Why PENNY DREADFUL Was One of the Best Shows of the Modern Era

This past Sunday night, the jaws of viewers everywhere were on the floor when we saw the title card “The End” come up after the devastating third season finale of Showtime’s gothic horror/drama Penny Dreadful, which turned out to be the series’ final episode. Despite how thematically appropriate the act would be, we hardcore fans couldn’t storm the network with torches and pitchforks in hand like a bunch of angry villagers, because the decision to end the series after three seasons was entirely that of creator John Logan, and not Showtime, who actually wished to continue the series.

Penny Dreadful never quite got the pop cultural buzz or ratings that shows like Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, and Mad Men received, despite a loyal core following. Now with the abrupt and surprise end of the show, it’s a good time to reflect back on all the things concerning the series, and explain to people who never gave the show a proper chance just why Penny Dreadful was one of the greatest genre shows of the modern era, and detail the reasons why they should go back and check out all 27 episodes as quickly as humanly possible.

Eva Green Gave A Performance for the Ages

The entire ensemble cast of Penny Dreadful was uniformly excellent, but there was absolutely one standout:  Eva Green. We have seen some stunning, career making performances in the past few years of television, especially from women; Tatiana Maslaney on Orphan Black and  Jessica Lange on American Horror Story instantly spring to mind. However, Eva Green as Vanesssa Ives on all three seasons of Penny Dreadful was nothing short of a revelation. She gave a performance that is sure to be talked about for years to come, playing a deeply Catholic woman who is coveted by both Satan and Dracula to be the Mother of Evil.

Over the course of the series, Green allowed herself to be shown in ugly, vulnerable positions—usually while being possessed, or in an some instances, in an insane asylum—for the sake of a realistic portrayal of her character. Vanessa Ives both lost and regained her faith in God over the course of the series, and thanks to Green’s stellar performance, you bought every second of her journey. When playing Vanessa, Green also knew how to be alluring without being overtly sexual, and she also manages to show strength while still being vulnerable and scared. Eva Green as Vanessa Ives was really a Master Class in acting, and hopefully someone will give her a damn Emmy this time.

The Series Resurrected Gothic Horror 

Frankenstein. Dracula. The Wolf Man. These are all characters and concepts who were born in 19th century Victorian literature, and then came of age and extended their popularity in 1930s Hollywood, thanks to Universal Studios. Since then, they’ve been remade, parodied and become goofy and harmless Halloween decorations, to the point where they’ve lost almost all of their original potency. But then Penny Dreadful came along and restored the original gothic power to those characters and stories, and introduced them to a new generation of fans at the same time.

Right now, Universal Studios is planning to once again attempt to revive their classic monsters to create a shared cinematic universe, and there are also plans to bring back Alan Moore’s own Victorian mash-up series  The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen in some fashion as well. But Penny Dreadful has raised the bar for any new adaptations of Victorian era horror, and any and all will be hard presssed to accomplish it with a fraction of the taste and class displayed by John Logan and the cast and crew of  Penny Dreadful.

The Series Had an Incredible Grasp of Language

There are a lot of well written shows on TV these days, many of which I’d argue have a better grasp of narrative flow and plot structure (among other things) than Penny Dreadful. But there is possibly no show on the air right now which handles the use of the English language better than this one. All but two episodes were written by executive producer John Logan, and he managed to take the florid prose style of 19th century literature and translate it into modern television scriptwriting. That’s no easy task, as it all could have come across as overwrought and cheesy, but on this series it works beautifully.

In The End, It Was All About Feminism

Now that Game of Thrones is heading into its last few seasons, it’s very much become a show about taking down the patriarchy. But as much as Game of Thrones is about the plight of women in a patriarchal society, Penny Dreadful is even more so about early feminism, and the confines that strong women found themselves in living in a Victorian society.

Not only was this accurately displayed through the character of Vanessa Ives, a woman simply not meant for corsets and archaic morality, but also through the character of Brona Croft/Lily Frankenstein, played incredibly by Billie Piper. Brona was introduced in season one as a prostitute dying from consumption, who is later resurrected by Victor Frankenstein. When she returns to the land of the living, she becomes a powerful creature who seeks to elevate all the women of the day (but specifically sex workers) into an avenging army against the men who have used them and abused them through systemic sexism. In one of the many strokes of genius John Logan had when conceptualizing the series, the true horror in Penny Dreadful, it turns out, was misogyny.

Do you miss Penny Dreadful now that it’s gone? Or if you never watched it, are you ready to binge watch the whole thing? Let us know your thoughts down below in the comments.

Images: Showtime

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