The second season of Penny Dreadful, Showtime’s lavish gothic period drama, debuts this Sunday, May 3. But fans can already catch the full premiere online—and they’ll notice a familiar face. The mysterious Evelyn Poole (Helen McCrory) is back, and she’s got Vanessa (Eva Green), Sir Malcolm (Timothy Dalton), and Ethan (Josh Hartnett) on the defensive.
In advance of the series’ return, EW talked with showrunner John Logan about Evelyn’s agenda, trading Dracula for witches, and the character whose story breaks his heart the most.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you arrive at the big villain of season 2?
JOHN LOGAN: When I’m thinking about the seasons and the stories, I always think about Vanessa Ives, the character that Eva [Green] plays. And I began to get really interested in a particular period in her life—where she essentially learned how to cast the Tarot, because not every little Victorian girl knows how to cast Tarot cards. Vanessa has a great sort of supernatural awareness, and I started thinking about when she learned all that about herself … I became very interested in a particular period in her past, and that exploration led me eventually into the occult and into witchcraft. So this season, we have a fantastic antagonist played by the great Helen McCrory: Evelyn Poole, who we’ve met in the first season. But she emerges this season to be a ferocious enemy of Vanessa.
Had you always intended to make Evelyn a more prominent character going forward?
Oh yes, that was always the intention. When I first sat down with Helen two years ago, we’d worked on Skyfall and Hugo, so I knew her and of course was a big fan of her work on stage and screen, and I said, “Now you’ve got to trust me. In the first season, you’re only gonna have a few scenes, but in the second season, you are really gonna step up.” Because for me, one of the joys of long-form television and this sort of storytelling is planting little seeds that will eventually grow months, if not years, later. I always had this story in mind, that in the first season our heroes—Sir Malcolm and Vanessa and Ethan—would be the hunters. They would be trying to find Mina and defeat the vampires. But in the second season, they would be the hunted … They’re under attack from the very first episode, so there’s an incredible tension and sort of siege mentality around the characters, because the supernatural threat, the witches, is so encompassing and so mysterious.
Will we get to know the other witches and their relationship to Evelyn?
We will, because they’re essentially her coven, and they’ve been with her for a long time. So how they came together and what they’re after is a major part of the season. One of the great challenges to us, and to all the departments, was in trying to find a way to present our witches, because we didn’t want old crones with tall black hats. So we tried to find a Penny Dreadful version of witches, which is on one hand both terribly attractive and also terribly frightening. Because I think that’s the sweet spot of this show, that things can be beautiful and horrifying simultaneously—like all the characters.
One of those witches is Evelyn’s daughter, and they seem to have a very twisted relationship. Anything you can tease between them?
Evelyn’s daughter Hecate, played by Sarah Greene, is a very ambitious woman. And she’s also a modern woman. And one of the great pleasures of the series is playing with the birth of the modern age, which was happening at this time. Hecate is a much more liberated woman, and has much more forward-thinking and modern ideas about everything, including witchcraft. So in a way it’s a battle—a supernatural, generational battle between the two of them.
And Evelyn has a history with Sir Malcolm as well.
What we discover this season is that [Evelyn] is doing everything in her power to try to get Vanessa Ives, and one of the weapons at her disposal is trying to seduce Sir Malcolm and essentially use him as a tool to try to get to Vanessa, because Vanessa and Sir Malcolm, the character that Tim Dalton plays, have such an intense and private relationship. The one thing Evelyn Poole is is crafty, in terms of using all of her ingenuity and her skills to get what she wants.
When we left Vanessa last season, she was contemplating trying to get this demon out of her for good. Is she still pursuing that?
I think Vanessa Ives is always a very complicated, dark character, and I think the pull between the light and the dark in her is what makes her an exciting character for Eva to play. And I don’t think she would be the woman she was if she were not always struggling with her identity … I think all of the characters, the reason they’re interesting to me is that they’re beautiful monsters. They’re aware of their monstrousness, and they’re aware of their beauty, and the pull between light and dark is constant in all of them. And if that was ever resolved, they would be uninteresting characters, and they wouldn’t be really characters for this show.
What can you tell us about Ethan’s journey toward understanding what he is?
He always knew that there was a darkness around him, a potential for violence, something he didn’t understand, and this season he’s able to put a name to exactly what it is. And he has to grapple with that, which is pretty devastating. That revelation for him and the pressure Vanessa’s under will bring them closer together. The two characters were always in orbit one after the other, supernaturally, romantically, erotically, intellectually—so this season they’re drawn closer together because they’re both fighting such incredible adversaries.
And we saw at end of season 1 that Victor Frankenstein has a plan for the now-dead Brona. What’s in store there?
One of the great stories for us to explore this season was Dr. Frankenstein reanimating a woman, because we know from the Creature and Proteus that he had some success—and he’s getting better and better at this process. With Brona, he brings her to life, and she’s already markedly advanced compared to where Proteus was when he was brought to life last season. Dr. Frankenstein has to grapple with teaching a woman what life is, and the romantic possibilities or implications of that are profound and obviously very significant for the Creature as well. So in a way it’s almost a very strange love triangle that evolves between the three of them.
The Creature is a character I have fluctuating levels of sympathy for, because he’s an outcast—but the first thing we see from him is this violent act. He seems to have developed a complex.
Of all the characters that have literary roots—which actually aren’t all that many—in the show, I think the Creature is closest to the Creature that Mary Shelley created. When I read Frankenstein, I am deeply moved by the Creature—as I’m repelled by his violence. But I understand it. For me personally, no character in this story breaks my heart more than the Creature, because he so wants simple human interaction. He wants to belong to a community. He wants love. And yet the world seems not to allow that, or the course of fate will not allow that. And of course he’s capable of incredible violence and incredibly vindictive acts, but to me they’re always motivated by a deep sense of pain… He’s been wounded into violence, I think.
As an outcast for a completely different reason, we’ve got Dorian [Gray], who’s immersing himself in the world but can only be of it to a certain extent. What’s coming for him?
Dorian in a way tries to fit into our world more than he did in the first season—meaning the mortal world. He has something like a love affair, which in a way is normalizing for him, and yet there’s always that pull in Dorian to the exceptional. Because here’s a man who’s lived who knows how long, has seen civilizations come and go, and the desire for something exalted or different or strange in his life, I think, is always going to be an overpowering need.
Is there anything else you’d like to say about the second season?
I think for everyone who worked on the show, it was a particularly rewarding second season for us, because we all know each other now. The rhythms of the show are very comfortable to us. We know the style of the piece, whereas in the first season we were sort of inventing it and finding it as we went. And I think all the actors in particular are very brave in this season. They’re bold and brave about going to different places with their characters, and it’s been a joy to watch them do it and to help lead them there.