Monday, May 2, 2016

Penny Dreadful 3x01 Review: “The Day Tennyson Died” (Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot) [Contributor: Rae Nudson]

“The Day Tennyson Died”
Original Airdate: May 1, 2016

In a world where literary nightmares come alive, it is fitting that the third season of Penny Dreadful is marked by the death of a giant literary figure. Britain’s poet laureate Lord Tennyson has died.

His presence lurks in the background, where death always lurks for the Supernatural Scooby Gang. The bells ring, as a constant reminder of the death that is coming for them all. Death may be the only thing that connects the friends now, since they are scattered around the world after the events of last season.


When Vanessa makes her first appearance, she looks like death. Deep in depression after her friends left her alone in London, Vanessa is listless and animalistic. She darts around her house in the dark, snatching food to keep herself alive but not truly living. When Ferdinand Lyle comes to check in on her, his compassion is touching. He tells Vanessa that he too has experienced extreme ennui, and he offers to make her an appointment with the same doctor that helped him come back to life. Vanessa smiles, likely for the first time in a long while, and tearfully accepts his offer.

Ethan, though surrounded by people on a train in the United States, is just as lonely. (Hmmmm, maybe he should never have left Vanessa?) He’s been extradited to face murder charges, but (un)luckily for him, his family of outlaws take over the train and busts him out of police custody.

When the show goes across the ocean to the United States, it trades in the horror genre for the Western. The scenes in the west are all reds and oranges, where London is blues and grays. There are marshals with stars on their jackets and train heists with gun-toting outlaws on horseback. While I want Ethan and Vanessa to be reunited as soon as possible, I wouldn’t mind spending more time in the genre-bending Wild West. Ethan has always brought a scrappier, American vibe to the group, and it’s fun to see his attitude mesh with the uptight society of Victorian England. It looks like Malcolm et al. will head to America this season, and it will be interesting to see how those dynamics play out across the pond.

Meanwhile, poor John Clare has not found any salvation in Antarctica. His ship is stuck, frozen in the waters. The crew is mostly dead, and the living are deciding if they will eat the deceased. John Clare makes a quick decision to mercy kill a sick child on the ship before walking across the ice to go home. Save for Vanessa, death has been closest to John Clare, who, of course, has died himself and come back to life thanks to Victor. He has been searching for grace, but for the Scooby Gang, the main source of grace in their troubled lives has been each other.


Victor might as well be a walking corpse himself. Strung out on morphine and guilt, he calls on an old friend, Dr. Jekyll, to help him untangle the mess he made when he brought the dead back to life. Jekyll and Victor have a long history, and Jekyll doesn’t want to see his friend slowly kill himself from addiction, so he agrees to help him. Am I sensing a little romantic chemistry between these two, or is that just wishful thinking on my part?

Jekyll can sense that Victor doesn’t really want to kill Lily and that he wants to love her instead. So Jekyll offers to help Victor domesticate Lily and turn her back into the sweet, docile woman Victor prefers. This, of course, is a disastrous plan. First of all, Lily was never sweet or docile. Second, Victor and Jekyll have already both meddled too much with playing God.

While Victor is saying hello to an old friend, Malcolm is saying goodbye to one. He traveled to Africa to bury Sembene in a private ceremony with no ornamentation. When Sembene died, Malcom’s romance with Africa died, too. The previously arrogant explorer no longer sees romance in Africa, and instead only sees the destruction and death that came with imperialism. But while he is in Africa and a part of his life is ending, a new mission comes across his path. Kaetenay helps Malcolm get out of a dangerous situation only to put another directly in front of him. Kaetenay is somehow related to Ethan, and he demands that Malcolm come with him to the New Mexico territory to save Ethan from whatever fate befalls him there. (Let’s be real, neither a noose nor his family seem like good options for Ethan.) I’m not sure how Kaetenay is associated with Ethan, but I’m down for finding out.

Back in London, Vanessa also makes a new connection — with someone who has a familiar face. Vanessa’s new therapist is played by Patti LuPone, who played the cut wife from last season. It’s delightful to have her back on the show, and it thematically fits that someone in Vanessa’s future should remind her so much of the past she can’t escape. (The show’s story is that Vanessa’s new doctor is distant family of the cut wife.)

Vanessa’s first assignment for therapy is to do something new (a good piece of advice, I think, for anyone struggling with depression, though I know it isn’t always easy to do). She visits the natural history museum, and while admiring a scorpion, she makes a new friend: Dr. Alexander Sweet, director of zoological studies. It’s very possible that Dr. Sweet will be sweet on her, and he does at the very least help Vanessa feel a little more alive and interested in the world. When she arrives at home at the end of the day, she reaches out to Malcolm and opens up the shutters of her house, letting the light of day and the light of her friend’s love back into her life.

I’m so happy to be back in Penny Dreadful’s world, and I can’t wait to see where this season goes. It looks like Dracula is this season’s Big Bad. Hopefully the Scooby Gang will be together soon to fight the underworld once more.

Post script:
  • Who was that woman on Ethan’s train? She is certainly not the defenseless female she claims to be. 
  • That ship that John Clare was on was BLEAK.
  • “Sunk into something like my own sadness,” is a pretty apt description of depression, in my opinion. 
  • I’m just going to get this out in the open: I ship Ethan and Vanessa so hard, and I’m already stressed about them not being together. I am not prepared for the heartache that will surely come this season. 
  • Eva Green is amazing on this show, and I hope she gets recognized this season for her performance, which is always haunting and brilliant.


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