For a while, Showtime campy Victorian horror series, Penny Dreadful was one of the queerest things on television — it drew its influences from gothic horror literature, had three bisexual characters, a strong female lead, a transgender character, some lesbian undertones and a healthy dose of sex and drama. But after a strong first season, season two took some serious mis-steps, ending with the show’s main heroine debating a Satanic puppet and the other protagonists feeling to the four winds.
Season three debuted last night, and as devoted fans, we have three suggestions for keeping the show as engaging as possible.
1. Don’t immediately reveal your villain
In season one, we had to wait a good long while until we learned about the corruption of Mina by Dracula and the truth of the “Jack the Ripper” (the peasant and streewalker-slaughtering maniac that turned out to be wolf-man Mr. Chandler).
Season two cocked things up by revealing its villain in the very first episode. Instead of wondering why bald demonic witches suddenly decided to start hunting the Scooby Doo team, we learned immediately that they were the daughters of Madam Kali (aka. Evelyn Poole), and whenever they killed a baby or stormed the Sir Malcolm’s mansion, we knew exactly who to blame.
It really sucked out most of the dramatic tension and left us bored while waiting for the final showdown with Madam Kali. Keeping “the big bad” a secret helps keep us in suspense and creeped out us while making eventual reveal all the more satisfying.
2. Don’t kill off your only transgender and Black characters
We get that the show is set in Victorian England and that trans and Black people didn’t have great social standing then, but the show literally killed off its one Black character — the faithful and largely silent servant Sembene — mere episodes after giving him speaking lines and an actual backstory.
Similarly, Dorian Gray killed off his transgender consort, Angelique, in the show’s mid-season reveal of his infamous portrait. Her death served as a way to show his inability to truly love, but followed an all too familiar and depressingly real-life trope of killing trans women.
As we’ve said, we’re tired of show-runners lazily killing off queer characters. How about you let one stick around and reveal Victorian England for the contradictory and complicated sexual age it truly was?
3. Make Dorian Gray a maenad again
Season one began doing something truly unique with Dorian Gray — they made him a maenad, a powerful seducer capable of intoxicating and corrupting people by his mere influence. Historically, maenads were worshippers of Dionysus who would get drunk, dance hysterically naked, fuck anything and then literally tear people apart — you can see them in Euripedes’ tragic play The Bacchae and in True Blood season two’s party-girl villain, Maryann Forrester.
Penny Dreadful started playing up the idea ingeniously: Gray had a collection of colognes, each which exuded a different influence over people. He was immensely charming, causing innocent folks to drink and become horny, and convincing presumably straight characters to “go gay” (or bi). His devilish smile and decadent tendencies made him downright demonic.
Gray, as you likely know, is the fictional character from Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, a story about a man kept forever young by a cursed, aging portrait. Dorian’s immortality and lust for decadent experiences make him seek out more darker pleasures (like seducing innocent young men, indulging in narcotics, and even murder).
Sadly, the show dropped these intriguing maenad powers and deprived him of any real abilities beyond invincibility. We say, bring back his Dionysian influence and make him the incubus that Oscar Wilde would have been proud of!