Penny Dreadful Season 3, Episodes 8 & 9
“Perpetual Night” & “The Blessed Dark”
Posted by Sage
I would like to go on record here today as being very anti the sneak attack series finale. I can see how it’s tempting to avoid the fan expectations a finale usually dredges up and to preserve the emotional wallop of a decisive final note. But last Sunday evening, the confusion and frustration of the Dreadfuls on my timeline blended together to form one giant question mark. The next day, Showtime and series creator John Logan confirmed that – like Vanessa Ives – Penny Dreadful was no more. So here’s the series finale recap that I never expected to be writing so soon.
We learn several minutes into the episode that weeks have gone by since Vanessa yielded herself to Dracula. Ethan, Malcolm, and Kaetenay dock in a London that’s blanketed in a grim fog, hilariously indistinguishable to Ethan as anything different from Britain’s usual gloom and doom. But there are other details that support Kaetenay’s vision of Vanessa and humanity’s fall, like the increased population of “night creatures” (toads, rats, and bats, oh my!), who seem to have full run of the city. The streets are basically empty of humans. The crush of life that disturbed Vanessa in the premiere is gone – some asphyxiated by the fog; some hanging in Dracula’s people-meat locker; and some hiding away in their homes, praying for the “perpetual night” of the title to pass. Vanessa’s friends, new and old, are the only non-vampires who know that she is the key to all of this. And they’re all finally together in one room. Put on something black and sexy, and let’s go save the world.
I’m going to back up for a minute. Because in order for the team to be fully staffed, one of its members first has to pull his head out of his ass. I don’t know if Victor deserves the redemption this finale affords him (actually I do know, and he definitely doesn’t) and he isn’t even all that apologetic about abducting his “love” Lily and chaining her like an animal. I’m also calling foul on the show’s timeline here. According to Cat, it’s been weeks since the end of days process began, but over at Bedlam it seems like no time has gone by at all since Lily’s abduction. Though I suppose the captivity felt like forever to her. As Dorian says to Justine, these women are lucky to have even tasted freedom. This world isn’t a welcoming place for girls who refuse to submit. (“In my time, I have seen a thousand Lilys. Beating their breasts and burning too bright and too wild.”)
I suppose that’s one of my problems with this finale. Lily’s freedom hinges not on Victor coming to respect her agency, but on HER making HIM feel things. Don’t get me wrong: it’s a hell of a scene. Henry, who has become a progressively bigger, limper dick throughout this season, prompts Victor to just stick a syringe in Lily and get it over with. Lily, who knows precisely how to cut down every man she meets, congratulates Victor on finding himself such a skilled “assistant.” Aware that Henry is only going to be a hindrance, Lily banishes him from the room. (Lily: “Then may I have a moment alone with my doctor?” Me: Oh god, someone write the AU.) And then Billie Piper, ex-teen pop star, acts her ASS off for about five straight minutes:
You don’t know. You don’t know. There are some wounds that can never heal. There are scars that make us who we are. But without them, we don’t exist. I had…you see, a daughter. Love is too small a word for what I felt for my little girl. All words fail. Holding her was like…feeling the sun from both sides. We lived in this room, in Spitalfields. A hovel. I still had to whore or there’d be no food. I’d lay her by the fire, pile the coal up high. It broke my heart to go. One night it was so cold…even the whores weren’t out. Can you imagine? She was crying when I left. They weren’t cries of teething. They were cries of loneliness. I cannot forget them. I found a john. This rough bastard, just…crushing me against the bricks. But I didn’t care. I wanted it over. When he was done, he didn’t want to pay. He struck me. And I’d been hit before. But him, he knew how to aim. I felt this sting across my temple. I saw the world fall on its side. I can see myself lying there in the street. Too weak to get up, not weak enough to die. Why didn’t I just get up? That was all I had to do. Just get up! Get fucking up! It was light when I woke. It had snowed. The whole world was white. I ran home. The fire was…the coal was dust. She was cold when I lifted her. Cold as ice.
It was clear throughout the season that Lily held out some faith in Victor, despite what he wanted to do to her. He was not an intentionally cruel person; his brutality came from ignorance. That faith was not misplaced, but it did require Victor to see Lily as a mother, not just a human being. Which, ugh. “It is too easy being monsters,” Victor says before he unlocks her shackles. “Let us try to be human.” What the fuck ever, dude. Speak for yourself. I did particularly appreciate one of Harry Treadaway’s acting choices in this scene, though. Once Lily is free, she leans over and grasps his neck but then softens and kisses Victor on the cheek. Victor’s left hand stutters up, as if he wants to touch her but has thought better of it. She is not his, even if he wishes it. Maybe he HAS learned something, after all.
