Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Penny Dreadful: Season 3 – review

First aired: 2016

Directors: Various

Contains spoilers

The first season of Penny Dreadful was excellent but also had some aspects that could have been better pulled together (less problems and more areas that would have pushed the season into the TV stratosphere). To me season 2 sorted any niggles out but I didn’t review it as it was definitively not vampire. The villains in season 2 were witches and whilst there was a blood bathing moment it was less rejuvenating and more perversion (as is mirrored in this season) and the witches' youth was maintained through diabolic pact with Lucifer.

So, out came season 3 and I must admit that I did not watch it as it aired. Rather I have waited and watched it on DVD. That did mean that I was cognisant before going in that there was some controversy around the season. Curtailed to just nine episodes, towards the end of the run the season was announced as the last and the claim was made that the series had been designed that way. If so then the flaws of season 1 came back aplenty in season 3 as we will discuss.

Ethan Chandler and Sir Malcolm
However the end of season 2 left us with our protagonists scattered to the four winds. Vanessa Ives (Eva Green, Dark Shadows) had used dark magic, murdered and lost her faith. Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett, 30 Days of Night) – revealed to be called Ethan Lawrence Talbot – had handed himself to Scotland Yard and was being extradited to the US on charges of murder. Sir Malcom (Timothy Dalton) was on his way to Africa to bury the body of Sembene (Danny Sapani). Lily (Billie Piper, Secret Diary of a Call Girl) – the Bride of Frankenstein – had abandoned both Victor (Harry Treadaway, the Disappeared) and the Monster (Rory Kinnear) (who himself had taken off to sea into polar regions) to be with Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney) and we’d be forgiven for believing they would be the “big bad” of Season 3.

Sarah Greene as Hecate
In actual fact Season 3 finally revealed Dracula (Christian Camargo, the Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn part 1 & the Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn part 2) and he is the one of two brothers (the other being Lucifer) cast down for the war on heaven and looking to love the mother of evil (personified in Vanessa). This idea that Lucifer was, in many respects, the spiritual component and Dracula the physical component of the fallen angels was a great idea and we discover later that, being physical, Dracula can be killed. Meanwhile Sir Malcom is found by an Apache warrior shaman, Kaetenay (Wes Studi), and convinced to travel to the US to save Ethan. The last surviving member of the witch coven, Hecate (Sarah Greene), is also tracking Ethan – obsessed with his power and eager to join forces with the werewolf.

Samuel Barnett as Renfield
A depressed Vanessa is contacted by Mr Lyle (Simon Russell Beale) and encouraged to visit an alienist, Dr Seward (Patti LuPone), whose secretary happens to be a Mr Renfield (Samuel Barnett). Unfortunately Lyle was horrendously side-lined in this season (he is sent out to Egypt and disposed of storyline wise), however this was an excellent way of introducing Seward and Renfield. The performance of Renfield by Samuel Barnett needs an especial mention. The Dracula storyline (including the rescue of Chandler), all told, was pretty strong (though could have been expanded and developed) and ended in a series finishing, satisfactory way. I should also mention that the monster storyline, whilst minor and low key in this season, allowed a brilliant performance by Rory Kinnear.

Dracula seduces Vanessa
We got to see the vampires a lot more, of course, though none like the higher-level minions of Season 1. Whilst Dracula lived in the House of Night Creatures (as it was put) he and his creatures could walk in the day and he does cast a reflection. He was immensely strong and fast, when he wanted to be, but also had a disguise persona that was absolutely ordinary and it was this that he used to seduce. Sir Malcom is bitten and the wound is cauterised to prevent infection and turning – this harked back to a few of the Hammer films. I have to say that I thought new (late introduced) character Cat Hartdegen (Perdita Weeks) was a fantastic edition and could have withstood some detail and expansion (though that might have been best left to a subsequent season if there was to be one). That said, if this season had a weakness it was in other storylines.

Shazad Latif as Dr Jekyll
The Lily/Dorian storyline started out well enough – and it was within this we got the blood bathing, of a type – but then petered out. The storyline itself (with Lily deciding to empower prostitutes to violently throw off male oppression) went nowhere, and more and more sidelined Dorian until a whimper of an outcome. Frankenstein, abandoned by Lily, seeks solace in drugs until he reaches out to an old college friend, Dr Jekyll (Shazad Latif). This could have been brilliant, the Jekyll character having an Indian heritage allowed the filmmakers to play with racism themes (as they did with Kaetenay in this season) in ways they didn’t in previous seasons and the Jekyll character himself had scope for a fascinating storyline – he became little more than a story cipher and thoroughly wasted the character and actor in doing so.

Rory Kinnear relives the monster's past
It was within these aspects of the show that the season failed. Whilst it had only one less episode than season 2 (and one more than season 1) it could well have played with the primary story and the side stories much more than it did. That said, it was enjoyable TV fare, of a much higher mark than many other series. There was not a bad performance in the series (I had criticised Billy Piper in the first season due to the accent she tried to use, once reborn as Lily she lost the Irish brogue and the performance she gave was stronger for it) and some outstanding performances – I have mentioned the performance by Rory Kinnear once but it needs to be mentioned again, flashbacks allowing him to act as the character was before resurrection, and Eva Green, as ever, stormed the screen with her nuanced portrayal of Vanessa. All told 7.5 out of 10, for what we got but what we could have had would have been even higher.

The imdb page is here.

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