I firmly believe that Penny Dreadful is one of the most underrated TV shows on today. Well, it’s not on anymore as it didn’t get picked up for a fourth season, but my point remains the same. Apart from a wobbly start to the second season, it’s been consistently good throughout, with interesting characters across the board, story lines that actually go somewhere (and mostly resolve within each season), and near film quality production values, which are helped by a cast that definitely belong on the big screen. Season 3 is often where TV shows start to dip in quality however, and with most of the major Victorian London horror stories already covered, Penny Dreadful could well have gone the same way.
We pick up where Season 2 ended, with some of the characters on their way to a different parts of the world, and some of them staying home, with their lives being very different to what they’re used to. Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton) is in Africa, having buried Sembene in his home land. Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) is being transported in chains across America at the request of his father. The Arctic expedition John Clare (Rory Kinnear) is a part of isn’t going exactly as planned. Dr Frankenstein’s drug addiction has lead him to call on an old friend for help – another doctor name Henry Jekyll. The only person for whom things seem to be looking up is Vanessa Ives (Eva green), but don’t worry, that doesn’t last long.
This series moves at an incredible pace. Some of the stories that were set up at the end of Season 2 to be major story lines are covered and done with in the first one or two episodes, and new things are introduced just as quickly. In fact, with the exception of Ethan Chandler returning home to his family estate, no characters take the path you might expect they would.
There are some plot threads here that don’t work quite as well. Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney) and Lily (Billie Piper) have the least interesting story, which has some decent moments but ultimately feels like it’s just filling time. The story involving John Clare also doesn’t quite work as well, although it does provide some heart, and it gives Rory Kinnear the chance to really show what he’s capable of as an actor.
There are really two characters that keep the show interesting, those being Vanessa Ives and Ethan Chandler. In a way they’ve always been the focus of the show, but it’s never been more apparent than in the third season. There are a few good newcomers too that help inject new life, with Christian Camargo’s Dr. Alexander Sweet and Shazad Latif’s Dr. Henry Jekyll both being particular stand outs.
I don’t want to give too much away about what happens, as so much of it is a surprise, but I will say one thing. Considering this ended up being the final season of the show, it does have a satisfying conclusion, and while a few things are left open, overall I was satisfied with how the characters have been left.
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