At the risk of sounding like an ungrateful, petulant child, I have basic trust expectations of the shows I wholly embrace. I’ve been burned so often that the list of shows I’m all-in with has grown shorter and shorter. With most shows, I try to be a casual viewer as a preemptive way to avoid what I felt last night. I apparently did not set appropriate expectations with Penny Dreadful, which ended its three-year run with a surprise series finale after an extraordinarily disappointing last season, and hour.
While I rationally realize I am not owed anything, in some way I feel like I am. Case in point, if a show, or a network, or a showrunner, have a fixed plan for a set number of episodes or seasons, fromÂ the jump, TELL THE FANS. I don’t understand the coyness of knowing full well when you plan to end a show and then not trust that viewers will come along for the whole thing.
Ever hear of Justified, or Orphan Black, or Game of Thrones? Those fans are just fine with preordained finales.
We’re grown ups (for the most part). Trust that if we’re in for one season, we’re in for three. All of this is a precursor to my disappointment that Showtime didn’t loop the fans to the fixed, three-year plan for Penny Dreadful, instead allowing fans to build anticipation toward a fourth season (seriously, check Twitter)Â that will never be. It’s rude, frankly.
All that said, let’s dive into where we left everyone. I waited until now to write this because it’s hard to type when you’re vibrating from rage and can’t see through your tears. A heads up since this is the last thing I’m going to write about this show–it’s wordy.
Penny Dreadful came to a close with the death of Vanessa in a suicide by werewolf with a gun. That was Ethan’s purpose. I call shenanigans and bullshit. If we were to spend three seasons with a woman who was haunted and plagued by demons but always, every time, fought her way out and forward, I’m baffled at her decision to go all in with Dracula and then ask Ethan to kill her to save her soul and the world.
Somebody please tell me how that couldn’t have also been achieved with the death of Dracula.
So, Ethan and team land in a fogged, plagued, pestilenced London and are besieged at Malcolm’s home when they arrive to find it overrun with vampires and no sign of Vanessa. There is, however, a pointed warning to Ethan in the slaughtered wolf hanging over the bed.
Soon, Cat and Dr. Seward arrive, also looking for Vanessa, and in hindsight this makes the final hour extra ridiculous because it’s all hands on deck to save her and every single one of them is too damn late. Plus, we do not see Vanessa at all in episode eight.
Ethan and Kaetenay, who’s apparently been a werewolf the whole time and Ethan was unaware, take out a group of vampires after Ethan is led away by one of them when he goes to find Victor, after Malcolm is bitten. Cat helpfully prevents him from turning by applying a hot poker to his neck.
Once they’ve defeated their onslaught, Ethan lets Kaetenay have it, for hiding the truth of what he is, and that he’s the one who turned Ethan. Kaetenay lays it out for him that he is the chosen one to save Vanessa and the world (ahem), but he had to be a wolf.
Over at Casa Clare, John is making promises of life “after” the plague to Jack. Then Jack dies and John is inconsolable, followed by horrified when Marjorie instructs him to take their son to Victor to be revived, or don’t come back at all. Which makes you wonder if that is why she accepted his return, and his explanation. Was she planning ahead? He of course says no because of the inhumanity involved but she’s steadfast. He instead wraps their boy and sinks his body in the Thames.
At Victor’s lair, Lily gets the upper hand when she relays the story of the death of her baby and Victor grants her freedom. Surprisingly sheÂ does not kill him, or inject him, on the way out. Jekyll is of course piqued at the betrayal, unable to grasp that Victor finally turned toward the light. They bid adieu with the only nod we’ll get, that Jekyll’s father has died and he has inherited his familial title of “Lord Hyde.”
Down the hall at Bedlam, Seward, Cat, and Malcolm are interrogating Renfield, who’s stopped hiding what he is. When he attacks Seward, she clocks him with an ashtray and then has him confined. She injects and mindwalksÂ him into revealing Dracula’s lair.
Lily goes back to Dorian, who hasÂ evicted theÂ prostitutes and killed Justine, at her request, and launches into a soliloquy about humanity and immortality and living a life without love and passion as a small price to pay for living forever. Lily disagrees, says goodbye, and leaves him with his music and portraits. Sidebar: I hope this show puts Billie Piper on another level for work. She’s so good.
The whole team reassembles for a firefight at Dracula’s, after he’s been debriefed by the young vampire who escaped that there are now two werewolves. A defeated Vanessa is told Ethan is coming and says simply, “Let him come.”
Dracula (still only ever in Sweet’s human form) essentially greets the teamÂ at the door with backup vampires at the ready. Malcolm asks for an explanation about Mina, and is told she was supposed to get Vanessa for him and failed, but he did enjoy her.
Malcolm tells everyone else they can go, and Seward responds with a salty, “F-ck him,” and they all throw down in a really, really, really long (and fruitless if “save Vanessa” was the charge) brawl, exchanging blades and bullets with the army of bloodsuckers.
