethan goes to Victor’s apartment and pounds on his door. A creepy kid across the hall says that the doctor was called away. He offers to bring Ethan to him. Ethan really ought to know better, but follows the boy.
Malcolm wakes up and talks with Catriona when Dr. Seward arrives at the house also looking for Vanessa.
Victor prepares his serum to inject into Lily, but she gives him a sob story about how her little daughter died, and begs him not to take away her memories of the girl. She says that the pain is all she has left. Victor puts down the syringe and unchains her. Lily kisses him.
The creepy kid lures Ethan into a trap on the streets, where Dracula and horde of vampires surround him. Dracula says that Vanessa is finally free and doesn’t need his help. He knocks Ethan down and leaves his minions to finish him off. Ethan looks up at the full moon (how convenient that he didn’t notice it until just now) and wolfs out. Not far away, Kaetenay likewise turns into a werewolf. They fight off the vampires, and the episode ends with the two wolves facing off against each other.
‘The Blessed Dark’
After a prologue scene in which John Clare watches his son die in his sleep, the finale episode opens with a different credits sequence for the first time in the show’s history. That should be an immediate clue that this isn’t just a normal season finale.
The vampire kid reports to Dracula about the two wolves. Vanessa enters the room and all the vampires bow to her. Now embracing her turn to the dark side, she tells Dracula to let Ethan come to them.
Reverted to their human forms, Ethan is pissed to learn that Kaetenay is a werewolf too, because that means he’s responsible for turning him. Kaetenay explains his story. Ethan vows to save Vanessa.
Dr. Seward brings Malcolm and Catriona to see Renfield, whom she’s had restrained at the hospital. She injects him with a truth serum concoction and hypnotizes him in order to question him about where Dracula is holding Vanessa.
Lily returns to Dorian’s mansion and finds Justine’s dead body. Dorian is not surprised to see her. Rather than get upset, Lily is just sad. The two of them lament “the wicked secret of the immortal” – which is that, the longer they live, the less attachment they have to anyone or anything, including each other. Lily tells Dorian goodbye.
Jekyll is furious at Victor for letting Lily go, which will set his research back considerably. Victor says that he can’t work with him anymore. Before they part, Jekyll reveals that his father finally died and he has inherited the family title. Victor then addresses him as “Lord Hyde.”
John Clare’s wife wants him to bring their dead son to Frankenstein to be resurrected, but Clare refuses to let his boy be turned into the kind of monster he was. She sets an ultimatum and threatens to leave him if he doesn’t bring their son back.
Victor meets up with Malcolm and joins his group to help rescue Vanessa. This all culminates with a big confrontation at Dracula’s lair and a shootout with a bunch of vampires. Ethan finds Vanessa. From seemingly out of nowhere, she begs him to kill her. Ethan kisses her, says an “Our Father” and shoots her. As she dies, Vanessa says that she sees God.
While in the middle of strangling Malcolm, Dracula senses that Vanessa has died, lets Malcolm go, and suddenly flees. The fog lifts from the city and the sun comes out.
Malcolm, Ethan, et al. return to Malcolm’s mansion. Ethan goes into Vanessa’s empty room and slumps to the floor. Malcolm joins him there and asks, “And what now?” They decide that they must learn to find lives without Vanessa. Ethan agrees to stay in London. Malcolm and the others are his family now.
John Clare carries his boy’s body to the shore for what I assume is supposed to be a burial at sea. However, he deposits the corpse in about three feet of water and lets it sink right there at his feet, which seems like a really ineffectual way to do it. It’ll just be sitting there at the next low tide.
Afterwards, John Clare spies on Vanessa’s funeral from afar and reads poetry for her in voiceover.
The episode concludes with a definitive “The End” title card.
This is an extremely frustrating end for the series. Both episodes are, quite frankly, pretty lousy. Eva Green, the top-billed star and powerhouse acting presence on the show, doesn’t even appear in the first episode at all and is hardly in the finale.
All of the show’s storylines conclude in what feels like a perfunctory manner. I didn’t buy Vanessa’s turn to evil when that happened last week, and her sudden shift to suicidal makes basically no sense given her character arc over these three seasons.
When Vanessa does finally die, Dracula just stops and runs away, and that’s the last we see of him? How is that an ending?
What was the point of introducing the Catriona character late in the season and then doing nothing with her?
Victor spent the whole season trying to “cure” his beloved Lily, and when he finally has a chance to do that, he instead gives up and lets her go because she cries a little. Really?
For that matter, all of the setup toward making Lily and Dorian great villains this season ultimately came to nothing. Their storyline also ends with both characters just giving up.
Aside from the flashbacks in the asylum episode, John Clare served no purpose at all this entire season. His storyline never integrated with anyone else’s and led to nothing.
The finale has isolated moments of legitimate emotional power, including Vanessa’s death scene, but on the whole is a tremendous letdown. It wraps up with what feels like every actor in the cast shrugging their shoulders and asking, “Is that it? Can we go home now?” Considering how terrific the middle portion of this season was, I’m at a loss to understand how everything fell apart so quickly and so spectacularly. I couldn’t be more disappointed.