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​Penny Dreadful Series Finale Recap: Unhappily Ever After

One of Showtime's best series came to a rushed, downbeat ending. But it was still pretty fun!

Price Peterson


Much like Victorian London, the television industry is a dark, macabre game of shadows. Ghouls stalk its blood-stained streets and night creeps devour the innocent whole. Also sagas about strong-willed monster magnets sometimes get struck down too soon. Which is to say... Penny Dreadful is over.

Yes, just when Season 3 started to really heat up, it petered out in an almost astonishing fashion. This week Showtime aired the final two episodes back to back as if to say "Please get out of here, Eva" and even with a full 120 minutes to say farewell the entire thing felt rushed and anticlimactic and, if we're being quite honest, beneath these characters. Still, there were a number of amazing action sequences and eloquent turns of phrase (as always). But friends, I choose to embrace my bitterness with both hands. Penny Dreadful deserved better. Let's talk about these last two episodes!


The main thing you need to know is it all ended with this title card, so if there was any question as to whether this series would be coming back for a fourth season, this put that to bed immediately. Is it even worth lamenting why Showtime would seemingly cut the season short and then unceremoniously dump the series finale without advertising it as such? Was getting Ray Donovan back on the schedule such a huge priority? Grumble grumble, etc. Anyway! (Still grateful to Showtime for greenlighting this thing in the first place.)


The first half of our two-parter began with several shots of poisonous fog flooding London. As we later learned, it was literally toxic and had killed several thousand citizens already. So, Vanessa's (Eva Green) prophecies were true: Permanent night, air as pestilence, jerks eating live frogs in their boss' office:


Ugh, Renfield (Samuel Barnett) is disgusting. This was what Patti LuPone walked in on. Some weirdo listening to all her audiotapes and eating live frogs! That is grounds for firing in my opinion.


But then again, Renfield WAS doing her an act of kindness by helping get rid of these things. They were popping up from every drain pipe!


Honestly, the one flaw of Magnolia was that next to no characters ever picked up a frog and ate it. Hopefully the inevitable Magnolia reboot (original soundtrack by Ariana Grande) will address this.


So then the boys finally arrived back in London and they IMMEDIATELY missed America. Like, London was literally poisonous now, and a stampede of rats greeted their feet. The London tourism board was really going to have their work cut out for them.


When they all arrived back at Sir Malcolm's (Timothy Dalton) pad they were greeted with a number of annoyances. First of all, someone had hung a slaughtered wolf above Vanessa's bed. (Ugh, vampires love dumb symbolism apparently.)


Also, the house had been overrun by night creeps! Fortunately Catriona (Perdita Weeks) showed up and shot a lot of them. Who WAS this lady? She's a new character and instantly great, but whoops! The series is over now. We'll never learn more about her. (Frown.)


One of the vampire creeps managed to bite Sir Malcolm on the throat and he immediately was like, "Well, time for suicide." But Cat grabbed a fire poker and burned the vampirism out of him. It didn't feel great, but it did the trick. Sort of like a back-alley massage. I'm guessing.


Then things got sadder. John (Rory Kinnear) was trying to enjoy a nice meal of, like, a bean, with his poor family and every time he tried to make plans with his son to do fun stuff, the son just coughed blood everywhere. Kids never listen.


I liked a few episodes back when John started robbing rich old men in order to support his family, but we haven't seen him do that in a while. Maybe he lost his nerve, who knows. Either way, his son looked like sh*t and that is just bad parenting.


Now that Dorian (Reeve Carney) had fully sold Lily (Billie Piper) out to go get her brain damaged, he had no use for the whore-horde (whorde) hanging out in his dining room. He let them keep their frocks but he truly needed them to GTFO please.


But Justine (Jessica Barden) is a feisty one, so she went and playfully stabbed him. Dorian might be immortal, but he does not tend to love grievous bodily harm.


At this point Justine refused to leave, stating that she'd rather die here than have to go be a hooker again. (Were there only two options?) So Dorian kissed her and then snapped her neck, and it was sad and kind of pointless and it was the first time this season started to feel like it was just wasting opportunities that it had painstakingly set up. Rest in peace, babygirl.


So, now it was time for Victor (Harry Treadaway) to finally inject electric poison into Lily's brain so that she'll be his chill, mindless girlfriend again.


But that's when Lily decided to enlighten him on the time she used to have a daughter, and how one time a john knocked her unconscious and her baby froze to death in the night. It was not a very fun story, but it was enough to convince Victor that he had been truly a piece of garbage for this. He ended up unlocking her shackles, and she kissed him goodbye. So ended another in-retrospect pointless subplot.


Things got pretty fun when Ethan (Josh Hartnett) attempted to track Vanessa back to the vampire lair (she was now Dracula's girlfriend, remember?) and got attacked by Dracula (Christian Camargo) and his stooges. But what they didn't expect was that he suddenly turned into a wild dog and ate most of them!


