When we left our beloved caravan of characters in the season two finale, everyone was headed in a different direction – both physically and mentally. Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) was being extradited back to America for his crimes and to come face-to-face with his father once again. Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton) was headed to Africa to bury his loyal servant and friend Sembene (Danny Sapani) while Vanessa Ives (Eva Green, long overdue for serious award recognition for this role) locked herself away in the Murray home back in England. Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney) and Lily Frankenstein (Billie Piper) were hatching their plan to rule the world by assembling the miscreants of London. The Creature (Rory Kinnear) was headed to Antarctica while Dr. Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) was falling deeper into his addictions after learning that he would never have Lily again.
Season three kicks off with the world mourning the loss of Alfred Tennyson, considered “the last great poet” throughout the episode. It shouldn’t be lost on fans of the show that the season begins with a great poet dying, as Vanessa, The Creature and Victor Frankenstein have all professed their affinity for poetry throughout the first two seasons. The passing of Tennyson is a historical moment used to frame the fact that these characters have lost everything they believed they had- Vanessa with Ethan, The Creature and a hope for a peaceful existence and Victor with Lily.
Vanessa is locked away and in a deep depression in the Murray mansion, left to her own terrible thoughts and nightmares. One of my personal favorite characters on the show, Ferdinand Lyle (Simon Russell Beale) shows up and encourages Vanessa to leave the home and begin the journey to emotionally healing. Meanwhile, Dr. Frankenstein meets with colleague and school pal Dr. Henry Jekyll (Shazad Latif) and through both scientists’ experiments and theories, the opportunity to get Lily back in his arms drives Victor into an even deeper madness than before. Sir Malcolm meets an unlikely ally during his trip back to London in the form of an Apache man named Kaetenay (Wes Studi) who shares a spiritual and psychological bond with Ethan from their days in the Wild West of America. The two must find Ethan and pull his from the grips of evil before it is too late and darkness falls upon mankind. Ethan, meanwhile, is watching as men and innocent women are killed all around him on his way to his father’s ranch and has an encounter with Hecate Poole (Sarah Greene), the sinister daughter of witch Evelyn Poole from the first two seasons. The two form a potentially hellish duo and suddenly the show is more a race to see which character can bring on the end of days first! As if that weren’t enough, we also are introduced to the one and only Count Dracula, who has his heart and fangs set on Vanessa. Naturally.
There are quite a few intriguing newcomers to the cast here in season three. Latif and Studi stand out with stellar performances as Jekyll and Kaetenay, respectively.
We also are re-introduced to Patti LuPone, this time as Dr. Seward. LuPone played the witch Joan Clayton in season two and was an instrumental part of Vanessa’s growth during one of many difficult times in her life. Upon meeting the psychologist Dr. Seward at the suggestion of Ferdinand Lyle, Vanessa instantly gravitates to the woman whose ancestor she knew so intimately well.
Christian Camargo is Count Dracula here and boy does he bring a whole new set of terror and drama to the show. This version of Dracula is much more subdued than others we’ve seen on television and film over the years, but he’s effective. Samuel Barnett is the neurotic Renfield, Dracula’s minion and someone who promises to compromise the life of a few of our favorites in the series.
Vanessa begins to break out of her depressed state following her sessions with Dr. Seward and in meeting the charismatic Dr. Sweet, a gentleman who is just about any woman’s definition of swoon-worthy. He’s tall, dark and handsome, incredibly educated and has a bit of a past that may make you reconsider bringing him home to mother once you find out what it is.
While Sir Malcolm and Kaetenay are headed to America to rescue Ethan from Hecate and Satan’s clutch, Frankenstein and Jekyll perfect their serum that renders even the most psychologically damaged person docile. This discovery prompts Frankenstein to attempt to convince Lily to come back to him. Of course, Lily is a little tied up at the moment building an army of prostitutes from across the land to fight back against the men who have treated them as nothing but trash and flesh pleasures since most of them could remember. Dorian begins to grow concerned that things are spinning out of control in his mansion, as his home goes from being an elegant gentleman’s estate to a boarding house for ladies of the night, all while Lily seems to be phasing him out of plans altogether now that she has Justine at her side.
Meanwhile, The Creature begins to have flashbacks of his life prior to being a stitched together abomination. These memories include his wife and son, a young boy whom he doted on and suddenly Frankenstein is headed back to England from the Arctic in hopes of learning more of his mysterious past.
While things in England aren’t going too well for anyone, the wild west of America isn’t faring much better. Ethan manages to escape his captors and head to his father’s ranch with one thing on his mind – patricide. Hecate is right there with him, continually suggesting to Ethan that his curse is a blessing, one that could unleash Hell on Earth if he submits to The Dark Lord. Ethan seems to be slipping further and further away from the good side as Sir Malcolm and Kaetenay, as well as Scotland Yard Inspector Rusk (Douglas Hodge) and US Marshal Franklin Ostow (Sean Gilder), are hot on his trail with different ideas of redemption for the Wolf Man.
