*Warning: Spoilers for all of Penny Dreadful*
The End of Penny Dreadful came out of nowhere. And it was The End with a capital T and E. John Logan’s gothic epic ran for three seasons and then, on Sunday night, ended with a simple title card declaring that the story was over.
And no one knew about it. As far as everyone watching knew, the double episode on Sunday was the season finale and viewers would be left waiting for news of renewal or cancellation. Personally, I prayed to whichever god was listening that the show would be renewed but also prepared for cancellation. It felt as though it was too late in the season to have heard nothing and rumours that the ratings were down on such an expensive show weren’t music to my ears. So I watched the show on Sunday as though I would never watch it again. I kept an eye out for plots that had endings and the loose threads that would never be tied. And then Vanessa Ives, played by the incomparable Eva Green, was killed, and her death undid the evil that her union with Dracula had caused. And we watched the remaining members of the main ensemble mourn her death and lay her to rest, as John Clare recited a poem in voiceover. And then The End. And a few million viewers probably all did the same thing as me, which was to demand… “WHAT?” And jump online to find out what had happened.
The official story is that halfway through season two Logan told Showtime (a studio known for running shows into the ground e.g. Dexter, Weeds, Homeland) that the third season would be the end. The unofficial story, based upon some things I’ll discuss below, is that midway through season three the show was cancelled and Logan was allowed some reshoots to give the show a more definite ending rather than leaving it flapping in the wind. Perhaps we’ll never know which is which and perhaps I don’t know enough about the production of a TV show to be wildly speculating about who cancelled whom and the feasibility of reshoots.
Anyway, by season/series end there are a lot of threads left in the wind. At the end of the show Catriona Hartdegan is just getting introduced and Dr. Seward had proved herself a great new addition to the cast. Dracula escaped and Lyle was off digging up Imhotep in Egypt. There was still so much meat on the bone!
Furthermore, I can’t believe that Logan introduced Dr. Henry Jekyll to just be a foil for Frankenstein. Yes, his research is a bit like his literary origin; other than his eventual noble title being Lord Hyde there is no real payoff to the character being Henry Jekyll.
I also can’t believe that he would not dig into the drama of a reunion between Ethan and Brona/Lily. Writers can only dream of the material you could take from the scenario in which Ethan meets Brona again after thinking she was dead but actually she was murdered and resurrected by Frankenstein as a love interest for his creature but then he fell in love with her but she left him for Dorian Gray (who previously Ethan had slept with) and created an army of murderous women until she was betrayed and returned to the world to continue her revolution without Dorian. And also Ethan is a werewolf.
I will miss this show like no other. There is always a space in my heart for something big and ambitious like this. John Logan managed to mix Victorian Gothic with Universal horror. He essentially adapted my favourite comic book, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and also made it his own. He gave Eva Green a platform to show the world her talent devoid of ego and full of intense bravery. He made John Hartnett cool again. He gave me an hour of Timothy Dalton each week. He introduced me to the works of the great Victorian poets recited by Frankenstein’s Monster. And he has hopefully introduced the world at large into a long-lasting relationship with the immense talent of Billie Piper, an actress who started the show with a dodgy Irish accent and finished it as a towering figure of awe and tragedy.
Maybe The End only refers to this chapter of the story and next year it’ll return with a new show-runner and Billie Piper as the new female lead. Or maybe this is it. Maybe it’s better this way. Even though there are still doors left open at least the two words appeared on the screen to tell us it was over. We weren’t left wondering. We saw John Clare realise that dead is dead and Ethan knew were his curse was from. Sir Malcolm lost another daughter but wasn’t going to flee from England again. Lily was free from Dorian and Dorian was free from a house of homicidal women. We got to see Vanessa finally find some peace.
Finally, the great thing about Penny Dreadful is that because of its vast source material you only have to pick up a copy of Dracula or Frankenstein, or watch The Wolf Man, or, thanks to the third season’s sojourn to the Wild West, any western, to be right back in this wonderful, horrible world. I could write another thousand words about this topic but it’s time to walk away and let the healing process begin.
Either that or go back to the start and watch Penny Dreadful from beginning to end all over again.
I think I’ll do the second one.
Featured Image: Showtime