Penny Dreadful Season Finale Review: The End

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Is this truly the end?

The title card reading "The End" would seem to indicate without a doubt that, yes, the two part finale event comprised of Penny Dreadful Season 3 Episode 8 and Penny Dreadful Season 3 Episode 9 was actually the series finale.

As disappointing and downright traumatizing as that would be, I have to admit that these two hours did nicely tie up nearly every plot point in the series. It felt very series finale-ish.

Update: Since the writing of this review, it has been confirmed that this was indeed the series finale of Penny Dreadful.

First, the elephant in the room (review) – Vanessa died. Voluntarily. At Ethan's hand. It was heartbreaking and tear-jerking, but ultimately, it made sense.

We'd already seen Vanessa reckon with what she was. We'd already seen her come to terms with the fact that she could never be a "normal" woman. Nor did she want to be, any longer.

The Penny Dreadful Season 1 Finale and Penny Dreadful Season 2 Finale each encapsulated that idea to a T – the former through Vanessa's conversation with the priest, and the latter with Lucifer's vision of Vanessa and Ethan as a happily married, beige-wearing couple with two cute, beige-wearing kids.

But Vanessa will never wear beige. And Vanessa will never marry Ethan. Because Vanessa died.

(Sorry, guys, I'm still a little traumatized by this all and it's put me in a weird mood.)

Much stranger than Vanessa dying was the fact that she was completely absent from the first half of the finale and virtually absent from the second half, save two very brief appearances (one of which was her death scene).

In retrospect, I wanted much more of her in this two-parter if that was her swan song.

Despite the tragedy of Vanessa's death, the way the entire group assembled over the course of the two hours, with the common goal of saving Vanessa, was excellent.

The opening scene, where Seward found Renfield being a huge creeper, munching on frogs while listening to Vanessa's recorded therapy sessions, was great. Patti Lupone has been wonderful as Dr. Seward.

It was sort of ridiculous how quickly everything snapped into place for her once she saw Renfield there (she realized he was Dracula's servant, knocked him out, and somehow got him to Bedlam?), especially after her season-long denial of Vanessa's supernatural afflictions, but I can forgive it because Seward ended up being all kinds of badass in this finale.

Who could do anything but cheer when Seward showed up at Sir Malcolm's mansion and took charge, leading the group to Bedlam to coerce information from Renfield?

Catriona's entrance in the first half was equally excellent, swooping in in the nick of time to save Ethan, shooting familiars left and right with grace and ease.

If this is truly the end of the series and we never get a Penny Dreadful Season 4, the fact that Catriona was introduced so late in the game will be easily among the top 5 biggest tragedies. She fit in seamlessly with the group and was a wonderful, intriguing, promising character.

Renfield: Don't I scare you?
Catriona: I whistle away haunts like you before breakfast, love.

Who even says things like this?! She is amazing. I was floored.

As a Renfield-related aside, I'm not sure what we were meant to make of Renfield's random depressing outbursts while Dr. Seward was leading him down memory-vision lane via hypnosis, trying to uncover the whereabouts of Dracula's lair.

Seward completely ignoring his "Woe is me, I have never loved!" shtick was actually very humorous, amidst the seriousness of what was going on. "Cool story, kid, but describe the scenery some more, chop chop."

Since we last saw him in a straitjacket in Bedlam, where Seward et al left him after getting the information they needed about Vanessa's whereabouts, I'm guessing that that is where he'll remain 'til the end of his days.

Which is sort of horrifying. I mean, yeah, he was incredibly creepy and weird even pre-Dracula's minion, but it's a horrific fate.

And imagine if Jekyll (sorry, *Lord Hyde*), who remained intent on his goal of curing every inmate at Bedlam for the very non-altruistic reasons of fame and renown, attempted his treatment on Renfield? How would that go over? Is it weird that I'm sort of enjoying the idea that Jekyll would attempt that and Renfield would bite him or something?

Speaking of Jekyll: the first half of the finale saw a huge turnaround for Victor's character. In fact, the resolution of the Victor/Lily/Dorian arc is a big part of the reason why I think this may actually have been the series finale.

Victor came to his senses and realized that what he was planning to do to Lily was wrong. But it was too fast.

I enjoyed the fact that Victor had a change of heart, and I do believe that they could have gotten him there organically, but the way it actually happened felt too much like they knew it was the series finale and specifically did not want Victor to go out a villain.

