And so season 3 of Penny Dreadful goes out with a bang — and a whimper. The final two episodes of the season, which aired back to back to give us all twice as many opportunities to cry, delivered enough “random gunplay” to satisfy even Dr. Seward, but the shot that mattered most rang out in silence. It was an apocalyptic battle that ended with a prayer. So was Vanessa’s life.
After struggling for three seasons, and a lifetime before them, Vanessa Ives is dead, leaving behind a makeshift family of people whose paths crossed because of her. They’re all still standing; she isn’t. I expected this to go the other way. That’s the point, really: Vanessa dies so that everyone else can live. It’s an altruistic sacrifice made for other people (her friends, the world) and because of them (she needs Ethan to pull the trigger). But it’s also an intensely personal choice made on her own, to the sound of the objections of the one other person in the room. The war that rages on the other side of that door that might as well have nothing to do with the one she’s fighting. Vanessa’s death is the culmination of an internal struggle. In her words, “Let it end.”
Is that what “THE END” means? “The Blessed Dark” leaves us on a cryptic title card that could either close the book or send us into a new chapter. Could this show go on without Vanessa? Is there life after her death? She believes that there is: Her final moments bring Vanessa back to the faith she thought she’d lost. Earlier this season, she named Joan of Arc as her hero: “Dying for her beliefs and her God, true to herself no matter the darkness that gathered ‘round her.” She lived up to that legacy. The woman who argued that “to have belief in anything with such confidence is heroic” chooses to believe Ethan when he tells her that God waits ahead — and she’s so confident in that belief that she allows him to kill her.
Vanessa is rewarded for her faith, but religion isn’t this episode’s only argument in favor of death over life. The Creature, Vanessa’s atheistic mirror image, has to watch his son die of consumption only to hear his wife give him an ultimatum: If he doesn’t take Jack to Victor and restore the boy to life, he’s banished from his home. Now that Marjorie knows it’s possible to die and come back, she’ll accept nothing less. But she didn’t know the Creature before. “Don’t ask this,” he begs. “To make him suffer as I did. Those little bones. That face. To become something so unnatural, so hated.” The Creature wraps his son in a shroud and carries his body into the water. He’s not going back home.
That’s the thing about living forever that Marjorie can’t understand: At a certain point, it just means watching everyone else die. As the oldest of Penny Dreadful’s immortals, Dorian knows this better than anyone. “After a time,” he tells Lily, “you’ll lose the desire for passion entirely, for connection with anyone, like a muscle that atrophies from lack of use.” He compares himself to the portraits that line his walls: “beautiful and dead.” How literal. Dorian doesn’t even care to see how Lily’s fate plays out; he goes back to his mansion after leaving her in Victor and Henry’s captivity and kicks out her army of women, sending them back to a life on the streets. When Justine refuses to go, arguing, “I would rather die here on my feet than live a lifetime on my knees,” he kisses her and snaps her neck.
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Like the Creature, Dorian sees the mercy in death. He tries to tell Lily that the price he’s paid for eternal youth and beauty is worth it, but he can’t even remember any other way to live. Dorian has already lost the battle that Lily is still fighting: She wants to hold on to her pain. “You don’t know,” she tells Victor as soon as she gets him alone in that Bedlam lab. “There are scars that make us who we are, but without them, we don’t exist.” She has a story for him, and it’s about to suck all of the air from the room.
NEXT: Her name was Sarah