Posted on April 28, 2016

Everything You Need to Know about Penny Dreadful Before Sunday

Guest Post

Guest Author: Cayla McNally

Popular Gothic TV show Penny Dreadful is making its return to Showtime this weekend, and I am beyond excited! Named after a popular form of 19th century pulp novel, the show is a twisted tale of the dark and supernatural goings-on in Victorian London. The first two seasons have been a beautiful and harrowing ride, and I am curious to see where show creator John Logan will take it next. It can be hard to remember everything that happened in the eighteen episodes of this complex and detailed show, so below you will find season recaps to bring us up to speed for season three. Caution, spoilers abound.

Season 1

Season one begins with, of course, a grisly murder of a woman and her young child, plucked out of their home in the dead of night. The killer remains mysterious and on the loose, though many fear that Jack the Ripper has returned. Meanwhile, Vanessa Ives (Eva Green) approaches American sharpshooter Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett); she offers to pay Ethan handsomely for his skills on some “night work.” Intrigued, Ethan agrees to join Vanessa and Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton), and promptly follows them- unawares- into a vampire den. It is revealed that Sir Malcolm’s daughter- and Vanessa’s best friend- Mina (Olivia Llewellyn) was captured by one of the creatures. They are attacked, and manage to kill one of the nest’s main vampires; they take the body to Dr. Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway), who discovers that there are glyphs written under the creature’s skin. Egyptologist Ferdinand Lyle (Simon Russel Beale) later discerns that the glyphs are from the Egyptian Book of the Dead and foretell the end of the world. He also believes that the vampires are using Mina as bait, and really want Vanessa.

PD 1

Vanessa and Sir Malcolm attend a dinner that includes a séance by Madame Kali (Helen McCrory). Vanessa channels a spirit, berating Sir Malcolm for letting his son die during an exploring expedition in Africa. Sir Malcolm is understandably wary of Vanessa, and leaves her behind while he continues his search for Mina. Vanessa goes out with eccentric Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney); they have sex, and she is once again possessed by a demon. All attempts to heal her fail, but finally Ethan is able to exorcise the demon. Vanessa, Ethan, Sir Malcolm, and Sembene (Danny Sapani)- Sir Malcolm’s mysterious African manservant- are finally able to track down Mina in an abandoned theater. She has already become a vampire, and intends to bring Vanessa to her “master,” thus bringing about the end of the world. Sir Malcolm shoots and kills Mina to save Vanessa, and they kill the rest of the vampires.

Meanwhile, in his lab, Dr. Frankenstein reanimates the body of a dead man (Alex Price), who names himself Proteus (he may be newly formed, but he apparently still has a strong understanding of symbolism). Victor sees Proteus as a blank slate, and begins to teach him how to be human. Unfortunately, Proteus is ripped apart by Victor’s original creation, whom he abandoned. The creature, Caliban (Rory Kinnear), is disfigured and lonely, and threatens to kill everyone close to Victor unless he makes him a bride.

PD 2

Somewhere in the middle of fighting vampires, Ethan meets and falls in love with consumptive prostitute Brona Croft (Billie Piper), whose condition worsens throughout the course of the season. At Ethan’s request, Victor tends to Brona during her final hours; however, when Ethan’s back is turned, Victor smothers her with a pillow. After Ethan gives her a tearful goodbye, Victor takes her body, presumably to make Caliban’s bride. Ethan mourns Brona by getting drunk at the inn where they met. Two American bounty hunters approach him and say Ethan’s father has sent them to retrieve him and bring him back to Texas. Ethan declares that he’s not going, turns into a werewolf, and attacks them.

Season 2

Season two begins with two horrific occurrences simultaneously happening: Ethan wakes up in a daze in the Mariner’s Inn and realizes what he has done, and Vanessa is overcome with upsetting visions while walking through town. Madame Kali- real name Evelyn Poole- has begun to court Sir Malcolm, who has recently returned from burying Mina; however, Evelyn’s intentions are soon revealed (to the viewer) to be much more sinister. She is a witch devoted to the Devil, who wants to claim Vanessa (also a witch, but not of the evil persuasion) as his bride in Hell. Evelyn has been secretly watching Vanessa for years, and killed Vanessa’s witch mentor, the Cut Wife (Patti LuPone). Evelyn takes control of Sir Malcolm through blood magic as a way of lowering the group’s defenses. She also blackmails Mr. Lyle, who is her unwilling spy; though he helps the group work through the tale of the fallen angel, he always reports back to Evelyn what they have discovered.

Ethan plans to leave London, but when he sees how frightened Vanessa has become from her visions- and after they are attacked by a group of ghoulish witches- he promises to stay and protect her. Scotland Yard investigator Bartholomew Rusk (Douglas Hodge) arrives to investigate the Mariner’s Inn Massacre, and is instantly suspicious of Ethan. Rusk is also open to the idea of the massacre being the result of a beast, not a man. The next full moon, Ethan has Sembene chain him to a wall and stand watch over him all night. Sembene protects his secret, and tries to convince Ethan that his transformation can be an asset.

PD 3

Dorian meets genderqueer prostitute Angelique (Jonny Beauchamp), whom he brings into high society. Angelique finds a hidden room in Dorian’s mansion that holds a painting (the painting, really) that represents Dorian’s true age and inner darkness. Though Angelique assures him that the portrait doesn’t change her love for him, Dorian kills her to protect his secret.

Victor reanimates Brona’s body, names her Lily, and introduces her into society as his sheltered cousin from the country. Though Caliban- who now calls himself John Clare- expects her to love him, she is repulsed by him. John becomes increasingly jealous of Lily’s relationship with Victor, while Victor becomes increasingly jealous of Lily’s relationship with Dorian, who she met at a ball. When she learns that both she and Dorian are immortal, Lily believes it to be a sign of their superiority to human. She rejects both John and Victor, and stays with Dorian to plot their ascendency.

When everyone realizes that Evelyn is behind the attacks on Vanessa, they storm her mansion (which is FULL of voodoo dolls, by the way). Victor and Sir Malcolm are trapped in a room, where they have terrible hallucinations; Sir Malcolm sees his dead family, who blame them for his death, while Victor sees his three creations. Both are urged by their hallucinations to kill themselves to alleviate their guilt, but they are able to escape the room. Ethan and Sembene are trapped in a corridor together, while Ethan tries to fight off the pull of the full moon. Resigned to his fate, Sembene tells Ethan not to fight it because it is God’s will that he is the way he is. Ethan transforms into a werewolf, kills Sembene, and escapes the corridor.

PD 4

Vanessa goes with Evelyn down into her lair, where the Devil speaks to her through a life-sized bust of Vanessa. Vanessa is able to overpower the doll, which cracks and falls apart. Werewolf Ethan runs into the room, kills Evelyn, but does not attack Vanessa. When she realizes that it is him, he flees. The rest of the group is able to escape the house with Sembene’s body. Devastated by Sembene’s death, Ethan turns himself in to Rusk, and begs for a death sentence. Rusk informs him that he is to be extradited to America instead. The season ends with everyone except Vanessa leaving London and going in different directions, and with Vanessa accepting her cursed fate.

Stay tuned for some thoughts on all of this coming tomorrow! Then you’ll be ready for season three, starting Sunday May 1!

Cayla McNally is a Philadelphia-based Afrofuturist examining the intersection of academia, social justice, and pop culture. She is particularly interested in cyborgs, contamination, and monstrosity. You can find her here:;

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