What to Know Before Watching 'Penny Dreadful' Season 3

Don't have time to re-watch Season 2? From murder to demonic possession, we remind you what went down. 

Penny Dreadful is a gloriously gothic, unabashedly literary, pulpy yet elegant delight. It’s the television equivalent of curling up with a book and a glass of whiskey on a dark and stormy night. It’s also quite complex, with meandering story threads and ever-evolving character dynamics. If you’re excited for Season 3 to premiere on Sunday but the details of Season 2 are as fuzzy as Ethan Chandler’s knuckles during that time of the month: Don’t worry. We’ve got you covered. Here’s what went down in Season 2.

Caliban accidentally joined a freakshow

Caliban found work in a Madame Tussauds for the macabre — recreating grisly crime scenes. His employers seemed kind at first, especially their beautiful blind daughter, Lavinia. Obviously this was a ruse and they sought to make him the star of their new freak show. Fueled by his disturbing encounter with his would-be bride Lily Frankenstein, Caliban finally grew a spine, killed his captors, and set off for the arctic.

He also bonded with Vanessa in his best scenes yet.

Sir Malcolm wasn’t himself

Sir Malcolm was hoodwinked by the witchy Evelyn Poole and spent much of the season under her thrall, being disconcertingly chipper and even shaving his beard. It was weird. Eventually, this culminated in him having heartbreaking hallucinations of his dead family. He ended the season regaining his wits but losing his spirit. Sembene’s death didn’t help, but more on that in a bit.


Lily/Brona made her debut

Victor Frankenstein successfully re-animated Ethan’s dead lover, the prostitute Brona. He renamed her Lily and sought to teach her the ways of the world when she seemed to have no memory. He also feel in love with her, culminating in a sexual encounter that was uncomfortably Oedipal to watch. On the bright side, his queasy crush gave us this scene of Victor and Vanessa on a shopping trip.

In a show-stopping soliloquy, we later learned that Lily did, in fact, have her memories of her life as Brona, and her experience as a prostitute made her hate and scorn all men. She found Victor pathetic and sneered at Caliban’s hopes of marrying her. The end of the season found her teamed up with Dorian, dancing in blood and conspiring to rule the world, while Victor was left lost and bereft.

Demons were after Vanessa

Demons are always after Vanessa, of course, but this time, it turns out there are multiple: the double-whammy of Lucifer and Dracula. “When Lucifer fell, he did not fall alone,” the prophecy says. It also said Ethan was her designated wolf protector against these evil forces, which will surely come up again. Vanessa’s hellish hallucinations brought one of the show’s most memorably macabre scenes to date — the Carrie-esque ballroom blood scene.

Ethan and Vanessa fell in love, sort of

Vanessa and Ethan couldn’t have sex, because demons — no, really — but they did have a nice vacation getaway in which Vanessa taught Ethan to dance and Ethan taught Vanessa how to shoot and be a lumberjack. Vanessa ruined their relationship progression with the aforementioned fear of demon-sex (to be fair, it was a legitimate concern — recall her possession after sex with Dorian).

Unfortunately, inner beasts conquered love. Vanessa alienated Ethan by giving in to her rage and murdering an old enemy (the man responsible for killing her friend the Cut Wife) and Ethan couldn’t contain his monstrous nature.

First, he visited Caliban’s wax murder pastiche, haunted by the depiction of his crimes (in which he wolfed out at Mariner’s Inn at the end of Season 1 and massacred a crowd of people). To make matters worse the new character inspector Bartholomew Rusk was certain of Ethan’s guilt and determined to catch him. When Ethan wolfed out again and accidentally cannibalized Sembene at the end of the season, his guilt was so strong, he willingly turned himself in to Rusk. We ended with him shipped off in a crate like an animal, leaving Vanessa bereft.

Dorian was dastardly

Dorian met a Victorian trans woman named Angelique who just wanted to be loved. He went on several dates with her that had nothing to do with the main plot. He later threw a ball in her honor and ditched her for Lily/Brona. For the first two seasons, Dorian danced the line between sinister and misunderstood, just like everyone else. But he finally showed his true colors when Angelique discovered his secret room with his decaying portrait, showed her willingness to still accept him, and he poisoned her.

A witchy woman took an interest in Ethan

Though Evelyn Poole was vanquished, her daughter Hecate survived the season. And she took quite an interest in Ethan. As she will still be relevant in Season 3, it would be wise to remember her.

Ferdinand Lyle Continued to Be the Best

Ferdinand Lyle was always the best — just another flamboyant gay Jew demonic-text translator living in Victorian London; don’t you hate such boring characters? — but Season 2 was particularly delightful. He hit on Ethan (who handled it entertainingly well), supported Vanessa, and briefly betrayed the group but proved to be a loyal friend and a constant scene stealer in the end.

Season 3 premieres on Sunday, May 1 on Showtime.

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