Jonathan Hession / Showtime

Penny Dreadful Takes A Couples' Retreat

Matt Debenham ranks the power couples of Penny Dreadful after 'Good And Evil Braided Be.'

In past seasons, Penny Dreadful has been about a core gang fighting a common enemy, whether that be the Vanessa/Malcolm/Ethan/Victor bunch against a vampire king, or Evelyn Poole and her girls against Sir Malcolm's posse. But in Season 3, the usual group dynamic has fragmented almost exclusively into duos -- the only exceptions being Ferdinand Lyle and John Clare, or when Dorian and Lily and Justine are enjoying a threesome soaked in a dead man's blood. The paired-up approach is wise, since not only does it shake up the show's narrative style; it also allows the characters to define themselves against their respective partners. Shall we rank them in reverse order of coolness? We shall indeed!

  1. Vanessa Ives & Dr. Sweet

    Imagine, if you will, a character on Penny Dreadful is dating a person he or she does not know is a supernatural creature out to get him. Can you make your brain do that??? So, yes, this is the only thing that worries me about this season: the very, very familiar budding relationship between Dr. Acula Dr. Sweet and Vanessa Ives. This week, at least there's a speed bump: the pointy-haired vampire lackey -- the one who looks like he spends every spare minute watching Buffy reruns on his wood-and-iron laptop -- gets a little too close to Vanessa and spooks her into remembering her days of being haunted by vampires. She breaks it off with Sweet, who then feeds the lackey to the rest of his horde. At the very least, it'll force Sweet to come up with a new approach for getting Vanessa. (QUESTION I MUST ASK: why doesn't he just bite her? I've always been under the impression that this is how Dracula gains power over all his victims. I'm assuming it's because she has Witch Powers, but is it?)

  2. Drs. Frankenstein & Jekyll
    These two! "I love the taste of changing human behavior!" "Well, I love the taste of reanimating dead people!" "Hey! Who got the changing of human behavior in my reanimated dead people?!"

    They're like the two nerdiest kids at school finding each other after a long, tough year. But will these guys ultimately cure insanity, or will they merely try to curtail Lily's will? My guess is that they'll focus on the latter, foolishly, while along the way creating a new monster in Mr. Hyde. This guess is based both on the fact that there is a book called Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde, and that insanity still exists.

  3. Lily & Dorian
    Lily and Dorian are the Mickey and Mallory of Victorian London. They swing, they kill, they swing while covered in the blood of their kills. Given what we know of Dorian, it's only a matter of time before he gets bored with this situation. On the other hand, Lily has super-strength, super-self-awareness, and super doesn't need a man. Now that she knows of her pasts as both a prostitute and a dead person, Lily has decided she's going to hold all the cards in her life. In the meantime, though, she and Dorian are definitely working together to shake things up in 1890s London.
  4. Lily & Justine
    Much more interesting than Lily and Dorian are Lily and Justine. It's not super-awesome that Penny Dreadful and Showtime have decided the pay-cable-mandated nudity should come from a waif who looks all of twelve, but when she and Lily are at lunch, watching suffragettes and discussing the difference between protest and war, it's pretty electrifying. Werewolves and vampires be damned: my money's on these two to be the real agents of chaos in Season 3.
  5. Ethan & Hecate
    So these monkeys are running free all over the American west, just a few steps ahead of both the Rusk/Ostow posse and Sir Malcolm and Kaetenay. Hecate thinks nothing of slaughtering an innocent family for their horses, while Ethan still draws a distinction between such acts and eating the faces off a cantina full of freelance security guys. Will Ethan embrace the monster within, and not just in times of need? Or will he continue to be driven by denial and shame? And will he live to see the 20th century and our enlightened views of werewolves, or will he be felled by heartworm?

  6. Inspector Rusk and Marshall Ostow

    Rusk: Do you believe in the occult, Marshall?

    Ostow: No.

    Rusk: You should start.

  7. Vanessa Ives and Dr. Seward
    Vanessa has not only told Dr. Seward every terrible thing she's done or had done to her, she's also told the doctor that she's the reincarnation of Joan Clayton. When Seward doesn't believe her, Vanessa does what Joan did to Vanessa last season: grabs her hand and reads her deepest secrets. Seward agrees to hypnotize Vanessa, and "joins" her in a visit to the white padded room where she first, allegedly, encountered The Master. Also, John Clare is there, in his pre-dead days as an orderly. A question about Vanessa: where is she in her witch-dom? Is she denying her true self out of shame, the way Ethan is, or is she merely lost without a mentor?
  8. Sir Malcolm & Kaetenay
    Why are these men together? Malcolm asks the same thing early on in the episode, and Kaetenay tells him he's the one who can convince Ethan to stay on the side of good, now that Hecate is there to tempt him to evil. But as a power couple, everything you need to know about these two happens in the moment after Sir Malcolm defends his friend from the two racists on the train. Malcolm sits down and looks at his new friend as if expecting a thanks, or an acknowledgement, and Kaetenay won't give it to him. Instead he stares ahead, hard, swallowing his anger and embarrassment. I'm reading a lot into this, but we've also been handed a heavily loaded moment. Yes, Sir Malcolm just dressed down two white guys, but Sir Malcolm is also, y'know, a white guy. And an imperialist. And thus not not part of the problem in the first place.

    All the same, these two are going to have to make it work, as partners and co-parents to Ethan, and it's one of the reasons they're the best couple on the show: because we have no idea what's going on here. For as mysterious and close-to-the-vest as Kaetenay is (Where do his powers come from? Does he really have Ethan's best interests at heart?), how much do we really know about Sir Malcolm? We know he's a compulsive explorer who feels enormous guilt over the deaths of his entire family. But what's motivating him at this point? And what will he do when he finds Ethan, who -- after all -- murdered Sir Malcolm's best friend?

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