[This article contains SPOILERS for Penny Dreadful.]
When Showtime aired the season 3 finale of its gothic horror series Penny Dreadful in a two-hour block this past Sunday night, fans were met with two rather startling surprises that immediately called into question whether or not the show would be around for season 4. It was the sort of ending that some shows dream of, placing a huge question mark where a period normally stands as temporary placeholder. Instead, as the late-night chatter surrounding the series gave way to the morning's news feed, it became clear the show had in fact made a far more permanent statement than some would have liked to admit.
At the end of the second hour, 'The Blessed Dark,' Vanessa Ives was killed by her on again, off again paramour Ethan Chandler, after she'd fallen victim to the seduction of Dracula and brought about the end of days. It was a shocking moment to be sure, but one that could be easily undone – especially given that one of the show's main characters is none other than Dr. Frankenstein, a man who has defeated human mortality. And considering the way in which death is impermanent in genre fiction, more than a few viewers may have even convinced themselves this was all part of the plan.
As it turns out, it was part of creator John Logan's plan. His three-year plan, anyway. If anyone was holding out hope that Vanessa's funeral was not the end of her character's journey, then the prominent THE END tacked on when the screen faded to black likely dashed those hopes. At any rate, it turned out to be a definitive end to the series – albeit on that required a confirmation a few hours later.
First, Logan said his goodbyes via a video (above) for Showtime. Later, though, in an interview with EW, Logan discussed when and how he came to the decision that Penny Dreadful would only be a three-season series, and what it was like bringing the tortured journey of Vanessa Ives to a close. Logan said:
"I was planning out the third season. Penny Dreadful is about many things, but for me it’s always been about one really simple thing, which is a woman’s journey of faith — a deeply religious woman who loses her God and then finds him again. I realized that’s where the third season was going to head. It was going to head to Vanessa sacrificing herself and reuniting with God. And that had to be the apotheosis for the character, the end of the character. I really thought about it deeply, because I love these characters so much, and I care about them so much, but it seemed that’s what had to happen. Anything other than that would be, for me, an act of bad faith, and the last thing I’d ever want to do is treat Vanessa Ives or Eva Green with anything less than completely good conscience and good faith. So I had the discussion with Eva, and then finally it just became apparent. I talked to [Showtime president David Nevins] about it, and here we are."
Later, Logan discussed what it was like writing Vanessa's end, and he even talked about why, in the end, death was the only way to save Vanessa from her dark, difficult existence:
"Because Vanessa, like all characters that are interesting to me, is broken. She’s a cursed, dark creature, and she was never going to exist easily in Victorian society as a proper Victorian wife or matron or anything. There was always an exceptionality about her, most emphatically in the fact that she’d dwelt in the dark side, with both Dracula and the devil seeking her soul. The only peace she could possibly have was with God, and the way to commit to that was to give herself entirely to it. And it became a sacrifice that she had to enact for the good of mankind. It was a generous act that she did in dying and going to God, as well."
Aside from Vanessa, one character in particular featured prominently in the series' final two hours. Billie Piper's resurrected Lily had taken to the spotlight late in season 2 and found herself paired with Dorian Gray in a propulsive, feminist plot thread in season 3 that had her on the cusp of a major women's rebellion. Logan spoke about writing Lily's emotional monologue and why the series is told from a feminist perspective:
"Happily. I chose to write about women in Victorian society — that’s the stealth thing this show is actually about. It’s a very feminist show, and the idea that the audience gets to see, in our three years, Lily as a degraded figure who’s abused by men, as Brona, literally being reborn into a blank slate and then achieving incredible power but always having a great human connection. That was a case where I was also inspired by the actor, because Billie Piper so delights me, and I found that in the second season I was able to write her an eight-minute monologue that she absolutely delivered, completely, in a way that I found thrilling. I just wanted to do it again, because she’s an actor who understands theatricality and understands larger than life language in a very unique way, and that’s part of what this show is about."
On some level, finding out the day after that Showtime and Logan confirmed Penny Dreadful had come to an end (without warning), was something of an inevitability given the circumstances of the (at the time) season 3 finale. Still, in this day and age of spoilers and advance notices about nearly every aspect of most television shows, it's nice to see some series can still manage to take the audience by surprise.
Source: EW, Showtime