Penny Dreadful is gorgeously gothic, bloody, strange, literary, and occasionally messy. Each week, we break it down. Let’s dive into Season 3, episode 7: “Ebb Tide.”
“You think you know sin? You’re still learning the language. I wrote the bloody book”
After three seasons, it’s happened, at long last: Penny Dreadful has finally made Dorian Gray interesting. Since the start, he’s been the show’s biggest problem character. As we have previously mentioned his “plots” usually revolve around “who is Dorian having sex with this week?” And while that makes sense for the Dorian Gray persona, sex is not plot. Its repetition has made hedonism feel tedious — which is never what you want — and his lack of meaningful story has rendered Dorian the most passive player. He’s a character who yawns at revolutions and casually engages in sexual blood-play. Theoretically, he should be compelling and sinister; the way Oscar Wilde wrote him. It shouldn’t incite us to yawn, too. But for the previous two seasons, it has.
Even when we glimpsed his darkness last season when he poisoned Angelique, Dorian has never shown true depth beyond the surface. I honestly began to wonder if Reeve Carney was miscast.
When Justine oversteps her bounds, and Dorian threatens her (“Listen child. I can toss you out at any time like the trash you are. You think your Sapphic escapades shock me? You think you know sin? You’re still learning the language. I wrote the bloody book”) that’s the Dorian Gray we’ve been waiting to see since Season 1.
It’s Carney’s best performance yet, his voice drops several octaves and his entire demeanor changes. That’s the guy who has that decaying portrait in his secret passage room. By the time he helps Victor capture Lily, it’s not a surprise, but it’s the most satisfying thing we’ve seen him do — because it’s the most active role he’s ever taken in the story. Let’s see more of this sinister Dorian, please.
“My doomed keening women… shall we sing from the gallows too?”
It’s to Penny Dreadful’s credit that Lily’s capture makes us feel equal parts elated that Dorian’s character is finally interesting and saddened by Lily’s plight. Granted, she brings about her own downfall by failing to notice Dorian’s increasing alienation from her plans — you really should keep an eye on that if you’re using his house, Lily. But the fact that she’s an instrument of her own downfall makes it all the more tragic, and makes her earlier gloriously table-crawling speech about doomed women resonate.
Like all revolutionaries, Lily underestimates those who desire to maintain the status quo. Let’s hope her army of “depraved whores” indeed rises up now.
“You may be done with hell but it is not done with you.”
Ethan and Malcolm do what they do best this week: Brood over Vanessa and set sail to fight the forces of evil. The Wild West plot has been largely underwhelming, but its also had the good sense not to overstay its welcome. The wrap-up has been the best part, and Ethan and Malcolm are both more interesting brooding when it’s together.
“I’m in need of a friend”
Caliban’s scene with Vanessa acknowledges their former relationship unexpectedly soon. It’s to the show’s credit that it doesn’t drag it out for manufactured drama. Caliban and Vanessa are perhaps the only characters who have a relationship that demands nothing from one another but quiet support.
“You’re even more cruel than I have imagined”
This episode cements it: Dracula is the show’s most successful villain. He constantly surprises Vanessa and viewers alike in how entertaining he is and how much humanity he possesses. Technically, the fact that he’s got Vanessa right where he wants her is a very bad thing. After all, it will bring about the apocalypse. When he tells her, “I don’t want to make you good or normal. I don’t mean you to be anything but who you truly are,” it’s obviously part of his seduction — but damned if it isn’t a tender moment and a powerful scene.
At this point, we get why Vanessa surrenders to him, even though submission is intolerable to Vanessa. Hell, we’re almost rooting for him ourselves — a sign of the best kind of charismatic villain.
- This week’s bizarre image you can never unsee: A pile of severed hands in the middle of an opulent dining room while guests laugh and mingle.
- The grave of Sarah Croft at the beginning — Brona’s niece? Sister?
- Dorian: “What I am is bored. I’ve lived through so many revolutions, you see. So much noise and anarchy and in the end its all so disappointing.” Exactly how old is Dorian? It’s high time we got a Dorian backstory episode.
- Lily: “You chained me.” Victor: “It’s for your own protection.” Lily: “It’s for yours.”
- Caliban sums up Victor aptly: “He created life but had no care for its nurturing. A young man’s ambition to be known, not to be good.”
- Renfield just keeps getting more delightfully creepy each episode.