When Ethan finally does reach his father’s land, the audience learns fairly quickly the motives for Jared Talbot’s attempts to bring his son home. The senior Talbot is played brilliantly by the fantastic Brian Cox. Blood, and lots of it, is spilled across the ranch as both parties searching for Ethan come to the front door. After killing Hecate in a shoot-out at the ranch, Sir Malcolm gives Ethan the ultimate relief by shooting Jared Talbot dead right in the middle of a verbal assault on his son.
It’s then a race against the clock to save Vanessa as she is being followed now by the ultimate monster, Count Dracula. Vanessa can only do so much to protect herself from such a terrible force and even with the assistance of all-around female bad ass Catriona Hartdegan (Perdita Weeks) and Dr. Seward, it appears the battle may be too much for Vanessa.
I absolutely love the fact that the show has surrounded Vanessa with dominant female forces in Dr. Seward and Hartdegan. Patti LuPone and Perdita Weeks are serious forces to be reckoned with in the acting game and they bring their A-game each and every moment they are in front of the camera. The world of entertainment as a whole needs more female power groups joining forces to trump evil and it’s a welcome piece of the Penny Dreadful puzzle.
That trio gets some serious love in the two-hour finale (which was actually a 45-minute episode followed by a full one-hour episode) as Dr. Seward goes deep into the world of hypnosis to discover Vanessa’s whereabouts after she was abducted by Count Dracula. Hartdegan completes an all-out assault on a home full of vampires during the climactic fight between our heroes and the undead. It’s a shame Seward and Hartdegan weren’t featured more in this season as the powerhouse characters they actually were.
The finale is a moving 105 minutes of television, as we learn more of Lily Frankenstein/Brona’s heartbreaking past and finally see The Creature get some sort of closure on his estranged family life. Many characters break the plot chains that have tethered them down for a while now, especially Lily and Dorian’s macabre tryst as well as Victor Frankenstein’s obsession with Lily.
Of course, the big piece that fell this Sunday was when Ethan killed Vanessa to break her from Dracula’s curse and save the world. Ethan has been championed as the savior of mankind for some time now and after embracing Vanessa with a kiss, pulls the trigger into her stomach. Ethan has struggled with the fact that he is destined for far greater things than just his time on this mortal plane but it seems to have finally clicked when Kaetenay, who was revealed to be a werewolf as well, told Ethan that this war of good versus evil was the reason the Apache claimed Ethan as his son. Ethan was willing to do whatever it took to save Vanessa from evil, even if that meant killing her. In a cool tribute to the 1961 film The Curse of the Werewolf, we see Ethan carry a dead Vanessa in his arms out for Sir Malcolm, Frankenstein, Dr. Seward, Kaetenay and Hartdegan to see. Dracula also witnesses this and promptly vanishes into thin air. A rather abrupt finale for arguably the most evil monster in monster land history.
Sir Malcolm Murray will heal in time as he accepts the loss of Vanessa and the fact that Dracula told him his daughter was nothing but a tasty morsel on his path to Vanessa. Ethan and Malcolm embrace their adoptive father-son relationship, which is bittersweet since we saw Malcolm proclaim this adoptive love for Vanessa some time ago. Kaetenay, Dr. Seward, Hartdegan and Dr. Jekyll, as well as Dracula, seemingly depart the group all together.
The episode ends in stunning fashion, with THE END written across a black screen after The Creature visits Vanessa’s grave. Left with my jaw resting on the floor, I tried to give myself peace of mind in thinking perhaps it just means this chapter of the show is over, however it does not appear that way. Social media almost instantly blew up with Tweets from members of the cast and crew thanking everyone for the opportunity to work on the show and the idea that this show is done for good seemed to be cemented by the fact that Logan had said all along that this was going to be a three-season adventure. I had never seen or read those quotes before last night and it seems I wasn’t the only one, as most reviewers and fans were clamoring that the ending was a true shocker.
Visually, the show was always perfect through twenty-seven episodes over the three year run. The costumes and sets are breathtaking and while many would like to see more episodes per season, there’s no doubt the scaled back episode count is due to the enormous financial burden a show like this takes on to remain as authentic as possible. It’s certainly was the most beautiful show on television.
Script-wise, it’s rare to find a show that was going as strong in season three as it was in season one. In this particular case, it is even more impressive considering season one hit the ground running at a break-neck speed. Season three may have lost a little momentum from time to time and dispatched of Hecate, Dracula and Vanessa Ives in not-so top notch fashion, but it was still a fantastic show. There was certainly some story arc curveballs thrown as season three wound to a close, but this is a series that stands atop the horror drama television pedestal in this writer’s mind.