Penny Dreadful Season 3 Episode 1 Review: The Day Tennyson Died

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Wow! That was a fantastic return, chock full of intriguing new characters and intense moments.

Penny Dreadful Season 3 Episode 1 was basically everything I hoped a season opener to this crazy, intense show would be. And I kind of can't believe it was only an hour long. A lot happened, and we saw nearly every major character (save Lily/Dorian, who were only mentioned).

Vanessa Needs Help - Penny Dreadful

First, we had Vanessa, in a sorry state after the events of Penny Dreadful Season 2. She'd allowed the house to fall into serious disrepair (we're talking piled-up dishes swarming with flies, curtains drawn, dust and filth everywhere kind of disrepair) after the departures of Ethan and Sir Malcolm, and her loss of faith.

While it was disappointing to see her that way, it was fully believable. Vanessa experienced many traumatic events in a relatively short span of time, losing everyone close to her as well as her connection to the god she'd always relied on to get her through.

Life, for all its anguish, is ours, Miss Ives. It belongs to no other.

Ferdinand Lyle

I loved the fact that it was Ferdinand Lyle who broke through Vanessa's state of ennui, essentially forcing himself into the house and convincing her to see a "mental doctor" that once helped him out when he was in a similar predicament.

Dr. Seward is a character from the novel Dracula, a male doctor at an insane asylum. The show, as we all know, has a great knack for altering things from the source material, so I won't delve much into any of the novel's events aside from the fact that the Dr. Seward from the novel has ties to Renfield, another novel character who is greatly changed in the show's re-envisioning.

Beyond having the same face as Joan Clayton the Cut-Wife, Dr. Seward was equally brash and no-nonsense in manner. She's certainly not a cuddly, warm, "Let's talk about your feelings while you hold this teddy bear" sort of psychiatrist.

When Vanessa went to see Seward, the doctor immediately pinpointed exactly what Vanessa's mental state was, as well as the root of her psychological problem.

I already know what's wrong with you. You're unhappy. You're isolated. You think you're the cause of this unhappiness and are unworthy of affection so you've few friends. Recently you lost something you think very important. Your lover, your faith, your family, or all three. You blame yourself for this, so it makes you neurotic, and you don't sleep and don't eat, anything healthy anyway. You used to take care of your appearance, but you've lost interest in that, so you avoid mirrors. Sunlight bothers you, so you avoid that too, about which you're guilty because you think it's unhealthy and even immoral not to like the sun. You're not a woman of convention or you wouldn't be here, but you like to pretend you are so people don't notice you. But you sometimes like that as well and can dress to draw the eye. But then you think the men who look at you are fools, or worse, to be taken in by such an obvious outward show. So instead, you're drawn to dark, complicated, impossible men, assuring your own unhappiness and isolation because, after all, you're happiest alone. But not even then, because you can't stop thinking about what you've lost, again for which you blame yourself. So the cycle goes on, the snake eating its own tail. Or you can just have your teeth fixed.

Dr. Seward

This was a spectacular (and long!) monologue. Patti LuPone's delivery was flawless, as were Eva Green's startled and unnerved reactions. 

Though Dr. Seward agreed to see Vanessa on an ongoing basis for her "alienist" appointments, she made it very clear that she was Vanessa's doctor and nothing more. Despite all that, it's clear that Vanessa already sees Dr. Seward as a port in a storm; after all, it was Dr. Seward's "prescription" that managed to effectively snap Vanessa out of her fog in the first place.

Given the intense look Dr. Seward gave as Vanessa left the office, I'm betting there's more to her than meets the eye. She'll be either friend or foe to Vanessa, but I don't for a second believe that their relationship will remain strictly professional, as she so staunchly asserted.

After leaving Seward's office, Vanessa went on to a zoology exhibit. Along the way, she encountered two extremely creepy obvious vampires (sorry – "vampire familiars," more accurately). The little boy vampire was clearly attempting to unnerve Vanessa when he echoed that term of endearment that all of Vanessa's otherworldly evil suitors have used on her already.

Savor this day, my beautiful lady. My beloved.

Little vampire boy

"Beloved" should, at this point, be a one-word signal to Vanessa that something wicked this way comes. Creepy. Very creepy. The make-up on the two familiars was very, very good, as is typical with this show's effects department.

Another new character that we met in this premiere, who will clearly be significant going forward, was Dr. Alexander Sweet, a chatty, effervescent zoologist who ran the exhibit that Vanessa visited as part of Dr. Seward's prescription to do something new that she'd never done before.

All the broken and shunned creatures. Someone's got to care for them. Who shall it be if not us?

Dr. Sweet

The dialogue in this installment was absolutely lovely, as always. Dr. Sweet's quick rambling about the "unloved" creatures was beautiful and obviously very meaningful to Vanessa, on a personal level.

There didn't seem to be any romantic spark between the two (yet), but it seems clear from Vanessa's reaction to Dr. Sweet that these two will grow closer as the season continues on. Dr. Sweet doesn't seem to have any direct literary counterpart, as far as I can tell.

Elsewhere, Victor Frankenstein was visited by someone from his past – Dr. Jekyll, another new character adapted from a classic novel. This incarnation of Dr. Jekyll appears to be half-Indian (given Victor's neighbor's extremely offensive diatribe against him, and Victor's own reference to Jekyll as a "half-caste" boy) and was a schoolmate of Victor's.

As far as I can tell, Frankenstein and Jekyll were two strange, ambitious little boys who were teased a lot by ruthless classmates. Jekyll, in Frankenstein's telling of it, had a lot of rage towards these bullies – so much rage that he seemed positively murderous. Hence Victor calling in Jekyll for back-up, to help him destroy Lily.

