Warning: Article contains spoilers!
Season 2 of Showtime’s Penny Dreadful came to a close on Sunday after a successful 10 episode run. The season, which featured tour de force performances by series leads Eva Green and Billie Piper, and supporting players Helen McCrory (Evelyn Poole/Madame Kali) and Douglas Hodge (Inspector Bartholomew Rusk), literally ended with a few bangs, but overall felt more like a whimper.
Leading up to Sunday’s finale, the second season of series creator and writer, John Logan’s ode to Victorian era horror, belonged to Eva Green’s Vanessa and Billie Piper’s Lily. Their characters’ arcs carried a strong under current of feminism as their separate journeys of self discovery resulted in both characters, by season’s end, shedding the role of victim and embracing their authentic selves. The Devil’s pursuit of Vanessa’s soul occupied much of this season’s narrative, as well as Season One’s, and came to an underwhelming conclusion in the finale.
McCory’s Evelyn Poole spent the entire season manipulating Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton) in a effort to deliver Vanessa’s soul to the Devil. Evelyn was an excellent villain who ended up being wasted and although the Devil was the Big Bad, Vanessa and Evelyn deserved their own showdown. Instead, Evely was demoted to bystander as Vanessa confronted the Devil in what amounted to a witch vs. Chucky (yes, the doll from Child’s Play) title fight.
Lily’s role in the finale was no more satisfying, although her character’s arc suggests that she might be the new villain on the block for Season 3. After being murdered and resurrected by Dr. Frankenstein earlier this season to be The Creature’s bride, Brona/Lily slowly transformed from helpless pawn into a self assured woman. Lily’s death and resurrection gave her a new lease on life, one that she intends to use to full advantage. It will be interesting to see how her relationship with Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney) and her rejection of the tormented Dr. Frankenstein plays into the narrative next season.
Season Two revealed a few of the lingering mysteries hinted at in Season One. Dorian Gray’s and Ethan Chandler’s (Josh Hartnett) secrets were revealed including an interesting reference to Chandler’s connection to the original Wolf Man films from Universal Studios. Chandler’s character arc provided the audience with some great scenes between Hartnett and Douglas Hodge. An interesting bond was beginning to develop between Chandler and Sembene (Danny Sapani) but it also led to another one of this season’s disappointments. Sembene’s death not only deprives the show of its lone character of color, but it also cut short the opportunity to explore some of the mystery behind the character. Another problem with killing Sembene is that it severs the human link in the cast with the audience. He was the only normal character in a show full of monsters who didn’t have his toe dipped into the “lake of madness”, so to speak.
Season Two ended with the major players scattered to the wind. Time will tell what forces will conspire to bring everyone back together when Season Three debuts. While this season was for the most part quite gripping, it’s early promise was let down by the events of the season finale. Perhaps the season was too long. Season One consisted of eight episodes and Season Two was extended by two more. One could argue that it was one episode too many. The conflicts established this season and their resolutions would have carried more dramatic tension if the season ended after episode nine. Even if John Logan wanted to end some of these plot threads before Season Three, it could have been done in a tidier fashion.
The end of this season has left me feeling quite empty and there isn’t the same level of anticipation that I felt at the conclusion of Season One. Perhaps that’s due to the pacing of the back end of this season, or to the direction the show seems to be going in. Either way when Season Three debuts, I’ll be there to see what happens next.