Season 2 of Penny Dreadful was a bit of a mixed bag (in a good way) much like last season. The previous season lay all the groundwork, introduced us to the principle characters and gave a brief insight into their backgrounds (granted most of it was about Vanessa Ives) She was being hunted by vampires for their master while at the same time she was fighting for her soul because the devil, Lucifer, pursued her as well. This season, the plot thickened. Last season Dracula tried to change her into his bride while Lucifer tried to get her soul. Having failed at that, this season he brought his witches into play, luring her into their trap.
This season upped the game in more ways than one. The stakes were certainly higher with the hunters becoming the hunted. We saw Vanessa truly shaken by her first encounter with the witches and scared in a way that we hadn’t seen before. Last season, they knew what they were hunting and had to protect themselves against, this time; they were working blind and had no idea just how formidable their new opponents were.
Compared to the witches, the vampires from last season were like child’s play. The witches, led by Evelyn Poole, were a very dangerous lot and they knew exactly what they were doing. They had an objective and they had a plan to achieve that. Also, failure to deliver had a very steep cost, so they had strong motivation. They knew what steps our heroes were taking and were quick to counter them. They quickly (and remarkably easily) neutralised Malcolm while Frankenstein had a new-born Lily to deal with and Ethan had his werewolf curse.
One subplot this season was that of Frankenstein, Lily and John Clare. Victor created Lily in the hopes of getting John Clare away from him but fell in love with her, which was a recipe for disaster. Then there was Dorian Grey and his new lover Angelique, our first transgender character on the show. It was difficult to tell whether he really cared for her or whether she was just the new exciting thing in his life.
Like the previous season, this season too had its fair share of the slow moments, with characters just speaking to each other and instances that didn’t have anything to do with the wider plot. Those quiet moments acted as a respite both for the viewer and the characters what with all the gloom and doom they were usually surrounded by. I especially loved the conversations between Vanessa and John Clare, those were nice moments. Another example was the episode where Vanessa and Ethan go to the cut-wife’s cottage, that entire episode had just the two of them and no connection to the greater plot. These are not things that you would find in most TV shows since they serve no overt purpose but are welcome nonetheless.
Season 2 felt more rounded especially since we now know something about these characters and can explore them in greater depth. Have them interact and see them in a new and different light. The new characters added to the fray were all welcome additions especially Patti LuPone as Joan Clayton. She was absolutely brilliant as the Cut-Wife of Ballentree Moor. One of the most memorable characters this season. The others were Evelyn Poole and her daughter Hecate (I’m still not certain who was more devious)
Special mention – The beginning of episode 9 was especially brilliant. It was intense, electric and so dynamic. The close quarters and confined space gave it a sense of urgency. Probably one of the best sequences in the show this season.
One sour note – When Ethan tells Vanessa that she’d make a great ‘wifey’ to someone one day felt entirely out of place. It felt contrived and we could have done without it (or at least without the wifey bit)