Horror TV TV Recaps

‘Penny Dreadful’: Why That Heartbreaking Finale Was The Perfect End To A Perfect Show

For anyone who isn’t caught up, please turn away. Bookmark this post and come back to it after you finish the series. For those of you who haven’t seen any of Penny Dreadful yet, please go and watch it now, and come back and cry with me when you’re ready. There are no words to describe the absolute beauty and perfection of this show.

I hadn’t heard of the show when the first season was airing. I actually heard of it quite by accident. I came across a commercial, while flipping channels, and it just caught my eye. I was hooked just by the trailer for Season 2. I found the first season, and binge watched it in a week. This was exactly the kind of show that I felt I had been waiting for my entire life. I mean, it’s so clever, so ingenious. So brilliantly designed! A story featuring all of the monsters we know and love (or hate): vampires, werewolves, Dorian Gray, Victor Frankenstein and his monster, and more. Not only these, but the idea of angels and demons, possession and the darkest parts of our souls, with a little Egyptian mythology thrown into the mix of a Victorian London setting. It may sound false to hear, but the truth is, I had been waiting for that exact thing for so long. I had given up hope of ever seeing it done. But here we are. And last night, we had to say goodbye to it.

Before the end credits on the Season 3 finale, the words “THE END” appeared. And show creator and writer, John Logan has spoken out admitting that yes, Season 3 was the final season. That’s all there is to be told. And while this absolutely gorgeous show will be sorely missed, I think it’s for the best that it ends here and now.

We all have that show that we love with all of our hearts, but goes on for too long. The brilliance of it dulls, and the writing slowly becomes worse and worse because the story ended long ago, but they continued anyway. The show suffers and the fans suffer. Series creator John Logan said himself that he planned for this story to be told within 3 seasons. And he accomplished it! It was a heartbreaking episode, but a perfect and necessary ending, for every character involved.

Victor lets Lily go. After over a season of pining after her, a girl he simply cannot have, he acknowledges she is not the girl he wishes her to be, and that’s alright. And it isn’t fair of him to change her because she wasn’t what he expected. He lets her go and fights with his friends to save Vanessa. He’s there in their hour of need. Lily herself gets to remain her true self, and remember her daughter. While her story isn’t finished, it ends with so much potential, the world at her feet. And seeing Victor let her go seems to have made her calmer, a little more human.

John Clare’s ending was a much more melancholy one, fit for the character, but also beautiful and poetic. He loses his son, and therefore his wife, but both, in a way, are a choice. He could take his son to Victor, demand that he resurrect him. But he doesn’t. Because he won’t inflict his own miserable existence onto another soul, especially not his son, even if it means he loses his wife after such a short time. There’s a poetic redemption there. He isn’t the monster we met in Season 1. He’s become one of the most human characters on the show. And while he doesn’t get to say goodbye to Vanessa while she’s still alive, he does visit her grave, ending the series in a poetic manner befit of such a poetic series.

Dorian doesn’t really get a happy ending, and while I love him, that was the perfect ending for him. The point of Dorian Gray is that he lives forever, he gets bored and life around him dulls. This isn’t the end for him, just a lull before he finds the next exotic and new thing to entertain him. There couldn’t have been a more perfect ending than that for such a character.

Sir Malcolm Murray has to let go of his old self and his old life, and say goodbye to a girl who has become like a daughter to him. Actually…not like a daughter. She was his daughter, in the end. But he has Ethan now, who is a friend, but could almost be like a son, I think. And despite everything they’ve lost, they have each other.

And then there’s Ethan, whose fate and ending is so intertwined with our heroine, Vanessa’s. Their fates have been connected since the first season, as Vanessa is the Mother of Evil and Ethan is the Wolf of God. He was said to be the one who could save the world, or destroy it. And this season, he was very close to destroying it. Only a few episodes ago, he was in America with Hecate, and almost completely lost himself, and would have if Sir Malcolm and Kaetenay hadn’t stopped and reminded him of who he truly was. And in the end, he stayed true, and he had to be the one to kill Vanessa. More importantly, she had to die.

