Penny Dreadful Season 2 Turns To Victorian Snuff Theater

In Season 2 episode 2, Dorian and Lily go on a murder fest, Vanessa goes on a date, Ethan wolfs out. 

Penny Dreadful is gorgeously gothic, bloody, strange, literary, and occasionally messy. Each week, we break it down. Let’s dive into Season 3, episode 2: Predators Near And Far.”

“I hope you have a memorable evening, sir”

Dorian and Lily/Brona (who I’ll just call Lily from now on, for clarity) make a triumphant return to Season 3 in a cold open showing them wreaking havoc at a Victorian snuff theatre show, as one does. It’s a private club full of stiff-upper lip gentlemen whose proclivities run towards the macabre. At first, we think Dorian and Lily are also there to enjoy the show, but of course Penny Dreadful has something more interesting up its sleeve: They kill all the spectators (with Dorian going for clean gunshot deaths and Lily brutally ripping men’s throats) and abscond with the would-be snuff theatre victim. Just as Lily’s body was owned in her life as a prostitute, she’s determined to have her own human playthings now.

Later, when the girl finds Lily dancing with Dorian, the scene is peak-Penny Dreadful: pulpy and over the top and elegant and fun. Lily explains how she feels a kinship, because like this girl, she was, “a feral animal, raised on the streets, forced to my knees as a girl. And there I would have stayed and there I would have died, but for a strange working of fate.”

Once she entreats the girl — who needs very little coaxing — to go after the men who have used her too, she croons, “we shall have, my dear, a monumental revenge.” Lily’s scenes are the strongest part of “Predators near and Far.” Bring on the Victorian snuff theatre shows.

“If you believe the things I tell you, you’ll never sleep quietly again”

Vanessa continues her therapy session with the brusque Dr. Seward (Patti LuPone) who, like her Dracula counterpart, insists on recording everything. Though her secretary/ Dracula’s minion Renfield later tells his master he doesn’t think Dr. Seward believes Vanessa, his words don’t hold up to her shaken expression.

Vanessa then continues to flirt with zoologist Dr. Sweet (Christian Camargo), this time trading last week’s sexy topic of taxidermy for this week’s sexy topic of scorpions.


After a conversation about their literary heroes (Sweet is partial to Jules Verne’s Captain Nemo while Vanessa is obviously all about Joan of Arc), they go on a date filled with mixed messages: Sweet backs out abruptly but indicates his desire to keep seeing Vanessa. She’s notably chipper, though, so it seems her therapy is working — even as it might make her therapist need therapy.

“We are all two things in a way, are we not?”

Victor Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll continue to be the college roommate match from heaven — or hell. We finally see Jekyll’s lab, in the subterranean level of Bedlam, naturally. There’s nothing subtle about the set, which is a steampunk mad scientist’s wet dream. But Penny Dreadful has never concerned itself with subtlety.

This is a joy for its set pieces and occasionally a drag for its dialogue. Jekyll’s lines remain too on the nose (“can we render the beast dormant?” and “they never see the light, they only see me,”). Seeing as how we’ve only known him for one episode, it makes him more of a series of dramatic statements than a character in his own right. (For example, Lily’s “we shall have a monumental revenge” works better because we’ve known her longer). But his plans with Victor to domesticate Lily are clearly doomed, even as he demonstrates his ability to wrestle a raving, mouth-foaming lunatic into a man who politely asks for water.

Victor wants Lily back how she was — failing to recognize that woman was only ever an illusion; a creature of his own projection.

“The wolf is returning to his den”

Penny Dreadful has always had a shaky relationship with the realm of the mystical. When it excels, it nails it — think Vanessa’s Carrie-esque ballroom hallucination. But the flip side is its occasional tendency to trade in convoluted mysticism. So far, Ethan’s vague connection to the Native Americans — he murdered them, but they respect him and refer to him as “my son?” and mountain top dreams are the later.

We don’t have enough context for it to feel meaningful, and so it’s sound and fury. Though he does get in a nice line that only Hartnett’s understated delivery could sell (“there’s blood on my teeth and in my soul, I think”) Sir Malcolm can’t arrive into his storyline fast enough.

Stray trinkets

  • This episode had an egregious lack of Ferdinand Lyle.
  • Renfield continues to be delightfully creepy, repeating how the bells “made his head hurt” in a weirdly high pitched voice and listening to Vanessa’s recordings in the darkness.
  • Lily to Victor: “I created you more than you created me.”
  • Dr. Sweet seems far too nice and normal. What do we think his dark secret is?
  • There was only a brief check-in with Sir Malcolm this week, though his plot line gave a self-aware to the Wise Native American trope it seems to be using: “do all your people speak so enigmatically?”
  • Vanessa: “It’s all rather boring here.” Camera cuts to vampires plotting her doom. Never change, Penny Dreadful.
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