So it should be old news by now that after wrapping its third season, the curtain falls and the lights go up on Penny Dreadful. There is something cool and liberating about these limited run series (limited run in that they tell a finite story rather than dragging things out for 6-7 seasons of 20 episodes each).
One of the things I’ve begun to experience with Walking Dead specifically but even Game of Thrones is the futility of investment. When characters you care about die in the narrative, characters that you’ve become emotionally invested in, it shakes the narrative to its core. Now, so far, Game of Thrones has done well to build on those deaths. (Crap! How do I do this without spoilers?) The executions, the assassinations, the atrocities, they still reverberate throughout the narrative. Characters who died in the first novel/1st season are still impacting the story as it moves forward. In that sense, you’re investment in the character isn’t completely lost. Walking Dead is a different matter. The writers may claim to be doing dramatic service to the narrative, promoting the idea that no one being safe raises the tension of each season. Yes, I suppose it does. But when a character dies on Walking Dead, their impact is gone after 2-3 episodes. It becomes spectacle; a gimmick. This is especially true of last season’s finale. And its become old hat and annoying. It’s like profanity. If you curse like a sailor, those words have no impact. But the guy who never curses swears once and EVERYONE is suddenly paying attention. So when the body count in a show reaches a certain level, it doesn’t impact you in the same way anymore. At some point, your perspective changes from who is going to die to who is going to live. At that point, you stop investing in anything tangible about the narrative.
What was that Stalin said? One death is a tragedy; a million deaths are a statistic. (At least a lot of people attribute that quote to him.)
Wait. Stop with the Stalin quotes. What does ANY of this have to do with Penny Dreadful?!
Sorry. Let me put my soapbox away.
The point is that a short, defined narrative makes it easier to do the former and blunts the latter. If you only have 10 episodes to tell your story, it’s easier to have a death or twist reverberate through the narrative longer.
Alright, so let’s get to Penny Dreadful. First, some spoiler space for those waiting for the DVD collection to binge watch the season. You folks just go ahead and bookmark this and come back later, k?
Still with me? Ok.
First up, I thought the season was incredible. At least as good as last season. I really applaud the way they handled Renfield and Dracula’s spawn. When they revealed Dracula’s identity in episode 3, I wasn’t shocked, but I was disappointed for Vanessa Ives. Ethan’s storyline wraps up nicely. The Creature gets a ray of sunshine, only to have it tragically jerked out from under him. Man, that guy can’t catch a break. Doctor Jeckyll doesn’t really get to come into his own, but I liked the spin they put on him. Yes, it feels like by season’s end, everyone has turned a corner in character development. Except…
Her fate is the lone, big, fat, red, nasty, pussy pimple on the whole season. It isn’t bad enough to ruin the season for me, but it is enough to make me throw up my hands and say, “really?!”
Now I haven’t seen any of the first season aside from 1 and 1/2 episodes. I saw Van Helsing get knifed by a street thug and Eva Green get her first solo episode where we wax poetic for an hour about how she betrayed her friend and spiraled into the grip of the devil. Pure Victorian Melodrama. Also, pure crap! If that’s what the show was about, I didn’t need to watch it. Goodbye.
I did give it a second chance with the Season 2 and, without Vanessa being the sole focus of the show, I came along for the ride. That’s what you get for trying to jump in mid-season.
But it’s been my complaint about Vanessa all this time. Her sense of self-loathing just rolls on like a Sherman tank ignoring any obstacle in its path. And it’s damn irritating. “Oh, poor me. I did something bad once and now I am irredeemably evil. No, don’t try to tell me otherwise. Lalalala! I’m not listening to you!”
But you helped feed poor orphans in the London underground? Nope. Sorry. Evil.
But you were there when the creature needed a shoulder to cry on. Evil.
You help send evil things back to hell on a regular basis. You’d love to think that but…evil.
But isn’t forgiveness a tenant of Chri… Ok, would you stop already? Don’t make me prove how evil I am. I speak witch!
So after 8 episodes of gearing up to put the screws to Dracula, with everyone behind her, knowing that anything less is to doom mankind, one monologue by our sharp dressed villain and Vanessa “accepts herself” for the evil, self-loathing bitch that she is. Really?!
Now you can say that she did it for love, for acceptance, for passion. But no. Vanessa did it because at her core she is a selfish, self-loathing lemming whose courage and determination amount to exactly shit when the chips are down.
Which is to say her decision feels totally forced and out of character to me.
And since her decision could be construed as directly related to the death of the Creature’s son, I was terribly disappointed that Mr. Claire was not the one to rip her fool head off. No, instead we get Ethan who proves once again that Vanessa left her spine in episode 7 somewhere. Because honestly, if her sacrificing herself so evil couldn’t win was the right move, someone should have suggested that in Season 2.
And this twist of fate is doubly annoying because it robbed me (!!!!!) of a proper finale with the Dracula v the Wolf of God. Yes, I wanted to see Ethan wolf out and throw down with Dracula. I wanted them to paint the walls! Who didn’t?! But no, Vanessa is the reason we can’t have nice things. And as the curtain falls on her death, she becomes the story of Penny Dreadful, and that cheapens the whole run. Thanks a lot, John Logan.
Other than that, it was a great ride.
What did you think?