Of course, Victor isn’t at his own lab. But the Boy Familiar is waiting in the shadows to take Ethan to him. The vampire walks the Wolf Of God through Chinatown. Bodies are strewn everywhere, and the night creatures have taken hold. Dracula appears to give Ethan the new boyfriend speech: “She is happy. If you truly love her, that ought to be enough for you.” It’s not. “I understand very little of the forces of my life,” Ethan replies. “Those things that have shaped me, and cursed me. But I know that my destiny is joined with hers. I will not stop.” Knowing Vanessa’s power and importance, Dracula doesn’t hold Ethan’s persistence against him: “I would feel the same. After all, without her, what do we have left, Ethan?”
There are no hard feelings, but Dracula won’t let Vanessa go easily. (Also, he’s more afraid of her love for Ethan than he lets on, otherwise why sic the vamps on him?) The full moon arrives right on time, changing not only Ethan but Kaetenay too. Ethan’s Apache father is also his wolf father. He confesses once they’ve gotten to immediate safety that he turned Ethan on purpose. He believed his “condition” to be a gift from God to help the Apache vanquish the white man. Ethan doesn’t exactly agree. “Do you know how many people I’ve murdered?” he asks, choking Kaetenay out. (Lotta choking in these episodes.) “How many have suffered? Their blood is on my soul! You have poisoned my heart.” Uh-uh, Kaetenay answers. He’s fulfilled Ethan’s destiny. “I have given you the power to save her.” We’ll see about that.
Meanwhile, Dracula warns Vanessa that Ethan is on his way. (I waited the entire first episode to see Eva Green’s face. Unacceptable.) “He’s coming, your Mr. Chandler,” Dracula tells his bride. “I have reason to fear him. He is foretold as my singular enemy.” (SEE I TOLD YOU HIS ASS WAS SCARED.) But Evil Vanessa is quick to prove why this fallible demon needs her. Because she is scared of no bitch, even God: “Fear not old prophecies. We defy them. We make our own heaven… and our own hell.” (Quinn, in the control room: “WE GOT A WIFEY, PEOPLE.”)
The crew snatches up Victor on their way out to the slaughterhouse to wage war and collect their girl. Once there, they split up. Ethan and Kaetenay take the sewers; the rest go through the aforementioned human-curing area. (Yum.) Sir Malcolm, Victor, Cat, and Dr. Seward meet Dracula, who tells them that their errand is futile. What’s done is done, and Vanessa has made her choice. (“She is not yours, she is mine,” he says. An immediate cut to Victor, who blanches.) She wants them to live, however, so Dracula will not stop them from leaving. Her concern is reason enough to hope that salvation is possible, so no one moves. Malcolm asks Dracula about Mina. She was a pawn, Dracula is happy to admit. She was his first attempt to get close to Vanessa, and nothing more. “Although, her flesh was sweet,” he taunts. “And I enjoyed her.” At that moment, Malcolm knows he will kill Dracula or die where he stands. He tells his companions to leave him there. “We are all doomed in this place.” Cat’s answer: “Makes a change for a Tuesday, though.” No offense, Cat, but for you, I’m not sure it does. It’s a close call, but Dr. Seward’s response to Dracula’s posturing wins.
“I die proudly alongside all of you,” Malcolm declares. The fight is on.
While the rest hold back the night creatures, Ethan sneaks off to find their mother. Vanessa stands alone in a room lit by hundreds of candles. It’s white. Another prison like her cell at Dr. Banning’s clinic. She turns towards Ethan, looking haunted and also stupid-amazing.
“It hurts me more than I thought it would, seeing you,” Vanessa says. She is not Dracula. She has not lost herself, completely. She is at war with her own desires and still in unimaginable pain. She’d thought it might go away. Ethan asks her to leave with him, but it’s no use. Physical distance means nothing when you’re cursed by heaven AND hell. Ethan says her name, over and over again, and she’s almost perplexed. “Vanessa. And where is she? When did we lose her, Ethan? She was standing in a quiet room, gazing up at a cross. She reached out, took it from the wall…and put it in the fire. And then she was lost.” Ethan has just returned from a battle for his own soul, and he assures her that God was there waiting for him as soon as he came to his senses. But those were personal demons he vanquished. Vanessa’s are external and internal. She’s her own person and also never really was. There’s only one way to make the darkness recede and go back to where it came from. She hands Ethan a revolver. “Don’t ask it.” Their height difference is murdering me.
