Penny Dreadful season finale: Showrunner John Logan breaks down Vanessa's desolate decision
Warning: This story contains spoilers from the Penny Dreadful season finale.
It’s safe to say that the mission to rescue Sir Malcolm (Timothy Dalton) went both better and worse than expected.
After infiltrating the witches’ mansion, it didn’t take long for Vanessa (Eva Green) and Ethan (Josh Hartnett) to take down Evelyn (Helen McCrory) and her master. But the battle cost Sembene (Danny Sapani) his life, and the consequences of everyone’s guilt will take longer to shake. EW spoke with showrunner John Logan, who also writes every episode of the show, about what to expect from next season (hint: a new literary character!) and why Vanessa and Ethan now find themselves alone.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: That finale really tore everyone apart.
JOHN LOGAN: I’m exceptionally proud of the season finale, because I do think it delivers something very surprising, which is: You expect the sort of blood-and-thunder resolution of the plot, but the way that it then continues — we actually resolve the plot 20 minutes into it, and then the rest of the story is about resolving those characters as they clash against one another and crumble and rebuild themselves. The actors did such an incredible job. I’m just very proud of it.
Can you tease anything about what’s next?
These characters have found so much strength and grace with each other, and intimacy, and they’ve become stronger people by the closeness of their relationships. Next season, some of them are alone, and they don’t have their friends to turn to — they don’t have that support. And how they’re going to function out there in the world without each other is interesting. What will be the event that will draw them back together?
I loved the way this season played with different tones. Was there ever a moment where you found yourself surprised by the tone an episode was taking?
Not surprised as much as delighted with people’s willingness to go with tone changes, because there’s only so much melancholy brooding you can do in Victorian fog. I think one of the joys for me when I watch television is when I’m surprised by something that happens — by a character, by a tone change — and after the flat-out tragedy of the episode with Patti LuPone, episode 3, I as a writer and as a viewer felt I just needed a breath. I was more confident writing lighter moments for the characters, and the actors were more confident embracing those, so I think in the second season we were more romantic — we were certainly more musical, more choreographic — and funnier.
Speaking of romance, is there any hope for Vanessa and Ethan?
Well there’s always hope, isn’t there? I would hate to think there’s not hope for love in this world!
What appealed to you about seeing those two characters together?
They’re fascinating characters for me, and they’re both in a very dark and desolate place and have been for a long time, and the idea of two characters in need coming together and trying to find some grace or some lightness in the various curses that surround them was obviously very interesting. Plus Eva and Josh are just very good together. They play very well together; they spark very well together.
Part of my job as the showrunner is putting actors in different combinations that I think will be exciting for our audience. For example, personally, my favorite scenes of all season — and it’s a season packed with stuff I love — are the scenes with Rory Kinnear and Eva Green, the Creature and Vanessa. They only have three very quiet scenes together but there’s something about those two actors and those two characters that I find riveting to watch.
I thought Vanessa’s decision not to go with the Creature when he offered spoke to how she and a lot of these characters believe themselves to be beyond saving in a way.
The whole central act of season 2 is Vanessa burning her cross, which is the very last thing that happens after 10 hours of television, and indeed you could say after 18 hours. This has always been a story about Vanessa Ives. She’s a woman who very strongly believes her Catholic faith and gets great strength and comfort from it, but the events of this season are so traumatic for her that she feels she has crossed a line and is irredeemable, and not even God will be her savior anymore. So that is a very desolate and nihilistic act for her, and I believe she thinks she is cursed and is destined to walk a very dark road. And the Creature is a character who’s aspiring toward grace, aspiring toward light, and I think she honestly believes what she says in the episode, which is, “I don’t want you to be hurt. I wouldn’t want to drag you to my level.”
It reminded me of the Creature’s idea last week that Pandora’s Box was just a mirror: that what these people are most afraid of is themselves.
I’m so pleased that that moment meant something to you because that’s exactly what this entire series has always been about, which is the monster is not in your face — it’s inside. It’s what you fear; it’s what you are; it’s the reality that all of us are flawed, and you can either embrace your flaws and let them empower you, or you can let them cripple you. Now in Penny Dreadful, we get to literalize those flaws, if you will, because we can have monsters. We can have werewolves and vampires and resurrected creatures, but the reason the show should be watched is not for that and not for the bloodshed or the grandeur or the old supernatural fun of it, but for the provocation of realizing that I am as monstrous as anyone on that show. We are all capable of that, and anyone who says otherwise is lying about themselves. That’s just the reality: that we’re complicated people, and I think art should be about addressing and grappling with the complications and not simplifying them.
Shifting gears a bit, I’d love to talk about Lily and Billie Piper, who’s been absolutely fantastic. How early did Billie know what was coming for her character this year?
Before we started filming. She had to very carefully build that performance, which was extraordinary. It’s one of the most extraordinary things I’ve seen an actor do in my career — the way she modulated the character of Lily so that when you first meet her, she’s innocent, and she’s confused, and she’s frightened, and she gets more confident, until finally it all comes out in that amazing speech that she gives in episode 8. I think it’s an extraordinary performance and one that I’m most proud of this season.
Are there any other moments this season that you were especially proud of?
I have a real affection also for the scenes with Doug Hodge and Josh — the scenes with Inspector Rusk and Ethan, because they were so much fun to write, and those actors are so clever with each other. The cat-and-mouse, Hercule Poirot-like interrogation was something very different for our show and very fun. I think honestly, when I think back on this season, what I remember most is episode 3. I remember going up to the hilltop with Patti LuPone and Eva Green and our director, Brian Kirk, and filming that episode. It was such an intense episode because it was really almost just those two actors for an hour, and it relied on the text, it relied on their performance, it relied on a sensitive director. And I’m extraordinarily proud of that episode in particular.
Will we see Hecate again?
We absolutely will. I think Hecate is such a delicious character because she has her mother’s sort of flamboyant sense of evil and flamboyant sense of language, but she’s a contemporary young woman who’s not as bound as her mother to the old tropes of Satanism. She’s a lot of fun. She will absolutely be back in season 3.
Is there anyone else we should expect in season 3?
I can tell you this—and this is such a tease, and I am sorry for it — but after two years I am finally adding another famous literary character. It’s been fun going into another writer’s brain and bringing one of those great characters back into our world.