Why won't you let me love you?
There are things that should be better, that I want to be better. When they aren't, I get mad in a way I wouldn't if forced to sit through a Michael Bay movie.
I got mad at Penny Dreadful's second season when I watched it, almost five years ago. I foamed at the mouth at the wasted opportunities, flipped an entertainment table at it, and swore I was done with it for good.
I couldn't stay away.
I don't like to admit it, but I like style. Not over substance, but style will keep me digging, rooting through a show, hoping the beautiful shapes inform some sort of actual function.
Penny Dreadful shimmered, promised to be a dark, sensual, gory counterpart to Zelazny's A Night On the Lonesome October.
I could watch this just because of Eva Green, if we're being honest. I'd listen to her read an entire George Lucas script (don't judge me). But the theme was aimed squarely at me, and I am a difficult target to even spot. The fact that I stood there, waiting for it to hit me, and yet it managed to miss made it all the more irksome, which I took as a personal insult.
So I gave it another shot, to finish the story, a good three years after the series itself wrapped. Hoping.
I am not mad. I just disappointed.
There is so much good stuff in it and they never develop it. It's all disjointed, the great mixed in with the mediocre and the annoying.
Timothy Dalton brings a gusto that he never brought to Bond. He looks more alive here than he ever has since Prince Barin. He could carry an entire swashbuckling series by himself, his Malcom Murray being a better aged Allan Quatermain than Sean Connery was.
Then there are Brona Croft – Frankenstein's would-be bride – and Dorian Gray. I was done with their shtick by the end of the second season. Wasting this much time on them during what the writers should have known was their last outing is just insulting. At least Dorian looks as annoyed with Croft's speechifying, and Croft at Gray's ineffectualness, as I was with their whole affair.
But we have Rory Kinnear as John Clare, Frankenstein's original creature, his mixture of concerned softness and violence, and the only character in the series with an actual arc. He starts sensitive but full of hate. He covets the bride that the source material forces upon the story. But Clare develops into his own person. He evolves, has an honest relationship with Vanessa. At the end, he even rejects the idea of inflicting his fate upon another, refusing to sacrifice one to make another happy. He develops better than his creator, since Frankenstein ends the series exactly the way he started it, having learned nothing. Yet the story always keeps Clare to the side, never giving him enough time (or even letting him appear on group scenes), so they can waste it on Western antics.
Don't get me started on Wes Studi. The series decides the most progressive thing to do is to bring in a Magical Apache and, apparently unaware of the hilarity of echoing Studi's turn as The Sphinx in Mystery Men, have him sometimes speak in anti-metabole. He is an unnecessary connection to Ethan Chandler (née Talbot), thrown in as yet another attempt to hammer in Chandler's mystical destiny.
My dear Mr. Talbot, I am so sorry that they saddled you with the whole Lupus Dei thing. In Latin it sounds like a teenager's idea of a religious sect, and in English, the Wolf of God gets stupider every time someone utters it.
And then there is Eva Green, who is still a delight, when they let her, but gets the worst dialogue of the entire series here, not to mention being thoroughly stripped of agency. The writing shorts all characters, in the end, but at least most of them don't end up spending good chunks of each season locked in an empty room, haggard and wearing rags, rambling.
You can tell there were some feeble attempts at retooling the cast, a Hail Mary in case it didn't get canceled. The delicate Ferdinand Lyle gets on a bus to Egypt, replaced by Catriona Hartdegen, Action Thanatologist, who at least might not end up shoved in a refrigerator like Miss Ives. Studi's Kaetenay is the new Sembene, but one there to cause friction with Chandler. Henry Jekyll is out and about.
Then it ends. There is no finality, no sense that anybody knows where this could have gone, no hard choices made. It could have explored the social tension between genders, classes, lovers, leading to engrossing outcomes. Instead, every conflict is resolved using a simplified version of fuck-marry-kill, trivial to figure out, because nobody here marries.