I struggled with this ending at first. On my rewatch, I found my way through to it. I’m not a religious person, so I have to look at this ending in storytelling terms and not literal ones. This whole show is built on the thin barrier between heaven and hell, so I should have come to this conclusion sooner. Anyway. What I wanted was for Vanessa to find a way to make her physical, mortal self stronger than the forces fighting over her soul. But the show was setting up a situation where that was impossible. Vanessa could be with the devil or be with God, and that would be that. On one hand, it’s awful to watch a heroine unlike any I’ve ever seen be sacrificed for a God who never really seemed to do much for her. On the other hand, that’s the story. Three seasons of Penny Dreadful revolved around the tug-of-war for Vanessa’s soul. She made her choice and directed her soul where she needed it to go. I think I have to be okay with that.
As he fights, Dracula feels the life slip out of Vanessa. And he feels too, that his side didn’t get the ball this time. The creatures scatter and the fog lifts. Ethan carries Vanessa’s body out onto the balcony for his friends to see. No one questions him about what happened.
Sunlight streams through the windows of Sir Malcolm’s house while the men mourn Vanessa. They’re living in a new, hopeful world of her making, but they don’t feel like celebrating it. Malcolm wonders if the hope of reincarnation can lighten their load a little. “It would be cruel for her to suffer more,” Ethan says. “She is at peace.” Victor quickly agrees; perhaps he’s finally realized that life shouldn’t be a renewable resource and that just because you CAN doesn’t mean you SHOULD. He leaves Malcolm and Ethan, hopefully to start a new professional life of curing disease or something instead of reanimating corpses. At least he has some decorum. Victor was a friend, but Ethan and Malcolm were Vanessa’s only family. He doesn’t want to intrude.
Ethan goes up to Vanessa’s bedroom, alone. Malcolm finds him there later, staring at the wall above her bed. We don’t get to know what becomes of Lily, Victor, Dorian, Cat, Kaetenay, Dr. Seward, or Lord Hyde (COME ON), so this is welcome closure. Malcolm admits that he’s tempted to run away and lose himself in another land. But running away is exactly what he’d be doing. It will be so much harder to stay, to carve out a new life without Vanessa. (His dead family: “THANKS.”) “Oh, I will miss her to my bones,” he sighs. They’ll miss her together.
And what’s the Creature been up to this whole time? Just fulfilling his purpose of being Ironically The Most Human Character on the series. His recovered domestic happiness is interrupted when sickly son Jack dies in his sleep. Remember how Marjorie was TOO understanding about his resurrection? This is why. She orders her husband to take Jack to Dr. Frankenstein and not to come home until the job is done. Her calmness – her resolution – is terrifying. But the Creature doesn’t wish his life on his worst enemy, let alone his own child. He wraps Jack up and gives him a watery burial in the Thames. It’s the kindest, most loving thing he can do for this poor boy. And so he’s a ghost again for it. The Creature watches from behind the gate as Vanessa’s casket is loaded into the carriage. My head canon says he finally remembered their time together at the institution, and that this is his worst fear come true.
The series ends on the Creature and Vanessa together again. He waits until the rest of the mourners have gone to pay his respects at her grave. Penny Dreadful never completely sold me on the two of them as kindred spirits like I believe it tried to. But she was certainly a consistent bright spot in his darkest moments. And, as we found out in “A Blade Of Grass,” so he was for her. The final voiceover comes from Wordsworth’s “Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood.” It’s a poem about youthful optimism coming to terms with the bleakness of the world. Penny Dreadful‘s legacy is a confidence that sorrow does not preclude compassion. In some cases, it ensures it.
- I wish Sir Malcolm could have lived to see Uber.
- Thanks for that Jane Eyre reference, John.
- That Jerry Maguire “WHO’S COMIN WITH ME” scene would have been much more effective if he bit into a frog right in front of Bob Sugar.
- “Not for your ears, unless I may keep them.
- “Miss, if you’re going for titles.” = Gentlemen, I am single.
- “We shall go everywhere thee and me.”
- “Do I look like an undertaker?” “No, you look like…I really couldn’t say.”
- Was that “yellow devils” line really necessary?
- “I’m a New Yorker, Sir Malcolm. We know our way around random gunplay.”
Guys, I’m so sad. Let’s be sad together in the comments.