Thursday 8 June 2017

Penny Dreadful Series 3

Lady And The Vamp

Penny Dreadful Series 3
2016 USA Blu Ray Zone B

Warning: Some spoilers.

And so I finally got around to watching Series 3 of Penny Dreadful and I’m happy to say that this third trip, with the surviving characters, is a lot more interesting than I thought it was going to be. At the end of the last season I expressed concerns that the continuation of the show would not be up to the high standards of the previous incarnations due to all the characters splitting up and going their separate ways. However, rather than giving us stand alone episodes of each one, as I’d expected, the majority of the series has each set of characters in scenes all crosscut in the same episodes.

So, as each character has their own adventures we can start to join the dots and see how one part of the story affects another and get a taste of how, when the inevitable reunion of characters happens (to some extent), the people are still very much caught up in one single minded cause. That cause, in this one, being the advent of the ‘end of days’ ushered in by Vanessa Ives (Eva Green) herself. And, I have to say that, beyond my expectations, this one really works well and I enjoyed this third series almost as much as I did the first.

We also have a bevvy of new characters, four of which... Dr. Jekyll, Dracula, Renfield and Dr. Seward... are ripped from the pages of British, gothic literature and a few others who... well, who are not. We have Perdita Weeks as the extremely cool ‘hunter warrioress’ character Catriona Hartdegen... although she’s introduced rather late in the story, almost like the writers are making her ready to become a regular in a fourth series although, as it turns out, a fourth season was not on the cards. We also have Dr. Seward, who has been recast as a lady and who is played by Patti LuPone. She is a problematic character in that she is played by the same actress who played Miss Ives’ witch friend/instructor in Series 2 and, to get around this, the writers have made that former character an ancestor of Dr. Seward. Which means the Vanessa Ives character is obviously a lot older than I’d thought... possibly hundreds of years. I don’t think I realised this when I watched the second season to be honest and, frankly, I'm still not sure how that timeline would work given her relationship with Sir Malcolm. And we have Jessica Barden playing a ‘waif with teeth’ who is rescued from a Victorian ‘torture/snuff’ club by both Billie Piper’s Lily (the Bride of Frankenstein character) and Reeve Carny’s Dorian Grey.

So, yeah, we start off with the various groups split. We have Sir Malcolm, as played by Timothy Dalton, who is about to be brought from his big game hunting in Africa by an Apache who claims to be the spiritual father of Ethan Chandler (aka Lawrence Talbot, the Wolfman)... in an effort to rescue him from his real father (who is played in one episode here by Brian Cox). Meanwhile, Ethan in Texas (as played by the brilliant Josh Hartnett) is rescued from his captors by the leftover witch from last series, played wonderfully by Sarah Greene. They then go on a mission to wreak bloody vengeance on Ethan’s real father but... well, I’m really trying to not get into spoiler territory here. We also have Eva Greene’s Vanessa Ive’s character left on her own in London where, after a period of heavy depression, she makes the acquaintance of the head of the Natural History Museum... but is she also being stalked by a greater menace from her past?

And then we have Victor Frankenstein hooking up with Doctor Jekyll in order to help him perfect a chemical serum which he hopes will relieve mankind of their baser, violent, out of control desires. Of course, we all know where this is going with Jekyll but, alas, it’s another thing which we don’t get to see through to culmination... almost, again, as if the writers were holding it back for a further series. One wonders if the writers knew it would be finished when they started writing this season or if they were as taken aback by the cancellation as the many core fans of the show were.

Finally we have Rory Kinnear’s brilliant reprise as the Frankenstein monster, who is now finally beginning to remember scraps of his former life. There is what is probably a retro but still effective gesture on the part of the writers here where another character from the regular pool, turns out to have memory loss of certain events and, as that character regains it, we find that Frankenstein’s monster and this particular character have a much deeper connection/history than the friendship they have slowly cultivated over the last two seasons. There’s one episode here which features the full, shared history of both characters here and it’s addictive and jaw dropping. Which is just as well, actually, because the Frankenstein monster shares no screen time with any of the other, regular characters in this one except for hiding out of sight of them towards the end of the last episode when... no, if you need to know the rest of that sentence then you need to watch it.

Now, since I knew that this was the last series and had some expectations that the writers knew that too (the last episode does, indeed, finish with the words ‘The End’), I was interested in seeing how one of the regular characters, Miss Ives, would finish up and, I have to say, it wasn’t at all what I expected. I fully expected to see her on her own, with all her friends and colleagues dead by the end of the last episode and she, herself, imprisoned within a straight jacket. This would have been the perfect ending for me here. However, instead of this, admittedly downbeat conclusion to the series, the writers have gone for something less expected and, in my opinion, maybe just a little less interesting but... well, I’m not too disappointed by the end game here. I certainly would have had trouble keeping interest in another series after the final events in this one play out as they have done and it’s an end which certainly, in my opinion, brings things to a sound conclusion... despite the possibilities of new regular characters being an interesting proposition.

And there’s not much more to say about this one, methinks.

Penny Dreadful Series 3 is another slice of moody, twisted gothic literature remade in the new image of the writers and served up with a dark and enhanced flavour, well held together by one of Abel Korzeniowski’s excellent scores. One of the few TV shows I’ve watched over the last year and, if you’re into the kinds of characters and situations explored herein, definitely worth some of your time, I think. 

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