It is too easy being monsters. Let us try to be human.

Victor

His redemption, in short, did not work for me completely.

Of course, I'm thrilled that Lily made it out alive and intact (at least one of our female leads needed to have a semi-happy or at least semi-promising ending). The actual impetus for Victor's change of heart was Lily's wrenching monologue about the death of her infant daughter Sarah.

The baby's death (which the audience found out about on Penny Dreadful Season 3 Episode 7, when Lily visited the grave) was somehow even more tragic than I'd anticipated – she was knocked out by an abusive john during a snowstorm and by the time she got home the next morning, her baby had frozen to death.

Billie Piper sold the hell out of that monologue. What a performance to end the season (or series) on.

She has been simply spectacular for the past season and a half. She's had more than one monologue and each one has been astounding – the way she gradually builds up the emotional tenor during each speech is breathtaking and perfect. I'd argue that she deserves award recognition almost as much as Eva Green and Rory Kinnear do for their roles. 

Dorian, who had betrayed Lily by bringing her to Victor and Jekyll's Bedlam lab, returned to his mansion and "cleaned house" posthaste, evicting Lily's army of demeaned women and killing Justine in her absence.

It was no great surprise that Dorian killed Justine – especially after she uselessly stabbed him – but the fact that she asked for him to do so (rather than return to her old life as an abused prostitute) was an interesting and tragic twist.

I would rather die here on my feet than live a lifetime on my knees.

Justine

We hardly knew Justine, but I fully bought that she would prefer this end to a life of abuse on the streets. She was truly Lily's protege, whereas the other nameless prostitutes in their "army," were pretty obviously just riding high on Lily's intoxicating promises and speeches about power.

Once Lily was released by a regretful Frankenstein, she returned to Dorian's mansion for a face-off with him in the second half of the finale, in a scene that marked each of their last appearances (of the season, or in general).

The sight of Justine's broken body – which, interestingly, Dorian had left there, almost as if he knew Lily would escape Victor and find her way back – broke something in Lily, who considered Justine both a daughter and a version of herself.

Dorian has had plenty of phenomenal one-liners (particularly during Penny Dreadful Season 3, as he became more and more displeased with the presence of Lily's women) but I can't recall a full-on monologue. Or at least one as memorable as his immortals speech here.

Do you not yet comprehend the wicked secret of the immortal? All age and die, save you. All rot and fall to dust, save you. Any child you bear becomes a crone and perishes before your eyes. Any lover withers and shrinks into incontinence and bent, toothless senility. While you, only you, never age. Never tire. Never fade. Alone. But after a time, you'll lose the desire for passion entirely, for connection with anyone. Like a muscle that atrophies from lack of use. And one day you'll realize you've become like them. Beautiful and dead. You have become a perfect, unchanging portrait of yourself.

Dorian

There is so much – basically everything, really – that we don't know about Dorian's history.

The speech was menacing and foreboding, a bleak glimpse into immortal Lily's future, but it also hinted at a different sort of Dorian who would have existed in the past. A man who loved and craved human connection, before all that humanity was burned out of him, watching those he did love age and wither and die, time and again.

The eeriness of Dorian vowing that Lily, an immortal amongst a world of mortals, would be back despite her claim of a final farewell – because where else would she go? Who else would she be with? – was a fantastic, semi-open ended finish to both of their arcs.

Once Victor extracted himself from the immortals' arcs, he returned to the main action – the mission to rescue Vanessa.

It made sense that Lily and Dorian exited when they did, because they'd been on the fringes, dealing with their own plots, for long enough that any intersection with Vanessa's story would have felt strange and forced. It equally made sense that Victor would return to the main fold, a la Penny Dreadful Season 1.

Victor, Ethan, Sir Malcolm, Vanessa, and Sembene (RIP, Sembene) were basically OG Team Penny Dreadful anyway.

Fittingly, John Clare was removed from the main action as well, off to the side in his utterly tragic family sideplot.

In my review of the penultimate installment, I guessed that something would go horribly wrong with John's newfound bliss. His son Jack died, in no great shock to anyone – the kid was wasting away essentially the whole time he appeared onscreen.

Of course, equally unsurprisingly, Rory Kinnear killed it (pardon the turn of phrase) with John Clare's realization that his son was dying, that all the grand plans of vacations and trips to the park would never be.