Vanessa Ives was the heart of the show. The purest and darkest character of them all. It’s why she was so loved, and so easy to relate to. Everyone has demons they must face, she most of all. And she fought with all of her might, all of her strength. And even in the final episodes, I don’t think she completely gave in. She was still Vanessa, she just couldn’t fight anymore. I think she stayed with Dracula because she knew Ethan would come, and do what needed to be done. And he really was the only one that could do it. I don’t think Malcolm could. He killed Mina, but only because he knew without a doubt that she could not be saved. Vanessa was still Vanessa, and so he would have tried to find another way. But Ethan understood that by killing her, he was saving her. And so he fulfilled his purpose. He had to kill the woman he loved, the Mother of Evil, but in doing so he saved her. He kissed her, held her in his arms, and whispered the prayer, showing her that she never left the light of God as she recites it with him. It is the most intimate and beautiful scene of the entire series, and what it has been leading up to this whole time.

While the death of Vanessa was heartbreaking, it was the only way to end the series, and she gets her happy ending. She is saved, she is no longer suffering and in pain. She is with God. She was the Mother of Evil, and try as she might, she could not keep fighting forever. Even if she could, it would have destroyed her. She could have run with Ethan, but she never would have been happy, because her energy would be always spent at repelling the darkness within her. Her death, which did make me cry my eyes out, by the way, stirred both feelings of happiness/relief, as well as heartbreak and misery.

This episode provided the perfect closure to the perfect series. This whole season was exactly what was needed. Vanessa would not give into fear, but she gave into the seduction of Dracula because he made himself seductive, he did not seem a monster. This was the only way Vanessa would ever give in, so I’m so glad this is how John Logan wrote it. I cannot express my admiration for the series creator, whose writing I am greatly inspired by. If I am one day 1/4 as good as he is, I’ll be extremely happy. The writing was beautiful, and the cinematography was breathtaking. The title sequence in and of itself is something that I am inspired by everyday, taking away a new idea each time I watch it.

And let’s not forget the cast. The Picture of Dorian Gray is one of my favourite books, and Reeve Carney’s take on the classic character was just gorgeous. It was nothing I’ve seen before, and this unique portrayal was exactly how I imagine Dorian would be. And Reeve Carney isn’t the only one that stunned at an original perspective. Harry Treadaway perfectly captured Victor Frankenstein in my eyes, because Victor isn’t a monster. Not in his heart. He wanted to create life, and while what came afterwards was terrible to behold, the desire wasn’t always, I believe, evil. Treadaway portrayed Victor as an addict, a romantic, a man who simply desired love and to create something beautiful, and had to deal with the consequences, as well as his own demons.

Rory Kinnear somehow turned one of the most hated characters into one that we were rooting for in just a few short seasons. A hateful monster in Season 1, became a merciful man just looking for love and acceptance by Season 3, a man willing to do the right thing, despite what he himself may lose. Season 2 was a strong season for John Clare, but the episode taking place in Vanessa’s cell, while he takes care of her, there are no words for.

Billie Piper’s transition from Brona, a woman who had to sell her body for scraps, to Lily, a powerful feminist who refuses to let any man control or influence her, was incredible to watch. Her performance, particularly in the finale, was breathtaking and heart-wrenching.

Timothy Dalton changed Sir Malcolm Murray from a man who hated Vanessa with every bone in his body, to a man who mourned her just as much as he did his own daughter. The change in this relationship, the change in this character from a fairly apathetic man to a man who loved deeply and refused to run away was astounding. He brought so much life to this character.

Josh Hartnett was the perfect leading man. Almost as tortured as Miss Ives herself, he constantly was battling his inner demons. It was no small task being the Wolf of God, but there’s almost a sense of pride and honor when he’s around Vanessa. The idea that he gets to protect her, Hartnett portrays a man who is hurt, who is torn, but who is glad to suffer because he would not have met Vanessa otherwise. It’s just a beautiful thing to watch, and to see him do what must be done was one of the most touching things I’ve seen.

And then we have Vanessa Ives herself, Eva Green. There are not words for our strong heroine. Her talent is out of this world. She has this ability to completely leave her body and become an entirely different person. Seeing her play a possessed Vanessa is something I feel truly honored to have witnessed, and I can only imagine what it was like to actually be on set. She is simply stunning. There could not have been a more perfect Vanessa Ives and I’ll truly miss seeing her, along with the rest of the cast, every Sunday.

This series was amazing on every level. And if they ever did a fourth season, I of course would watch it. But I hope they leave it at 3. It ended perfectly, giving us the closure we needed and the conclusion the characters needed. John Logan, we thank you for such an incredible show.

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