[For Penny Dreadful “Finale” or any other recaps on Fetchland, assume the presence of possible spoilers.]
Finale. It’s the end.
Coming into the season three and series finale of Penny Dreadful nobody knew that this is where the story would end. Nobody except Vanessa Ives. As everything in the story swirls from one stabby, blood-soaked scene to another it all spirals to the final apocalyptic battle between good and evil. Of course, it’s not as if we weren’t warned. They’ve been spelling it out for us for three whole seasons and Vanessa Ives most of all. Every other word out of her mouth, it seems, was about the “end of days” and the final showdown between dark and light… and she really did mean final, it turns out.
Fetchland didn’t get ANY of our wishes with this finale and we’re not ashamed to say that the whole thing made us pretty damn sad to boot. Justine took a knife in the gut from remorseless, arrogant Dorian and all the lady warriors left soon after to avoid the same fate. Meanwhile Lily escaped Dr. Frankenstein’s needle with the heartbreaking story of her baby daughter’s death. She then returned to Dorian only to turn right back around and leave him forever with his words, “You’ll be back,” trailing after her. At least Lily got away. Of course, she’s devastated at the loss of Justine, “another dead child,” but she leaves as unscathed as an immortal with a broken heart and soul can possibly be.
The Creature’s not quite so lucky. Not only does his beloved son, Jack, die but then his wife Marge demands that he take the boy’s body to Dr. Frankenstein to be revived as he was. If he doesn’t do this, Marge declares that she never wants to see him again. This ultimatum certainly won’t do for the one man in the world who truly knows the torment of this “revival” she demands. He takes the boy’s body to the sea and floats him away on a watery grave of tears and The River Thames. Sadness reigns.
So, at this point we have two main characters sad and alone along with a destroyed city where the air has become poison, killing tens of thousands overnight while night creatures run the show. Frogs crawl out of air ducts in offices by the hundreds, vampires wander the streets, and all the innocent humans are dying in droves. It doesn’t bode well for the world of Penny Dreadful. They cap off the Dr. Jekyll character by securing his future as an aristocratic Lord with the death of his father and we never get to see the beast Hyde. It’s disappointing to say the least. Perhaps we’re meant to ponder how there are hidden monsters inside men even at the highest class ranks but we were already well aware of that; those of us who keep our eyes open and read the newspaper once in awhile, anyway. On the other hand, in a much less disappointing character arc, Catriona saves the day and Ethan’s life when the mighty trio return from the American West to save Vanessa and encounter a vampire instead. She explains that it’s the “end of days” and secures her position in Fetchland’s opinion as the perfect new James Bond. Her character has everything Bond needs to find a bigger audience and freshen that jaded brand. Catriona fights with a clever ferocity that squashes any man’s attempt to outdo her… plus she’s British with rad fencing skills.
But let’s get back to this desperately sad finale. Next Dr. Seward also helps the trio find Vanessa using Renfield under hypnosis as their guide. During their journey to Dracula, Renfield mentions that he believes if he’d had a friend like Seward in his life before maybe he wouldn’t have fallen into Dracula’s clutches. This reminds us of how Penny Dreadful often meditates upon the healing power of friendship. It’s one of the lasting and profound themes that remains an intrinsic message of this story even in this weeptacular finale. Actually this is the very idea we’re left with at the end of the show in the graveyard scene where these same characters congregate.
Kaetany and Ethan fight side by side as werewolves during the search for Vanessa and then Ethan finds out Kaetany was his “maker” but there’s really no time to get pissy about it. The world needs saving and Ethan’s the only man/wolf for the job. He does have his friends at his side, though, for the final showdown; Catriona, Malcolm, Drs. Frankenstein & Seward, along with Kaetany. At first, Dracula gives them a chance to retreat because Vanessa “wants them to live” but they say, “Fuck no,” and wage battle anyway. Silver bullets fly hither and fro while Catriona impresses with mighty hand-to-hand combat, stabby warfare, and acrobatics. We absolutely adore her. Next Ethan slips away from the gunfight and finds Vanessa at the end of a long hallway full of lit candles. Vanessa tells Ethan it’s all her fault. Turns out she’s the mother of all evil. So sad, so lost, so alone. It’s over for her and for the world unless he takes her out. She has to be the martyr to save the world. He kisses her and, reluctantly, kills her. As Vanessa dies she says she sees the Lord and looks happy at last. But we’re bereft and feeling pretty stabby ourselves. Martyrdom is the worst! We hate it. Fight, fight, fight, we always say. Never give up!… and whatnot.
The friends all hate it too. But then Dracula disappears, the sun comes back out, and the world is saved. Vanessa died so that the world could go on. We get it but we’re still bereft. In the final scene the friends go to Vanessa’s grave. The Creature waits until they all leave and then visits the grave as well and although we’re sadder than sad we also hear him recite the most beautiful funeral soliloquy. It’s from William Wordsworth’s, Ode to Immortality and, because we’re jaded old sods, we can’t remember the last time a poem actually made us cry. But this one does and we remember once again the sublime art of perfectly crafted verse and how it feels to be moved by the purity of words. Thank you for that, Penny Dreadful. You touched us with your gorgeous story and true artistry even while you took it all away from us forever.