Penny Dreadful is gorgeously gothic, bloody, strange, literary, and occasionally messy. Each week, we break it down. Lets dive into Season 3, episode 3: “Good and Evil Braided Be.”

“You can never be innocent again”

Dorian Gray has always been something of an island, stranded away from the main action. For the past three seasons, his plot lines have mostly revolved around “who is Dorian having sex with this week?” And while his hedonistic adventures are fun, the show has too often mistaken sex for plot. Until now. The blood-soaked threesome he has with Lily and Justine is ridiculously pulpy and over the top, but it’s also atmospheric, oddly elegant, with their romp in line with Lily’s plans to build her army “by the throat quietly slit in the dead of night…a careful and silent accumulation of power.”

In other words, the scene is quintessential Penny Dreadful. And because of Lily’s presence — and earlier plotting with Justine — Dorian’s sex plot has, at long last, become real plot. Penny Dreadful is finally, triumphantly (pardon the pun) nailing Dorian and his place in the larger story.

“They are those things which walk in your nightmares”

Dr. Sweet and Dr. Seward both continue to be dynamic additions to Vanessa’s story, just as Lily is to Dorian’s. Seward matches Vanessa’s crackling intensity with her own, while Sweet is all earnest pleasantness. Though we know it’s an act, his flustered talk of his zoology still manages to elicit smiles from Vanessa, and it’s damned charming to us too. From the outside, they’re a cute couple in the throws of courtship — even Caliban is happy for them.

But by sending Vanessa and Sweet into the hall of mirrors and showing us Sweet’s reflection, Penny Dreadful is deliberately playing with the vampire mythology. Curiously, his vampire minion is indeed invisible — which means the mirror issue is something to note for the future. It’s unfortunate to see Vanessa rattled again, but it’s a beautifully shot scene.

“I want to rule the darkness at your side”

While the new characters add welcome dimension to Vanessa’s and Dorian’s stories, they continue to weigh down Ethan and Sir Malcolm’s. As we mentioned last week, Penny Dreadful is at its best when it’s exploring humanity and monstrosity in extreme close-ups — not from afar with ponderous prophecies and vague magical statements. Kaetenay and Hecate are both characters who operate in the second category. As a result, Ethan and Sir Malcolm’s narratives are not as emotionally resonant as they’ve been in past seasons. For now, the new characters are dragging them down rather than building them up.

Still, now that Malcolm is in the west and following Ethan’s trail of bodies, their stories will hopefully improve when they meet again.

“I’m looking for the people who lived here”

Caliban’s story often revolves around him playing the voyeur to other people’s happiness. He typically looks on in misery, a perpetual outsider. “Good and Evil Braided Be” gives that dynamic a welcome pivot: When he sees Vanessa from afar, looking happy with Dr. Sweet, instead of dissolving into self-pity, Caliban smiles, genuinely happy for her (if only he knew Sweet’s true nature). It’s a nice callback to their stellar scenes together in Season 2. Similarly, when Caliban tracks down his ailing son from his old life, his reaction is touching and tragic.

Caliban’s story grew tiresome in previous seasons because of his perpetual self-pity (and his failure to interact with most of the other characters). But at last, Penny Dreadful has refined his place in the story; just as it’s finally excelling at connecting Dorian’s hedonism to the main plot. While Ethan and Sir Malcolm’s stories are the weakest so far in Season 3, the narrative is keeping a firm grip on the two that have been the most precarious in the past.

Stray Trinkets

  • Literary reference corner: Justine is probably a nod to [the novel by the Marquis de Sade](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Justine_(Sade_novel), which is in line with the murder orgy.
  • “In the white room where there was no time.” Dracula’s minion is apparently into classic rock.
  • It’s nice to have Lily finally acknowledge her past relationship with Ethan and clarify that she does indeed remember him. But it also makes her anti-men stance slightly puzzling, as she readily admits he was kind to her.
  • Hecate is being the definition of clingy right now: “I want to rule the darkness at your side.” Ethan: “What if I don’t want anyone at my side?”
  • Still not enough Ferdinand Lyle. Where the hell is he, styling his hair?
  • There isn’t a lot to say about Victor’s story this week; he and Jekyll are keen to keep experimenting — but Victor becomes more assertive and resolves to take over.
  • Dracula’s minions are going rogue, and he’s not pleased by their inadvertent cock-block with Vanessa.
  • “Liberty is a bitch that must be bedded on a mattress of corpses,” might be the show’s most gloriously pulpy line to date.