Penny Dreadful is a slow-burning and terrific show, one that for the last three seasons has taken iconic literary figures—Dr. Frankenstein, Dorian Gray, Dracula—and used them to explore the pathos behind monstrosity. It’s also pitch-perfect at capturing the gloom of 19th century London, the tenor of Victorian horror, and were it not for the mood it would be worth it just to watch lead Eva Green as the troubled, smoldering Vanessa Ives, a religious empath who’s so pure and profound demonic forces from all corners wish to make her theirs.
A few episodes into its third season, the show has taken a truly unexpected turn. In relatively normal news, Ives is attempting to recover from all she has experienced, which includes dodging a pack of scarified wives of Lucifer. Now she’s in the capable hands of a doctor (Patti Lupone) in the emerging field of psychiatry, and attempting to find happiness with her new friend, a charming zoologist-aka-taxidermist whose street name is Dr. Alexander Sweet, but whose government name is Dracula (Christian Camargo). Meanwhile, Dr. Frankenstein has linked up with his old friend Dr. Jekyll, and Sir Murray is in America looking for Ethan Chandler, on the run because he’s left a blood trail in his alter ego as the wolfman.
By far the most intriguing storyline so far, though, began to show its true motives on Sunday’s episode. Lily Frankenstein (Billie Piper) was reanimated by Dr. Frankenstein last season from her role as Brona Croft, a destitute prostitute who succumbed to consumption (with a little merciful assistance from Chandler); having fully shacked up with Dorian Gray, Lily has set out to flip the power structure and create a world dominated by the immortal elite, with her and Dorian at the top of the chain, obviously.
It’s within this plot that Penny Dreadful is becoming explicitly misandrist, and juicy and fun to watch. In the debut episode of the season, Lily and Dorian are seen showing up for what looks like a private, upscale sex party, mostly populated by a handful of men in suits. A young, shivering, nude girl named Justine (Jessica Barden) is led in, and it seems clear that she’s about to be tortured before the high-paying crowd. Before that can happen, though, Lily and Dorian pop up and murder everyone but the girl, taking her back to Dorian’s enormous flat for unknown purposes.
In this week’s episode, much is revealed. As Lily and Justine dine at a very civilized outdoor cafe, Justine catches a gentleman at a nearby table eyeing them. Lily rolls her eyes. “All men are utter slaves to their desires.” As they debate Dorian’s relative usefulness, Lily says, “I never knew a man who didn’t want to fuck or beat me. Can you say different?”
But they don’t find the answer in feminism, a then-burgeoning movement depicted by a group of women protesters getting arrested as the duo sips their tea. “They think as you do, the Suffragettes,” Justine tells Lily with certainty.
“No,” responds Lily. “Our enemies are the same, but they seek equality.”
Billie Piper is mysterious and sharper-toothed as her character becomes increasingly dark, increasingly desirous of revenge on all the men who used her when she was Brona, and those who want to use her now that she is Lily. Of course, Justine’s inherent mistrust of Dorian seems like a bit of foreshadowing, but for now they’re doing as Lily wants and building an army. They end up in a threesome, gruesomely bathed in the blood of Justine’s captor, whom they have captured and killed.
The parallels between the Suffragettes’ appearance in the time frame and Lily’s dark misandrist dystopia are awesome. The clips for Episode 4 focus more on Vanessa’s trajectory than Lily and Justine’s, but knowing this show, they’ll all converge at a gloriously horrific point down the line.
Images via screenshot/Showtime