‘Penny’ From Heaven and Hell

Penny Dreadful season three is everything you’ve come to expect minus the usual prolific gore

It may come as a disappointment to some that Showtime’s Penny Dreadful season three premiere is a relatively bloodless affair. Sure, there’s a lot of talk about blood and cannibalism and even an old West train robbery that ends in a high-body-count shootout. But even that scene pales in comparison to the extravagant Grand Guignol of season two. Not doubt, though, that the remainder of the season will feature the expected horror trappings even if its premiere focuses more on tone and atmosphere than outright shocks.

Aside from that, Penny Dreadful season three puts the viewer back into Ripper-era London with grace and ease, whetting the appetite for what’s to come.

*** Minor spoilers ahead***

The opening, though, borderlines on becoming a parody of the series. The main cast has gone their separate ways after the dramatic events that closed season two. As a result, Sir Malcolm Murray’s (Timothy Dalton) house sits shrouded in darkness and cobwebs, exquisitely photographed as if it were a Sarcophagus Barn catalog. It is, of course, not empty as our heroine Vanessa Ives (the great and criminally underrated Eva Green) lays languidly on her bed, surrounded by high fashion filth, giving the camera gorgeous misery. Green’s range in the scene extends from Wednesday Addams-like dispassionate malaise to wolf-like ravaging of presumably stale bread.

It’s not until the misery is broken by everyone’s favorite dandy Egyptologist Ferdinand Lyle (Simon Russell Beale) who politely tells Ives she needs help. And a maid. But mostly help.

Help comes in the form of new cast member Patti LuPone as Dr. Seward (cue first Dracula reference), Ives’s new alienist/therapist who may or may not be the reincarnation of season two’s “cut wife” Joan Clayton. She was last seen hanging from a tree. Here, LuPone’s welcome presence is something of a bucket of cold water on Green’s pale-faced melancholy. Line up now for ringside seats to the inevitable diva-off later this season.

“And now you call me here and tell me all this… all these dreadful, gorgeous secrets.” Dr. Henry Jekyll (Shazad Latif)

Refreshingly, the premiere’s action isn’t restrained to dreadful 1890s London as in previous seasons. We briefly visit the sunny American west where the above-mentioned train shootout results in werewolf Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) freed from arrest to reconnect with his father. Then, there are a handful of African scenes where Murray buries the body of his mauled manservent Sembene and connects with a potential new ally in Kaetenay (Wes Studi). These scenes are swift and different enough to keep the proceedings from becoming too drab. I especially appreciated the Western sequences because they introduce the foreign concept of sunlight into the Penny Dreadful cinematography palate.

A return to London shows Dr. Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) calling out to his old friend Dr. Jekyll (Shazad Latif) for assistance in killing or taming the now bloodthirsty Lily (a regrettably absent Billie Piper). The hands-down best part of their scenes is this fantastic line spoken by Dr. Jekyll with a completely straight face, “And now you call me here and tell me all this… all these dreadful, gorgeous secrets.” Indeed.

The episode ends when Dr. Seward’s secretary, Renfield (cue Dracula reference number two), falls under the influence of a mysterious blood-thirsty creature. If you don’t know who this is, then you’re not paying attention to your gothic horror literature.

All in all, I’m extremely happy to dive back into the Penny Dreadful world. Perhaps Eva Green should now patent her brand of exquisite misery, but it’s something I’m buying into lock, stock, and barrel. And there aren’t many shows on television where you can simply pause any scene, take a screenshot, and use it as your Facebook cover photo all year-round. The cinematography, costumes, set design, and even sound design and music remain unparalleled on television. Even Game of Thrones starts to feel monochromatic after 50 minutes of Penny Dreadful‘s gothic splendor.

If I’m slightly lukewarm on the Penny Dreadful season three premiere, then it’s because I’m too anxious to get to the real meat of the season, namely the brilliant pairing of Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney) and Piper’s Lily Frankenstein as they explore their bloodthirsty immortality. I’m sure the central villain of season three will prove engaging enough by season’s end, but it’s the Dorian/Lily combination that truly seems to be best suited to fuel the heart of the season.

At this point, I’m just hoping the path they take doesn’t feel redundant to what came before it in season one. That would be dreadful indeed.

Penny Dreadful Season Three

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