Penny Dreadful, or On the Ending of Things

Here’s the thing: I heard about this show because my aunt, who is American but has lived in London with my uncle and their three daughters (my cousins) for the past ~20 years, knows someone who has a minor role in it. This must have been early 2014, because she was informing me of it prior to the show’s premiere. Then, I must say, I neglected to seek out the show and watch it as it aired. And for that, I will be eternally grateful to past-me. Here’s why: I think that if I had watched the series finale of this show as it aired live on television, I would have taken a gun, walked out to the backyard, and blown my own head off.

At this point, let me make clear that I do not condone suicide, I just was using a bit of hyperbole to catch your attention. Having said that, let me reiterate: had I watched this episode (and it’s a stretch to call it an episode, a more accurate description would be a slimy wet diarrhea pile which network executives shit out all over the heads of the fans of the show) live on television, I would have blown my own head off with a high-caliber rifle or something, I don’t know guns. That’s not the point. The point is, this ‘ending’ was an affront to the values that the show seemed to be professing for two and a half seasons. It was a slap in the face to anyone who watched and liked the show. And it was possibly the most disappointing series finale I have ever had the displeasure to watch.

Before I get into why I hated this finale so much, let me give a brief rundown of Penny Dreadful for anyone who hasn’t watched it before. So, the term “penny dreadful” refers to a type of literature popular in England in the 1800s. It was a serialized story which cost a penny per issue and usually came out once a week. The subject matter of these stories often included murders, mysteries, demons,and detectives. Some notable characters were Sweeney Todd, Varney the Vampire, and highwayman Dick Turpin. These stories were aimed at Victorian working class young men, and as such typically contained their fair share of blood and guts. The TV show Penny Dreadful is a fictional re-imagining of these tales as though their characters were real and lived in Victorian England. It follows the exploits of one Vanessa Ives and her best friend’s father Sir Malcolm Murray, with whom she lives, as they battle vampires, witches, and demons and attempt to carve a place for themselves in their crazy world.

The show also places quite a large emphasis on the values of friendship and loyalty, as well as pushing the idea that you shouldn’t be afraid or sad about who you are, but accept it and work to be better. I don’t know about you, but to me, those sound like perfectly reasonable values. There are many times in the first two seasons when the protagonist, aforementioned Vanessa Ives, struggles with the fact that she’s possessed by a demon who is maybe an ancient Egyptian god and also maybe the actual Devil. And throughout this struggle, the show tries to demonstrate that the only way to survive the worst parts of ourselves is to surround ourselves with people who love and respect us. Keep that in mind, it’ll be important later.

For the purposes of this rant, I’m really only concerned with the plot of the last season of the show, and even then only the second half (~5 episodes) is what bothers me. The basic plot of that season is that Vanessa is trying to banish the evil within her once and for all (as usual), and part-time Werewolf Ethan Chandler is being compelled back to America to meet up with his crazy father. Oh and also Dorian Gray & Billie Piper are leading an army of crazy bloodthirsty women for some reason. And it’s implied that Satan’s brother is Dracula. Still with me? OK.

The final two episodes see the gang reuniting in England, I think Ethan murders his dad, I forget. I literally does not matter. At this point, Vanessa has realized that she’s being two-timed by Dracula disguised as a Natural History Museum scientist (I swear to god this is all true), and so they all track him to his Lair (TM) to like kill him or whatever. Long story short, Vanessa gets killed by Dracula, who then himself is killed by Ethan. The part that I’m concerned with is where Vanessa is killed by the very demon which has haunted her this whole time.

Let me spell out my problem more clearly: throughout its three seasons, the show’s overarching message has been that our flaws need not define us, and we can overcome our demons and still be accepted and, dare I say, loved? And the way that they decided to end the show was by having the protagonist succumb to said demon. This corrodes the very message of the show, and to end the show this way is, to put it mildly, fucking idiotic. Now, the message of the show is “Don’t fight your demons because even if you do, Dracula will probably kill you”. And that isn’t a good message.

Gosh, it feels good to write about this finally, I’ve been thinking about writing this since the last scene of the last episode of what could have easily been one of my favorite shows of all time, and I think it’s been like burning a hole in my heart.

In conclusion, fuck whoever thought that was a good idea. You deserve to be killed by Dracula or whatever.