[For Penny Dreadful or any other refreshers on Fetchland, assume the presence of possible spoilers.]
Imagine living in a city so romantic that when a poet dies everybody goes into mourning. That’s the world of Penny Dreadful – Victorian England, where the bell tolls all day and the city weeps because Lord Tennyson died. Victorian Gothic literature resonates throughout Penny Dreadful. But before you eschew the whole idea of a Victorian Gothic Horror show on your Sunday night, keep in mind that without this genre we would have no Dracula, Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, or Edgar Allen Poe. Which brings up yet another reason to love Penny Dreadful; although it’s mostly twisted and gory, there’s sex and fun sprinkled in like mischievous little sugar bits.
Still, this most literary of horror shows is also the bleakest. The story of Penny Dreadful even as its most complex is fundamentally about a fallen angel. The Devil himself, in fact. Throughout season one and two we learn that the narrative action revolves around Lucifer’s longing to rise back into the heavens. For some reason Satan needs to take Vanessa Ive’s soul to accomplish this otherworldy return. In season one he used vampires as minions while season two brought Satan’s coven of witches. Now, with season three the vampires return again but this time with celebrity fangster, Dracula at the helm.
Speaking of exquisite and unforgettable characters, Penny Dreadful delivers an amazing assemblage. As complicated as they are fantastic looking, you’ll never tire of watching them fall in love, betray, murder, and avenge each other.
Reeve Carney as Dorian Gray, immortal thanks to his painting. Gorgeous, monstrous, and fearless, Dorian takes narcissism to a new level. He teams up with Lily Frankenstein at the end of season two – a terrifying duo of bloodlust who literally can’t be killed.
Dorian’s always been largely motivated by lust, given his multiple lovers, including Vanessa. But she remains the only one who ever rejected him. He murdered one such lover after showing them his painting. But with Lily by his side, more murders definitely lie ahead.
Timothy Dalton as Sir Malcolm Murray, a hardened explorer of the African continent, in previous seasons on a deeply personal quest to save and protect his family. Now they’re all dead so he’s enlisted to help Ethan overcome his troubles in America.
The one exception is Vanessa who may be his daughter. Malcolm had an affair with her mother and once referred to Vanessa as his daughter.
Eva Green is Vanessa Ives, an enigmatic heroine. Her history’s fraught with fighting demons, mainly because Satan himself believes she’s the only way he can return to heaven.
Vanessa’s in The Bell Jar as season three opens because her beloved Ethan left for America. Also, the whole lifelong-battle-with-Lucifer thing really gets a girl down.
Rory Kinnear plays The Creature, a creation Frankenstein abandoned. Not given a name, he uses the alias John Clare. Mr. Clare spent seasons one and two seeking love only to experience cruelty and betrayal at every turn.
He fled London at the end of season two with Vanessa as his only friend and little hope for happiness.
Billie Piper as Brona Croft/Lily Frankenstein, as Brona she was an Irish immigrant escaping a brutal past but after dying of consumption she becomes Lily Frankenstein, out for revenge.
Ethan fell in love with Brona before she died and Victor Frankenstein followed suit after bringing her back to life as Lily. But she’s only into power now, not love.
Harry Treadaway as Dr. Victor Frankenstein, an arrogant young doctor obsessed with transcending death. Victor brings three corpses to life before realizing he’s actually the monster. He becomes an intravenous drug abuser after losing his beloved Lily Frankenstein; and hopes his friend Dr. Hyde can help him recover.
Josh Hartnett as Ethan Chandler (real name Ethan Talbot), a charming, brash and daring American man with uncanny marksmanship, a pacifist ideal, and a secret wolf inside that comes out with the full moon.
Ethan spends all of seasons one and two on the run from his father’s minions and now it’s finally time for them to meet face-to-face.
Simon Russell Beale as Ferdinand Lyle, an eccentric Egyptologist. Often the source of information and amusement, he’s the most human character on Penny Dreadful. Because he helped the witches coven a bit in season two, Lyle feels tremendous guilt and thus always attempts to help out Vanessa as penance.
As season three begins Lyle refers Vanessa to Dr. Seward after she slips into an overwhelming depression from missing her beloved Ethan.
Patti LuPone plays Dr. Seward, an Alienist (therapist) treating Vanessa. LuPone previously guest-starred as Joan Clayton/The Cut Wife in the second season. Vanessa brings up the resemblance to Clayton in her first session and Dr Seward admits she’s a descendant.
Wes Studi as Kaetenay, a Native American with a deep connection to Ethan who becomes an ally to Sir Malcolm. He speaks of Sir Malcolm and himself as “fathers” to Ethan.
Because of Kaetenay, Malcolm leaves Africa for America with the promise of an incredible story that will explain why they must help Ethan.
Shazad Latif is Dr. Henry Jekyll, the notorious master chemist we’ve all heard about from the Robert Louis Stevenson.story. A friend of Dr. Victor Frankenstein from medical school, he plays confidante to Frankenstein’s “dreadful gorgeous secrets” and promises to “tame” Lily with the chemistry he’s developing as antidote to his own beast. But mostly he’s concerned about Victor’s drug problem.
Sarah Greene plays Hecate Poole, high profile member of the witches coven. She’s obsessed with Ethan, calling him “the wolf of God” and not just because he’s beautiful. Last season Hecate made several seductive attempts at landing Ethan’s soul for Satan, her master, and it appears she’s one of those types who never give up.
Last season Ethan knew she was after him but assumed she worked as minion for his father. Little does he know that the Devil’s after him too. She’s following him all the way to his father’s house and Hecate, a demon herself, has no fear of the wolf inside Ethan.
Christian Camargo is Dr. Alexander Sweet, a zoologist who becomes friends with Vanessa. She meets him on her first therapeutic venture and he greatly lifts her sad sack spirits.
In fact, Season three seems to revolve quite a lot around an animal theme. The characters in Penny Dreadful have always been compared to animals but in this season they seem obsessed with them too.
Speaking of a mania for animals, another new character this season, Renfield, played by Samuel Barnett, famously obsesses about them, especially insects. But you’d never know this from his day job as Dr. Seward’s secretary. Yes, that’s right, Renfield from Bram Stoker’s novel and his master, Dracula are paying Penny Dreadful a visit in season three. Dracula’s after Vanessa, of course. Because everybody’s doing it, so why can’t he?
The most tormented soul on TV by far, Vanessa Ives, entering therapy works on many levels – including comedic. Mainly, though, we’re thrilled to see Patti Lupone, a master of her craft, return to the show. Can therapy save Ms. Ives from Satan’s wrath? Watch season three to find out. But there are so many more reasons to watch. Penny Dreadful has an inventive brilliance for taking familiar characters from fiction and making them real. Without this show we wouldn’t feel, as we do now, that we know Dorian Grey and Victor Frankenstein as people/monsters. So, the real question for the new season: will we come to know Dracula in a new way as well? It’s complicated because he’s not really a person. He’s 100% monster. Or is he?