It ultimately proved a mistake for John to have divulged the nature of his resurrection to Marjorie – distraught and hardened by her grief, she demanded that John either bring their son to Victor for a quickie-resurrection, or never come home at all.

John chose the latter, burying his son at sea, and presumably resigning himself to a life of solitude, because he didn't want to subject his son to being an outcast like him.

Talk about bleak. The Creature has always been one of the best, most complex characters on the show. For him to go out on such a resoundingly low note is completely devastating. On top of his son's death, he also found out that his only friend – Vanessa – died. The closing shot of John crying at Vanessa's grave was wrenching.

Finally, the centerpiece of the finale – the big, final battle for Vanessa's soul, against Dracula and his familiars, and Ethan shooting Vanessa.

The action was wonderfully choreographed. Catriona, in particular, pulled out some seriously awesome fighting moves.

I don't fully buy that no one would have been killed in that battle (Dr. Seward can handle a gun, sure, but vampires?), but it makes sense that they wanted to limit the big death, the sacrifice, to Vanessa.

She died, such that the others could live. The imagery and theme is overtly religious; Vanessa, in her sacrificial death, was almost Christ-like.

Vanessa: Let it end. With a kiss.
Ethan: With a kiss. With love.
Vanessa: With love.

The final scene between Vanessa and Ethan was gorgeous. The cinematography alone was incredible – some of those shots of Ethan approaching Vanessa in the candle-lit room could easily be art.

It was too short of a scene. After a season-long separation, it felt somehow wrong that they didn't have a more substantial reunion. That said, the acting (particularly Eva Green's) was exquisite, as Ethan assured Vanessa that God hadn't abandoned her and Vanessa begged for Ethan to end it all for her.

I will say that Vanessa seeing God as she died was a little too cheesy for me. I understand why it was significant but it just felt so incredible melodramatic to have her say it the way she did.

I was surprised that Dracula didn't die, but rather just flitted off when Ethan brought Vanessa's body out and the plague-fog lifted.

Though Ethan and Sir Malcolm were both distraught over Vanessa's death, they did end on a semi-uplifting note – moreso than John Clare, anyway – with Ethan confirming he wouldn't leave because Sir Malcolm is his family.

At least they have each other. John has literally no one at all, which is why it might have been nice for John and Lily to at least run into each other briefly.

In all, it was an incredibly depressing but beautiful and very well-crafted and acted finale. Bringing much of the series full circle (we began with vampires, we end with vampires), I'd understand if this is the true end.

Though, obviously, I'll watch the heck out of more Penny Dreadful if that comes our way somewhere down the line.

Stray thoughts:

  • Super into the special version of the credits during the second half of the finale. That was really cool. And also should have been a hint that this was a "special" episode (i.e., the series finale of the show).
  • I hadn't mentioned this in reviews past, but I so love the way the vampire familiars move. So weird. I'd love to know how the special effects folks do that.
  • If this is really the end, I can't believe that they'd end it with Ethan never finding out what Victor did with Brona. That no one​ in the main group found out that Victor was resurrecting corpses at all!
  • Jekyll was underused. Like I'd mentioned, many of his conversations with Victor got very repetitive. Jekyll was angry and vengeful and wanted to be respected and renowned. We got that the first fifteen times. That tongue in cheek "Mr. Hyde" reference was cute, though. It's interesting that they did not go with an overt split personality for him.
  • We finally learned how Ethan became a werewolf – Kaetenay, also a werewolf, transformed him.
  • Another loose end, tied up: Sir Malcolm confronted Dracula about turning Mina. Dracula confirmed that Mina was just a means to an end – a pawn meant to lure Vanessa to him. Ouch.
  • Will we really never see Ferdinand Lyle and his amazing hair again? Really?

What did you think of the Penny Dreadful season (or series?!) finale? Leave me a comment with your thoughts below and watch Penny Dreadful online here at TV Fanatic anytime to relive the past three seasons of this amazing series.

The Blessed Dark Review

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Caralynn Lippo is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.

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Penny Dreadful Season 3 Episode 9 Quotes

Their blood is on my soul! You have poisoned my heart.

Ethan

Fear not old prophecies. We defy them. We make our own heaven and our own hell.

Vanessa