Last year we watched as talented writer John Logan brought history’s most notorious gothic fiction to life on screen in Penny Dreadful. The merge of fantastical tales such as Dorian Gray and Frankenstein with the real-life Victorian horrors of Jack the Ripper, as well as the involvement of mythological creatures like vampires, werewolves, witches and the devil itself, all culminated as one uniquely dark story in which Logan could create his own arc in the gothic horror genre.
And these aren’t the sort of creatures which overtime have sadly become mocked and betrayed in the name of glossy mainstream Hollywood. These bumps in the night are true to their original form. Werewolves, for example, are tormented souls – hairy, harmed by silver bullets, and most importantly – they only turn when a full moon is present. Much like Nosferatu, or Dracula, who himself is predicted to make an appearance later in the series, each of these creatures are the real deal.At the end of last season, we realised that happy endings were rarely going to be a thing in this grim depiction of London. Sir Malcolm was forced to kill his own daughter after losing her to the infestation of fanged, bloodthirsty monsters. The lovable rogue Ethan Chandler had his own demons to deal with – literally – as he turned on cue when the moon was at its fullest and proceeded to tear apart the entire pub, just after losing his girlfriend Brona to consumption. And speaking of Billie Piper’s ill-fated character, she was revived by Victor as Mrs Frankenstein under the manipulation of the intimidating John Clare – the doctor’s first creation. All this before we even get to the beautiful and hopeless Vanessa Ives, who is fighting her own personal battle against the actual devil.
What we were led to believe from this was that season 2 was going to be an uphill battle against all of these dark forces. But the characters learnt that to stay true to themselves, for better or worse, is what was going to get them through the onslaught of these malevolent monsters. Essentially, we realise that if Vanessa is the end game, the one the devil wants as his female companion to take over and spread darkness across the world, then she has all the leverage. The fallen angel can make Vanessa’s life a living hell, but without her willingness to sell her soul, he’s powerless. Still, that doesn’t stop the devil from trying.Utilising ancient black magic as old as himself, the devil lures Vanessa into the den of a witch coven, lead by none other than Madame Kali, who we were introduced to last season in the episode Seance. In return for eternal youth and beauty, Kali has in fact been working for the devil this whole time and since her confrontation with Vanessa’s possessed soul in that frightful episode she’s been part of a long game that would see her seduce Sir Malcolm into a trap and endanger all of those Vanessa cares about. Had it not been for Ethan’s cautiousness and Mr Lyle’s loyalty to our troupe of demon hunters, Vanessa could have been left alone and defenseless to the temptation of that evil red horned guy with the pitchfork.
However, because these characters stayed true to themselves, we see them manage to push back the darkness. Ethan’s impressive party trick of turning into a lycan gave him the strength to overpower situations he otherwise may not have, especially when (spoiler alert) he rips Madame Kali’s head off in the finale. If he had tried to contain himself and suppress his change into an uncontrollable beast, just as he had been trying up to this point, then he might not have saved Vanessa from the dangers that were slowly suffocating her.
Vanessa herself, as afraid and intimidated as she may have seemed, used her own primordial power that the devil wanted so badly, to whisper sweet nothings into Lucifer’s figurative ear, in a cursed language even he was scared of, which they called the verbis diablo. And if it weren’t for Mr Lyle’s knowledge of such specialisms, it’s a dialect they wouldn’t have been well-versed in at all.As much a win as this may have been for the mortals, it’s not to say the dark isn’t still lurking in the corners of the London streets. Throughout this one constant narrative has been the intertwining arcs of John Clare and his undead bride Brona, who was renamed Lily at her rebirth into immortality. Victor’s incapability to keep her under his control, and the bloodlust of Mr Clare after a defining enlightenment about those in whom he trusts, has meant there has been misfortune along the way too. Dorian’s allegiance and motives are also unclear, even though he played a lesser part this year. And as much as Ethan’s wolf curse saved him and his allies, his conscience catches up with him to the point that he willingly extradites back to America.
This bittersweet finish to a complex show couldn’t be any more typical of Penny Dreadful. Much like last season, we see the good guys triumph, but never in the way we want. There are always sacrifices along the way. As far as we know, the devil is out of the picture, but so too is all that is good in Vanessa’s life. The devil offered Vanessa a life of happiness with Ethan, who she came to realise as her true love. And now both of them are gone, it couldn’t get any clearer – that in this show, you simply cannot have good, love, and light, without evil, hatred, and darkness.