Points for putting Patti LuPone in a full-on action sequence.
Dracula gets a few good licks in, but doesn’t actually kill any of them, and Ethan gets away and finds Vanessa in a beatific white-tiled tunnel lit with candles. She has her back to him, and then turns and says seeing him hurts him more than she thought it would.
He tells her she needs to come with him, and she refuses. She talks about being hunted until the end of time, and he says he’ll protect her. She says no. She mocks him about when “Vanessa” was lost…lost and alone, and lost to God. Ethan assures her she isn’t alone, or lost, that God is always waiting ahead, “for us all.”
She tells him her battle must end, and he knows that, or there will never be peace on earth.
“Let it end.”
“I don’t have to. You know you have a destiny. It’s why we first met. It’s why you’re here now. You must help me defeat the forces of darkness, and deny them their prize for all time.”
“Please, Ethan, let it end.”
In a callback to “Little Scorpion,” which did not help my anger, she reaches around his waist and unholsters the gun he taught her to shoot with and hands it to him.
“With a kiss.”
“With a kiss. With love.”
They kiss, and Ethan begins reciting the Lord’s Prayer, properly this time. She joins him, closing her eyes. He stops speaking and just watches her. She finishes alone, and after she says “Amen,” he closes his eyes and shoots her. He cradles her down to the ground and she dies, with her final words that she is seeing their Lord.
The entire scene clocks six and a half minutes, and that’s ALL WE GET.
He carries her to the landing above the fight as Dracula has a death grip on Malcolm’s throat. He senses she’s gone before he turns to see it, lets Malcolm go, and then just skitters away. Really? He just lives another day?
The team stands below among the bodies looking up as Ethan holds Vanessa. Their faces reflect the loss of what they fought so hard to get to, but then they see the pestilence clearing as the sun comes out.
Then we’re back at home and Malcolm talks about the worldly versions of God, and asks if reincarnation might return her, and Victor and Ethan agree that it would be cruel, that she is at peace now, and they should leave her there. Victor takes his leave and hugs Ethan goodbye.
After he sees him out, Ethan goes upstairs to Vanessa’s room and sits against the wall opposite the foot of her bed, silent and stoic. As night falls, Malcolm joins him on the floor and tells him he wishes he could run away now, but he won’t. He has to figure out who he is now without her, although he will miss her to his bones.
He asks Ethan if he will stay. “You’re my family,” is his response, and it’s the last line of onscreen dialogue in the series.
Then we have aÂ grandiose horse-drawn funeral and John stands in the shadows watching the carriage pull Vanessa’s coffin away. She’s laid to rest in a small, leafy courtyard, attended by Malcolm, Ethan, Victor, Cat, and Seward. There’s no additional dialogue, and we do not see Kaetenay again.
They all depart, and then John comes into the courtyard, against a voiceover of Wordsworth‘s “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood,” and kneels at the bottom of her grave.
“â€”But there’s a Tree, of many, one,
A single field which I have looked upon,
Both of them speak of something that is gone;
The Pansy at my feet
Doth the same tale repeat:
Whither is fled the visionary gleam?
Where is it now, the glory and the dream?”
Then the words “The End.”
And Twitter erupted as people wondered if that was the end forever or just this arc, or just Vanessa. Today, John Logan and Showtime’s David Nevins gave interviews about why and how, etc., and this morsel clued me in on how much they missed the mark on respect and their audience.
Nevins: We deliberately made the decision not to announce going into season three this was the final season, because given where we knew the season was ending, that would have been a massive spoiler…
Logan: …And to treat them with less than absolute respect would have been the wrong thing to do. The way you treat them with respect is you give them what they want, which is strong drama and strong decisions.
If this is where we were going all along, why all the positioning that Vanessa could ever be saved? Time and again she rallied, and she soldiered on and found peace. Why paint the picture of a possible idyllic life with Ethan only to lose him a continent away for all of the third season? How is it respectful of fans or the story to give them a SIX-MINUTE scene out ofÂ nine hours and the outcome is that he kills her?
Also, why bring in a terrific character like Cat at the very end? That was a wasted character we, and Vanessa, could have used much earlier. Was Jekyll only along to show Victor a way out of his darkness?
I would have appreciated some sort of denouement from Seward, too, that she unwittingly nudged Vanessa right into Sweet’s trap. So much left unsaid or unresolved, or just resolved badly. I’m sad for the opportunities that were squandered with such a disconnected season.
As I said with The X-Files reboot earlier this year, I set my own last scene when the scripted one fell short. I will do the same again here. In my mind, and in my heart, Penny Dreadful will end for me here:
This is where my Vanessa and Ethan lived out their days, safe, quiet, happy, at peace, and together, on the edge of the world.
Thank you for reading!
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