Jekyll claimed that his violent days were behind him, the gist of it being that he'd used his chemistry skills to soften his homicidal impulses. Instead, Jekyll offered Victor his talents as a chemist, telling him that he could attempt to "domesticate" Lily.

I realize that Lily is evil and must be stopped and all, but the use of the term "domesticate" in relation to any woman still rubs me the wrong way, and I immediately dislike creepy Jekyll and all he stands for.

Not that I believe for a second that Jekyll and Frankenstein will be successful in their attempts to "tame" Lily. Jekyll is clearly underestimating the physical strength and mental agility of Victor's creations. Regardless, Jekyll told Victor to come over to his "humble" laboratory, and I'm definitely intrigued about what exactly Victor will find there.

Will we see Jekyll accidentally split off his own personality into the wild and murderous Mr. Hyde this season? Or has it already been done earlier, off-screen, with that reveal coming later?

Meanwhile, in Africa, Sir Malcolm was having a terrible time. He'd just laid Sembene to rest when he was attacked by a beggar woman and a group of locals. Luckily, a Native American man following him came to his rescue.

That man was Kaetenay, a man who was "almost a father" to Ethan. He demanded that Sir Malcolm accompany him to America, to rescue Ethan, presumably from Ethan's biological father.

Our son needs us. Where is your heart, Malcolm Murray? Be who you are.

Kaetenay

I loved that Kaetenay referred to Ethan as their collective son, further underscoring the "found family" nature of the main Penny Dreadful crew. Kaetenay also appeared to know a lot about Sir Malcolm personally, including his struggles with the demons "of earth and sky."

Who is Kaetenay, and how exactly does he know all this? I'm intrigued, and am looking forward to seeing these two almost-fathers team up to rescue Ethan from his actual-father.

Speaking of whom... Ethan's father has been built up so much over the past two seasons. I'm antsy to see this man that Ethan so desperately tried to evade for so long. His father is apparently utterly ruthless, given that he hired a team of gunslingers to kill nearly everyone on the train in order to "rescue" Ethan. Too bad Ethan didn't look very grateful for that rescue.

Finally, we found Caliban (a.k.a. John Clare, a.k.a. The Creature) adrift in the middle of the arctic (again, a nod directly to the source material). Surrounded by starving men aching to kill a dying young boy to feast upon him, Caliban comforted the child with a song that seemingly triggered a flash of a memory.

Could he be remembering the life of the man he once was, prior to Frankenstein reanimating him as "Caliban"? That was beginning to happen to Proteus (shortly before Caliban killed him), and we know that Lily has some memory of her life as Brona (made clear during her amazing, terrifying speech to Caliban towards the end of the last season).

Whether it was a memory or simply a vision of some kind, it propelled Caliban up and off the boat (shortly after he snapped the dying kid's neck to spare him a long, drawn out death of being used for meat). Apparently, Frankenstein's creatures are completely impervious to the ill effects of starvation and frost bite, because he walked off of the boat and across the icy tundra like it was nothing.

In the closing sequence, we discovered that Dr. Seward's secretary was none other than Renfield, another character from the novel Dracula. We saw Renfield creepily solicit sex from a prostitute in an alleyway, only to find himself in Dracula's clutches.

The visual of all of the familiars swarming Renfield was absolutely terrifying and so well done. This show has had its fair share of nightmare-inducing scenes, and that one was definitely up there.

Dracula, rather than killing Renfield, enlisted the petrified little man to perform a specific task: uncover all of Vanessa's secrets and report them back, so that she would be "known" to him. Is Dracula planning to woo Vanessa somehow?

Also, are we in store for alternating seasons of the two main "evils" competing for Vanessa's affections? Season 1 dealt largely with the Master (now revealed to be Dracula), while Season 2 dealt primarily with the demon. Now, it appears that the larger antagonist of this season is the Master once again.

Regardless, I'm definitely into this, and that introduction of Dracula's name was fantastically done and extremely creepy. I'm fully on board for this season, wherever it may take us!

Other thoughts:

  • I got some distinctly "more than friend" vibes from Dr. Jekyll. Perhaps because he was extremely close to Victor's face and put his hands on Victor quite a bit.
  • I wished those gunslingers on the train would have shot Rusk while they were at it. I'm really tired of Rusk and absolutely hated that Rusk-pursues-Ethan subplot last season. It was so lame.
  • Could Dr. Sweet be Dracula? I know it's an off-the-wall guess, but for a minute there Dracula's voice did sound like a disguised version of Dr. Sweet's innocent-sounding lisp.
  • Hecate was on that train with Ethan, posing as a "defenseless" little woman. Hilarious. I'm wondering why she didn't intervene when Ethan was taken and precisely why she was following him to begin with. Was she planning to spring Ethan from custody herself? I know that she was trying to recruit him to her side in Penny Dreadful Season 2 Episode 10.
  • It was an interesting pointed choice to set this premiere on the day of Tennyson's death. Perhaps meant to indicate a distinct, thematic separation of one period from the next? Moving from the height of later Romantic poetry into the gritty reality of the fast-approaching twentieth century.

What did you think of the Penny Dreadful premiere? Chime in by commenting below and be sure to watch Penny Dreadful online here at TV Fanatic to catch up on any episodes you may have missed!

The Day Tennyson Died Review

Editor Rating: 4.5 / 5.0
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Caralynn Lippo is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.

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Penny Dreadful Season 3 Episode 1 Quotes

Life, for all its anguish, is ours, Miss Ives. It belongs to no other.

Ferdinand Lyle

I love what you've done with the place.

Ferdinand Lyle