At the end of the second season of Penny Dreadful, the show’s characters were scattered to the four winds, having vanquished one formidable foe but at great personal cost. In the third season premiere of the show, the Victorian characters at the heart of the drama began to take their first steps out of self-imposed isolation.
But as creator John Logan explained in a recent interview, Penny Dreadful’s protagonists still have a long way to go before they’re reunited and able to take on the grave new challenges they’ll face this year. Vanessa Ives (Eva Green), Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) and Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton) began the new season on separate continents, two of them far from their usual London haunts. The Creature (Rory Kinnear) was shivering in the Arctic, and his creator, Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway), was suffering the after-effects of yet another relationship gone wrong, but his descent into self-pity was interrupted by an old friend from medical school, Dr Jekyll (Shazad Latif).
Jekyll is just one of a number of new characters introduced this season; others include Dr Sweet (Christian Camargo), Dr Seward (Patti LuPone) and Kaetenay (Wes Studi). LuPone’s return is particularly exciting, given that the Season Two episode featuring the actress was one of the drama’s most acclaimed high points.
Without giving away too much, Logan hints at the challenges old and new characters will face this season, talks about what the new relationships and the presence of Dr Seward will bring, and how the show’s central figure, Vanessa, will handle the devastating loss of faith she experienced at the end of last season.
What’s the idea animating this season and what’s different about what you’re doing this year?
As we look at our family, at the end of last season, we scattered them. In the first episode, we’re in London, Africa, the New Mexico Territory and the Arctic. That’s all in the first hour. All the characters have to go on a very personal journey, and what they come to realise is that only by coming together in certain ways and in certain combinations can they find any kind of peace.
Obviously you’ve had multiple story lines in other seasons, but this seemed like the most Penny Dreadful has ever had.
This is multiple stories on steroids. I think that’s fun. The series has gotten broader and broader every season and I think that’s correct. If it was still the same five people in a room in Victorian London, you’d want to kill yourself. I certainly didn’t want to write the same show year after year, with the central characters talking in the great room about evil. I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to have bigger themes, bigger stories.
Part of what helped me do that this season was having a lot of new characters. We’ve got Patti LuPone, who plays Dr Seward, Dr Jekyll, Keatenay, and Dr Sweet, who’s involved in Vanessa’s storyline – all those new characters start thickening the broth, if you will. And by Season Three, I think we want a thick broth.
The different characters add different shadings, different notes on the scale, if you will. As do the different actors. When you see Wes Studi and Tim Dalton are fantastic together and there’s a chemistry there, seeing where the chemistry connects between the actors and the characters, is really rewarding.
And the important thing to me, as I planned the first three seasons of the show, was weaving back into the Dracula story. We did that to some degree in Season One, with Mina Harker, Sir Malcolm’s daughter, and then we get back into it big time in Season Three. It’s fun, and challenging.
That was an unexpected reveal at the end of the first episode, but it does draw on one of the show’s themes, that these things are constants. These dangers, these demons, the issue the characters face on their moral journeys – they don’t just go away. You don’t solve them, because they’re eternal.
That’s exactly right. You look at Vanessa, who is obviously for me the beating heart of the series – the woman is tormented from without and within. From within, it’s part of a journey of faith, and losing her faith and that leaving her in a wasteland of an existence, until she tries to drag herself out of it.
But also, from without, she was tormented by Satan last season, Dracula in the first season, and those things don’t go away.
Your inner demons and outer demons are still there until you find finally face them in some way. I always wanted this season to be about Vanessa and Ethan facing their most difficult challenges. Ethan goes back home into the crucible of his past, his father, what made him a werewolf, why he is the way he is. With Vanessa, it’s (an exploration of) the darkness around her.
Vanessa has lost her faith, but some part of her journey seems to be about gaining faith in herself. And those two things don’t necessarily have to be in opposition to each other.
That’s right. (At one point in the first episode, she talks about) finding hope, hope for all the demons that are out there. She had a very significant line – I can’t remember the actual words, but she said something like, “I’ve lost a lot, I’ve lost Ethan, I’ve lost my faith, but something yet remains. I remain.” That is very important.
And when we get to episode four this season, which is a very huge episode that I’m incredibly proud of, that becomes the all-important theme for Vanessa. And that is, you may have lost your faith, but you still have yourself, and can you empower yourself? That really is part of her journey this season. And if you have an actress like Eva, you can really go to these dense, philosophical, complicated, emotional places, and she’ll go there happily with you.
With Helen McCrory, you brought her on for a short time in Season One, knowing she’d come back and have much more to do in Season Two as Evelyn Poole. Was it a similar thing with the Cut Wife, Joan Clayton, in Season Two? Did you know that you’d be bringing Patti LuPone back?
I wish I were that clever. I’ve known Patti forever, and I love her to pieces. We were working on The Cut Wife episode, and I saw the chemistry she had with Eva, the chemistry those characters had together. I knew that this season, Vanessa was going to need a very strong ally in Dr Seward. And I thought, look at the connection that was established (in The Cut Wife).
The idea of making Patti LuPone Dr Seward and (to hint at the idea that she had a connection to) Joan Clayton seemed like a great way to do it. It was partly about having an actress I really love in Dublin for six months, but also it was about giving Vanessa a strong ally this season, especially when she doesn’t have Ethan or Dr Frankenstein at her side.
Dr Seward said that Clayton is her family name. Are we to understand that she’s the same person, or from the same family line? Do you want to keep that somewhat vague?
I’m deliberately dancing around that question. Whether they acknowledge this is an actual reincarnation of that character or not, Vanessa and Dr Seward quickly fall into a relationship of trust and love, exactly as Vanessa and Joan Clayton did. There’s parallel emotionally in the relationship, even if they might define it differently.
It’s all about strong women, for me, this show, in spite of all the incredible male characters there are. The core is always going to be a woman, and to have another strong female character in the show – (it goes to) why I started writing it in the first place.
I think The Cut Wife episode is the best episode the show has ever done. The intensity of it was so powerful, and the focus on the two of them in this remote place made it so memorable. Will you do anything like that again this season?
It’s episode four. The Cut Wife is my favourite episode of the series so far. If I had to be judged by a single episode of the first two seasons of Penny Dreadful, that’s the one I would pick. It’s very emotional, very true and there’s barely a jot of the supernatural in it. In episode four this season, it’s very similar, but perhaps even more so. You’ll be very surprised by it, and I hope delighted. It is a Vanessa-centric episode.
Last season you had McCrory’s character as the major antagonist. Is it another situation this year where everyone has to come together to fight a common foe, or are there multiple threats to the group or individuals?
Happily, this season, it’s both. There are individual demons, both psychological and real, and then they do all have to come together. The joy of it is having all the characters across the world is finding the compulsion that brings them back together.
At the end of the day, I don’t want to see the Enterprise without Kirk, Spock and McCoy on the bridge, you know? – Reuters
Penny Dreadful Season Three airs every Monday at 11pm on FX HD (Astro Ch 726).