Thursday, July 7, 2016

TV Review: Penny Dreadful, Series 3

So farewell then, Penny Dreadful. Like your characters themselves, you were glorious to look at, often deeply flawed, occasionally mesmerically wonderful and always, always, mad as a box of frogs.  Showtime/Sky's batty period drama has now finished at the end of it's third series, apparently at the behest of it's creator, rounding off some it's long-running characters in typically over-the-top fashion. After ending it's second season by sending it's cast off on wildly different arcs, and trying to establish some sort of wider mythology, this series focuses back a little, understandably, on the shows core, and makes a game effort to tie it all up neatly. But does it? 

By the third season, you should pretty much know what you are going to get in any given TV show. With most of Penny Dreadful coming solely from writer John Logan, it's house style was never going to change in response to reportedly dissapointing rating, despite warm critical reviews. For those of you not familiar with Penny Dreadful, it's set in the 1890s, incorporates a lot of fictional characters sharing a world along with some original characters to round out the cast. It's core inspiration is, of course, Dracula, with a turned Mina Harker dying in the first season and her almost-but-not-quite-Alan Quartermain father one of the pillars of the cast. After Vampires and Witches and Wolfmen, this series we finally get actual Dracula to close everything off. 

Working against this attempt to pull the show together is the ensemble cast that the previous two series have put on radically different arcs. Victor Frankenstein gets to buddy up with newcome Henry Jekyll, Bride-of-Frankenstein Lily tries to start a feminist revolution out of Dorien Gray's house. Sir Malcomn is in the US looking for a lost an. d drifting Ethan, whilst Vanessa hangs out in London getting therapy from a gender-flipped Dr Seward. Totally divorced from everything else, the original and nameless Frankensteins Monster seeks what is left of his humanity. I'd like to say that these stories come together in any sort of meaningful way, but sadly, they don't. Some nice character moments aside in the last couple of episodes, these are all separate tracks, telling separate stories. 

But in a lot of ways, I'm fine with that. The joy of Penny Dreadful has always been a top notch cast giving fantasic performances - and by now that counts earlier weak links like Billie Piper and Josh Hartnett who are great this series - and interesting takes of classic characters. This season we get Seward, of course, but also a marvellously creepy Renfield and an elegant, refined and rather wonderful Dracula, giving a performance that made me realise even more what hadn't worked with Legends of Tomorrows Vandal Savage. And of course there is Eva Green; someone who has always owned this show, and who I couldn't see it continuing without. 

All that said, I'm not quite sold on the notion that this was a planned ending for the show. There really is just too much left unresolved away from Vanessa, and too little closure. Even more so, the very late introduction of new character Catriona Hartdegen feels like a setup for more material - material we never get - as does the massive name drop of a character heading off to Egypt to dig up the Tomb of Imotep. There is a finality to the end of the series, but not a finality to the end of the world, as if doors are being left open for Showtime  to return to this well later. Wishful thinking? Probably, yes, maybe. Just maybe.