But then, what ETHAN didn't expect was that another wolf man ran up and helped out!


It was Wes Studi! He was a wolf man also. (But his hair got long for some reason; it looked chic and ponytail-capable.)


Just a couple of wolf men, hanging out and growling at each other. A real wolf-a-palooza.


The second episode began with word spreading of Vanessa's friends seeking to find her. Dracula seemed slightly concerned about this, but guess who wasn't?


Vanessa! I liked that they had a definite Gomez and Morticia thing going on. Anyway, she seemed ready and willing to ditch her friends and stay with Dracula forever, so this was going to be a heartbreaker of a showdown if we're being quite honest.


At this point Wes Studi admitted that HE had been the one who turned Ethan into a wolf man back in the day. He did it because he wanted Ethan to be the one to become God's dog or whatever the prophecy foretold. Ethan wasn't super stoked about this, on account of the fact that he had mass murdered much of the civilized world by now. Outside of maybe presidential candidates, nobody willingly signs up for something like that, you know?


Speaking of a plotline and character that ultimately didn't really go anywhere: Dorian Gray! In his final scene, he just sort of talked about being lonely and immortal and jaded, and then when Lily decided to leave he was like "You'll be back." No she won't! Just ask Showtime.


Oh well. They were a fun couple while it lasted.


Oh man, this was dumb. Why even introduce Dr. Jekyll (Shazad Latif) if he never becomes Mr. Hyde? In this case on his way out, Dr. Jekyll casually mentioned that his dad died and he inherited the name Lord Hyde. Uhhhh okay. That's not really how that story worked, but whatever. Get out of here, you useless sidekick.


At least Patti LuPone got a great final episode out of it. Here she was hypnotizing Renfield into divulging where Vanessa had been hiding out. Renfield is a creep and an idiot, so it took barely any time at all for her to suss out that Dracula had been hiding out in an old condemned slaughterhouse. At first I laughed because they probably should've just immediately checked all the condemned slaughterhouses to begin with. But then I realized that this version of London probably had millions of condemned slaughterhouses. So yeah, hypnosis it was.


So then John's son finally hacked out his final blood clot and died, and do you know what John's wife then suggested? That John go take the dead child to Dr. Frankenstein's office and resurrect him into a pale-faced abomination ASAP!


John did not love this idea (probably because he didn't want to have to share his expensive goth makeup), but when his wife threatened to divorce him, he had to think it over. Decisions, decisions.


Things then got VERY fun when the entire gang rolled into that slaughterhouse and started murdering night creeps for days.


Like, seriously, so much carnage. Patti LuPone was up in the mix shooting creeps in the face. Cat was running up poles and stabbing everybody. Man, what a good time. No wonder Victor just blindly agreed to tag along for no reason. Who doesn't love a creep slaughter?


But while that was happening, Ethan went to go look for Vanessa. And he found her just sort of hanging out in a dramatically candle-lit room. Dracula wasn't there because he was busy standing on a balcony watching all his friends get killed. Which meant Vanessa and Ethan were able to enjoy one final convo.


You know, for a show that has been about Vanessa finding the strength within herself to keep dark forces at bay, it sure is a shame that this saga ended with her utterly failing to save herself or stop the bad guys. She just sort of became Dracula's girlfriend, and then her only solution to get out of it was to allow Ethan to shoot her. That's not only dark, that's very unsatisfying.


Anyway, they said one last Our Father and then suddenly Vanessa was dead. And what kind of effect did this have?


The sun came out. Dracula just sort of snuck off. I'm not sure if frogs were still coming out of the toilets, but at least that sun came out. So our protagonist's death wasn't TOTALLY pointless.


We were then treated to a series of denouements, the first of which had Ethan and Sir Malcolm hanging out in Vanessa's old bedroom and promising to become travel buddies. (Or Whatever.) Good for them?


Also, John opted not to resurrect his son, and instead dumped his corpse into a polluted river. But, you know, tastefully.


And to finish off an otherwise delightful day, John swung by Vanessa's freshly dug grave and just sort of stared at her tombstone like, "Wait, what happened?" Or maybe that's just how I was feeling.

Friends, Penny Dreadful was a truly wonderful, inspired, audacious television show. I wasn't super in love with this finale, mostly because it seemed to have been forced into a "series finale" late in the game and rendered much of the earlier season setups pointless. It also didn't do justice to the characters in my opinion. But every single frame was a pleasure to behold and we are still so lucky to have had Eva Green on our TV screens week in and week out. Showtime may not have known what it was getting itself into (and I shudder to think about the budgetary spreadsheets involved) but I am so grateful it ever existed. This season as in the previous ones, Penny Dreadful felt like a secret. A macabre, beautiful, poetic secret. I shall miss it dearly.

OK thanks bye.


... Did you find the series finale satisfying?

... Did Vanessa deserve a more heroic death?

... Are you disappointed we never met a proper Mr. Hyde?

... Will Ethan ever find love now?